Janna Segal from University of Louisville – “It’s a kind of history” (Induction 2.136): Taming Shakespeare’s Throwaway Theatre
One of the key differences between Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and the contemporaneous The Taming of a Shrew is the framing device found in the later. A Shrew features Sly and makes the events we find in The Shrew into a play put on by/for Sly. These framing scenes are generally removed or banished to the appendixes of modern Shakespeare editions.
Segal argues that the frame of Sly encloses the events of the play and distances the audience from the questions posed by the text which allows audience members to process the gender roles in the limbic space of the brain and more easily connect the performative gender politics to those in our society.
Segal was part of a 2018 production of The Taming of the Shrew in Louisville which opened two days after the midterms (precisely two years after the election of Donald Trump) and explored the gender politics of our political sphere using an intentionally framed “taming.” The goal was to produce “throwaway theatre,” a production that speaks directly to the present and can be discarded when the social structure changed, that would comment on the gender-specific issues prevalent in today’s political sphere.
The frame set Sly as an attendee at a Trump rally with the performance of Taming orchestrated by Breitbart reporters to show their supporters the “good old days” (specified by Segal to be 1963) when “men were in charge” as the “great” time that Trump wanted to bring America back to.
Segal specified 1963 for a reason. It was also the year Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was first published, and the production team referenced its theories when crafting their approach to the gendered politics of the play.also utilized Friedan who’s work was published that same year to inform how they approached the gender politics.
The framing started before the show began. Audience members would arrive at the theatre and find that the lobby had been transformed into a Trump rally. That continued into the theatre where they would see a drunk Sly harassing the bartender as she sold refreshments and campaign merchandise.
The final scene of the play-within-a-play included Petruchio handing Katherine a copy of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew before she gave her final speech.
Then the show dissolved into the framing device with the Breitbart reporters returning to pay the actors. The actress who played Katherine clearly declines the money in protest. This incites Sly to then declare that he knew how to tame a shrew and he had for years. He would then leave the theatre and the audience could either follow Sly or stay for a talk back
The production served to highlight the history that we are all, for now, still living through. Hopefully this play will cease to be relevant soon, and we can throw it away and move on to the next.
Kerry Cooke of Mary Baldwin University – Phoebe
In As You Like It we see Rosalind, a woman of privilege and education, abuse, insult, and eventually sell off the undereducated and poor Phoebe. Yet decades of scholarship and criticism tells us that Rosalind is the feminist hero of Shakespeare’s canon. This is icon status was reached in spite of her treatment of Phoebe, so what does this say about female solidarity?
Connotations of sisterhood began in groups of women who acknowledged the unspent potential of womanhood while they remained confined to domestic life. These groups would go on to support movements such as the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage, and as time progressed they began to say that it was gender, not race or class, that was the ultimate form of subjugation. Female critics from 1832-1900 published many studies declaring the Shakespeare canon an infinetly varied sisterhood, with Celia and Rosalind reigning as sisters supreme.
Their reasoning behind this elevation was that Celia and Rosalind perfectly demonstrated the solidarity inherent in the bonds of sisterhood. When Rosalind is banished Celia joins her in solidarity. Critics saw it as a sign of universal liberation, with both women transforming into the brilliant creatures they could have always been without the gendered bondage of society.
By the 1980s intersectional feminism began to dismantle the concept that gender was the only oppression that truly mattered. By focusing on gender without acknowledging the struggles faced by people of color, lower social classes, different sexual orientations, a small subset of feminism emerged which we would recognize as white, middle-class feminism. It is this branch of feminism that is seen in As You Like It, a sisterhood that only shows solidarity to women who share all other societal markers.
Even as time has progressed and intersectionality has repeatedly proved its merit (if only because prejudices tend to travel in groups, with people usually not saving all of their derision for one sub-set of marginalized people) scholars refuse to re-evaluate the women of As You Like It in this new light. Cooke hopes to encourage others to join her in this process.
When we first see Phoebe, she enters pursued by Sylvius. She has clearly been pursued for quite some time and her consistent, repeated rebuffing of Sylvius is equally clear. She cleverly deconstructs his persistent pastoral oaths, showing them to be general and insincere, while continuing communicate her disinterest in no uncertain terms.
Rosalind and Celine have entered during this exchange and Rosalind immediately breaks with the sisterhood, attacks Phoebe, and comes to Sylvius’ aid. Not a hint of solidarity. Some scholars attribute this sudden and intense reaction to Rosalind being lovesick herself, and seeing an individual in love be so rebuffed hurts her beyond reason. The problem with that explanation is those reasons aren’t present any of the language Rosalind uses in her castigation of Phoebe. Rosalind tells Phoebe that because she is poor, she has no right to refuse a marital offer, that the poor can not afford to be proud. She insinuates that Phoebe should be grateful for the attention, much like women today are often told that they should take catcalls as compliments.
