Staging History in The Lehman Trilogy

I’ve been thinking about how the structure of a play itself can reflect its historiographical interests– conscious or otherwise. An interesting case in point is The Lehman Trilogy, adapted by Ben Power from an Italian play by Stefano Massini, and now playing at the National Theatre. It tells the story of the rise of the Lehman Brothers firm, from the arrival of the founding brothers in America in the 1840s to its dissolution during the crash of 2008. It is performed by only three actors– Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Ben Miles– who between them take on dozens of roles– all of which, through this casting, become refractions of and variations on the original brother they played.

This multi-role casting lends cohesion and continuity to what is otherwise a sprawling story, generations passing on and passing off the torch to the next. It allows us to feel some attachment to later-generation characters who are not as fully developed as their forebears. I was surprised to learn that this was not the case with Massini’s original play: either Powers or director Sam Mendes decided to reduce the original large cast to just three. I think it works artistically for these reasons, but it also is a huge historiographical shift. Instead of an epic story with a cast of dozens, reflecting the sprawl of history, it becomes the story of three great men.

I mean this not in the sense that they are necessarily good or awesome, but that they were powerful and influential– the sense intended in the ‘great man’ theory, or great man history, a historiographical concept first attributed to Thomas Carlyle in the 1840s. It’s a succinct idea, in his words: “The history of the world is but the biography of great men.”

By filtering the entire history of the Lehman Brothers through three actors– and attributing to them the invention of a variety of essential concepts, like that of brokers between farms and manufacturers, government-subsidized building projects, and other economic concepts I only barely understand– they become (literally, in terms of onstage imagery) the only people who can or do make history. The modern banking system is shaped by them and no one else.

This also places the emphasis on the man part of great man. Unsurprisingly, there are a fraction as many female characters as male characters, and none are very important. And because the way the female characters are depicted by these male actors– with exaggerated falsettos and coy expressions– the audience on the night I saw the performance laughed, without fail, every time a female character entered or spoke. The very presence of women in history became laughable, their very speech a joke. Naturally, the casting means that anyone who isn’t white (admittedly not many people in the world of banking, but the Lehman Brothers do get their start dealing with plantations, and there is an oft-referenced but never depicted black overseer character) also cannot exist.

While it can feel inevitable that historical stories center on men in particular– they were the ones doing everything, how could women be involved?– the case of a play like The Lehman Trilogy draws attention to the fact that such assumptions really are just assumptions, not givens. The extreme narrowing of focus forces attention onto everything that is squeezed out of the three-man frame, a reminder of all the stories that this play– and so many histories– leave out. Though artistically successful, and buoyed by three splendid performances, the decision to make three white men the center of history is not the only way to tell this, or any other story.

 

Artemisia Gentileschi and Historical Fictions

One of my pet peeve posts is back in circulation– this tumblr thread, which, despite the correct attribution of date and artist in the original post, excitedly seizes onto the idea that an x-ray scan has revealed that 16th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi ‘originally’ painted a much more anguished and angry portrait of the Biblical Susanna than the one patriarchal forces ultimately permitted her to reveal.

Perhaps this did indeed happen, but that image isn’t proof of it: it’s an original work created in 1998 (by Kathleen Gilje— let’s not erase one female artist in favor of another).

If you don’t feel like reading it, the gist of the thread is that this x-ray is important because of course Gentileschi, a rape survivor, would have wanted to portray a more realistic version of Susanna (who, in the Bible story in question, is harassed and assaulted by two elders, who threaten to falsely accuse her of adultery if she won’t have sex with them). That Gentileschi’s original concept was evidently suppressed and forced to be altered is just another example of the ways in which the patriarchy has suppressed the voices of women– especially rape victims– throughout history.

Now, the latter is certainly true, at least in general. Whether or not it’s true of Gentileschi and this painting is a question we can’t answer.

One of the subsequent posters praises the x-ray version for being “real,” and points out that Gentileschi’s paintings are of particular interest today (particularly from a feminist perspective) for generally portraying less sanitized, idealized versions of Biblical heroines than those that were popular at the time. Just not quite as much so as the x-ray.

Annoyingly, there are several posts floating around that attempt to correct this post and identify the actual artist of the x-ray painting, but they never seem to catch on the way the original, incorrect post has.

