Good Afternoon! This is Tessa Zimmerman again, reporting on Staging Session III. Staging sessions pit two early modern plays against each other by staging scenes on the Blackfriars Playhouse stage to determine a potential winner. Today, the contenders are A Fair Quarrel and The Devil’s Charter. The Judges’ Panel is comprised of: Dan Hasse (ASC Associate Artistic Director), Jay McClure (ASC Associate Artistic Producer), and Anne Morgan (ASC Literary Manager).

Bill Gelber, Texas Tech University, presents A Fair Quarrel

The synopsis: Russel is a rich citizen attempting to stop the marriage between his daughter Jane and her lover Fitzallen. He tells Lady Ager that her son, Captain Ager, has returned from war. He begs him never to fight against. Caption Auger and his men argue who is worthier- the Colonel or the Captain. We find out that Jane is going to have Fitzallen’s baby. Fitzallen is falsely accused  The Colonel challenges Captain Ager by insulting his mother’s virtue, and the two plan to due. Ager verifies with his mother that she has been faithful to his father. This scene is performed by actors. Lady Ager claims to have been unfaithful in an effort to keep her son from fighting. Jane is unable to tell the Physician her situation, but confides in his daughter, who offers her help. Chough, an uncouth man, is Russel’s preferred match for Jane. The physician offers to keep Jane’s secret in exchange for her sleeping with him, which she refuses. Lady Ager reveals that she had in fact been faithful, halting the duel. The Colonol’s sister and Captain Ager are to be married. Jane, who has given birth, reveals her secret to her father, who is overjoyed. Fitzallen and Jane are allowed to marry.

The play was written in 1615/16, with an additional scene added in 1617. There are twenty male characters, and seven female. Gelber describes the play as “a tragi-comedy that leans on the comedy side,” that examines ruses and how they do not work,

The judges were not entirely sold on this play, given that its archaic themes of honor may not be accessible, though they commended Gelber for his thorough explanation.

Roslyn Knutson Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas – Little Rock, and Evelyn Tribble University of Connecticut, present The Devil’s Charter.

The summary: Roderigo makes a deal with the devil to become Pope Alexander VI. The play follows Roderigo and his family through their downfall. Rodrigo’s children are Caesar, Candy, and Lucretia. Lucretia murders her husband Gismond for slandering her family. The Pope prompts King Charles of France to go to war against Italy, and divides the conquered land between his sons. Caesar murders his brother and plans to kills his sister. When his father discovers the plot, the two men accuse each other of various misdeeds and agree to keep the other’s secrets. As the men continue to scheme and plan murders, Caesar is poisoned by his own father when the devil switches the bottles at a fateful banquet. Rodrigo discovers that the terms of his contract with the devil stipulate that he is to be pope for 11 years instead of 18, as he originally thought. He is dragged to Hell screaming, and all of Rome celebrates.

Knutson argues that the play should be performed at the ASC, because it challenges scholarly assumptions about plays worthy of being performed. She feels that it will work well with the tradition of linking plays within a season, given its many connections to Shakespeare.

The scene in which Lucretia murders Gismond is performed, showing how the violent and vaguely comedic undertones of this play might be realized.

Trible claims that the play is in dialogue with the recently staged MacBeth, given its use of magic illusions. Actors then perform a scene in which the devil is summoned by the pope, making use of the Blackfriars’ unique trap door.

The judges were impressed that the presenters did not shy away from the challenges of staging this play, and considered how it might work with a repertory.

The session opened to audience questions before the judges announced their winner.


Judges’ verdict: The Devil’s Charter, by unanimous vote.

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