This week I’m attending the World Shakespeare Congress, with hundreds of people from around the world. I thought it would be funny to do some (very light) trolling of the conference hashtag #WSCongress16 by tweeting about Francis Beaumont, who also died 400 years ago this year. Others have joined in – it’s fun to imagine the impossible absurdity of hundreds of Beaumontians gathering together to discuss their favourite author. Several of us have also enjoyed the idea of different factions arguing over the relative supremacy of their writers. So, in some tweets, Marstonians clash with Jonsonians, and Middletonians and Dekkerites either band together or fight each other, depending on who you listen to.
Naturally, these tweets, and others like them, are jokes. To my knowledge, nobody has caused a public disturbance by insisting that James Shirley is better than Thomas Heywood. And yet, jokes have meaning too – these tweets do suggest something about how we conceive of Renaissance dramatists. The focus on single authors – whoever, they might be – often results in the elevation of one chosen individual. Often, this elevation is itself brief. The victim in these instances is not Shakespeare, but the other writers who are left in the shadow of the newly elevated author. This ought not to mean an end to single-author studies, nor to single-author collected editions, both of which offer many great benefits, but those of us interested in the drama of the English Renaissance (and I very much include myself in this) might think of other ways of promoting our subject.
As I mentioned, briefly, in a previous post, The Shakespeare Institute is hosting a Heywood Marathon: a readthrough of the extant plays attributed to Thomas Heywood. Time constraints mean I have missed much of it, but I’ve been able to take in the Age plays; a cycle of classical histories. Further time constraints mean I can’t provide anything substantial by way of analysis, but I wanted to share something of the experience of reading the plays by providing some links to tweets. What these tweets reveal (and there are many more of them; check the hashtag) is that there is a real appetite for the plays. And justly so; they call upon the use of a range of, frankly remarkable, special effects. Consider, for example, the end of The Golden Age:
Iris descends and presents [Jupiter] with his Eagle, Crowne and Scepter, and his thunder-bolt. Iupiter first ascends vpon the Eagle, and after him Ganimed
Neptune drawes the Sea, is mounted vpon a sea-horse; a Roabe and Trident, with a crowne are giuen him by the Fates
Then, after the sound of ‘Thunder and Tempest’ Neptune riseth disturb’d: the Fates bring the 4 winds in a chaine, & present him to Aeolus, as their King
Pluto drawes hell: the Fates put vpon him a burning Roabe, and present him with a Mace, and burning crowne
These examples, and more besides, offer an important counterargument (if any is needed) to modern conceptions of the ‘bare’ stages of outdoor playhouses. It’s fascinating to consider how the Red Bull might have pulled off these effects.
The Paper Stage is a brilliant new initiative, instigated by Harry Newman and co-organized by Clare Wright, both of the University of Kent. Located at Canterbury’s arts centre, the Gulbenkian, the Paper Stage is a public play-reading group aiming to explore the diverse drama of the English Renaissance.
This is a great event, for a number of reasons. Staging a play is a difficult and time-consuming venture, but play-reading groups offer some of the advantages of a full staging. Last month, the group gathered to read Romeo and Juliet and you can see, from the lively student responses, the advantages of reading the play aloud. Now, it’s not too hard to see Shakespeare’s plays, but if you want to see other writers, it can be considerably more difficult. The Paper Stage will allow the public access to a greater variety of plays and can hopefully show some of the dramatic power of these works.
I could say more about this, but instead it’s best if I direct the interested reader to the project’s official blog http://blogs.ac.uk/thepaperstage/. I can’t make this event, for the very good reason that I am several hours away, in Stratford, but do you have a good excuse? If not, then turn up on Monday 23 June to read Marlowe’s brilliant The Jew of Malta.
NOTE: On the subject of play-readings, I really should mention the Thomas Heywood Marathon taking place at The Shakespeare Institute in association with the Lizz Ketterer Trust. I can’t make the whole thing, but will be dipping in and out. Blog posts on the subject (possibly) forthcoming.