January 13, 2011

Double Falsehood interview

Writing about web page http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/Showbiz-News/Shakespeare-Lost-Play-Is-Shown-On-Stage-For-First-Time-Since-18th-Century/Article/201101215894029?lpos=Showbiz_News_First_UK_News_Article_Teaser_Region_3&lid=ARTICLE_15894029_Shakespeare%3A_Lost_Play_Is_Shown_On_Stage_For_First_Time_Since_18th_Century__

This is a link to a Sky News feature on the upcoming production of Double Falsehood at the Union Theatre. Its claims to be the first production since 1793 are VERY tenuous - a full (amateur) production, of course, took place in the same venue, the Union Theatre, only a few months ago; and productions of the play have been around for quite some time under the name Cardenio, usually with a certain amount of adaptation. This is, therefore, properly The First Professional Production Of The Play Under The Name Double Falsehood Since 1793.

The Sky article is also riddled with mistakes, as it fails to distinguish between Cardenio and Double Falsehood. Let's be clear - Double Falsehood is Lewis Theobald's play, BASED on what we believe to have been a collaboration between Fletcher and Shakespeare called Cardenio. To say Shakespeare and Fletcher wrote Double Falsehood is very misleading; as to is the claim that the RSC is producing Double Falsehood when it's actually producing a Cardenio, based on several sources including Shelton's Don Quixote and Theobald's Double Falsehood.

These might sound like pedantic points, but they're key to the controversy. The kneejerk reaction against the play from academics and critics alike is based on the impression that this play is being presented as a lightly-touched-up version of a true Shakespeare play. The fact is, even if it ISN'T a forgery (and Tiffany Stern's forthcoming article raises some serious questions), Double Falsehood is removed by several stages of transmission from the putative Shakespeare/Fletcher play, making the reality far less sensational than the claims.

Those are all asides - however, I'm hugely looking forward to the production. The KDC production at the Union was fine and took some interesting decisions, but suffered from being a bit ponderous. I'm hoping this one will be a bit livelier and fight the case for the play's worth - it was, after all, once quite popular.

January 12, 2011

Arts Faculty Postgrad Seminar – Wednesday 19th January

The Arts Faculty Seminar Series

invites you
to their next session

on Wednesday, 19th January (Week 2)
in the Wolfson Research Exchange.
Pre-session snacks and chat from 4.45, papers start at 5.00.

This time be assured to find much ado about that which is but what is not, with
Alice Leonard’s 'Nothing' in Shakespeare

And then, leap over what may be digested in a play, from the be-all to the start-all and end-all, listening to

Daniel Ward’s
Prologues and Epilogues in Restoration Drama

The heated debate stirred and tempered by

Pete Kirwan

Snacks and drinks will be provided.

The Arts Faculty Seminar Series is sponsored by the English and the Italian Department, and the HRC.

November 29, 2010

Sidelights on Shakespeare – inaugural seminar

Sidelights on Shakespeare: Wednesday 1st DecemberSidelights on Shakespeare

A new interdisciplinary seminar series

Professor Gary Watt (School of Law)

"Shakespeare and Cultures of Proof: An Interdisciplinary Study in Law and Humanities."

Wednesday 1st December, 5pm. Ramphal Building R0.03/4, Library Road, University of Warwick.

William Shakespeare is one of the most widely circulated and recycled literary figures of all time. His person has been appropriated as a spokesman (and apologist) for theoretical, philosophical, political, nationalistic and religious agendas; his plays have been translated and performed in every context from the early modern stage to POW camps, colonial projects to council estates, and bourgeois theatres to civil uprisings; his words are part of the everyday lexicon of business, law, sport, fashion and entertainment; and his works remain a strange source from which myriad interpretation continues to be richly drawn.

This seminar series embraces the plurality of Shakespeare(s), historical and contemporary, and offers unusual and thought-provoking perspectives from scholars working in a diverse range of faculties, disciplines and theoretical fields. Through sideways explorations of the ways in which aspects of Shakespeare are interpreted, packaged, enlisted and attacked, the series aims to illuminate what it is that continues to make Shakespeare so broadly important. 

