Middleton and Shakespeare

I’ve been mulling over an SAA blog post for a couple weeks now, allowing everything to percolate before committing pen to paper (or…whatever the digital equivalent is). I’ve also been a little busy since returning from Atlanta rehearsing for a little show I’ve been working on. It’s taken me a while to get to this, but I’m glad that I waited. In my mulling time, Andy Kesson published some of his SAA thoughts to the Before Shakespeare blog; among other, equally important arguments, Kesson laments the centrality of Shakespeare even in settings that seem designed to sideline or transcend his influence. Sympathetic scholars–myself included–joined his lamentations on Twitter:

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Kesson’s frustrations struck a chord with many of us who think of ourselves as “early modernists” rather than “Shakespeareans.” For me, it rephrased an issue that had come up in the Middleton and Shakespeare seminar, which I audited at SAA.

Middleton and Shakespeare was an exciting and productive seminar in many ways, but there was one thing that troubled me. There seemed to be a consensus in the room that it was Shakespeare who instigated or initiated his collaborative relationship with Middleton.

When I asked the group about the evidence underpinning this claim, their answers felt unsatisfying: there is no hard evidence, but Shakespeare was the more senior playwright and a sharer in the King’s Men at the time. Plus, he wrote a greater proportion of the plays on which they collaborated. So it makes sense that he was the dominant collaborator.

But does it? Or rather: does “dominant playwright” automatically mean “initiating playwright”?

In the absence of hard evidence, allow me to speculate (or perhaps fantasize) about a different kind of collaborative relationship between Shakespeare and Middleton.

Middleton (or ThoMidd, as I affectionately call him to myself) was a freelancer and career collaborator in ways that Shakespeare never was. While it’s true that a greater proportion of Timon of Athens, for example, seems to be Shakespeare’s, I don’t think this automatically means that Shakespeare sought out Middleton for collaboration. Indeed, I think it’s far more plausible that Middleton sought out Shakespeare.

Think about it: around the time that Timon was being written, Middleton was in the midst of an intense legal battle with his wicked stepfather. He would’ve had a strong financial incentive to seek out additional work, if nothing else. But Middleton was always more of a “gig” writer than Shakespeare, who made his real money as a sharer in a company of players. In contrast, Middleton took a job as city chronologer and wrote pageants and court masques in addition to his plays and poems. He earned his living as a writer and collaborated often in all of the various forms and genres to which he contributed. He was a skilled collaborative writer. He was a freelancer for much of his career.

Any good freelancer knows that you can’t wait for the work to come to you. You have to go out and find it. Maybe it’s because I’m so very “on the market” right now, but I can easily picture Middleton–strapped for cash, looking for additional sources of income, and just beginning to make a name for himself–approaching Shakespeare with a pitch.

What impetus would Shakespeare have had to seek out a collaboration of this kind with a very junior colleague, unless he was astonishingly generous?  He was comfortably ensconced as a sharer and was effectively the house playwright for the King’s Men. He had job security in a way that Middleton did not at the time. Perhaps this created an environment in which he felt safe taking a risk on a collaboration with a talented but less experienced writer. Perhaps he was feeling stuck and needed another head in the mix to shake things up. There are, of course, a million possible reasons why a senior, comfortably employed Shakespeare might seek out the assistance of an up-and-comer like Middleton.

But based on the evidence available, isn’t it as least as likely that it was the other way around?

 

OMG THE FOLGER

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Fair warning: this is a total fangirl post. I feel like a kid who’s just been to Disneyland for the first time. 

There’s something weirdly indescribable about the Folger. Its art deco exterior gives way to a reading room that looks like it got lost on the way to Cambridge. Its proximity to the Capitol, Supreme Court (see photo), and Library of Congress is both totally fitting and totally incongruous: the message (as ever) seems to be that Shakespeare is as much part of the nation’s fabric as its governing bodies. It also makes lunch-break sight-seeing much easier. 

And when I say it’s like Disneyland, I mean that it is the happiest place on earth. Not only is it home to exciting documents and a Beauty and the Beast-worthy library/reading room, but the people! They truly are the happiest, friendliest, loveliest people in the world (sorry Disney, they win). So helpful, so kind, and so excited to be where they are doing what they’re doing. It’s like a secret happy club. I liked it. A lot. 

