Saturday, what a day! (Grooving all week with you.)

Dumbledore: more sinister than you think.

The final day of BritGrad began with a panel on tyranny. Nicole Mennell (University of Sussex) gave her paper “‘So barbarous and so beastly': Animal Imagery, Tyranny and Dehumanisation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Titus Andronicus“. She spoke about characters transforming into literal and metaphorical animals. Tyrants are bestial in their cruelty, but because they possess rationality, they are even worse than beasts. Hunters also become predatory creatures in pursuit of prey. Human victims, as well, can metamorphose, such as Titus‘s Lavinia, who is compared to a doe and suffers several mutilations.

Polly Jeanetta Brown (The Shakespeare Institute) questioned whether Prospero of The Tempest and Dumbledore in Harry Potter were trusted tyrants. The answer was a resounding yes. The “benevolent” Dumbledore fits Plato’s “philosopher king” ideal, a tyrant for the greater good. He also uses cunning to keep the peace in a way that would make Machiavelli proud. Prospero can be seen as a Nietzschean figure, a “good man” who alters others to become more like him.

What happens when you marry Othello and Much Ado About Nothing?

After that discussion of disturbing violence and sinister old men, Marie Ryan, Molly Lambert, and Octavia Finch (all from The Shakespeare Institute) talked about adapting Shakespeare for their Creative Practice course. They discussed their process of selecting plays and conflating characters. The group delegated writing but edited the piece as an ensemble for consistency. Lambert mentioned the struggles with creating effective but washable fake blood. Then the three performed ten minutes of their hour-length play, about a theatre company performing Much Ado About Nothing but living Othello behind the scenes.

Ronan Hatfull (University of Warwick) also presented “‘This Blasted Heath’: A Critical-Creative Exploration of William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett and Cormac McCarthy Through Dystopia”. He showed a video and shared poetry as well as sections from his and his fellow students’ post-apocalyptic play, which drew from Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and Cormac McCarthy.

Spooky, no?

Our final plenary talk featured both Laurie Maguire and Felix Budelman with Oxford University: “Audience Responses to Ambiguity in Othello, The Winter’s Tale, and Two Greek Tragedies”. They used questionnaires to determine the alertness of audiences to ambiguities in theatre. The two found several kinds of audience reactions. For example, Aeschylus’s Libation Bearers revealed what they called The Oleanna Effect, named after David Mamet’s play. Audiences were split on whether one character in a masked production was faking grief. The scene was  ambiguous in a way that provoked disagreements, but audience members generally didn’t perceive that ambiguity, as they were convinced they were right.

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale revealed The Janus Effect, in which the audience appeared to perceive ambiguity regarding whether Leontes had reason to be jealous based on his wife’s behavior. Half of the audience was convinced one way or the other, while the other half genuinely didn’t know or selected multiple answers. Othello involved The Octopus Effect. Rather than focusing on one motive for Iago’s manipulations, members selected multiple compatible statements.

I’m just a natural fool…

The last panel I attended on the last day was a blessedly lighthearted session on clowns. Rebecca Agar (University of Ulster) started by examining “The Use of ‘Low Comedy’ in The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth“. This play, written around 1587, contained popular characters which were not featured in its historical sources. Agar wanted to look beyond the comic relief of the lower class characters to see the potential social commentary in the play’s humor.

Kim Gilchrist’s (Roehampton University) “‘How mad a sight it was to see Dametas': The Arcadia, Tarlton, and Sidney’s escaping clown” analysed Philip Sidney’s views of clowning as found in the Arcadia. Gilchrist also looked at physical irregularity in clowns as well as Arcadia‘s influence on the play Mucedorus, noting the similarities between the latter’s clown Mouse and the character Dametas. Gilchrist determined that Sidney’s anti-clown views and the interaction between popular and more elitist texts were far more complex than has been accepted.

Finally, Charles Morton (The Shakespeare Institute) concluded the panel with “Your all-licensed fool”: Will Sommers, Robert Armin, and King Lear’s Fool”. He drew connections between Henry VIII’s beloved jester Will Sommers and the Fool in King Lear. Robert Armin, for whom the Fool’s role was likely written, wrote a book “Fool upon Fool”, which included a section on Sommers. Morton also regaled us with obscure and hilarious jokes told by Sommers, the most successful of which (then and now) was a fart joke.

The ever-lovely Institute garden.