Series organisers: Alice Leonard A.K.Leonard@warwick.ac.uk ; Peter Kirwan P.P.Kirwan@warwick.ac.uk

The shape of things to come

On Saturday, I submitted the first full draft of my fourth, and final, chapter to my supervisor for critique. I say "draft", but this probably suggests something far more sophisticated than I've actually created. I prefer to think of it as my first Technical Rehearsal. The shape of the thing is there, the length and the timing, and it's fully blocked and plotted. However, there are still key components missing, still a lot of elements - the actors, if you will - to be carefully integrated.

Nonetheless, it's a big step. I now have a full 80,000 word dry-run of the whole thing, minus Introduction and Conclusion. While the research/planning stage is essential in shaping my ideas, I find that it's only in the act of writing that I really understand what I'm doing. Now I've reached the end, I can step back and see the whole. There's a great deal still to be done, but now I know what that is.

Chapter Four has ended up being structured around canon theory. I'd been worried about it being essentially a long review essay, but I think and hope it's now much more sophisticated. Taking in turn the RSC Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Oxford Collected Middleton and, in massive shift, the RSC Complete Works Festival, I discuss paradigms of canonicity and completeness, comparing and contrasting the theoretical principles on which the bibliographic, the authorial and the performative canon are made "complete".

I'm still building up the canon arguments. Much canon debate centres around the exclusion of minority groups and the political/ideological mechanics that determine the classics. My work is less political, but the language of selection/exclusion in canon theory, and an understanding of the institutions that invest "significant" works with cultural capital is directly transferable to the determination of the "Complete Works".

Ultimately, I end up arguing that "completeness" - and, indeed, the adjective "Shakespearean" - are highly subjective and contingent concepts, that shift according to purpose and defy homogeneity. The repertoire, however, offers a far more productive understanding of canon as a fluid pool of works that fade in and out of fashion, and act collectively to authorise new and fringe works alongside the canonical. The idea that we might be able to move away from a consumer-led desire for the "complete" and accept a more democratic, flexible formation of canon that removes the boundaries of separation is perhaps currently impractical; but my guess is that the electronic text (allowing playlist style selection of linked plays according to the researcher's interests) may well be the medium through which canonical boundaries finally become truly porous.

November 09, 2010

The Gesture Lab and London Shakespeare Seminar

A busy weekend in London. Last Friday to Sunday saw the Gesture Lab take place at Shakespeare's Globe, then on Monday the London Shakespeare Seminar welcomed Evelyn Tribble and Roslyn Knutson. I hung about for both, while also getting in some dedicated British Library time on an article I've been preparing for hopeful publication.

The Gesture Lab, organised by Farah Karim-Cooper, brought together scholars and practitioners to interrogate the role of gesture in theory and production. This included: exploration of early modern gesture manuals and the information they provide regarding early modern methods of communication and stage presentation; the conscious use of gesture in actor training and in the creation of performance; the interpretation of unconscious and deliberate gesture by audiences; and the problems of understanding and representing gesture in textual and historical practice.

I won't go into the papers in great detail, but the range of presentations was extremely stimulating. Special mention must be made of Paul Menzer and Thadd McQuade's indescribable double-act that opened the conference, which introduced most of the key theoretical debates in a lucid, hilarious and interactive presentation unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It also set the tone for a fantastically integrated event that kept up a coherent conversation throughout the three days, despite a range of disciplines as varied as actor education, theatre history and behavioural psychology, in Geoff Beattie's introduction to his research on unconscious gesture (Beattie famous to many television viewers as the on-screen psychologist for Big Brother!).

The practical workshops, meanwhile, grew organically out of the debates and allowed us to play with gesture in its own language. Tom Cornford directed a stunning group of actors (including Jamie Ballard, a favourite of mine) through the Closet scene in Hamlet using a range of Chekhovian techniques that used formal gesture to draw out the physical dynamics of the scene. Meanwhile, in the session most relevant to my work, Steve Purcell, Andy Kesson and the Pantaloons took to the Globe stage to try out Robert Weimann's theory of locus and plateau, demonstrating different takes on a number of scenes that took greater or lesser account of the physical environment of the playhouse.

Flash forward to Monday, and Tribble (who presented at both events) gave an enlightening paper on early modern skill. This was followed by Ros Knutson's introduction to the Lost Plays Database, a hugely important new resource that has already done a great deal to rehabilitate the potential of lost plays to inform on our knowledge of theatre history. Knutson's work has been hugely influential on my own thinking, and it was a pleasure to finally get a chance to hear her talk.