Working with Shakespeare– especially Shakespeare in performance– means working in a field where these kinds of historical myths proliferate. I’ve always been fascinated in what causes certain historical fictions to take hold rather than others (or rather than the truth), and as annoyed as this post makes me, it does point to a couple assumptions that I think often apply in these cases.

First, that a historical artist’s idea of “real” would look exactly like ours. The x-ray photo is indeed more realistic than Gentileschi’s painting to a contemporary eye– both in the sense that the figure is less idealized than we are used to seeing in Renaissance art, and that (as the poster reinforces) this is what we imagine a woman being assaulted would or should look like.

Next, that Gentileschi would naturally express her understanding of a woman’s place in the world and a woman’s experience of sexual trauma in ways we find immediately recognizable. It’s related to the first idea– this is how a woman who had experienced trauma would express herself. Because it’s how we’d expect a female painter to do so today.

All of these assumptions stem from an ignorance or rejection of Gentileschi’s historical artistic milieu. We can’t seek to interpret the style and content of her work simply by glancing at a few paintings of the same Biblical scenes and declaring hers more “real.” We have to understand the breadth of the movement she was working within– and understand that the ways bodies, emotions, and trauma were depicted within that style may have looked just as “real” to the people seeing them as film and television look to us, because that was their familiar artistic language.

It’s like the way CGI can look perfectly realistic, or at least acceptable, in the moment– but when you return to that movie five years later, you suddenly can see how distractingly bad it looks. We become accustomed to the tropes and techniques that are presented to us– the development of new fashions or technologies makes the old ways look strange.

This also plays into the idea, so common with Shakespeare too, of the solitary artistic genius, who is not working within or expanding upon, but in constant, active defiance of their surrounding artistic landscape. Such people existed, of course, but not every artist we admire is or has to be one of them. (And again, Gentileschi may secretly have been, but this painting is not proof of that.)

The problem is basically a lack of historical context (though in this specific instance, also a failure to actually read the original poster’s caption). The assumption that artists would work exactly as we do today, in styles and shorthands that are identical to ours– and that we, from our own context, can look at a historical work and read it as clearly and easily as we do contemporary art. The historical myths that catch on seem to be the ones that reinforce these ideas.

The appeal is obvious: it says that your personal response to and understanding of a work is not only valid (which it is) but also objectively true (probably not). I don’t think it’s elitist or gatekeeping to say that all art is borne of its historical moment, and you need to have some understanding of that historical moment to attempt to interpret what a work was trying to do and say in its own time, rather than what it seems to say now.

That’s what makes historical art so fascinating to me: the reminder that, while some things do seem to come down to human nature, so much of what we take as objective truth about humanity and the way we see the world– both good and bad– is really just a product of our time and place. Fundamentally different perspectives have existed, and can and will.

Justice for Ellen (and the women of Will)

(this post contains spoilers)

We’re four episodes into TNT’s new Shakespeare drama Will before we learn Ellen Burbage’s first name.

Between the boy players and Shakespeare’s absent wife and, you know, the general sexism of 16th century England, it’s easy to create stories about the early days of English drama that include no women at all. So Will deserves credit for its inclusion of James Burbage’s wife Ellen as a clearly integral part of the day-to-day running of the Theatre. But she’s Mistress Burbage, and Richard and Alice’s mum, and it’s not until four episodes in that anyone actually bothers to identify her by her first name.

It’s a little thing, but emblematic of Will’s not-quite-there treatment of its female characters. The show comes so close to finding a space for women in the tale of the early modern English theatre that it’s all the more frustrating that it falls short. The desire for interesting, important female characters is obvious, but the show stumbles in the execution, falling back on tired and disempowering period drama tropes.

Take Ellen Burbage. One of the best episodes gives her props as the power behind the throne, the real manager of her husband’s playhouse– but we never really see her doing this, and the idea is never quite mentioned again. Her real role is to alternately nag and support her family– and, in classic period drama mama fashion, push her daughter towards a sensible but loveless marriage and become furious when she refuses it.

It’s not nearly as bad as poor Anne Shakespeare, who of course Shakespeare does not love, and spends most of the series cheating on. Her role is only to realize that she is a fool for wishing her husband would be sensible and make money and help their three children, and instead must recognize his genius and– in her own words– “leave [him] free to succeed.” That is literally what she says. Literally. We’ll return to this idea.