The day was almost done. Richard O’Brien gave the closing remarks and presented two Liz Ketterer Memorial Awards for the best abstracts. First place went to Harry Ford (University of Exeter) for his “‘Set down your venerable burden': piggybacking in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and the medieval outlaw tradition”, and 2nd went to Sam Meekings (Lancaster University) and his “Views from the Beargarden”. After a hearty round of applause for our hardworking BritGrad Chair, we relaxed and chatted in the Institute garden for the closing reception, which involved eating and drinking delicious refreshments.

BritGrad 2015 was filled with funny and fascinating talks from seasoned speakers and students alike. For some, this was their first conference. The papers were uniformly engaging but touched on a wide variety of early modern subjects: gender and sexuality, metre and poetry, playhouse culture–the list goes on.

A big thank you to the BritGrad 2015 committee for working so hard to put this together, to the stunning plenaries who shared with us their remarkable expertise, and to the students, the very reason for this conference’s existence. Until next year! May there be many more BritGrads.

 

Friday’s Peachy Plenaries

Dr Chris Laoutaris with Gyles Brandreth on The One Show

The second day of BritGrad again offered several fascinating plenary talks. Dr Chris Laoutaris with The Shakespeare Institute spoke on “Early Modern Robotics in Shakespeare and Spenser”. He discussed posthumanism or “cyborg theory” and wondered how familiar Renaissance audiences were with robots, noting that we now live at a time when the existence of humanlike robots is very possible. Numerous religious sermons at the time referenced automata when discussing false idols and hypocrites (those who go through the motions but are inwardly barren). Laoutaris showed a few clips of early modern robots which were both incredibly advanced and eerie. Renaissance England was a place of wonder and skepticism about the wonderful.

Dr Andy Kesson

Another former BritGrad chair, Dr Andy Kesson from the University of Roehampton, talked about the importance of studying playhouses directly before Shakespeare, a time when early modern theatre culture was forming. He lauded archival work by Martin Wiggins and Tiffany Stern which reimagined theatrical history and said that scholarship should “inconvenience perceived narratives”. Kesson discussed several quotes about early modern theatre, including the famous statement in Robert Greene’s ‘Groats-worth of Wit’ (1592). The reference to Shakespeare and his “tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide” quotes 3 Henry VI and was most likely written by Henry ChettleKesson argued that the quote suggests that early Shakespeare was associated with violent plays. From the bloody histories (Richard III, Edward III, and the Henry VI trilogy), to Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare featured a surprising number of war narratives. Even his comedies (The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona) were quite violent and sometimes misogynistic.

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, at Shakespeare’s Globe, with actor Mark Rylance, Mayor Francois Decoster, and Dr Remy Cordonnier looking at a recently confirmed Folio which will be exhibited at the Globe in 2016.

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, Head of Higher Education and Research at Shakespeare’s Globe, gave the final plenary talk of the day, “The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage”. She discussed her research and observations about theatrical gestures in the Renaissance. A wide variety of influences shaped gestures, including acting skill, costumes, and lighting conditions. How did large, outdoor spaces affect hand movements in comparison to intimate, candle-lit theatres? We assume outdoor performances at the Globe were grand and over-the-top, but Karim-Cooper noted that stillness on an outdoor stage can be both powerful and highly visible. She also gave insight into different kinds of “gestural annotations,” including iconic and instinctive movements, depending on what the passion, play, or performer needed to convey.

Day 2 of BritGrad 2015 was another success. Thanks again to the plenaries who shared their repositories of knowledge with us!

 

BritGrad 2015: Thursday’s Delightful Plenaries

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Richard O’Brien, our hero

This past weekend was a fabulous blur of dynamic plenaries, informative panels, and lovely weather. Shakespeare Institute Director Michael Dobson gave the opening remarks with his usual wit, expressing wry confidence in the lineup and emphasizing his lack of involvement in this student-run conference. BritGrad Chair Richard O’Brien did accept responsibility for the proceedings and welcomed everyone to the first day of BritGrad.

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Shakespeare Institute Director, Professor, and glittering wit Michael Dobson

The Shakespeare Institute’s Dr Erin Sullivan spoke first on ‘Shakespeare, Sadness, and the History of Emotions.’ A former BritGrad Chair, Sullivan shared memories and reflected on the number of lasting academic relationships she made at the conference. She went on to discuss the history of emotions, an inherently interdisciplinary field which has faced challenges over the years due to its perceived subjectivity. From Roland Barthes to historian Barbara Rosenwein, scholars have posed theories about how to study the history of emotions.

