Good afternoon! I’m Tim Briggs here on Thursday afternoon for Plenary Paper Session V: Sensuality.
The moderator is Christopher Hodgkins from University of North Carolina Greensboro.
The first speakers are Celia Madeoy & Stephanie Shirilan from Syracuse University. Their paper is Shakespeare Inspired: Lessons from an Experimental, Interdisciplinary Teaching Collaboration.
Madeoy was once an actor in residence at the ASC. This presentation starts with two people laying on the stage. Shirilan says this is a hybrid talk and doesn’t want it to be too formal, but wishes that they could experiment more with the breath as they had in their work. Madeoy teaches drama and Shirilan teaches English at their university. They wanted to create an enriching interdisciplinary experience for their students, giving actors more experience in philosophical and historical context, and giving scholars to explore the use of air and breath in Shakespeare. Stephanie created a course to accomplish this, seeking to mobilize the breath to talk about air as representative of many things, especially talking about the way that breath of God moves through the space of the theatre during performance. Students were able to observe the complex things that breath supports or subverts in performance.
Actors on the stage are modeling an exercise for breath. Patsy Rodenburg drives home the idea of being doggy-eared alert, that you must be that presence to speak. Breathwork is beginning for any actor to begin to gain that awareness. Madeoy works with the actors to do a breathing and energy exercise using breath and vocalizing and energy to fill the space while interacting with each other. She joins them for the exercise while coaching them. They move through vocalizing a series of numbers from one to five then one to ten. Then they talk about building the length of a speech, starting at the beginning of a speech and seeing how far they can go with one breath, then starting over with a new breath.
One actor says it always surprises her how much longer she can speak than she thinks they can.
Vocal commands summon breath to refocus audience attention to what has been transpired and inspired by them.
The next exercise is to provoke an illusion of conflict. Madeoy talks them through an energy exercise to do this, working on pushing each other off balance and then using a familiar rhyme (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) to talk to each other. Then they switched to regular line, focusing energy on each other to still create that illusion of conflict.
Shirilan talks of the insights this kind of work makes possible, such as the friendly and unfriendly exchanges, and exchanges of other conflicting tones, throughout Romeo and Juliet.
Madeoy brings the actors back to use not just pushing each other, but also pulling, again creating that illusion of conflict via a “dance” of push and pull. The actors then add their lines from Merry Wives of Windsor. The actors repeat the lines, now physically disengaged with each other but keeping energy between them.
Madeoy reminds the audience that acting is a sport, and you can and should get out of breath. You have to have a visceral, energetic, spiritual connection with your scene partner. Madeoy compares Shakespeare not to “talking heads” but to Game of Thrones with connections and machinations.
Shirilan talks about Patsy Rodeburg’s cautioning of actors to remember historical pressures.
The next speaker is Kate McPherson from Utah Valley University. Her paper is “The Expunger of Naughtiness:” Bowlder Scenes from Antony and Cleopatra.
McPherson gives some editorial history of some publications of Shakespeare that omitted things that were taking out things that were looking to get laughs by being dirty, essentially.
Bowdlerize definition came from this practice, and this practice was ostensibly removed based on moral “decency.” Bowlder was trying to remove things that were “obscene,” claiming to be protecting women in particular from vulgarity. McPherson says we cannot discount Bowlder’s work, for it gave access to Shakespeare for so long.
Many of Bowlder’s versions improved on the 18th and 19th Shakespeare versions, which sometimes removed as much as one-third of the original text. Bowlder himself asserts that his plays have “done for the library what the manager does for the theatre.”
Can an expurgated version of the stage exceed onstage now? McPherson professes to appreciate bawdy content, but she also admits to teaching in a conservative area where censorship for purity reasons is common.
The performance experiment now is to present two versions from Antony and Cleopatra: one from the ASC version this season and one from the Bowlder version. The scene is between serving women and the soothsayer. In the ASC version, there are many references that are bawdy. In the Bowlder version, it is much shorter, with none of those references.
McPherson reviews the differences for the audience. The Bowlder removes references to sex, sexual organs, and child bearing.