Will gets points for including Emilia Bassano (and for casting her with a black actress), and loses them again for how she is used. There are a few striking scenes– and parallel scenes earlier, with Alice– in which Emilia makes key suggestions about the shape of Shakespeare’s works-in-progress. It might be an exciting example of someone finally depicting the collaborative nature of early modern playwriting– but it’s not. Shakespeare happily absorbs Emilia and Alice’s ideas without expectation of credit or acknowledgement on either side. He’s the writer, of course they have no use for their words or ideas (though Emilia’s own poetry is referenced, once) except to give them to him.

Obviously this is a slightly uncharitable reading– any writer knows that friends offer ideas and you duly steal them all the time. But it’s the positioning of both these women, both of whom claim to be artistic and ambitious in their own right, as having no real function except to serve Shakespeare. One suspects the writers think they are paying the women their due by having them make major contributions to famous works like Richard III, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and lines that will eventually go into Romeo and Juliet, but it only highlights their inferior position: they may make contributions, but the plays and the genius are still firmly Shakespeare’s.

Which brings us to Alice Burbage, Richard Burbage’s sister, Shakespeare’s love interest. To define her in any other terms is almost impossible, though there is a funny scene wherein she’s asked what she does at the playhouse, and she replies, “Not much,” before rattling off an endless list of scrivening, prop sorting, prompting, costume mending…

Like Ellen, the show fully accepts Alice’s role in the family business, though unlike Ellen, there are always hints that perhaps it’s inappropriate, perhaps she needs to marry. When Shakespeare firmly rejects her (at Ellen’s command), Alice turns to another idol, represented by another handsome young man: she converts to Catholicism under the guidance of Shakespeare’s cousin, the underground priest Robert Southwell. His luring of Alice smacks of nothing so much as the way cultists prey on the vulnerable, but by the end, the show tries to insist that we view this choice as Alice finally exercising her free will, that it has nothing to do with Shakespeare– though, of course, it has everything to do with him, as every single episode of the show has demonstrated. Even her departure has to do with him: she writes that she cannot be “part of [his] world”– even though it was her world first.

Alice, whose only wish has been to find a place for herself in the playhouse, is forced out to make room for Will, surrendering her piece of the Burbage family legacy in an act the writing attempts to frame as self-actualization, but just reads– ship voyage and all– exactly the same as Viola at the end of Shakespeare in Love, removing herself as a real, full person in order to become something more important: a character of Shakespeare’s, a piece of his mythology. Viola becomes Viola of Twelfth Night; Alice, associated throughout with lines from Romeo and Juliet, signs her final letter as Shakespeare’s “bright angel,” suggesting Shakespeare will use her as inspiration for Juliet. What better fate for a woman, these endings seem to say, than to be subsumed into a man’s legacy as a fictionalized, idealized version of yourself?

Joking discomfort with the fact of boy players means that, as Shakespeare conceives of and we see snippets of the plays performed, female characters are consistently erased or marginalized. The example I continually find most galling is Richard III. Even though Shakespeare and Alice earnestly discussed the character of Queen Margaret in previous episodes, no mention of her is made in that play, nor of the fact that Shakespeare’s only wholly original scenes, with antecedents in none of his sources, are those featuring the female characters.

The other female characters consist of a prostitute older sister who dies trying to flee with her younger brother; Richard’s friend/maybe-love-interest Moll, who gives him shit but ultimately believes in him; a love interest for Richard’s best friend, who is introduced and dies in a single episode; a tavern hostess/landlady; and a host of peripheral wives and children who are often, in traditional period drama fashion, used as the living emblem of the cost of whatever conflict their male relatives have become embroiled in.

The existence of Ellen, Alice, and Emilia alone put Will a step ahead of almost any other Shakespeare-related show or movie I can think of. But though it tries to make room for women, and deserves credit for the effort, it still can’t conceive of them as anything but satellites to men’s stories, defined primarily by their ability to advance or impede a man’s ambitions.