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Plenary Dr Erin Sullivan on the Renaissance blues

Sullivan’s particular interest lies in Renaissance sadness in its manifold forms. There was an ambiguity about sadness; for example, sadness over the world’s sins could be salutary, while other kinds of melancholy could be unhealthy and even dangerous. She used Antonio from The Merchant of Venice as an example of a character whose identity seems intertwined with melancholy and noted that she was drawn to Shakespearean characters whose emotions differed from the norm.

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Plenary Ben Naylor, breaking it down

Ben Naylor with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was the second plenary of the day. He emphasized the importance of fostering a relationship between academics and theatre and directed an interactive analysis of Hamlet, act 1, scene 1, from a performance perspective. This close reading involved questioning what every line could tell audience members who were completely unfamiliar with the play. The scene is full of what Stephen Greenblatt called “strategic opacity.” Even the first lines, “Who’s there?” and “Nay answer me,” create immediate conflict and keep the audience at the edge of their seats.

Naylor pointed out the significance of Italian (Bernardo) and Roman (Marcellus) names, Wittenberg and its chief association with Protestantism, and possible stage directions found in the text. Shakespeare expertly alters the mood throughout the scene, particularly when Horatio and company sit down to hear a story about the ghost. Seeing actors sit, the audience begins to relax and let their guards down. The ghost suddenly interrupts story time and the audience’s complacency. This back and forth analysis between Naylor and his students normally goes on for four hours, which, based on his talk, surely fly by.

Paul² and Sylvester James Jr, Mayor of Kansas City

Our final plenaries Dr Paul Edmondson with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Dr Paul Prescott with the University of Warwick discussed their project Shakespeare on the Road. Prescott was fascinated with the number of Shakespeare festivals in the United States which made very little if any profit, performing Shakespeare on the cheap tickets or for free. He and Edmondson celebrated the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth by visiting 14 of these 200 or so festivals and seeing 44 performances and 22 plays, beginning and ending with The Winter’s Tale. They also conducted 150 interviews.

This massive, illuminating, and exhausting trip from coast to coast included a foray into Stratford, Canada, as well as the Harlem Shakespeare Festival, the Amerindian Shakespeare Initiative, and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, which required the cast to set up and take down sets for every performance. The Pauls found that the American festivals tended to be conscientious about diverse casting. This decision was not to be confused with “non-traditional casting,” a term which bothered some due to its suggestion that actors of colour hadn’t been involved with Shakespeare in the past.

After a wonderful day of plenaries and panels (stay tuned for more information about student papers), delegates had the option to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello, featuring Hugh Quarshie as Othello and Lucian Msamati as the company’s first black Iago.

Thank you for joining us for Day 1 of BritGrad 2015! More summaries are coming soon.

Plenary Profiles: Ben Naylor

BritGrad is thrilled to introduce plenary Ben Naylor, the Course Leader of MA Acting (Classical) at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama .

Naylor studied at Durham University, Magdalen College Oxford, and Royal Central School, where he began teaching in 2006. He also trained by acting at Drama Centre London and directing under John Caird at the Caird Company and Sir Peter Hall at the National Theatre. Naylor has taught acting in Israel, Germany, Greece, and the United States, and at Cambridge University, LAMDA, Shakespeare’s Globe, and numerous other institutions.

Naylor specializes in Renaissance theatre and contemporary acting techniques. He headed a research project on gestural codifications at Shakespeare’s Globe Gesture Lab and is interested in European expressionism, Stanislavski, the American Method, and modern movement psychology. He currently directs at Royal Central School. A few of his many directing credits include Julius Caesar (Menier Chocolate Factory), Tamburlaine (Rose Theatre, Southwark), and Macbeth (Cambridge Arts Theatre). Naylor also appeared in the Ian Curtis biopic Control.

In 2003, Naylor spoke on Marlovian performance at the International Marlowe Conference at Cambridge University. He has contributed a chapter on Greg Hicks to The Routledge Companion to Actors’ Shakespeare (2012), directed workshops and readings at Salon des Arts, Gatehouse, King’s Head, and the Old Vic, and helped found the Caird Company and the Young Vic Genesis programme.

On Thursday, Naylor will engage in a close reading of Hamlet, delving into acting choices by breaking down certain passages word by word.