I've since come down with flu, which is part of the reason for this extremely cursory overview of the events, but I'm still feeling hugely inspired by the work I've heard over the last few days. I'm already seriously rethinking my approach in sections of two of my chapters, and would love to find a way of thinking more seriously and methodically about gesture and repertory that will benefit the rehabilitation of the apocryphal plays.

October 12, 2010

Arden of Faversham: Inclusions, Exclusions, Transactions

I very much wanted to go to this conference in Paris; however, a combination of unfortunate timing and logistics meant it was impractical, this time at least. However, I understand that this may be a prelude to future conferences on apocryphal plays, and by then (who knows?) I might have even had the chance to learn enough French to follow the other papers!

Papers as follows - I apologise for utilising Google Translator, but they sound fascinating:

Yves Peyre (Montpellier 3) "Ovid-like !" Writing Mythology in Arden of Faversham

Jean-Claude Mailhol (UVHC) Arden of Faversham: Tragedy of Negation and Inversion.

Guinle Francis (Lyon 2) "Arden Must Die!" Chronicle of an Inescapable Death

Anny Crunelle (West Paris) "Holy deeds to despites": a Pilgrimage of (dis)grace?

October 08, 2010

The Big Three

Three big conferences in 2011, all of which I'm hoping to attend, and which I thought I'd link to here.

The Shakespeare Association of Americain Seattle. Seminar registrations for this are now closed, but I did get an application in, so I'm waiting to hear if I've assigned to a seminar; and, if so, which one.

The World Shakespeare Congress in Prague. This one only comes around every five years, and I've been accepted, so looking forward to a week in a city I've always wanted to visit!

The British Shakespeare Association in Cambridge. This year's theme is Shakespeare: Sources and Adaptation. The theme is almost a little bit too relevant to my research interests, and I'm still trying to think how I can boil down my work to a paper. Interestingly, though, the CFP suggests paper presentations rather than seminar papers, which I have to say is my preferred format.

I've done a lot of things so far during this PhD, but international conferences are not one of them (apart from international conferences held in the UK, which I'm not counting). I find these big conferences difficult to pitch for, so hoping to make the most of all three.

September 26, 2010

Hoffman Symposium, Magdalen College, Oxford

There was an exciting moment towards the conclusion of this, a one-day conference on Henry Chettle's The Tragedy of Hoffman, where a delegate finally asked a question that I'd been expecting to come up much earlier: "How does this play fit in with the rest of the Chettle canon?" It wasn't so much the answer that interested me (although there was an entertaining pause as everyone tried to remember what else was in the Chettle canon) as the fact that the question hadn't previously come up in a day of intense discussion of this one play. This, to me, was an exciting demonstration of the forms discussion can take when "authors" take a back seat to wider issues of repertory, genre and performance.

The day began with a fully-staged reading of Hoffman based on John Jowett's edition of the play (which I didn't realise existed, having only encountered the play in the Malone Society reprint), and directed by Elisabeth Dutton, which I've discussed over at The Bardathon. Even though 10.15am on a gloriously sunny Saturday morning is not my preferred time to watch obscure revenge tragedy, this was a truly inspired way to begin a conference. Levels of familiarity with the play ranged from the intimate to the uninitiated, so Dutton's clear, provocative and thoroughly entertaining production gave the delegates some common ground and raw material for the rest of the day's discussions.

Despite an extraordinarily distinguished line-up of contributors - one panel alone saw Dutton responded to by Andrew Gurr, John Jowett, Manfred Draudt, Brian Gibbons and Katherine Duncan-Jones - a collegiate spirit informed conference proceedings, even to the extent that co-organiser Emma Smith sacrificed her own short paper on Hamlet, Hoffman and Antonio to facilitate longer open discussion. Conversation pursued a number of topics: Draudt gave a detailed introduction to the play's geography, Tom Rutter argued for the play as a response to Hamlet specifically geared towards the skills of the Admiral's Men, and there was a great deal of lively debate over the role of Lorrique, dually prompted by George Oppitz-Trotman's paper on the type of the revenging servant and Nicholas Shrimpton's stunning performance in the role.

