Hi everyone! I’m Margaux Delaney, and thanks for checking out this recap of the Friday late afternoon paper session.
Ralph Alan Cohen begins by giving a shoutout to Roz Knutson, Richard Hay, and George Walton Williams, respectively the 2019, 2017, and 2013 Blackfriars Conference honorees, who are all present in the audience.
Amy Cohen of Randolph College, our moderator, then gets the panel started by thanking early modern theater scholars for their performance-oriented scholarship––she says that when she borrows from their methods for classical theater scholarship, classicists don’t know what hit them.
Paul Menzer of Mary Baldwin University gives the first paper, Assassins. In his diary, John Wilkes Booth compares himself to Brutus, then to Macbeth, two of Shakespeare’s assassins. In the wake of Lincoln’s assassination, John’s brother Edwin Booth retired from the stage for some time before he made his return as Hamlet. (Of Hamlet, Paul notes that every assassin thinks of himself as a revenger.) In a following stint as Richard III, Edwin Booth was the victim of an attempted assassination. Menzer goes on to discuss Shakespearean animus, which manifests as everything from gunfire to authorship controversy. Shakespeare’s reputation, as per Newton’s third law, has elicited an equal and opposite reaction from writers from Shaw to Baldwin. Menzer suggests that this reaction––”bardicide,” maybe, formulated on the model of “bardolatry”––is productive in its own way. As a coda to the paper, Menzer says that Edwin Booth kept the assassin’s bullet and engraved it with the date of the attempt, April 23, 1879, meaning that his assassin celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday by shooting an actor. Menzer concludes, “It’s the thought that counts.”
Pamela Macfie of Sewanee follows with John Prine’s “Big Door Prize” and Ralph Cohen’s As You Like It. Macfie describes the sense of ease and leisure in Cohen’s 2018 As You Like It, which drew visually from Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. She focuses on a moment of music and a moment of non-music. Cohen introduced Touchstone’s wooing of Audrey with the song “Big Door Prize,” performed for this paper by Chris Johnston and Alexandra Stroud. Macfie reads the song as the partners’ mutual acceptance, even celebration, of their flaws. Macfie moves on to discuss the ballad “O sweet Oliver,” a few lines of which are assigned to Touchstone at the end of the wooing scene. Performed solo by Touchstone (demonstrated by Chris), it seems to turn away Sir Oliver Martext; in its original ballad context (demonstrated by Chris and Alexandra together), however, Touchstone takes the voice of a man who refuses to marry his betrothed. Under Cohen’s direction, Touchstone spoke, rather than sang, these lines. Macfie argues that this choice reduces the ballad’s power of dismissal. Touchstone and Audrey’s relationship in Cohen’s production thus wholly embraced Prine’s celebration of give and take.
Darren Freebury-Jones, with us from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, comes next with Shakespeare’s History Plays and Thatcher’s Britain: The Politics of Michael Bogdanov’s ESC Productions. The history plays in question were produced in Bogdanov’s Wars of the Roses, a seven-play cycle put on between 1986-1989 by the English Shakespeare Company, which Bogdanov founded as a highly political alternative to the RSC. Drawing from Bogdanov’s papers in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust archives, Freebury-Jones explores the ways in which the cycle engaged with Thatcher’s government. Bolingbroke’s deathbed advice to Hal to “busy giddy minds / With foreign quarrels” (2HIV 4.3.372-3), for example, to Bogdanov, invites a parallel to Thatcher’s Falkland policy in 1982. Joan’s execution in Henry VI, Part 1 evoked the executions by necklacing in apartheid South Africa. Richard III, to Bogdanov, was the “ultimate political power play,” and Richmond’s televised victory at the end of the play suggested a successful election rather than a victorious battle. Freebury-Jones emphasizes the continued relevance of Bogdanov’s political vision with a comparison to the Public’s 2017 Julius Caesar.
