Good afternoon! I’m Tim Briggs here on Thursday afternoon for Paper Session 4: Sound & Music.

Moderator Brian Granger from Mary Baldwin University starts this panel, talking about spectacles of the body, focus on voice and music and breath. He mentions moral and emotional power and liminality of the body and its use in theatre performance.

The first presenter is Sae Kitamura from Musashi University. Her paper is called Sweet Breath and Stinking Breath in Early Modern English Drama. The smell of breath can have an elemental or environmental bias. She does invite comments, saying her paper needs a breath of fresh air. She references Bottom’s speech in Midsummer, “most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath; and I do not doubt but to hear them say, it is a sweet comedy.” (4.2.39-42)

Bottom’s concern is not a standalone joke. There is another reference to breath in Sonnet 130. Halitosis is also mentioned in The Canterbury Tales. There are mentions of breath in Julius Caesar 1.2, Coriolanus 2.1, and Antony and Cleopatra 5.2.

Some of these plays, being performed in close quarters in playhouses, brought the fear of choking on someone else’s breath to life; this was likely a very real fear. Actors in early modern houses may have been forced to “drink the vapor” of someone else’s breath.

Shakespeare discussed inappropriate food consumption, such as in 2 Henry VI 4.7 in reference to Jack Cade. This bad breath applied to lower class characters also indicated that they could have had less eloquent speaking skills.

In Hamlet 3.1, Ophelia remarks on Hamlet’s sweet breath, equating it with eloquence and being well-spoken. There are other such references in early modern works, such as in Knight of the Burning Pestle 3.3. Sweet breath is also used as a sign of male beauty, as remarked upon by Rosalind in As You Like It Epilogue 16-19.

The next speaker is David Landon from Sewanee: The University of the South with “The Outcry”: Shakespeare from the Heart.

It is easy to take Shakespeare’s use of “O!” For granted. There are 2,476 times that O is used – dozens of times per play. This outcry comes from a powerful realization. It is found 99 times in Lear, 113 in Antony and Cleopatra, 125 in Hamlet. In the Henry V prologue, the theatre is called a great O. The mythological figure Ecphonesis is associated with O and is nicknamed The Outcry. There are many species of ecphonesis. There are so many examples, such as “O, wonder, given in outcry of various emotions.

There are some Os that are very notes of admiration. A notable passion of wonder appears, known as “admiration.” This passion is a moment of astonishment when one can no longer rely on their regular way of describing. Admiration is more ambiguous is Shakespeare than we may think of it.

There is a comparison of “commotio” and Shakespeare’s use of “commotion,” such as in Henry V. The presenter refers to such exclamations as moments of disturbance and radical discovery in which the world no longer seems fixed. He posits that the impulse to cry, “O,” begins with astonishment. In Hamlet 3.1, Ophelia says, “O, what a noble mind is here overthrown?” It could be a lament, but Landon suggestions that this O is a cry of utter admonishment, of admiration in the full sense. How could her beloved prince behave in such a brutal way? It is not just Hamlet but her whole world that has been overthrown. This moment of commotion, of suspended action, exists in this exclamation. Ophelia never fully recovers from this.

Shakespeare’s world can be terrible, but also wonderful.

Landon ends by saying that for the attentive reader and conscientious actor to really consider the O in-depth as radical discovery. Don’t put off an O! Never underestimate the power of a sound! Unfortunately, then, a bear came to take Landon away.

The next speakers are Jennifer Linhart Wood & Emily Russell from the Folger Shakespeare Library & St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Their paper is Vocalizing Gendered Sounds of Witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Jonson’s Masque of Queens.

This opens with three actors (who appear to be men) reading as the witches in Macbeth.

The witches are said that they should be women, according to Banquo, but he refers to their beards, twisting gender expectations. The reference to beards can refer to the beards of the men that would have played the witches. These witches were often older and often female; witches’ bodies are not necessarily able to easy fit into a binary aspect of gender. Older men attempting to sound like witches may have resonated with older women whose voices changed with age. Yet, witch voices were also compared to the beautiful and deadly siren’s song.

Modern audiences are used to female actors playing witches. But how does hearing older bearded men perform these roles inform what we can perceive of the early modern stage?

In The Masque of Queens, there is an anti-masque referring to 12 witches. Jonson uses feminine pronouns at odds with the professional habit of getting male performers to perform these female roles. It is likely that cisgender men embodied voices in a way that resembled queer female bodies. Jonson likely envisioned the men’s voices to match the gender of the characters they were playing, perhaps modulating how they spoke (using something similar to falsetto in singing).