What emerged, from my perspective at least, was a fascinating range of responses to the play that situated it, not within an authorial framework, but within the more interesting "canon" of revenge tragedy, Admiral's Men's plays and the drama of the early 1600s. The close relationship between the play and Revenger's Tragedy was continually referred to, particularly prompted by the presence throughout the panels of the skeleton borrowed from Oxford Medical School for the production; but I was perhaps more fascinated by assertions of the play's later influence on Webster as well. As someone mentioned at lunch, we have a bad habit of considering a play a "failure" when it doesn't seem to have been reprinted; yet the mere fact of Hoffman being printed at all in 1631 seems to allow for the possibility of a powerful and influential stage history. That the play may have some resonance with the theatre of the Caroline era is, too, a tempting thought.

On a side note, the presence of the skeleton perhaps encouraged people to take the image too literally, and one sideline of discussion found people wondering how a skeleton would have been represented on the early modern stage - a picture or a real one? The quarto, however (as far as I can see) only specifies a "body" in stage directions - I imagine the most obvious, and perhaps very effective, early modern staging solution would have been to have an actor "play" Hoffman's dead father, maybe even capitalising more strongly on the visual recollection of Spanish Tragedy and allowing for an interesting build-up of bodies as Charles and Lorrique are added to the grisly display.

I'm already getting excited again thinking about the event. The intersection of performative exploration and academic discussion was an extremely fruitful one, and I do hope this is a model increasingly followed at Malone Society events. Congratulations to all involved; I'm already trying to think of ways I might crowbar the play into my thesis.....

September 24, 2010

"Cardenio" at the Warehouse Theatre – WATCH OUT!

Writing about web page http://www.warehousetheatre.co.uk/cardenio.html


Very excited to see today that Aporia Theatre are presenting a take on Cardenio at the Warehouse Theatre in November.

But wait, what's this?

Written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher or Thomas Middleton

What's Middleton doing there? Hang on, there's more...

In an unnamed state, the adored ruler Cardenio has been dethroned by the tyrannical Fernando for dubious reasons. What is the cost to the people when their new leader pursues his own dark desires without any check or balance? And just how far can our suspicions govern our judgements? In 1611 a play was submitted to print with highly intriguing penmanship.

They haven't, have they? Yes they have. This isn't Cardenio at all - it's The Lady's Tragedy or The Second Maiden's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton. In his book Cardenio, or, The Second Maiden's Tragedy (Lakewood, 1994), Charles Hamilton made a case - based on palaeography - that this was, in fact, Fletcher and Shakespeare's lost play with the names of characters changed, despite the fact that a) the plot bears no resemblance to the "Cardenio" story and b) we don't have sufficient handwriting samples of Shakespeare to justify these kinds of claims on palaeographic evidence alone (see also - Thomas More). There IS an early connection between Shakespeare and this play - he was one of three possible names pencilled on and then crossed off by George Buc, apparently unsure as to who the author might be - but there is nothing to connect it with Cardenio.

Hamilton's thesis has been widely discredited, and no reputable scholars (that I'm aware of, anyway) follow this argument. Universal consensus accepts that Cardenio only survives (if at all) in severely adapted form as Double Falsehood; and that Lady's Tragedy/Second Maiden's Tragedy is by Middleton alone. However, Hamilton's ludicrous but publicity-friendly claims have survived into commercial culture, and this isn't the first production (apparently oblivious to scholarship) to tout Middleton's play as Shakespeare's/Fletcher's.

It's a real shame. I love Lady's Tragedy, it's one of my favourite of Middleton's tragedies, and it can stand quite well without the Shakespearean "help." It's a frustrating instance of authorship taking priority over play - particularly as, in order to fulfil the "Cardenio" claims, the play has to be entirely repackaged, not least in the renaming of characters. It also sets up a promise which people will ultimately find to be false, particularly if they've been following the ongoing high-profile arguments over the nature of Cardenio in the press this year - of all the times to revive the old spurious argument, to present Lady's Tragedy as Cardenio just as the wider public has become more aware of the strength of Double Falsehood's claims seems the worst.

If you go to this, go to see whatever remains of one of Middleton's finest and most rarely-played tragedies after the adaptors have finished trying to make it fit the theory. Don't go expecting to find Shakespeare, except in the dubious and baseless claims of marketing campaigns.

September 15, 2010

Early Modern Exclusions @ The University of Portsmouth

Writing about web page http://www.port.ac.uk/special/earlymodernexclusions/

Rosie Paice introduced yesterday's interdisciplinary conference on "Exclusions" in the Early Modern Period as having emerged from a conference last year on "Amity". What is included in the language of amity, community, friendship and unified society is defined not only by the positive bonds that tie people and institutions together, but also by the "other" that they define themselves against. It's a fascinating concept, and one with enormous relevance to my own project on the "Apocrypha", a group of plays unified by their exclusion from an authorised canon.