There and Back Again: Page and Stage in Shakespeare

When some scandal about Shakespeare enters the news, certain camps seem to form quickly: scholar vs practitioner, casual fan vs expert. One of my hopes in my career overall is to break down these categories, and recognize that while they do have differing methodologies and goals, there is a great deal that each can offer the other. There is a lot of really interesting scholarship that hasn’t yet made its way into the mainstream theatrical conversation, but provides interesting perspectives and areas of inquiry for artists. As one example, I want to talk about how Shakespeare’s plays got from the page to the stage and back again.

This might sound like the least relevant topic possible. After all, deeply examining text and print seems antithetical to the belief that the plays were created for performance, not as literature. But understanding how early modern printing and editing processes differ from our own– and how our own combine with those to create the editions that we read– can transform our understanding of our relationships as artists to the text.

The study of early modern print culture has been a widely covered topic in the last few years, but I’d like to try and approach it from a slightly different angle, and look at the journey from what an actor in Shakespeare’s company would have seen, and how that translated to and relates to the text an actor today receives.

          Cue Scripts 

Elizabethan and Jacobean didn’t get the full text of play they were performing because it was too expensive and time-consuming. The company’s copy of the script was written out by hand, and making twelve or more hand-written copies would have been preposterous. So actors got hand-written cue scripts, which contained only their lines and a few iambs of their cues.

We only have one surviving cue script from the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century. It belonged to Edward Alleyn, star actor of the Lord Admiral’s Men (played by Ben Affleck in Shakespeare in Love), for the title role in the play Orlando Furioso. You can look at it here, and read more about it here.

It’s missing a lot of things we would consider key information for an actor. The other charcters’ lines, obviously, but also subtler information actors and writers today think of as essential to meaning: punctuation, line breaks, consistent capitalization. However much attention the playwright paid to those things when preparing his script to be printed, they apparently weren’t considered terribly important for actors. We can even see several places where the lines are filled in by Alleyn himself, adding yet another degree of separation between whatever the playwright may have originally written and what ended up being spoken onstage.

         The Printers (and The First Folio)

How much attention did playwright pay to spelling, punctuation, line breaks, and the like when a play was being printed? Often, the answer was not much. For Shakespeare, the answer was very possibly none. It was usually the playing company, not the writer, who was seeing a work (which the company, not the writer, owned) into print. Some writers composed prefaces explaining the play’s reception or even (in the case of Ben Jonson) changes that had been made between performance and printing, but Shakespeare never bothered. And of course, by the time the first folio was bring printed, his opinions could not be consulted because he was dead.

Printers, on the other hand, had more to keep in mind than just copying down exactly what was on the page (assuming they count even read it clearly, which evidence suggests they sometimes couldn’t). Printers set every page by hand, one page at a time. They also only had a limited amount of type, so there are examples of printers running out of, for example, the letter E and suddenly and temporarily dropping Es from the ends of names and words. The same could happen with punctuation marks.

To be as efficient as possible, printers estimated in advance how long a play would be, and divided up on the manuscript how much would ideally fit on each page. Sometimes this didn’t work out. Because of the way books were constructed, however, readjusting pages was incredibly difficult– better to squeeze things in if you could. Which they did, by altering spelling, changing punctuation or even the placement of line breaks in the verse– and there is even evidence of words and lines being quietly removed to make sure the pages came out as expected. You can also see gaps and empty spaces at the bottom of pages that didn’t end up taking up quite enough space.

The first folio of Shakespeare’s works claimed to offer corrected and updated versions of the text. And sometimes it did! But mostly it didn’t. When there was a good quarto version available, the folio almost always just copied it directly, because a printed script is much easier to read than a handwritten one, and thus easier to accurately set type for. But there is no evidence, as Patrick Tucker notably asserts, to believe that the Folio contains performance clues that the quartos lack– partly because most of it is derived from the quartos, and partly because, as discussed above, even a play set directly from a prompt book wouldn’t actually look like the texts that the actors were working from.

         Modern Editions

Most Shakespeare fans know about the textual quibbles that plague Hamlet and, more extensively, King Lear. Does Hamlet wish his ‘solid’ or ‘sullied’ flesh would melt? Are there more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, or ours? Does Lear spy stirrings of life in Cordelia, and how many O!s are there, anyway? But these are only the most famous examples: these questions plague almost every play (and plays with only one extant version, like Macbeth and Pericles, tend to come with their own set of problems). Previously, the editorial tradition preferred to examine all of these options in search of a theoretical ‘perfect text’ from which all these versions were theoretically derived. More recently, some scholars have chosen to accept each version as a whole, valid text in itself (as evidenced by, for example, the Norton Shakespeare printing two King Lears). What either tradition means is that choices are being made in the modern edition that we read. When people complain that a production or adaptation isn’t faithful to The Text– well, you have to stop and ask yourself what ‘The Text’ means, anyway.