Jonson writes that he is reconciling the practice of antiquity with the habits of his own time. Jonson relies on Homer, Vergil, the Malleus Maleficarum (aka The Hammer of Witches), and other texts including folk tales. These references are in the margin notes of Masque of Queens. Jonson paid close attention to visual and sonic representations, because in his time, witches were considered real and quite threatening. The Malleus insisted on the gendered and hypersexualized characteristics of witches.

The Malleus refers to witches as being mostly women, cautioning that witches may exist if women are given too much power in the household. Witches are especially dangerous adversaries in this time. The text refers to the voice being like siren’s songs, luring others to kill them. Witches are perilous than snares, in the way of devils, by basically being too seductive and passing spells on men and animals. Witches’ appearance and voices were stereotypes and kept in the public consciousness.

The male actors performed as witches again in scenes from Masque. They all use the higher voices the presenters referred to earlier, screeching and keening in a high-pitched fashion to demonstrate this thing about witches.

This performance is frightening because of the things that these bodies and vocalizations can produce. Perhaps the older men in early modern times would be enough to truly frighten audiences. These performers’ vocalization suggests a transgender embodiment of the transgressive body of the witch herself.

The next speaker is James Loehlin from The University of Texas at Austin. His paper is Playing at Questions.

In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, the title characters play a game relying on statements, repetitions, etc. This is demonstrated by several actors performing a scene. They later evaluate their failure with Hamlet, talking about Hamlet uses many questions but answers only three. Loehlin and the actors performed the questions game, abridged.

Does asking more questions than you answer constitute rhetorical victory?

Hamlet wins the questions game against R&G by refusing to answer any questions while also asking many of his own. In other instances, too many questions could represent rhetorical weakness. Loehlin talks about an actor who didn’t want to play Orlando in As You Like It, because he asks so many questions that are just to provide Rosalind’s snappy answers. An actor demonstrates reading only Orlando’s part of the scene, which is originally about a ten-minute scene; Orlando’s questions are merely functional. This is the rhetorically weaker possession.

Characters like Iago are good at getting people to ask them questions. Iago wins this questions game against Othello.

There is a presentation of answering a question with a question, such as the Nurse and Juliet speaking after Romeo kills Tybalt (Romeo & Juliet), and the exchange between York and Somerset talking of the red and white roses (1 Henry VI). These are not necessarily rhetorically sophisticated and can be seen as childlike.

In Loves Labour’s Lost, Rosaline turns Berowne’s question back on him in an almost insulting way. There are other examples in various plays of women using questions this way, with women rebutting men’s questions and redirecting them back to the men.

Sometimes determining what is a question can be tricky, such as the Folio often using question marks where another editor might use an exclamation point, such as an exchange between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth when they are plotting the murder. Uncertainties in punctuation, quantifying the strategic deployment of questions in Shakespeare can be difficult.

Comedies tend to have more questions, largely because of the confusion and misunderstanding in the plots. History have relatively fewer questions. Tragedies, political plays have less questions than philosophical plays. Hamlet has so many questions that in the Folio, the printers were running out of question marks.

There are examples of rhetorical questions, which are those in which the person asking the question doesn’t really expect an answer. These often come in barrages in a sustained speech in Shakespeare. This is perhaps the most common questions game in Shakespeare, and it could be argued that rhetorical questions are not questions at all. A different punctuation mark was introduced for these types of questions. Even in soliloquies, sometimes rhetorical questions may not be as rhetorical as they first seem. There is also the danger when asking a real question that you may get an answer. He used an example where when Matt Davies was playing Lear, when he asked, “Who am I?” a child answered, “You’re King Lear.”

The next speaker is Catherine Loomis from Rochester University of Technology. Her paper is “Have You No Song for this Purpose?”

This speaker refers to the 20th and 21st Century songs that remark on the plays that the actors sing before the performances at the ASC. The songs engage the audience. The audience finds intriguing connections between the songs and the play (as is the point). This paper offers reasons why earlier or antique songs, such as those from the 1590s, could be performed in place or alongside these popular songs.

Audiences could be under the impression that Shakespeare’s songs might fit tunes we recognize today. (This is demonstrated with an actor singing various songs to a familiar tune, that of Greensleeves.) The complexities cannot necessarily all fit into Greensleeves, but a less educated audience may expect it.

The speaker uses modern music terms to refer (often cleverly) to older songs, such as saying that they might be “off ye olde charts.” The songs are easy to learn and quite clever in the Early Modern text.

We can’t know if Shakespeare used popular songs or was the reason that some are created; some songs came out before or during plays, but we are not always sure which came first. The speaker remarks that if Taylor Swift recorded one of these pleasing early modern songs, then perhaps it would be popular now (her point is that the ASC could certainly use these older songs to relate to plays the same way they use today’s popular music).