For those who are interested, I was hanging out with a series of quartos and manuscripts whilst I was there, along with a 1910 edition of Rowley’s All’s Lost by Lust. I saw an octavo from 1657 of Women Beware Women, the 1653 Changeling, The Birth of Merlin (1662), All’s Lost by Lust (1633), and the title pages for the 1625 printings of A Game at Chess. And I got to handle the Archdall and Rosenbach manuscripts of A Game at Chess. I only had two days, so I had to work pretty quickly, but I’m hoping to come back and spend a lot more time in the future (i.e., dear Folger, please give me a fellowship someday!). 

I’m sure the novelty will wear off after a while, but it’s my first time, so I’m going to gush a little. I touched paper that Thomas Middleton and Ralph Crane also touched!!! The ink from the pens that were in there hands was under my hands. It was almost religious. 

I also had a total nerd-gasm over Ralph Crane’s handwriting. It’s just so pretty. You can totally tell he was a professional scribe (especially when his writing is juxtaposed against Middleton’s slightly less legible writing, as it is in the Archdall manuscript. What amazed me most, however, was how different actually sitting in a room with these textual witnesses was to reading about them and seeing facsimiles or photos in books like Grace Ioppolo’s  (Dramatists and their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Heywood, which, regardless, I highly recommend to anyone interested in the subject!). It’s not that I don’t believe her when she says that Crane is rather more fond of the colon than Middleton, but there’s something about seeing it firsthand, about making notes and realising that pattern for oneself. And I haven’t even mentioned my joy at finding that I wasn’t completely terrible at palaeography! I did cheat a little–I had T.H. Howard-Hill’s transcription of the Trinity manuscript to hand. 

The work also got me thinking about and feeling grateful for all of the people who spent time figuring these things out and transcribing them and making guides for how to read secretary hand (seriously, thank you to those people). I then went on a thought-tangent about my own handwriting, which is somewhere between cursive and printing (as I suspect most modern hands are). Handwriting is starting to be phased out of schools at the very moment: the focus has shifted (perhaps rightly?) to typing skills. Will the people of the future “discover” our handwritten documents, in what we consider perfectly legible handwriting, and find themselves critiquing minutiae of “minuscules and majuscules”? Already there are children and teenagers who can’t read cursive script; I have to be conscious to print when I’m teaching and hand-writing feedback. But, like all tangents, this discussion isn’t really going anywhere. It’s just something I thought about whilst deciphering what, to a 17th-century reader, was probably perfectly legible handwriting. 

 

And so, although I didn’t “discover” anything new, I certainly have a lot more information, and a lot more detail, than I had before I went. And now I completely understand why my lovely supervisors insisted that I should see these documents first-hand if I was planning to include some textual studies in my dissertation. 

 

So long, for now, Folger! I’ll be back… 

 

Adaptation?

When I wrote my MA dissertation on adaptation and The Winter’s Tale, I thought that I was leaving that particular branch of theatre studies behind for a while. Not so! The Changeling and adaptation is one of my more recent obsessions. So here, ladies and gents, is the germ of a possible article/chapter/section of my dissertation (maybe all of the above!) on what ‘adaptation’ means with relation to The Changeling and other relatively well-known non-Shakespearean early modern plays. What’s here is sort of just the extension of a question I’ve been dealing with for a couple of months but haven’t had a lot of time to dig into. I welcome any thoughts or ideas for improvement, even if you tell me “this is total crap!” or “someone’s already done this!”. All information is useful information. 

 

 

The 2012 production and revival at the Young Vic is perhaps the most mainstream production to substantially alter the text of the play, and choices such as cutting the character of Franciscus, making major textual changes but cutting, rearranging, and conflating scenes, and re-writing jokes to make them relevant to a modern audience all attest to the adaptive spirit of this production. This is also the only production I have studied in-depth which does not explicitly set the play in Spain or a Spanish colony. Although lines referring to Alicante remain in the script, the physical space of the production is more ambiguous. These techniques are all familiar in productions of Shakespeare’s plays, but usually within the context of productions specifically marketed as ‘adaptations’. Certainly this production can be seen as one of the most adaptive stage productions of The Changeling, but there is no mention of ‘adaptation’ in any of the publicity or press about the show, including the reviews. Reimagined as a production of Hamlet, King Lear, or Othello, the strategies employed by Hill-Gibbins, Svendsen, and the rest of the creative team would undoubtedly be read as adaptive, particularly because such substantial changes were made to the textual structure of the play. As Margaret Jane Kidnie notes in Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation, Warchus’ (1997) production of Hamlet at the RSC generated bitter criticism for his decision to cut the opening lines. Aebischer and Prince note this problem in their introduction to Performing Early Modern Drama Today, suggesting that ‘While the performance history of some early modern plays is now growing, their still-sparse performance record overall leads to considerable latitude in the ways that the notion of “a performance” is applied to what would, in the case of Shakespeare, be classified as an adaptation’ (3)

