Hello everyone! Welcome back to the tenth biennial Blackfriars Conference! This is Alexandra LaGrand, reporting to you for our first paper session, centered around geography. This paper session is moderated by Mary Baldwin’s own Doreen Bechtol.
This paper session includes speakers Joseph Stephenson from Abilene Christian University, Robin Bates from University of Lynchburg, Michael Wagoner from Florida State University, Elizabeth Sharrett from University of Lynchburg, Kathryn Moncrief and Brendon Fox from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Washington College, and Stephen Wittek from Carnegie Mellon University.
First up is Joseph Stephenson from Abilene Christian University with his paper, “‘Did The Dutch Lady Go To Law School?’: The Inns of Court and Early Modern Theatrical Practice.” Stephenson begins with the question of whether or not The Dutch Lady play was ever performed at the Inns of Court because of its being rife with legal language that, arguably, would have been a hit with various sixteenth century law students. While there is no specific evidence to prove this, it seems plausible. Stephenson went on to discuss a production of The Dutch Lady as part of the “Read Not Dead” series from Shakespeare’s Globe. After noticing similarities between The Dutch Lady and plays by Aphra Behn, Stephenson went on to compare the texts, arguing that The Dutch Lady served as a source play for Behn’s work. Stephenson continued to examine the similarities in stage direction diction that ended up helping to narrow down the list of potential playwrights responsible for The Dutch Lady. After further inquiry, Stephenson offered a convincing argument that the playwright responsible was Edward Ravenscroft, who further offered his play to Behn in the effort to support her playwriting work.
Next up we have Robin Bates from the University of Lynchburg with her paper, “‘A Place Sometime Called Ravenspurre’: Mapping Lost Space in Richard II.“ Bates begins by explaining the physical position of the spurn off the coast of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. After seeing a dramatic shift in sea levels, land eroded, drastically affecting the town of Ravenspurn, or Ravenspurre. By Shakespeare’s time, this town was miles off the coast and underneath the sea. She goes on to discuss the importance of the demonstrative Latin pronoun “hic” in the English form “this” and its effect on the renown “This England” speech in Richard II. She goes on to mention the use of collective memory and its importance in heightening memories by associating them with a specific place. The repetition of the name “Ravenspurn” throughout the Henriad is significant in assisting to map memory and play events; however, Bates noted that source documents such as Holinshed’s Chronicles or contemporary maps don’t support this repetition, nor is this place actually depicted onstage in Richard II, despite its memorial significance. By the time Shakespeare wrote these history plays, Ravenspurn had been under the sea for the entire living memory of the plays’ audiences; and yet, the Henriad goes on to utilize this space in the dramatization of historical events.
Michael Wagoner from Florida State University is next with his paper entitled, “Shakespeare Aloft, Fletcher Above: Gendered Vertical Space.” Wagoner began with the iconic image of Juliet in the balcony, noting specifically the word “aloft” seen in its stage directions. Wagoner explained that Fletcher was more engaged than Shakespeare was in using the “above” balcony space for femininity, with Fletcher averaging half of all above scenes using a female character. For women in Shakespeare, Wagoner argues, danger typically lied below. The women who descended from above in the Shakespeare canon found ruin. Fletcher differs, writing women as owners of the above space, protecting this space from male invasion. Unlike the women in Shakespeare that seek to engage with the men from their place above, Fletcher’s women protect their space as their realm.
Elizabeth Sharrett from the University of Lynchburg comes next with her paper, “Staging ‘Virginians’ in George Chapman’s The Memorable Masque.” Sharrett began by providing a performance history of Chapman’s play with particular focus on costume. The cost of costumes was over 2,000 English pounds, demonstrating a severe financial strain on the company. The masquers were dressed in traditionally-Native American garb, with influence from the 1590 description of Virginians by Thomas Harriet. These costumes were highly stylized after carefully considering pictorial evidence from contemporary colonial propaganda. Sharrett argued that this is most seen in the fact that it was well-known that there was no gold in Virginia at this time, however, there was an enormous amount of gold presented in the costume and scenery of the masque in the effort to demonstrate the worthiness of investing in this particular project because of the kind of wealth that supposedly existed in North America.
Next up, we have Kathryn Moncrief and Brendon Fox from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Washington College with their paper, “‘All hid, all hid’: The Challenges of Concealment in Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Moncrief began by discussing the challenges that exist in staging this play, with notable differences between staging in an indoor theatre and an outdoor theatre. Moncrief noted that a challenge that must be faced with every production of Love’s Labour’s Lost is in the duration of scene 4.3, when three of the four men must be hidden from one another. Fox noted the physical challenges these characters face in having to hide stealthily and quickly, going so far as to recall an account of one character hiding in plain sight by sitting in the audience. Moncrief went on to raise the question, “Does stepping aside mean complete invisibility?” Moncrief and Fox then proceeded to use actors to stage two different possibilities in staging this difficult scene. Finally, Moncrief and Fox noted that the challenges in staging this scene is directly reflective of the men’s psychological relationship with one another.
Finally, we have Stephen Wittek from Carnegie Mellon University with his paper, “The Blackfriars Playhouse in Virtual Reality.” Wittek has been working on Shakespeare in virtual reality since 2018, attempting to create virtual reality situations where students can experience first-hand actors performing monologues and soliloquies in the Blackfriars Playhouse. Wittek began by explaining that his goal with this project is to find ways while using virtual reality to introduce students to the physical conditions that Shakespeare had in mind while Shakespeare wrote his plays. He explained that dramatists, Shakespeare included, had to consider bodies and physical location while writing the play, so readers should also be able to consider this when reading the plays. Because the physical conditions are in the DNA of the texts of Shakespeare, students need to obtain the sense of early modern theatrical conditions in order to understand fully the condition and experience of these plays. Last November, Wittek explained, his team came to the Blackfriars Playhouse to film Zoe Speas performing monologues from Hamlet. This experience is available for everyone to participate in throughout the conference in the upper lobby of the playhouse. The next phase of this project is to create some sort of voice-recognition software in order to incorporate captioning, similar to that of a “Shakespeare karaoke” for students and users to be able to immerse themselves into a Shakespearean scene.
This paper session was concluded with a question-and-answer session with the session speakers.