She relates various songs to Shakespeare’s plays, such as references to taming shrews and the line, “Kiss me, Kate.” Othello’s lines may relate back to songs about sexual violence. Another popular song representing dogs can tie into The Tempest’s use of dog spirits.

She mentions a humorous song title, “Away with you, self-loving lads.” The players and the play team might find that adding older songs could help audiences connect passion to the plays.

The final speaker is Dawn Tucker from Flagstaff Shakespeare Company. Her paper is Acrobats on the Early Modern Stage: How Human Spectacle Enhances Original Practices Shakespeare.

“This research began nine years ago as a stubborn wind proved Dr. Menzer wrong.” Tucker posited that French should just jump from the balcony in Henry VI. She discovered a group of physically fit and impressive acrobatic tumblers in Shakespeare’s time. She wanted to know just how she could use the existence of and ability of tumblers to inform our performance now.

A few records help tell us about what tumblers would have done, such as one early tumbling manual, then a description of what early modern tumblers must have done. There is also an anecdote of a young boy leaping and skipping from bed to window to bed, and Tucker compares this to parkour. Men, women, and children tumbled, sometimes in families, sometimes alone, and often in paid troupes. Tucker presents a license for a woman to become a tumbler (so it is not at all restricted to men).

There are records showing that tumblers did have to do with acting troupes from the 1500s and 1600s. There are records that show payment given to tumblers; there is no distinction between those who are tumblers, players, or both. It was not an isolated phenomenon to pay tumblers. There are tumblers associated with various playing companies.

Why have scholars overlooked tumblers? It doesn’t fit our idea of what theater “might” be. Tucker posits we have gotten too uncomfortable with what bodies can do on our stages, especially on the Blackfriars Stage. She presents an example of acrobats in modern shows, such as “an entirely aerial Ariel” in The Tempest. Tucker talks about the literal representation of things such as Goddesses descending from the sky or people throwing themselves off walls. Tucker herself trained in trapeze, and offers that tumbling roles don’t often require lots of dialogue, so these people don’t have to be just actors, or even actors at all. She says that yes, these things are dangerous, but that those who perform these feats are aware of these dangers and will do stunts anyway.

Moderator Brian Granger then led a Q&A with the audience:

Question for James: in the Hamlet example, there is a long series of rhetorical questions. What follows is actually a statement with who meaning whoever does this, I should take it. Is there some textual evidence that making that a long series of questions comes from a later editor? Loehlin is not certain if this would be original or from the later editors, but he thinks there are quite a few actual question marks in the Folio version. He thinks that another reading is perfectly defensible, and that part of the work actors do is explore how to present what they’re saying and what to present as questions. His experience is that there are lots of question marks, more than expected.

Question for Catherine: is it possible to transcribe early musical notation to modern? She says it absolutely is and that notation is consistent.

Question for Catherine: In speaking with John Harold about his composing work for the ASC, he mentioned that there’s a kind of musician’s lore about key changes. The musicianship at ASC is very engaging. Catherine mentions key changes are used to express many things, as are jarring notes.

Question for Dawn about expanding about getting actors with physical tumbling experience and those without to work together. Tucker says that she rehearsed independently, as did the other aerialist. From records about tumblers, some may have moved between troops, which she thinks could be that they were training tumblers (though she admits that this is a guess). She says that trained aerialists could train someone to perform rudimentary work nowadays.

Question for Jennifer and Emily: Did they think that because witches had beards, they would have been played by adult male actors, and they would have wanted to use higher voices? Was the strident voice for witches a quote. Beards could have been real or prosthetic. Today, they were looking to demonstrate (via their actors) that the embodiment of gendered roles through sound, not necessarily through something with costumes. What effect does a man pitching their voice higher have on an audience perceiving their gender presentations?

Question for Dawn: What sort of identity politics could exist regarding tumblers, such as references to tumbling Turks, or the Italian tumblers that were accused of being spies? Tucker says most records were not referencing race. She says that because she focused on tumblers with acting companies, she did not find extensive mentions of race in her records; they were mostly also British. Tucker was surprised to find so many tumblers were women, even practicing alone and not in groups or families.

Question for Sai: How much would stinking breath and sweet breath have to do with disease in the period? One predominant theory of disease then was that they were brought with vapors. The plague outbreak affected plays in the period of course. Is there that sort of interplay in this topic? Perhaps there are other meanings to stinking breath, yes. Sweet breath is also a problem, because breath doesn’t necessarily smell sweet. So the perception of smell itself was different from our modern perceptions. So we have to think of the way breath would be perceived in the time and not just how we might think about it now.

Add a Comment

Leave a Comment