A common theme running through most modern theories of adaptation is the idea that a production must be recognised as an adaptation by its audience. Kidnie notes Ruby Cohn’s, Linda Hutcheon’s, and others’ assumptions that an adaptation is, at least in part, an ‘acknowledged transposition of a recognizable work or works’, an assumption which honours the ‘critical ability to discriminate between Shakespeare and Shakespearean adaptations, whether these judgements are made by academics, students, theatregoers, theatre practitioners, or interested general readers’ (3, 5). It seems plausible, then, that Middleton and Rowley’s “otherness”—the inescapable fact that their plays lack the widespread notoriety that Shakespeare’s plays enjoy—materially affects an audience’s ability to read any production of The Changeling as an adaptation. Aebischer and Prince interrogate the idea that The Changeling and other plays that it tends to be associated with, such as Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Duchess of Malfi, and Volpone are not canonical, worrying whether these plays’ ability ‘to stand in a binary, dialectical relation to the “mainstream”, implicitly conservative, institutionalised Shakespearean canon’ is jeopardised by the very recognition that would grant the Young Vic Changeling status as an “adaptation” as opposed to a “performance” (2-3). 

Beyond the criterion of recognisability, the Young Vic production(s) are undeniably adaptive in their approach to the text. Other requirements for a production to be considered an adaptation include Hutcheon’s criterion of an ‘extended intertextual engagement with the adapted work’ and Cohn’s need for ‘the addition of new material alongside substantial cutting and rearrangement’ (Kidnie 3). It is my belief that the textual treatment of the play, as well as the staging and practical treatment of it, reads as primarily adaptive in its approach, whether or not the theories of adaptation support such a reading. 

 

 

Works Cited:

Aebischer, Pascale, and Prince, Kathryn. Introduction. Performing Early Modern Drama Today. Ed. Aebischer and Prince. Cambridge: CUP, 2012. 1-16. Print.

Kidnie, Margaret Jane. Shakespeare and the Problem of Adaptation. London: Routledge, 2009. Print.

The Changeling. By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Dir. Joe Hill-Gibbins. Perf. Jessica Raine and Daniel Cerquiera. The Young Vic. Maria Studio, London. 26 January 2012. Performance. 

The Changeling. By Thomas Middleton and William Rowley. Dir. Joe Hill-Gibbins. Perf. Sinead Matthews and Zubin Varla. The Young Vic. Main House, London. 20 November 2012. Performance.

Research Musings: Moving Forward

I know, I know…it’s been a long time since my last post, but I promise I have been writing every day nonetheless! In fact, I’m now knee-deep in my very first case study: a look at the Young Vic’s two productions of The Changeling in 2012. 

I say ‘two productions’ because, despite the fact that technically the second is a revival of the first, there are major differences of style between the two. Sure, both are modern dress productions that keep the script more-or-less intact, and yes, both come from the same director, designer, and overall concept, and yeah, both employ the same awesome device of food substituting for bodily fluids. But there was a difference of technique between them that makes me hesitate to count them as the same production. 

This difference, I believe, may come from the change in casting. The two Beatrice-Joannas for example, have very different training and backgrounds, and I could see this reflected in their acting styles. (Warning: what follows is in no way academic. Still working on how to make this work in an actual chapter of an actual dissertation.) Basically, Jessica Raine had a drama and cultural studies degree from the University of Western England in Bristol and taught English as a foreign language in Asia for several years before she went to RADA, and Sinead Matthews went straight on to RADA from her A-levels. Now. I have no wish to fall into the trap of categorising actors based solely on their training; I believe that professional experience shapes a performer’s style at least as much as training does. But I also believe that the distinct differences in approach between Raine and Matthews might be traced back to their training. Raine’s performance seemed to me to be driven by text, while Matthew’s was driven by motivation. In other words, the former took a more pre-Stanislavski approach, and the latter took a more post-Stanislavski approach. The pacing between the two could not have been more different: Raine clipped through her lines, rarely pausing and vibrating at a very high frequency throughout (to steal a favourite phrase of the wonderful Peter Van Wart). Matthews, on the other hand, took her time about things, showing the audience the character’s thought processes and motivations and, though no less intense, slowed the production’s pace in comparison to Raine. This difference is also reflected in the respective running times of the two productions: the first incarnation, opening in January 2012, ran at  110 minutes; the second, opening in November 2012, ran almost twenty minutes longer. Although the time difference is partly attributable to added ‘bits’ of action throughout, I believe that the leading ladies’ respective paces were also a contributing factor. 