Some editors, like the RSC’s line of Shakespeare editions, like to print their plays like modern play texts, including more contemporary style character lists and stage directions. But this can be misleading, too– because, as discussed above, punctuation and spelling are unreliable. And by modernizing both of these things into a script form where actors are used to taking punctuation and stage directions as important clues, readers who don’t know better than find themselves taking commas, periods, and even question marks as Shakespeare’s gospel, when in fact they may not even appear in any of the printed versions (and, as mentioned above, their inclusion or exclusion isn’t really a reliable indicator of what Shakespeare wrote or the actors read).

Now, I’m not actually advocating for ignoring punctuation, spelling, and line breaks in Shakespeare. Lots of interesting things emerge from delving into them, and there is immense value in the scholarly practice which accepts the text as we have received it as a starting place more important than theorizing about what the perfect version may have been. But recognizing that these things aren’t set in stone– that there aren’t, in fact, pat rules to learn– is also immensely liberating. Knowing that a single line is a question in one version of the text and a statement in another suddenly doubles the potential deliveries, and raises twice as many questions about what that line and moment can mean. A better understanding of how the text came to be doesn’t shut down possibilities with pedantic, rigid rules, but in fact (and this is going to become a theme) opens up the text to even more creativity on the part of the artists working with it.

Some further reading: 

The Henslowe-Alleyn Archive: an amazing resource with essays on and transcriptions of the extensive documents (including business documents belonging to theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe) that actor Edward Alleyn donated to Dulwich College upon his death.

Shakespeare and Text by John Jowett: an introduction to the history of book editing and publishing, and how our changing knowledge has impacted the field of Shakespeare scholarship.

Making Shakespeare by Tiffany Stern: an examination of how a play made its way from the playhouse to the printing house.

It’s Commonplace

When I first was getting really into Shakespeare, I bought a bracelet that said ‘this above all: to thine own self be true’ on it. When I got more into Shakespeare, I was embarrassed by this and got rid of it as the most obvious example of faux-profound Shakespeare being taken out of context by people who don’t understand it.

And then I learned about commonplacing.

When Hamlet cries ‘My tables! Meet it is I set it down…’, he’s participating in a hot Elizabethan trend: carrying around little books (called, that’s right, a commonplace book) to write things down. Things you heard, things you saw, or things you read. As commonplacing grew increasingly, well, common, printers started getting in on the act by marking out phrases in their books that might be ripe for commonplacing. They were indicated with little quote marks like this: “.

Here’s an example from Internet Shakespeare Editions:

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And here’s another:

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Yes, ‘to thine own self be true’ was being held up as an inspirational quote out of context even in 1603.

I admit that at first, I found this practice more than a little odd. If you’re meant to be collecting quotes and ideas that appeal to you, why would you want them pre-selected? Isn’t half the point choosing your favorite lines for yourself? But then I started noticing that we’ve created a contemporary version.

Here’s an article from n+1, one from Medium, and one from HowlRound. They all have something in common: the pull quotes all come with a Twitter button underneath them. You can automatically tweet those phrases without even having to open a new tab. I don’t know if this necessarily makes commonplace marks make more sense to me, but at least it shows a consistent impulse. And, to be fair, the guesses of both commonplacers and pull-quoters about which gobbets will be appealing are usually right.

So really, I should be regretting getting rid of that bracelet…

Breaking the Chain (of Being)

In London this past July, I had the opportunity to participate in TranShakespeare, a series of workshops on gender in Shakespeare led by Lisa Wolpe. This is a version of an essay originally created in response to those workshops.