Ann Pleiss Morris of Ripon College follows with Cleopatra’s Company: Mary Sidney Herbert, Shakespeare, and Staging Women in the Early Modern Theater. Pleiss Morris begins by contrasting the infinitely various Cleopatra with the flatter women of Shakespeare’s earlier plays. What caused Shakespeare’s female characters to deepen? Pleiss Morris suggests that Mary Sidney Herbert had a role. Sidney Herbert was educated in languages and scripture; she collaborated with her brother Philip Sidney on a translation of the psalms, and she completed herself a translation of Garnier’s Senecan tragedy Antonius. Although scholars often frame Sidney Herbert in opposition to the public theater, Pleiss Morris suggests that her role was much greater than previously understood, mentioning that her husband was patron of the Lord Pembroke’s Men in the 1590s. Pleiss Morris speculates that Sidney Herbert influenced Shakespeare’s depiction of Cleopatra.
Next, Tiffany Stern from the Shakespeare Institute and the University of Birmingham presents Tarlton and Nobody: Merchandising and Playhouses. Stern is interested in the sales that were taking place in playhouses, especially sales of print. In this paper, she focuses on playhouse marketing of Richard Tarlton after his death on September 3, 1588. Tarlton had a long afterlife in printed ballads, pamphlets, and other media and ephemera. Stern then cycles through a few images of Tarlton––an image from a 1613 print, one from a 1590s manuscript, then one from another manuscript which Stern introduced, “You won’t have seen it before, because I found it.” Stern argues that these images, geographically as well as temporally dispersed, point to the existence of a lost 1590s print depicting Tarlton. She runs through some evidence from Robert Wilson’s Three Ladies of London and Robert Armin’s Quips upon Questions that suggests that broadsheets bearing Tarlton’s image were sold during theater performances through a kind of “product placement.” Stern end the presentation with a question for further inquiry: who was behind this playhouse merchandizing, the theater or the publishers?
Matthew Davies from Mary Baldwin University rounds out the session with his paper Hamlet and the Rhetoric of the Cuckoo. Davies begins by defining epizeuxis, the repetition of a word or phrase in immediate succession, and giving an overview of its mixed reputation among rhetoricians––Henry Peacham, for example, dismisses it as “fantastical.” The discussion is punctuated by examples of the device from Hamlet, delivered by John Harrell, Geoffrey Kent, and Chris Johnston. But Davies suggests that for Hamlet, Shakespeare’s chief cuckoo, epizeuxis is an expression of the interior landscape, part of Hamlet’s “art of talking,” which he deploys, Davies describes, less like a poetic device and more like a rhetorical weapon. In the antic Hamlet’s prose, epizeuxis encourages the differentiation of identical repeated words, as John Harrell did as Hamlet in 2011 (“What do you read, my lord?” “Word, sword, swords.”) Hamlet’s compulsive rhetorical tic is so characteristic that Gertrude even assigns it where it was not (in the closet scene, she quotes two rats where Hamlet had only one). Although no early modern writings on melancholy discuss epizeuxis, this “rhetoric that conceals itself,” Davies concludes, and the impulse to be heard, even if not understood, is at Hamlet’s core.
Where we expect Amy Cohen to lead us into the question and answer session, she instead invites Lyn Tribble, George Williams, Mary Hill Cole, John Harrell, James Keegan, Matthew Kozusko, Paul Menzer, and others to join her on the stage, and she announces the completion of a special — and secret — project. (Ralph: “This isn’t in the program!”) Menzer gives Ralph a copy of said project: a Festschrift, entitled Shakespeare in the Light: Essays in Honor of Ralph Alan Cohen. As the discovery space curtains open to reveal a table crammed with champagne flutes, a playhouse crammed full of Ralph’s protegees — scholars, students, actors, and friends — jump to their feet in a rousing standing ovation. The clapping, hooting, and hollering goes on for some time, all of us united in demonstrative admiration for and gratitude to the man on stage, Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, who brought all of us into the light together to begin with.
The session concludes with a joyful onstage reception.