But why the difference? As I said above, I suspect that it may come back to training. With a university drama and cultural studies degree, Raine would likely have studied Shakespeare from a literary perspective as well as from a practical perspective. In addition to practical experience acting Shakespeare, she would probably have spent considerable time working the text at table and considering ways to break it down on the page. Undoubtedly, these textual tips will translate into performance (see Abigail Rokison’s amazing book Shakespearean Verse Speaking), but that’s not quite the same thing as learning Shakespeare in drama school. A quick perusal through the first-year acting students’ blogs on the RADA website confirms my suspicions: the emphasis is on Stanislavski and his students. I clocked exercises from Stan himself, Sanford Meisner, and Uta Hagen being described in just a quick perusal. In fact, the intro page to the BA in Acting website cites ‘Stanislavski-based rehearsal exercises’ as the very first item on their list of training techniques you will learn as a RADA student. Certainly ‘classical text’ techniques will be taught, but that baseline of ‘Stanislavski-based rehearsal’ is always in the background. Now, this is all highly conjectural and perhaps unfair and certainly politically incorrect, but we might reasonably draw the following conclusion from this information: if you studied Shakespeare in a university drama programme, you are likely to approach the text in a very different way than someone who studied Shakespeare in a drama school acting programme. 

Why is this relevant to a production of a play by Middleton and Rowley? Because, as I’ve whined before, very often ‘Shakespeare’ stands in for ‘any play written between 1580 and 1642’. So hand any actor who studied drama anywhere in the English-speaking world a play by Middleton, and he or she will most likely approach it in the same way that he or she was taught to approach Shakespeare. 

This is not make a value judgement on either approach, but rather to call attention to the ways in a change in casting can have a massive impact on a production. it’s almost like a weird kind of performance experiment: take the same play, the same design, the same director, and the same concept, but switch out the cast and see what happens. In this case, the first production read as distinctly more ‘Jacobean’ and the second read as distinctly more ‘modern’ (loaded terms, I know!). 

This change wasn’t restricted to the two leading ladies. There were numerous moments throughout the second production which read having come from rehearsal exercises straight out of the Meisner or Hagen handbooks. For example, in the first production, the play just began. As in the script, the cast entered, the music cut, and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s Alsemero began speaking his first monologue. In the second production, much more was made of Alsemero’s internal struggle at the beginning, with Harry Hadden-Patton attempting various times to pray beside or near Matthew’s Beatrice-Joanna before finally giving up and launching into his speech. This is textbook ‘natural’ acting, in which motivation for speaking is of utmost importance. ‘Don’t speak unless it improves upon silence’ is a mantra often given to actors-in-training under this style. In this case, the audience watches Hadden-Patton’s Alsemero approach the object of his affection, turn back, decide to stay in the chapel near her, attempt to pray in several different ways, and then finally give in to the distraction of his lady fair’s presence and deliver his speech, which begins ‘Twas in the temple that I first beheld her, and now again the same. What omen yet follows of that?’. The speech expresses Alsemero’s uncertainty about falling for Beatrice: he spends most of it convincing himself that he should stay in Alicante. ‘Why should my hopes or fate be timorous?’, he asks. In the first production, Hodlbrook-Smith relied mostly upon the text and the ensuing exchange with Jasperino to communicate Alsemero’s internal battle between passion and reason. In the second, Hadden-Patton communicates that battle physically, via his attempts at prayer, before beginning the speech. 

