Hello everyone! Welcome back to the tenth biennial Blackfriars Conference! This is Alexandra LaGrand, reporting to you for our second colloquy session, entitled “Staging Eavesdropping in Shakespeare.” This colloquy is chaired by Emma Atwood from the University of Montevallo. She is joined by presenters Claire Martin, Danielle Sanfilippo, and Michael Howley. This session began with introductions by the colloquy presenters.
Emma Atwood, colloquy chair, is a professor at the University of Montevallo. Her research focuses primarily on domestic space in renaissance space, with her interests in domestic flexibility, which brings her to this topic.
Claire Martin is primarily a practitioner of theatre, currently completing a master’s degree at the Royal Holloway University in London, focusing on dramaturging Shakespeare’s plays in today’s political climate.
Danielle Sanfilippo is a PhD candidate at the University of Rhode Island, with her research focuses primarily on femininity and masculinity in renaissance drama.
Michael Howley is a retired academic and director. He is from Montgomery, Alabama, where he served as a dramaturg for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. His interests are primarily in directing, and he has completed fellowships at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
Atwood began by catching auditors up to speed with the panel’s current theories on eavesdropping. She noted that one challenge with Renaissance drama is that words and actions don’t always align. At what point can we believe characters? Do they mean what they say? Are they being truthful and are they trustworthy? It is also significant to note how characters use space to signify power, which can be observed in the staging of renaissance eavesdropping. Atwood also mentioned a personal interest in how privacy on the early modern stage can be violated, and how this can affect the staging of the play.
She went on to provide a primer on Hirsch’s major arguments of eavesdropping: any soliloquy is self-addressed and this is always a given, characters can guard their speeches from others but only if they are aware of the other character’s presence, a guarded speech can fail if characters are not careful, and feigned soliloquies can happen. Atwood also gave a shout-out back to Kathryn Moncrief and Brendan Fox from earlier’s paper session, particularly with their question of what constitutes an aside.
We were joined by actors Leighton Brown and Constance Swain for a demonstration of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. They began with a raw demonstration, followed by suggestions from the panel. Martin raises the issue that the Folger text – the edition being used in staging this scene – noted the specific moment for Romeo to come forward. This particular moment offers a degree of comedy, Martin noted, if directors and actors adhered to this particular moment.
Martin then asked Swain, playing Romeo, to come forward from a further distance. This resulted in a natural test of audience belief of whether or not Romeo could hear Juliet from that far out. Another result came in the natural exhaustion that came when Swain ran from a further distance; this affected her voice, which ultimately forced her with how she would read the following lines.
In a second run, we had Swain as physically close to Juliet’s balcony as possible. Brown added a window to add boundaries for Juliet to be confined within. As a result, the intimacy and comedy of this particular run was heightened, but it also raises the issue of being too close to Romeo and not visibly recognizing him when Juliet has just recognized him by voice. Atwood offered an explanation, saying that Juliet not recognizing Romeo’s face could be an attempt to flirt since Juliet acknowledged that she and Romeo had skipped courtship.
Howley offers a question over who actually controls this scene: is Romeo eavesdropping on Juliet or is Juliet eavesdropping on Romeo? Is Juliet’s soliloquy here feigned? How does this change the scene? The result of this flip is that it is acknowledged that they both tried to trick each other. Atwood noted that this denotes a mature relationship even though it is only an hour old, as well as the possibility that there are moments within Juliet’s speech that attempts to call Romeo out, seen through the several caesuras in Juliet’s lines. This reading also puts Juliet in the power position of this scene, and yet, it makes her more vulnerable by knowing that her lover is so close by. Additionally, it was suggested that there are darker implications because it shows that both of these lovers were deceptive to one another.
An auditor raised the question over whether or not eavesdropping has to be verbal. Could there be physical eavesdropping?
Sanfilippo noted that it should also be considered how Juliet’s youth is often discussed, but also this scene depicts Romeo’s youth through his questioning of when to come forward. The youthfulness is seen with both of these characters, but with the reading of Juliet hearing Romeo the entire time, it keeps Juliet in power and offers the opportunity for her to have the upper hand and teach him how and when to come forward in love. An auditor also offered the validation that this reading could be plausible, because it aligns with her character’s double-speak later in the play.
Martin explained that with the feigned soliloquy reading, it takes away the sexual embarrassment and youthful excitement that Juliet feels when she references “some other part belonging to a man.”
There is so much excitement from this love being forbidden. Romeo is someone who has trespassed, crashed a party, and killed someone, but offers to forsake his name for Juliet. Juliet even warns Romeo that if they find him there, they will kill him, which could be read as even more excitement and sexual tension.
Martin also offered an interesting point about how we never witness Romeo learn Juliet’s name. How did he actually find out Juliet’s name? Why did he need to know her name to be satisfied? An auditor also offered the point of how Romeo might have known her name in advance because he knew everyone from the Capulet house from walking about Verona. Juliet, by contrast, would have been kept within her house, so she would have only been able to identify Romeo as a Montague, which explains why she not only asks if he is a Montague, but also which particular Montague.
Are Romeo and Juliet playing different courtship games? How would this have affected this scene? How would cue scripts have impacted this? Ultimately, it means that we don’t officially know at which point Romeo would enter.
We concluded with thanks from Atwood and applause for the actors for their participation.