 

When my acting teacher introduced me to E.M.W. Tillyard’s The Elizabethan World Picture during my second year of undergrad, I thought I had been handed the secret key to Shakespeare. That slim volume apparently laid out with clarity and detail what Shakespeare and his contemporaries believed about the world. The central concept is that of the chain of being, which proposes that Elizabethans viewed the universe as a precise and incontrovertible hierarchy from God to monarch to men to women to animals, with various detailed gradations within those groups. Everything could be ranked: types of animals, types of plants, types of metals and stones. In espousing it, Tillyard was following in the footsteps of scholar Arthur O. Lovejoy, who wrote The Great Chain of Being. Between them, they articulated one of the most influential concepts in Shakespeare scholarship and performance. But The Elizabethan World Picture was published in 1942, The Great Chain of Being was in 1936. And yet, despite the political, social, scholarly, and theatrical revolutions that have taken place in the past seventy years, the theory of the chain of being is still widely taught as unquestioned fact, especially to performers.

I still understand exactly why, as an aspiring actor getting a grip on Shakespeare for the first time, I found Tillyard so appealing. Faced with the daunting task of somehow bringing this epically long, extremely dense, hugely famous poetry into my own voice and body, Tillyard’s implicit promise of a set of clear rules to follow was immensely comforting. Read this book, understand where Shakespeare was coming from. Understand where Shakespeare was coming from, automatically know how to live in his roles. Easy! Or at least, easier. But such easy answers are always oversimplifications. One particularly pertinent example of this is the question of gender, a hot topic in Shakespeare studies and performance at the moment. As theatre artists question and challenge the boundaries of gender in our own social and theatrical culture, we must also be prepared to embrace the full complexity of the time period in which the plays we grapple with were written.

The place of gender within the chain of being is clear: women are inferior to men. Men are closer to God, women are closer to animals. It fits in perfectly with the general sense of historical misogyny, and seems to mesh in turn with some of the more sexist displays in Shakespeare’s plays. The only problem is that it’s just not true. Whenever the idea of the chain of being gets brought into a workshop or rehearsal room, I reflexively cringe: I can feel the stereotype that scholarship is rigid and uncreative being reinforced once again. But dismantling the chain of being is, in contrast, another excellent example of how recent Shakespearean and early modern scholarship can act not as rigid rules to bind in creativity, but creative forces in themselves.

No one culture can be compressed into a single set of guiding principles. Plenty of Elizabethans likely believed the basic ideas behind the chain of being … but many almost certainly did not, and those people were not simply lone, subversive voices. Like any time period, there was a multiplicity of perspectives, and this cultural foment of contradictions is reflected even within individual plays and poems.

Critic Phyllis Rackin has repeatedly written that many scholarly assumptions about the early modern period, particularly those regarding the role of women, seem much more invested in upholding contemporary gender roles rather than actually reflecting the realities of a society in which women ran businesses, were guild members, performed in non-professional drama, and of course, were the reigning heads of countries. This is not to suggest that sexism did not exist, because of course there were essential and powerful strains of misogyny at the heart of fifteenth and sixteenth century law and culture, but Tillyard and Lovejoy’s hierarchy suggests a frankly unrealistic rigidity that even Shakespeare’s own plays do not uphold.

When I consider this question, I often think about a pair of plays whose exact relationship is admittedly contested, but which highlight not only the multiplicity of opinions that characterized the period, but also remind us that times, tastes, and authorial interests change. These plays are Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed, a sort-of sequel to Shakespeare’s play in which Petrucchio’s second wife, Maria, embarks on a scheme to ‘tame’ her unruly husband. While hardly a rousing call for feminism by modern standards, it is a fascinating reflection of how Shakespeare’s own contemporary, and future protégé, contested Shakespeare’s early perspective on marriage and sexual hierarchy. (It also raises the question of what we are losing by so completely focusing gendered explorations of classical theatre on Shakespeare. Many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, including Fletcher and his collaborators, but also Ben Jonson and former boy player Nathan Field, played much more radically with the possibilities of cross-dressing on an all-male stage, and produced works that could be much more explicitly reinterpreted from a modern perspective as reflections on the potential fluidity of gendered identities.)

Shaking up the chain of being is just one step in freeing scholarship from its undeserved reputation for stodginess. I hope artists can move instead to exploring how bringing a scholar and dramaturg’s understanding of the period and its writers into the room can, in fact, open up creative possibilities far broader than the strict, stiff ‘rules’ about the place and identity of men and women that early twentieth-century historians have handed down to us.