Good morning and welcome to the last day of the 2017 Blackfriar’s Conference! This is Lauren Romagnano and I will be writing about this morning’s final plenary session.
We begin with Abigail Montgomery’s “By a brother’s hand”: To Double or Not to Double Ghost and Claudius in Hamlet. Her paper focuses on the casting decisions made about who the Ghost of King Hamlet should be doubled with: Claudius or Fortinbras. While many companies choose to double the two kingly figures, Montgomery argues that this compromises the emotional alliances audience members make. She believes that the doubling of the Ghost and Fortinbras is a much stronger choice. Montgomery invites three actors to the stage to stage both depictions of doubling. While the familial relationships and brotherhood are more visible by the casting of one man, it changes the sympathies of the audience to either distrust the Ghost or empathize with Claudius. The second option is more apt as in the end of the play, the audience sees King Hamlet aligning with Fortinbras and reclaiming the throne, giving the play a whole new meaning.
Matteo Pangallo’s paper, Town Criers, Squeaking Boys, and Other “Insufficient Personnes”: Bad Acting on the Early Modern Stage discusses the 1476 decree and societal reactions to bad acting. Many playwrights even commented on the topic, noted through several of Shakespeare’s own works. This bad idea was generally characterized by such actions as empty gestures, bellowing voices, and forgotten lines. Bad acting was the moment an actor placed himself before his part. However, Pangallo wants to examine bad acting as a way to explore and define drama of the period. Compared with the current modern audience, early modern audiences enjoyed and even demanded bad acting due to the comedic reactions it brought. In some cases, this transformed a failure of a show to a success due to the long-standing remarks to be found on such performers.
Lia Fisher-Janosz presents her paper, To See, or Not to See: Of Truth, Consequences, and Being a Visionary Woman on Shakespeare’s Page and Stage. This paper focuses on the experience and performance of prophetic women in Shakespeare’s play. Fisher-Janosz looks into the reactions of other characters to these prophetic women who defy and break away from societal norms. She first looks into the witches from Macbeth, whose clothing and beards physicalize their otherness for Banquo to comment on. She next moves to Joan of Arc from I Henry VI, who endures name-calling, sexualization, and ultimately is burned at the stake for her prophetic abilities. Margaret of Anjou, particularly in Richard III, is treated similarly to Joan by men who fear her power, but her prophecies and curses come true in the end. Cassandra from Troilus and Cressida is treated like an insane woman for her abilities, leaving none to believe her. Ophelia, Fisher-Janosz states, is treated like Denmark’s own Cassandra and dies for it. Ultimately, FIsher-Janosz believes these women must be listened to as they are they ones to either predict or even determine the future.
Jennifer Wood presents her paper, “Drums Rumble Within”: Staging Embodied Experience in
Green’s Alphonsus. This paper studies the use of kettle drums within Green’s theatre for the theatrical sound of Eastern otherness. Due to the fears of Islam at this time, the Eastern drumbeat was fearful and harrowing to early modern audiences. Wood argues that the reasons for using the kettle drum do not end here. The kettle drum has the unique property of creating a deep, resonant sound from the copper base, but the vibrations are what made this instrument so powerful. As the audience in the Blackfriar’s has the opportunity to hear and feel, the drum echoes through the wooden theatre to create a multi-sensory experience. This is why early modern audiences reacted so strongly to the drum introducing the temple, the pinnacle of Eastern Islamic fear.
Christopher Hodgkins ends this session with his paper, Costuming and Moral Division in The Tempest. Hodgkins wants to examine the costuming choices made for this production based upon Act II, scene i where two characters disagree on the state of their clothes after the shipwreck. Most companies choose to stick with the perfectly preserved clothing. He believes that this sets up the morality of the play because from the start, these men are reliant on Prospero’s magic. When these men enter on stage dressed in fancy clothing, it sets up a class dichotomy that already benefits the shipwrecked men over those who live on the island. It sets up the idea that there are better things to come for those involved.
The session ends with a few questions from the audience asking certain panel members to extrapolate on different themes and comments made during the presentations.