Plenary Profiles: Paul Prescott and Paul Edmondson

We are pleased to introduce another dynamic duo: Dr Paul Prescott, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick, and Dr Paul Edmondson, Head of Research and Knowledge at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Dr Prescott received his MA and PhD from the Shakespeare Institute. He is a Trustee of the British Shakespeare Association and the Associate Director of the postgraduate program Global Shakespeare. He has taught and acted across the globe, and, in 2010, Warwick awarded him a Commendation for Teaching Excellence. Prescott has edited for the Shakespeare Bulletin and Internet Shakespeare Editions, served as Academic Associate on Teaching Shakespeare: Online Professional Development, and co-organised ‘Acting Against the Grain: Non-Traditional Shakespeare’ in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Prescott has written numerous reviews, essays, and books, including Reviewing Shakespeare: Journalism and Performance from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Cambridge, 2013). He and plenaries Erin Sullivan and Paul Edmondson spearheaded A Year of Shakespeare: Reliving the World Shakespeare Festival (Bloomsbury, 2013), and he wrote a chapter for the forthcoming Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year (Bloomsbury/Arden, 2015), which he also edited with Sullivan.

Dr Edmondson earned his MA and PhD at the University of Birmingham and is currently an Honorary Fellow at both the Shakespeare Institute and the Society for Teachers of Speech and Drama. He co-edits Penguin Shakespeare and Palgrave Macmillan’s Shakespeare Handbooks. On top of directing the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival, Edmondson is Chair of the Hosking Houses Trust, a Trustee of the Rose Theatre Trust, and an Associate Minister in the Church of England. He has given lectures on Shakespeare around the world.

Edmondson has written on a variety of topics, such as Christopher Marlowe and the Brontës. His books on Shakespeare include Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy (edited with Stanley Wells, Cambridge, 2013), Twelfth Night: A Guide to the Text and Its Theatrical Life (Palgrave, 2005), and Shakespeare’s Sonnets (with Wells, Oxford, 2004). Shakespeare (Profile Books, 2015), The Shakespeare Circle: An Alternative Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2016), and several poetic commissions are forthcoming.

Paul and Paul will be discussing their epic project Shakespeare on the Road. They celebrated Shakespeare’s 450th birthday by visiting more than a dozen Shakespeare festivals across the United States and Canada.

Plenary Profiles: Andy Kesson

Meet Dr Andy Kesson, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Roehampton and a former BritGrad chair!

Dr Kesson received his MA from Manchester and his PhD from Kent. He has organized conferences and collaborative workshops about language, acting, and the definition of ‘early modern’. He reviews theatre and literature for journals such as The Bulletin of the Society for Renaissance Studies, Early Theatre, The Journal of British Studies, and Cahiers Élisabéthains.

Kesson’s piece ‘”They that treat in a maze”: movement as emotion in the work of John Lyly’ will be published in The Renaissance of Emotion (Manchester, June 2015), an essay collection edited by Richard Meek and BritGrad plenary Erin Sullivan. Kesson wrote the book John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship (Manchester, 2014) and co-edited The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England (Ashgate, 2013), which examines early modern ‘bestsellers’.

Check out an interview with Kesson for Shakespeare London Theatres about Elizabethan writer John Lyly, the Earl of Oxford, elite boy companies, and more:

Kesson’s research interests include book history, the literary canon, and educational practices, as well as gender, queer, and disability studies.

Plenary Profiles: Farah Karim-Cooper

And now for yet another fabulous plenary: we are thrilled to announce that Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, Head of Higher Education and Research at Shakespeare’s Globe, will be speaking at this year’s BritGrad.

Dr Karim-Cooper received her MA and PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she taught for several years as a Visiting Lecturer. She designed an MA module for Contemporary Performance at Birkbeck College, and is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London. As leader of scholarship and research at Shakespeare’s Globe, she spearheads the Globe and King’s joint Shakespeare Studies MA programme and has developed the Globe’s higher education programme to include doctoral studies.

Karim-Cooper also serves as Chair of the Globe Architecture Research Group. Listen to her discuss some of the work that was done on the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse below (she begins speaking at around 1:40):

(You can watch the rest of the series Building of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on Shakespeare’s Globe’s YouTube channel.)

