Blackfriars Diary: Day 4

The Panels

I gave my paper today, which I think went very well! I didn’t get too immensely nervous until just before it happened, and I didn’t knock anything over, accidentally swear, or utterly lose my place, so that counts as a win.

I’m proud to have been on a really wonderfully strong panel, with a bunch of fantastic papers, including Paige Reynolds’ captivating discussion of the use and abuse of Desdemona’s body after she is killed, Elizabeth Kolkovitch’s examination of how contemporary productions stage the masque in Timon of Athens (and, basically, their varying degrees of sexism), and Annalisa Castaldo and John Culhane’s investigation of a question that has been troubling me recently– whether or not bed tricks, such as that in Measure for Measure, would have been construed as rape.

Patrick Harris’s paper about the ring exchanges in Merchant of Venice provided another excellent example of the fruitful use of actors, as he played with the various shades of meaning that emerge when the characters in the play give and take Portia’s ring in various ways.

Michael Dobson’s keynote address was very exciting as well, comparing Much Ado About Nothing and Love’s Labour’s Lost through the lens of the various temporal settings the plays are given in contemporary productions, and why Much Ado tends to feel so quaint and distant precisely because it is so rooted in the reality of Shakespeare’s own time, whereas Love’s Labour’s intentionally fantastic and idyllic tone in fact helps it feel more present and real.

The Play: Much Ado About Nothing 

I found myself keenly aware of actor repertory while watching Much Ado About Nothing. Four days in a row of watching the same twelve actors in four separate plays will do that to you, of course. But I was most struck by a specific pair: Lauren Ballard and Benjamin Reed. Ballard played Edward Lancaster, Molly Aster, Maria, and Hero. Reed played Edward York, Peter, Longaville, and Claudio. They were explicitly linked across all four plays, and romantically in three of them.

This had the odd effect– completely coincidental and entirely based on the order in which we happened to see the plays– of easing, somehow, the often troublesome fact of Claudio and Hero’s reunion. This was due partly to their strong performances, of course, but there was also a degree to which I had become accustomed to seeing them together. The fact of their union– feeling, in some ways, like a long-awaited culmination after the two disrupted romances of Peter and the Starcatcher and Love’s Labour’s Lost— seemed inevitable and natural.

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