This stylistic change could also be seen the two De Flores(es?). Here the relationship between the two productions becomes more interesting: in each case, the actor play De Flores seems to have adopted a style opposite to the actors playing Beatrice-Joanna. So in the first production, Raine’s high-frequency carriage was contrasted by the slower, more methodical approach of Daniel Cerqueira; in the second production, Matthew’s more contemplative Beatrice-Joanna was contrasted by the rather excitable De Flores of Zubin Varla. In other words, Raine and Varla seemed to be operating at roughly the same pitch, with Cerqueira and Matthews similarly matched up in terms of pacing. And now my theory about training falls apart a little bit; or, rather, has to be re-examined. In the first production, I was struck in particular by the scene in which De Flores kills Alonzo (Henry Lloyd-Hughes in this case). The script indicates that De Flores, having hid a rapier ‘in the act time’, stabs Alonzo in the back and kills him without much of a struggle from the victim. In the Young Vic production, however, Alonzo fought back, resulting in a food-filled battle of strength between the two characters. It ended with De Flores drowning Alonzo in the punch bowl and kicked off the food-as-blood visual metaphor that would run throughout the rest of the production (apropos, since this is the first time blood is shed in the play). I loved the active energy of this scene, as well as the clever use of wedding feast items–and the bit of black comedy that ensued when Vermandero (Howard Ward) entered a few scenes later to pour himself a drink from the murder weapon. It was as creative a fight scene as I have ever seen, and it also served as the perfect microcosm for the balance of reality and fantasy running throughout the production. In the second production, a version of this scene was repeated, with some significant changes. First, Alex Lowe’s Alonzo did not die of being drowned in the punch bowl–although Varla’s De Flores attempted this tactic. Instead, Lowe ran off stage, followed by Varla, and the audience heard a sick thud. Secondly, Varla employed some techniques in this scene that seemed to me to come from a Meisner training background. For example, in the course of the fight, Varla as De Flores managed to get Lowe as Alonzo pinned to the banqueting table. Searching for something to stop his shouts for help, Varla grabbed a banana and tried to shove it into his mouth (phallic, much?) whilst shouting ‘I must silence you! I must silence you!’. Anyone who has studied Meisner technique will recognise the exercise in which each actor speaks aloud the character’s motivation during the course of the scene, usually phrased as ‘I want…’ or ‘I need…’. I don’t know whether this kind of exercise was actually being employed here, but I was struck by the similarity. And this is why I say that my theory about training has to be revisited. I cannot find much about Daniel Cerqueira on Google (will have to do a broader search), so it’s difficult to comment on the effect his training may have had on his portrayal of De Flores; Zubin Varla, on the other hand, was trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and has a career that is balanced between musical theatre and drama. Having been trained to act Shakespeare by someone who attended Guildhall, I can say with reasonable certainty that Varla probably had training in that area which would resemble a hybrid of the typical university and drama school approaches: a balance between striaght text work and more modern technique. In fact, on the Guildhall’s website, it says that one of the goals of the Acting programme is to train actors who are ‘able to move with confidence between classical and modern theatre’. So there you have it. Research in drama is never as black-and-white as one thinks it’s going to be, is it? 

All of this is a long way of saying that I’m working toward ways of incorporating what I know about theatre as a practitioner into a highly academic piece of writing, and sometimes the balance eludes me. As with these two productions of The Changeling, I find that any given piece of writing might skew in one direction or another. I’m hoping that by working through this first case study, I’ll be able to test various ways of achieving that balance in my writing. 

Research Musings: Frustration and Productivity

It’s been quite some time since I’ve posted here, despite my initial resolve to write something every day. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt completely submerged by my research, to the point that I struggled to find any kind of meaning in all the data that I had collected. I referred to it as ‘research nesting’ to a friend last week, but now I’m not sure that was the right way to describe the feeling: it’s more like research hoarding. There was an awful lot of gathering and collecting and holding on to potentially insignificant things, but I couldn’t discern any sense of order or meaning in what I had accumulated; I think this is why everything I read felt simultaneously fascinating and entirely useless.

As my wonderful supervisor kindly reminded me when we met last week, I’m only two months in: it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious to begin the ‘real’ work of writing the dissertation (although, objectively, I’d like to believe that the research is as much an end as the written product of the research. But that’s for another post, perhaps). As Kate and I talked through the work that I had done so far, we could both see themes and potential hypotheses emerging that I hadn’t been able to see whilst I was working on my own. It was a huge relief to realise that, actually, my research hadn’t been nearly as aimless and meaningless as I had perceived it to be   and to realise that I could trust myself to know what to do.