She then attacks Phoebe’s appearance, which some try to excuse as merely Rosalind trying to squash Phoebe’s budding crush on Ganymede, painting her cruelty as kindness. This doesn’t quite track though because Rosalind begins deriding Phoebe’s looks before Phoebe makes any romantic overtures to Ganymede and even if that were a plausible excuse, telling Phoebe that because she isn’t attractive she doesn’t get to be picky about who she is with and that she should take what she can get is a rather aggressive route to take.
Her words indicate more classist and sexist motivations than those previously supplied by scholars and they continue through Rosalind’s rather lengthy speech. Her ordering Phoebe “down on your knees” reeks of sexual subservience and telling her to “sell while you can” likens her to a sex worker. Rosalind’s abuse continues in Phoebe’s absence and expands to include racist epithets in her arsenal of insults while she reads the letter Phoebe sends to Ganymede.
Phoebe is repeatedly ignored throughout the play; by Sylvius because she is a woman and they just play hard to get; by Rosalind because she is poor and uneducated. Phoebe starts her arc being chased through the woods by a man who refuses to take no for an answer and ends it being traded to that same man to be his wife because Rosalind thought Phoebe deserved no better.
Sisterhood is a privileged paradigm, we see that in the differences between how Rosalind treats Celia and Phoebe. Women can and will betray each other, that shouldn’t go unnoticed and unremarked upon simply because of Rosalind’s line count and choice to wear pants.
Christina Romanelli from Meredith College – From Titillation to Torture: Pinching in The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Tempest
The Early Modern period is where the concept of societal laws, such as those agains vagrancy and begging, came into being. This was in part due to shared societal fears regarding vagrancy and sexual deviance damaging the community. Flouting the sexual norms of the time was especially frowned upon because of the various ramifications. Premarital sex could lead to unwanted children who could then end up burdens on society by becoming homeless or criminal. Along with laws against such things, communities would take elaborate spectacles to punish these societal violations. Masks like that at the end of Merry Wives of Windsor where wrong doers were publicly and repeatedly pinched were common events in Early Modern society.
After violating the societal norms in Shakespeare’s England, a panoply of pinches awaited Falstaff at the end of Merry Wives of Windsor, while Caliban fears being “pinched to death” towards the conclusion of The Tempest. While a knight like Falstaff would have little to fear from these events, especially because his was a mild infraction, Caliban was of a lower status and guiltier of a greater offense so he would have had reason to fear, though these punishments seemed to be designed to bring people back into the community rather than drive them out. Pinching was inherently tied to the domestic and women’s work, making it a mild punishment. Pinching was used, then and now, as a way to keep an individual inside the rules of society, though now it’s used to punish societal slips like forgetting to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or falling asleep in class.
There are some scholars who posit that Caliban faced a punishment worse than a conventional pinch, that the pinch he referred to was having his flesh removed with red hot pincers while he was still alive, a death reserved for traitors and assassins. While Caliban had betrayed Prospero when he attempted to rape Miranda, the connection between pinching and sexually deviant behavior figures more prominently in Shakespeare’s canon. Along with Falstaff’s brief turn as a gigolo and Caliban’s attempted rape there is Cleopatra, who has an extra-marital affair with Antony, and says she is “pinched” when she is bit by the deadly asp. Both Hamlet and Leontes speak of pinching fingers when picturing a woman in their life being unfaithful.
Along with those mentions of pinching, there is one play where pinching is noticeably absent. In All’s Well That Ends Well Bertram engages in premarital sex, a secret affair known by Parolles. When Parolles is abducted, Bertram ears those dalliances becoming know and facing public reproof for them. He tells Parolles to keep them secret, but Parolles insists that he will reveal all if pinched. While Bertram manages to keep his secret a little longer, all is revealed by the end of the play. However, his sexual deviance is unpunished, the play ends with Bertram unpinched.
Romanelli theorizes that this may be the reason the ending leaves audiences unsatisfied.Where pinching appears in the canon, there is resolution, but where it is absent it is sorely misssed because justice has not been served.
Kimberly West from Stamford University – I Hope Here Be Truths: Modest Legal Suggestions on Staging the Main Trial Scene in The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeare’s Blackfriars, Blackfriars 2.0, was originally a courtroom, the very courtroom where Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon had their divorce trial. Once it was transformed into the Blackfriars it would see those events theatrically repeated, not just in Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII but in The Winter’s Tale, too. This history would have acted to heighten the action in those scenes of marital strife being played out in a courtroom, especially to the theatre-goers of the time.
Due to the trifecta of a rise of common law courts, an explosion of civil suits, and the creation an official bar led to a sudden increase of law students in London the 1600s and they were avid theatre goers. They had the money, free time, and intellectual interest that made for fantastic patrons. Law and lawyers were often mimicked and mocked in theater, and not just by Shakespeare. Middleton wrote a particularly popular scene about law madness wherein the sufferer is struck but his wounds bleed not blood but various legal terms. Lawyers would have been the perfect audience for jokes of that sort.