The next scene contains almost all of the original text, leaving in most of the phrases we know to be dirty slang. The challenge for the actors this time is to present the Bowlder one without focusing on the innuendo. They perform the ASC version first, with all the innuendo. Then they perform the Bowlder version, which is very similar, but without landing heavily on the dirty slang words, as if those words did not mean anything dirty.
McPherson reviews some of the differences before the bear arrives.
The next speaker was supposed to be Eric Brinkman, Ohio State University. His paper is “And what love can do, that dares love attempt”: The Performance of Erotic Knowledge in Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, he was not able to be present at the conference.
The next speaker is Clara Biesel from University of Minnesota. Her paper is Olivia’s Socially Mobile and Misidentified Hand.
Biesel speaks about the intention between the lines of text. There are questions of epistemology, particular when questions of sex come up. The hand is a symbol, an agent of various things.
In Twelfth Night, there’s a high value placed on knowledge. An actor punctuates Biesel’s points by reciting lines from the play that represent what she is saying in her analysis of how the words relate to the value of knowledge. Actors deliver lines throughout his presentation to add punctuation and emphasis to Biesel’s point.
The audience shares knowledge that Malvolio does not fare well in exchanges with other characters, something Maria sees as well. This knowledge allows Maria to exact her revenges. Olivia and Maria write in Italian hand, which is typical of secretary. The Roman hand is thought of as a feminine hand, or something that is used in intimate letters (regardless of the gender of the author).
The reasons for Maria writing in Roman hand demonstrate Maria using these abilities with writing to express her own involvement. Biesel talks about how letters delivered to some characters affect their standing, and can be dangerous to both recipient and author of the letter. Biesel compares Malvolio to Gloucester in King Lear. Malvolio never doubts that Olivia is the author of the letter, claiming to recognize Olivia’s handwriting. Biesel points out that Malvolio says “this is my lady’s hand,” not something about how the letter is written in her hand. This reference colors the way the audience views his handling of that paper.
As Maria takes up her fortune by means of her pen, the play shows the hand as a tool for self-transformation. Maria’s hand is another disguised character in a play full of mistaken identities. She achieves a social fluidity about which Malvolio can only fantasize. She gives herself the power to move beyond her role in the household.
The next speaker is Stacey Jocoy from Texas Tech University. Her paper is Ophelia’s Jig Drama, or, The Method to her Madness.
Jocoy begins by reading stage directions. An actor with a guitar performs the song that Ophelia sings in this scene of Hamlet. Jocoy says that this tune is as close as we have been able to get to the tune that would have been heard at the first performance of Hamlet. This is confirmed by the traditional ballad that this seems to be based on. The rhyme scheme and meter match except in a couple of lines.
Previous assertions about the tune were muddied by what was popular in the 18th century.
This tune is a significant musicological discovery, but Jocoy points out that between Quartos show tunes shifting places, lyrics, and texts. (There is a handout for this that most of the audience has a copy of.)
The changes seem to indicate that this particular text and tune should be the first thing audiences associate with Ophelia’s madness. Jocoy talks about the history of Walsingham as a place of female power and spirituality. (Walsingham is the name of the original tune that Ophelia’s tune is based on, and also an actual place.)
The tune without any text at all carries its own associations with illicit sexuality. Tunes have semiotic impact and sociological relevance. Matching lyrics to this tune is not a mistake and would be done to convey certain things.
Jig ballads were somewhat controversial little dramas that would be performed “in the shadow of the playhouse,” which is literally and figuratively relevant.
Very few of these jig ballads are extent. We hear them more than we see actual texts of them. The jigs were so popular that they were considered proprietary, belonging to playhouse clowns, and not set down in text.
Recognizing that Hamlet mentions the idea of the jig maker, could it be that Ophelia may, in her own grief, be trying to catch the consciousness of the Danish monarchy, even Hamlet himself? Could she be creating her own jig drama for this? Jocoy goes further into the chart on the handout.
If this is Ophelia’s jig drama, it is not about madness, but more purposefully talking about the message that she was putting into her song. Audiences would have recognized the tunes. For modern audiences now, the old tone could not convey the same thing.