So what were those themes and hypotheses, you ask? They all stemmed out of my insistence on combining theory and practice: I truly believe that practice without theory is impotent, and theory without practice is blind (thanks for letting me bastardise your quotation, Albert Einstein!). Apparently most people studying Middleton and/or The Changeling disagree with me, since there is a huge gap in the research around scholarly analysis of the play (any of Middleton’s plays, really) in performance. From Bawcutt, Scott, Neill, and others one can piece together the bare bones of a performance history, if one defines ‘performance history’ as a list of which productions occurred where and when and a basic outline of their aesthetic and/or thematic components, but little, if any, analysis of what these things actually mean when considered together with scholarship on the play, socio-political contexts, and available edited editions.

Since the release of the Oxford Collected Works of Thomas Middleton, however, there has been at least one production of The Changeling every year in London, and a significant increase in the frequency of production of other Jacobean tragedies as well. This indicates to me a potential relationship between the printed, edited text and the staged and performed text of The Changeling. I have a feeling that this relationship might be more direct than is usually supposed, although I know that I’ll have a hard time proving that. At best, the increase in productions since the release of the Collected Works is correlative, and I learned in Psychology 100 that a corollary relationship must not be mistaken for a causal relationship. So how to go about testing my hypothesis? One strategy is to look for other spikes in productions that occur close to major publications, and vice versa. Another is to seek for relationships between productions and contemporary printed texts: is it possible to find ways in which a particular production responds specifically to the version(s) of the printed play which is used as its script? More specifically, can connections be made between a print version of a play and the productions that are staged close to its release?

I have a feeling that these relationships are more complex than I  would like them to be. For example, most producers choose a season based on a wide variety of factors, including their target audience, their ticket take from the previous season, and their budget. If they expect or desire school audiences, they have to look at the curricula of the age groups they’re targeting (The Changeling was added to the AQA A-level curriculum within the last three years, incidentally). Early modern and other out-of-copyright plays become more appealing when the budget is tight, particularly if the director is willing to a modern interpretation or at least use costumes, props, and set already in stock. And plays have a way of becoming contagious: if one theatre successfully produced The Changeling in the 2011 season, it’s more likely to show up at other theatres in 2012 and 2013. So it’s not as easy as saying that the Oxford Collected Works catalysed The Changeling‘s recent popularity on London stages; I will (hopefully) argue, however, that the publication of new editions of the play might have more of an influence on a theatre’s season than is usually supposed. It’s still very early days on this, so I’m afraid I can’t say much more specifically at this time. 

 

Another theme that emerged from my hoarding was that of the tension between specificity and chaos, or order and disorder, in the play, both on the page and on the stage. In discussing Joe Hill-Gibbins’ soon-to-be-revived production for the Young Vic with Kate, I talked about how his version of the ending struck me as a perfect commentary on the play as a whole. It had the appearance of complete and total chaos: bits of food were everyone, most of the characters and the stage were covered in strawberry sundae sauce and other consumables, the cacophonous noise of overlapping lines from Isabella and Vermandero competed with Alsemero’s epilogue, which was shouted into a microphone whilst ear-splitting, discordant electronic music played over the top of it all. It was a chaotic image, aurally and visually, and yet the practitioner in my knew that something that appearance of disorder on the stage masked a precision in direction, a specific choreography of sounds and motion. This same tension between seemingly chaotic but actually ordered scenes and images runs throughout the text of the play as well, and this is the subject of the written work I’m doing this week. Despite depicting the breakdown of established social codes (‘You must forget your parentage to me’, De Flores says to Beatrice) and the disastrous consequences of mad excess and unbridled desire, the play has an impressively precise dramaturgical structure. A simple example is in the distribution of hospital (subplot) scene and castle (main plot) scenes: after the first scene, the only scene which actually takes place outside Vermandero’s walls, there is a stable pattern of one scene set in the hospital followed by three scenes set in the castle; this holds true even when the plots converge in 5.2 and 5.3. While the quarto doesn’t divide the acts into scenes, there is a stable ratio even in the numbers of lines associated with each location, irrespective of the number of editor-determined scenes. This is complicated, of course, by the fact that Middleton and Rowley’s (or at least their 1653 printer’s) lineation is not always as regular (read: Shakespearean) as their editors would have it be; I’m currently crunching numbers to investigate whether some kind of ratio holds when quarto lineation is used rather than edited lineation. In any case, it’s still just a suggestion of order rather than something totally concrete: no manuscript exists for The Changeling and even if it did, we probably wouldn’t know what the playwrights actually “intended” for the mise-en-page of the play.