This one-day conference was, as a result, one of the most fascinating I've been to. Naomi Tadmor kicked the event off with her keynote lecture on social exclusion, a tightly historical paper attending to the rules and rhetoric surrounding certain exclusions, particularly those enacted on the family unit; tales of enforced marriage, parish "banishment" and the self-regulating practices of gossip and informing that kept communities in line.

The fascinating thing as an auditor in the first two parallel sessions was that, despite the historical specificity of the exclusion narratives discussed, the same issues and ideas kept presenting themselves: the limits of physical exclusion as a way of ultimately marginalising socially excluded figures; the ghettoising of excluded groups and the policing of those borders. Marion Pluskota's paper on prostitution in Bristol and Nantes made an observation that particularly resonated with me; that the authorities generally took action against bawdy houses only when the activities of the house impinged on the wider community; ie in case of disturbances or violence. Stories of "out of sight, out of mind" repeatedly surfaced. Elena Taddia's discussion of Genoese plans to marginalise illegitimate children, shipping them off to Corsica, perhaps best illustrated the questions of morality raised.

A fascinating panel on "Protestantism and Exclusion" followed. Daniel Trocme Latter gave an extremely interesting paper Huguenot settings of Psalms; and Rosie Paice discussed issues of translation arising from Paradise Lost, relating this to anxiety over Biblical translations and the purpose of translation itself; issues of supreme importance which I'm more used to hearing in a contemporary context, but even more powerfully relevant here. Naya Tsentourou, meanwhile, examined early modern prayer manuals and the performativity of prayer despite instructions to remove the body to the "closet"; raising fascinating questions of the intended audience - the self or God? Tsentourou plans to relate this to closet drama, and I'll be extremely interested to see where this work takes her. The idea of private performativity is, it seems, sorely under-explored.

My own panel on "Staging Exclusion" drew a small but extremely generous audience. My paper, as you might expect, dealt with textual exclusions, focussing on the 1610 additions Mucedorus; first arguing for the role of the additions in reshaping the play as an old-fashioned romance in order to distinguish it from the new tragicomedy, particularly muting the "surprise ending" of the original; and then following through the implications of Mucedorus's perceived identity for his actions throughout the play, especially those dealing with Bremo, the wild man of the woods. I think, unintentionally, I also sold the play as a great piece of theatre! I was preceded by Richard Chamberlain, previewing his new book on Shakespeare's "refusers" - the characters who refuse to "play" and exempt themselves from amity and conviviality in deliberately disruptive and discomfitting ways. The really innovative thing about Chamberlain's work is seeing these characters, not as exceptiosn to a general rule of concord, but as key to an understanding of the plays' larger conceptions of community. Focussing on Troilus and Cressida, Thersites and Achilles were offered as two types of refuser: the active and the passive. Achilles' refusal to participate, and the destruction wrought by it, makes him one of the most powerful "refusers" in the canon. Louise Denmead, meanwhile, attended to plays I'm far less familiar with (Fletcher's The Knight of Malta and Monsieur Thomas, Massinger's The Parliament of Love and Brome's The English Moore) to highlight the discourses surrounding black maids. These characters are treated as licentious, in control of their own sexual identities and frequently (intended) substitutes in bed-tricks. The fear of the other, and their degradation as sexually available and immoral, contributes to a subset of intersecting discourses that become embodied in the black, female body. I was disturbed, listening to Denmead's paper, to think how endemic this has become to the point where white characters who fulfil similar functions - Emilia and Bianca, Diana in All's Well, Margaret in Much Ado - are frequently played by black actors on the modern stage.

The really great thing about the day, though, was that it was one of the friendliest small conferences I've been to, decamping to the pub immediately after the last panel and allowing breaks to run over in order that we could continue the ongoing discussions; and due to that, I got a great deal more out of it than I could have expected. Lovely to finally visit Portsmouth, great to meet so many interesting people, and I'm now feeling newly inspired and confident to rebuild the relevant section of my chapter.


I’m Peter Kirwan, a final year doctoral student in the English Department at Warwick, and this is my PhD blog.

Conferences, reviews, articles, thoughts and links relating to my interests in the Shakespeare apocrypha, early modern drama, authorship and performance.

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