The actor earlier then demonstrates the tune with a more current popular tune to convey the same sort of thing to a modern audience. The actor then slips into Papa Don’t Preach to really bring that home. The bear comes in dancing to this song.
The last speaker is Hailey Bachrach from King’s College London and Shakespeare’s Globe. Her paper is Silence and Consent in Shakespeare’s History Plays.
Bachrach begins by having a scene from an anonymous play. Women’s silence is widely understood as consent to political marriage. Shakespeare often has women refusing to consent. Bachrach wants to argue that the consistent lack of consent in his history plays is not unintentional sexism, but making a purposeful statement.
The actors present a scene with Lady Gray in 3 Henry VI.
Lady Gray is silent then for many lines. Explicit consent can be replaced here with theatrical convention because the audience recognizes that she will consent. Romantic histories, however, frequently have a man explicitly denied. Shakespeare himself is capable of this, as shown in Edward III, which the actors present a scene from.
The actors then switch to 3 Henry VI.
These drive home the idea of the scenic unit. The scenes’ divergence is very striking in that they set up an explicit rejection, a refusing of consent, and another woman (Lady Gray) being silent. This shows that Shakespeare did not have to rely on theatrical conventions to indicate silence as consent. Shakespeare was plainly aware of how it could be misinterpreted if a woman responded only with physical response. Shakespeare draws the attention between what a historian reports and a dramatist can show.
The repetition scene goes throughout the history plays, generating a sense of the history play as a genre that operates in contention with the historical narrative.
Moderator Christopher Hodgkins then led a Q&A with the audience:
Question for Kate: for scenes where sexual content was less edited than others, is that because the editor either didn’t get it or did they assume that their audience wouldn’t understand the slang? Was that condescension to the audience? McPherson says it’s hard to know. It was largely attacked, so Bowlder was defensive about his project. He doesn’t ever outline why he took some words out and left others in. A reader could perceive this as condescension. He wants to keep the plays as intact as possible because he loves the work, but he wants it to be proper enough to read in a paper.
Question for Stacey: Is what you’re actually suggesting that Ophelia is not mad by pointing at these traditions? Jocoy says she has trouble with that because it seems like there may be a connection to an earlier well-known jig ballad from the time. If we’re going to say that Ophelia’s tunes line up with the well-known jig ballads, that there could be an idea that she’s not mad, in the same way that Hamlet himself was feigning madness earlier on. Is this an effort to get attention? It could be. Ideas of hysteria and female madness could be on the edge of sanity or extreme emotional volatility.
Question for Celia and Stephanie: Do students pair themselves up in the exercises? Does this affect the class and how? Most exercises were done in Madeoy’s studio class, with students volunteering to do and/or lead them. Anybody who felt uncomfortable participating could withdraw from doing so. The exercise takes place before Shirilan speaks about etymology; it prepares the voice and breath.
Question for Hailey: Why focus on just history plays when there are so many other examples of consent? Part of that is that Bachrach’s dissertation is on this topic. She admits that there is work to be done across other genres, but that is not her focus aren’t.
Question for Clara: Other women in Twelfth Night are taking on roles. Your paper suggests that Maria is not an outlier. Is this part of a larger pattern? Biesel has not thought of comparing Maria to other women in the play, but to women in other plays.
Question for Kate: Has anyone published a book composed of only the removed bits of the Bowlder books? McPherson is surprised by how little modern scholarly engagement there is with Bowlder’s work, given how widespread it was in the 19th century. There’s a real gap in the scholarship in this area. She may work on that in the future, but currently, no.
Question for Kate: What does she make of modern productions that edit for a different sensitivity, such as racial sensitivities or sexism? McPherson does think about how every age has its sensitivities. We have different things now that we feel are indecent than existed in Bowlder’s time. She hopes that 100 years from now, it isn’t considered laughable to edit for inclusivity. We can’t know what anyone will think about how we edit or perform Shakespeare in future generations. She thinks that scholars and actors need to ask why they are cutting things in the here and now.