What is clear, however, is that I’ve come through the first of many tunnels to find a little bit of light. And I promise to be better about updating here from now on (or at least until Christmas…).

 

Research Musings: Disappearance and Reappearance

I wrote last week about the idea that a production can be judged or received separately from a script. In speaking about this with my supervisor, we bridged  into a discussion about the idea of a script as the record or memory of performance, with reference to the “bad” Hamlet quarto. Hamlet paved the way for a discussion about The Changeling’s 1653 quarto; Kate noted that it was first published during the Commonwealth, after the theatres were closed in 1642. I had not noticed the date’s significance before, and this discovery sparked a memory about the play being revived as part of the first season of plays produced at the Restoration in 1660. Kate and I both feel that there is something significant about The Changeling being among the very first plays to be revived after the Commonwealth. A theme of The Changeling disappearing and reappearing began to emerge.

We agreed that a focus on the play’s various disappearances and reappearances was a logical next step. These include: its appearance among the first plays remounted at the Restoration; its disappearance from 1660/1 until the late eighteenth century; its disappearance from the stage during the nineteenth century, despite its continued popularity among academics; and its reappearance on British stages in the late 1940s. Its twentieth-century life is slightly more difficult to speak of in terms of disappearances and reappearances, but the play does seem to repeatedly become very popular for a brief period of time and then return to the fringes again. This can be seen most clearly in the multitude of productions done in 1978.

As Tracy C. Davis says, ‘Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’; unfortunately, researching absence is, predictably, much more difficult than researching presence, precisely because of the aforementioned ‘absence of evidence’. In trying to meet the challenge of investigating and researching The Changeling’s long disappearances, Kate encouraged me to ask: ‘what is the cultural work of the play’s absence?’. The answer at the moment is “I have no idea”, of course. But I am glad that some kind of focus is finally emerging out of all my reading around!

 

 

Research Musings: I thought I’d said ‘no’ to this, but…

How is it–after completing an MA in Staging Shakespeare and vowing up and down that my doctoral thesis would be about something other than this ridiculous monolith we call the Bard–how is it that I’ve ended up writing and reading about Shakespeare basically all the time? He’s inescapable. Even the Oxford Collected Works of Thomas Middleton talks an awful lot about Shakespeare.

Since he seems to be following me–or, more accurately, since he takes ‘ubiquitous’ to a whole new level–I have come to begrudgingly accept that I can’t run away from him. It might be impossible; it’s certainly very difficult, and I am just a lowly doctoral candidate without enough real clout to declare to anyone besides my anonymous blog audience that Shakespeare is, objectively speaking, no better at playwriting than his contemporaries. Besides, that terrible, constructed dichotomy of ‘Shakespeare’ and then ‘everyone else’ really gets on my nerves (which is totally an academic turn of phrase). As I pointed out in a recent post here, it makes very little sense to me to go around comparing Shakespeare’s plays to, say, Middleton’s in search of a value judgement on either of their works. That would be like taking Shaw’s Pygmalion and Ibsen’s Ghosts and trying to decide which was the ‘better’ play. Ibsen and Shaw wrote different kinds of plays. Is it useful to compare and contrast them without making an (implicit or explicit) value judgement or pitting their works against each other in some kind of ridiculous battle for supremacy? Absolutely! But why does everyone insist on reminding their readers that the constructed idea of “Shakespeare” would cringe at some of the scenes in The Changeling? Please keep in mind that we’re talking about the man who wrote King John.

(Thinking about it in retrospect, I sort of take that back…it would be better to say that comparing Shakespeare and Middleton is like comparing Shaw to Shaw’s slightly-less-well-known contemporary who was notwithstanding a very good playwright. But I think you can see what I mean. Hopefully.)

I’m starting to think, however, that there might be interesting research to be done around what happens to the relationship between Shakespeare and Middleton over time. It’s probably not a topic unto itself (not yet, anyway, I’m still developing the idea), but it might be worth at least a chapter. How and why did Middleton return to vogue? Why was 2007 the year in which the first Middleton Collected Works was published? What does the 20th-century theatre see in Middleton that the 19th-century theatre didn’t (despite his strong–if Bard-qualified–presence in academia)?