Karim-Cooper has written and edited several books, including Moving Shakespeare Indoors (Cambridge, 2014), Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance (Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2013), Shakespeare’s Globe: A Theatrical Experiment (Cambridge, 2008), and Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama (Edinburgh, 2006). Her monograph Shakespeare and the Hand will be published later this year.

She advocates a broader view of life in academia, which involves collaborations between universities and the art organisations, accessible scholarship, and participation in the community.

Fun fact: Karim-Cooper cites her favourite Shakespeare play as Titus Andronicus, which she calls “exciting, horrible and deeply moving.”

Plenary Profiles: Laurie Maguire and Felix Budelmann

Oxford professors Laurie Maguire and Felix Budelmann will bring their joint expertise to BritGrad on Saturday, 6 June. Professor Maguire earned her Master’s from the Shakespeare Institute and her doctorate from London University, King’s College. Before teaching at Oxford, she held a post-doctorate position at the University of Toronto and taught at the University of Ottawa. Maguire is interested in Shakespearean interiority, early modern medicine, Elizabethan performance, and the influence of the classics on Renaissance writing. She also hosts a fortnightly seminar on Literature and Medicine.

Maguire has published numerous articles and books, including Othello: Language and Writing (Arden/Bloomsbury, 2014) and Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood (Oxford, 2009). She co-authored Thirty Great Myths About Shakespeare (Oxford, 2013) with Emma Smith, with whom she also wrote “What is a source? Or, how Shakespeare read his Marlowe” (Shakespeare Survey, forthcoming 2015). The essay won the Hoffman Prize for a Distinguished Publication on Christopher Marlowe.

Classics scholar Professor Felix Budelmann received his doctorate from Cambridge and taught at the Open University and the University of Manchester before joining the faculty at Magdalen College, Oxford. He specializes in tragic and lyric Greek literature. Budelmann is also intrigued by cognitive science and its relationship to literature, which led him and Maguire to embark on an interdisciplinary collaboration with evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar.

Budelmann recently co-edited Choruses, Ancient and Modern (Oxford, 2013) and co-wrote “Timotheus’ poetics of blending: a cognitive approach to the language of the New Music” in the journal Classical Philology (2014). Check out a video of him discussing the enduring influence of Oedipus Rex:

Maguire and Budelmann will present on audience responses to ambiguity in Othello, The Winter’s Tale, and two Greek tragedies.

Plenary Profiles: Erin Sullivan

We recently saw Dr Erin Sullivan on BBC’s Shakespeare’s Mother: The Secret Life of a Tudor Woman, which is still available to watch on iPlayer.

Sullivan completed her MA at the Shakespeare Institute, where she currently serves as lecturer and fellow, and received her PhD from University College London. Her expertise as a literary scholar and cultural historian includes the history of medicine, particularly psychology and emotion. She contributes to and advises medical-themed journals and arts groups and edits the journal Cultural History.

Always interested in fostering public participation in academia, Sullivan has made advances in integrating media and distance learning into teaching. She also spearheaded ‘A Year of Shakespeare’ in 2012, a project which examined the relationship between Shakespeare and the London Olympics. Yearofshakespeare.com covered more than 80 events across the world, including the World Shakespeare Festival and the Globe to Globe Festival.

Sullivan has written and edited dozens of articles and books, such as A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival, edited with BritGrad plenaries Paul Prescott and Paul Edmondson, and Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year (ed. with Prescott, 2015).

Forthcoming works include The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Early Modern Literature and Culture (ed. with Richard Meek, 2015) and Beyond Melancholy: Sadness and Selfhood in Renaissance England, in which Sullivan delves into intertwining issues of identity, religion, medicine, and sadness in contemporary literary writings.

Sullivan has twice appeared on Melvyn Bragg’s program ‘In Our Time.’ Listen to this fascinating discussion on The Tempest here and to her talk about Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy here.

Speaker Erin Sullivan on BBC Four

Yet another plenary appeared on television last week. Historian Michael Wood consulted Dr Erin Sullivan, a lecturer and fellow with the Shakespeare Institute, for her expertise on BBC Four’s documentary Shakespeare’s Mother: The Secret Life of a Tudor Woman. The program follows William Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden through personal and financial loss during an era of religious upheaval and the rise of a new kind of middle class.

The program is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for three more weeks. Go to 32:13 to hear Dr Sullivan discuss how Mary Arden might have dealt with grief after the deaths of her oldest children. Also check out the episode to see shots of the lovely Stratford-upon-Avon, where the BritGrad Conference will be held.