This is Gil Mitchell, reporting on Colloquy #4 of the 2019 Blackfriars Conference. The Chairs are Dr. Walter Cannon & Dr. Laury Magnus, of Central College
Iowa and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, respectively. Presenting in this colloquy are James Keegan, Megan Lloyd, Nicholas Bellinson, and Clio Doyle.
Dr. Cannon began by acknowledging the late David Bevington’s contribution to his and Magnus’ upcoming book, Who Hears in Shakespeare, the basis for this colloquy. He also thanked Kirsten Richards, a journalist who was “essential in conducting a series of interviews with actors,” most likely again, in preparation for the upcoming book. As he began the colloquy, Dr. Cannon introduced the idea that a colloquy is a place for half-baked ideas, as opposed to fully-formed ones. He then expanded upon the purpose of the colloquy, and noted that it will explore the “multifarious ways in which speech and sound operate on Original Practice as well as contemporary stages.”
Introductions being in order, Dr. Cannon began with himself, and expanded upon the beginning of his work with hearing and Shakespeare in the 1990’s with Ralph Cohen. Clio Doyle is next, a sixth year PHD candidate at Yale, studying agriculture in the Early Modern Period. Nicholas Bellingson is also a sixth year PHD student, and is studying at the University of Chicago. The late David Bevington was one of his advisors. Laury Magnus, another chair, is currently working on “sight vs. sound” in Hamlet. Beth Brown, recently retired from the University of Rio Grande in Ohio. Her work in Who Hears in Shakespeare focuses on the Welsh language. Megan Lloyd’s recent work also focuses on the Welsh language. James Keegan has performed in many Shakespeare productions, and has been backstage listening for cues many times. His expertise seems to be more “authentic” than the rest of the panel, as Mr. Cannon points out.
Dr. Cannon steers the discussion towards the reading of letters in Twelfth Night, of which he claims there are four (but admits that some people count three). He begins with the letter forged in Olivia’s hand by Maria, and delivered to Malvolio. He points out the textual variance in the various versions of the text of the letter, and suggests that Maria plays into Malvolio’s growing egotism with the phrase “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” He expands upon the idea, and notes that the phrase (or some version of it) moves from a false soliloquy to an intimate confrontation between Olivia and Malvolio, and then finally to a public humiliation of Malvolio in front of the whole household. Dr. Magnus and Dr. Keegan point out a further corruption of the text of the letter by the actors speaking the text, and the variations of vocal expression.
Doyle begins with an anecdote about either imaginary or perhaps a real signing in her hotel room. She then talks about the dichotomy of soundscapes in Titus Andronicus: one aspect the forest, and the other the court. She suggests that the noises of the forest might be made by actors, and enhance the experience, acting as an “instrument of death.” Furthermore, she posits the the actors might encourage the audience in attendance to make such noises, particularly the “hissing” which appears to resonate and repeat throughout Titus. When she begins to quote Ovid, though, dear reader, your correspondent is lost. There was a question from an attendant of the colloquy about mastication, but Doyle did not have a response prepared. Another audience member points out the seemingly dichotic descriptions of the sounds of the forest in Titus, and a third suggests she is mocking and gaslighting Lavinia and the audience with such descriptions. As You Like It is mentioned, and its relation as a forest full of noise to Titus. It seems to serve a completely different purpose. The conversation morphs into a discussion of artistic choices of various noises in Shakespeare, and when noises should be used, e.g. the absence or presence of noise in the “To Be or Not To Be” scene in Hamlet around the line, “Where’s your father?”
Dr. Magnus begins her discussion about Hamlet, and the difference sensations (sight and sound) presented in the text. She says that “all the organs of the Danish state are corrupted by the eldest primal curse: a brother’s murder.” By charting the sequence of hearing vs. seeing in all the major scenes, Dr. Magnus has created a chart of the dominant sense throughout the play. In the scene where Hamlet first sees the ghost, the dominant sense seems to be sight, as the men gathered on the ramparts discuss the visions of the ghost, and whether or not the ghost will appear to them or again or not.
Dr. Magnus then shifts the discussion to Hamlet’s “To Be Or Not To Be” speech, and if it is indeed a feigned soliloquy. The question of “who hears whom” is clearly vexed, Magnus asserts, as “we’re not quite sure who is onstage when.” She makes the point that Hamlet has been summoned by Polonius and Claudius, and therefore expects them to be present. Ophelia, later in the scene might also be performing for the two when she seemingly quotes witticisms that may have been originally proliferated by Polonius.
Bellinson’s paper, “Not Hearing and Not Listening the Merchant of Venice 3.2″ suggests that Portia, while pretending to call for “background music,” while Bassanio “comments of the inscriptions during the song.” He suggests that Bassanio, and the rest of the company on stage are in various stages of listening during the song, and that the sing might hint at the answer to the riddle.
The discussion continues with a discussion of Henry IV Part 1, Act Three, Scene One. Beth Brown asks: “Why is this scene here?” We are treated to a lovely song in Welsh, and asked to imagine with which character we might identify. Personally, Mortimer, who is present (and conspicuously quiet during the majority of this scene) is the character with which I identify. The Welsh singing is lovely, and any attendee of this Colloquy would confess the same. Thank you, Jennifer Linhart! Megan Lloyd suggests that the song and Lady Mortimer are inserted into the scene to develop the Welsh as sympathetic antagonists. The scene showcases the agency women in Wales might have over their husbands, and it also allows for a demonstration of Welsh signing, which might contrast the almost vulgar Welsh that is proliferated throughout the song. Ms. Lloyd posits that the scene exemplifies that listening is the kinship “the fractured isle may need,” and that the power of Wales comes from this simple act.
As the panel draws to a close, your correspondent will make some edits, and update the blog. Another rousing Colloquy at the 2019 Blackfriars Conference!