Lawyers also would have been the perfect audience for the court scenes in Henry VIII and The Winter’s Tale. The complicated legal defenses employed by Catherine and Hermione would have been easy for lawyers to follow. No doubt they would have appreciated the intelligence demonstrated by Catherine when she couched her defense in the inferiority of the courts of man, claiming her case could only be tried by the pope (this was a defense tactic West approved of as well).
West then had ASC actors Constance Swain and John Harrell perform staged readings of excerpt from the trial scenes in both plays, cut to focus on the lengthy statements made by each of the accused women and highlight the parallels between the two women, as Catherine and Hermione share many qualities:
Daughter of royalty
Passionately and eloquently defend themselves
Decry the validity of the charges, court, and trial
Refer their cases to higher (religious) authorities
Loses their struggle
West then brings it back to point out that both plays were originally performed on a stage that was once a courtroom floor, a coincidence that may have colored those original performances.
Caroline Lion from the Shakespeare Institute & Southern Oregon University & Rogue Community College – Jessica in The Merchant of Venice as Post-Holocaust Prophetess
The majority of critical writings concerning The Merchant of Venice focuses on the bigoted undertones (and overtones) of the text and the time in which it was written. While it definitely merited that scrutiny, there are other ways to look at Jewish-ness other than through the lenses of anti-Semitism and victimhood.
Lion believes that through focusing on the use of epiphanies we can liberate the characters of Merchant from that pervasive focus and bring attention to characters like Jessica, who has been largely ignored by criticism. Lion adds that the character of Jessica could be better known and understood through the use of Holocaust studies.
Merchant takes place in Venice, one hundred years after the issue of the Alhambra Decree by the Spanish (Catholic) monarchs. This edict called or the expulsion of Jews from Spain and all Spanish held territories and followed many years of persecution, pogroms, and forced conversion of Spanish Jews. This systemic expulsion and persecution of the Jews could be seen as a sort of Holocaust 1.0 that would have similar impacts on the Jewish psyche at the time. (1)
Holocaust studies, like those found in the book Children of the Holocaust by Helen Epstein, show that systematic dehumanization, like that endured during religious persecutions, can have deeply damaging effects on the parent-child relationship as the child will distance themselves from their traumatized parent in order to form their own identity and world view. That distancing is present in Shakespeare’s text, in her father not recognizing her or calling her by her name, and in her very name. Jessica is not a biblical name which could be seen as separating her from her Jewish heritage, including her father.
This separation allows Jessica to see the world with clear, and possibly even prophetic, eyes. She is literally a torchbearer in the play, and Shakespeare often uses the symbolism of light to infer supernatural powers, a connection to an unknown other. She exhibits a prophetic nature in feeling her need to flee the family home to achieve self-actualization. Her othering is what enabled her to see her way to freedom.
1 – This edict was issued on March 31st, 1492. Its main purpose was to eliminate the potential Jewish influence over the Spanish converso population, which was created when over half of Spain’s Jewish population converted to Catholicism in 1391 as a reaction to the religious persecution and pogroms threatening the Jews at the time. The combination the Alhambra Decree and prior persecution led to all Jews in Spain being either expelled or converted.
Caroline Bicks from University of Maine – #MarinaToo: Staging the Repressed in Pericles
This paper started from a book on the mental framework of young girls. Adolescent female brains have been shown to have enhanced cognitive skills, especially when it comes to memory. Bicks was was working on this while the Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testimony was playing out on national television and she made a connection from Dr. Ford’s memory of trauma experienced as a fifteen year old girl and the research Bicks was currently reading on the power of an adolescent girl’s memory.
Bicks continued the connections with one of George Wilkins’ additional scenes for Pericles that didn’t make it into the Shakespeare version of the play. It features the rape of Antiochus’ daughter and her recollection of how it progressed from the original transgression to when Pericles arrives in her father’s court. It shows the physical and cognitive effects such violence can have on the female adolescent mind and does good job of illustrating the pervasive nature of sexual trauma, with the daughter becoming the silent figure we see in the Shakespeare version.
That familiar scene Shakespeare provides shows not just the daughter as silent, but as complicit; painted as a willing member in the incest. But if Wilkins did indeed write the beginning scenes, as is commonly acknowledged by scholars, how did this second daughter scene come to be cut?
Bicks then presented an alternative opening monologue for Gower to start Pericles with, inspired by the words of Wilkins and including the information provided in that cut scene. She read the text while ASC company members acted out the the monologues content. How would the inclusion of this story change the play? Would we become complicit in the daughter’s abuse? How would we look at Pericles after he leaves the daughter in this situation?
Bick thinks one scene that would be deeply impacted by the addition of the scene would be the violent reunion between marina and her father (he either slaps, strikes, or kicks her, depending on which scholar you consult). By doubling marina’s silent maid with the silent daughter, and sharing the lines between Marina and the maid could this scene be used to give voice to silenced women?