Hello everyone! Today is Thursday, October 24th, and we are back at the Blackfriars Playhouse for this morning’s paper session, focused on the theme of night. My name is Alexandra LaGrand, and I will be reporting on this session for you, and our moderator is Martha Walker from Mary Baldwin University.
This paper session includes speakers Mary Finch from Staunton Montessori School, Claire Kimball from Brave Spirits Theatre, Jane Wells from Muskingum University, Robert Miola from Loyola University, Maryland, Ian Borden and Wesley Broulik from the University of Nebraska, and Barbara Bono from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
First up, we have Mary Finch from Staunton Montessori School and graduate of the Mary Baldwin University Shakespeare and Performance program with her paper, “‘Put on Your Nightgown’: A Case for Pajamas in Macbeth.” Finch began by explaining that while production teams typically balk at the idea of incorporating pajamas onstage, one scene of Macbeth actually calls for it, signalling its importance to the text and narrative scope. Because Lady Macbeth calls for Macbeth to don his nightgown at least twice, this proves to be an important part of the murder of Duncan, yet is often left offstage. Finch argued that the reason for pajamas being left offstage is typically because of their presence in a single stage, making it difficult for actors to change quickly. Shakespeare, being a man of the stage, Finch argued, incorporated a buffer scene with porter knock-knock jokes in order to give time for the characters to change. In spite of arguments against the use of pajamas, Finch argued in favor of fully exploring the use of pajamas onstage and their full implication on the entirety of the play.
Next up, we have Claire Kimball from Brave Spirits Theatre, another MBU Shakespeare and Performance alumna, with her paper, “‘And so I am awake’: Staging Night Watchers in Early Modern Drama.” Kimball began by discussing the many varieties of night watchers of early modern drama, asserting that the presence of night watchers with religious implications occurred more often than other kinds of night watchers. Kimball went on to argue that being awake at night for religious study was favored, as it contrasted with the associated nightly traits of doom and evil. Being awake at night thus serves as a form of religious meditation to reflect on one’s life and sins. Characters who enter with books at nighttime can signal as forms of watchfulness, however, we should go on to explore this trope fully instead of resorting back to the traditional association of reflection with reading at nighttime. Kimball went on to explain that we should also explore the labors that readers at nighttime experience, and how they overcome these labors.
Jane Wells from Muskingum University with her paper, “Nocturnal Appreciations: Aestheticizing Visual Deficiency” comes next. Wells began by explaining an account of a production at Shakespeare’s Globe at which there was insufficient light by a half hour before sundown. Arguing that Shakespeare was a playwright of all seasons is a complicated assertion. Wells urged us to investigate the use of artificial light in certain conditions on the stage in order to enhance the lighting onstage in an otherwise poorly-lit stage. She argued that night had to be communicated linguistically or through functional props with light. A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers an interesting investigation into night, since six of its nine scenes take place at nighttime. She argued that the lantern used by Quince in the play-within-a-play of Dream serves as an aesthetic choice rather than a functional one because of its inability to light the full stage; however, in spite of this, it would enhance audience attention to the artificial light, and in turn, the other sources of artificial light onstage in the effort to illuminate the stage. Finally, Wells argued that the aesthetic use of artificial light helps to enhance the nocturnal settings of Shakespeare’s plays.
Robert Miola from Loyola University in Maryland is up next with his paper, “Great Caesar’s Ghost.” Miola began by explaining that Brutus does not recognize Caesar’s ghost at first, because Plutarch incorporated a phantom or other type of figure, but not explicitly a ghost. It was simply the soul of a departed mortal rather than being identified as a ghost. In other translations, Caesar’s ghost is identified as an evil spirit or an ill angel, until Shakespeare finally identifies him as a ghost. Miola continued to explain that Edmond Malone argued in favor of Shakespeare’s play being called Marcus Brutus instead of Julius Caesar. He went on to provide a performance history of the depiction of Caesar’s ghost, ranging from depicting him in a nightgown to being depicted as a figment of Brutus’ imagination. Miola suggested an argument put forth by the Oxford Shakespeare that Caesar should be doubled as Pindarus in the effort to truly enact the revenge on Cassius and Brutus.
Next up, we have Ian Borden and Wesley Broulik from the University of Nebraska with their paper, “Staging Death on Death as Morality Show in The Second Maiden’s Tragedy.” Borden and Broulik began by suggesting that the depiction of death in Second Maiden’s Tragedy alludes to the moral implication and interpretation for each character. They suggested that kinds of death have certain moral implications, including that of suicide completed by a woman. While suicide is typically seen as negative, they argued that a woman is allowed to take her life if it is in the preservation of her chastity. They continued to explore the concept of noble suicide, including that by sword, which immediately alludes to Antony from Antony and Cleopatra. For a woman to kill herself by falling on her sword in Second Maiden’s Tragedy, it has noble implications. They raised the question of whether or not suicide is an act of virtue. THey went on to demonstrate several instances of what they termed overkill on the early modern stage in the effort to reinforce the moral paradigms of the mentioned play.
Finally, we have Barbara Bono from the State University of New York at Buffalo with her paper, “Ugly Beauty in the Court of The Faerie Queene.” Bono began by discussing John Lyly’s Endymion, a play written and performed at the court of Elizabeth I. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, tried several times for the hand of Elizabeth in marriage, but failed. Lyly’s plays, Bono argued, are rarely performed nowadays, but went on to cite two productions by the ASC in 2009 and Mary Baldwin University students in 2018. Bono then discussed the several representations of Chaucer’s Sir Topas figure, with notable differences in the various writings of the character. Lyly’s depiction of Topas was a sly hinting at the playwright’s own desire for patronage from Elizabeth. She went on to argue that the worship of an aging monarch is something that has continued to today.
This paper session ended with a question-and-answer session with the session speakers.