Sunday, December 27, 2015

Thank you to all who joined us this year!

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who joined us in 2015, both on stage and in the audience. It's been a big year for Bad Quarto Productions, and I'm grateful to everyone who shared it with us and who made it happen. Our plays in 2015 have paved the way for us to be able to offer our first ever season of plays in 2016, and I hope you'll join us for what I expect will be our biggest year yet.

We're not quite ready to announce the full schedule of plays at this time, but one of our areas of the most growth this year has been in our community building efforts on social media.You can now find us on...

Facebook: Twitter: @BadQuartoPlays
Instagram: @BadQuartoProductions
And, of course, there's our mailing list:

Those of you following along on social media will get early access to news, offers, and discounts, so I want to encourage everyone to follow along with us there. Mailing list members and Facebook users will get a special treat this holiday season, so we especially encourage you to follow along with us there.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Nicholas Corda on Playing Mak and Music in The Second Shepherds' Play

It has been a privilege to work with Derek Peruo and Bad Quarto on The Second Shepherds Play. And all of my wonderful castmates. We are a really great team and immediately jumped in and trusted each other the instant we first met.

It has been such a great exercise in trusting choices and sticking to one's guns. It also has been a wonderfully intimate experience with the creation of my character, Mak, who is a lovely son of a gun, and who I absolutely love stepping inside the shoes of.

Ever since I first read the Second Shepherd's Play in my freshman year of college, I wanted to play Mak. I also was going to be a Medieval and Renaissance Studies major in addition to my Drama major, but the course load plus how much theatre I was taking on didn't seem to jive towards the second half of my college experience. But, it was really wonderful to combine my passion for medieval history and culture with my great life passion of theatre.

To talk a little bit about the music:

In creating the pre-show we used traditional medieval English music, as well as traditional English Christmas Carols that were either from the middle ages or historical periods that soon followed. Examples include "Ding Dong Merrily On High," "Greensleeves (What Child is This)" and "O Come O Come Emmanuel." Jessica, who plays the First Shepherd, and Courtney McClellan, who plays my wife Gill, and I got together over Skype the Wednesday before opening to rehearse music. We discovered the Skype didn't possess enough bandwidth to process synchronized singing, so that made performing duets impossible. Instead, we decided to devote some time to rehearsing the music on the day we opened, which turned out quite successfully.

To talk about the traditional music featured in the show, both were originally sung in Old English and date from the 12th and 13th centuries. I play them on the flute in the pre-show, as it is more effective for them to be rendered instrumentally than have Jessica and Courtney go learn how to speak Old Aenlgish, though I am sure they would do a fabulous job at it. The first song that opens the pre-show is called “Miri it is while Sumer ilast” and is a song that mourns the loss of Summer (not Sumer, the ancient city in Mesopotamia, although we can safely mourn that one as well). The verses speak of birds leaving for warmer places and harsh winds beginning to blow - perfect not only to bring us into the harsh world of the Second Shepherd's Play, but also to summon winter to arrive in this very warm December.

After Courtney sings “What Child is this,” then I play “Arrival to the Oxford Market,” with Jessica and Courtney on percussion, which is a very lively tune and I always have a lot of fun jumping and dancing around to it while playing the flute. It invokes a bustling medieval world where the merchants and fishmongers (actual fish, not the Shakespearean sense of the word) and farmers would come to sell their wares at the market. Traveling bards and players would entertain and everyone would have a good time. Although the part about everyone having a good time was probably not always true (I have a feeling there was always an argument that ended in mud wrestling), it is this sense of mythos and vivacity of life that we attempt to recreate. It is a “joie d’vivre” to aspire to in our age where Facebook is king and it seems we are encouraged to never be truly content, despite how incredible we have it.

What I believe, is that by sharing this piece with our audiences, we get to bring them a little bit of this “joie d’vivre,” and little by little we give them light and love, making their day even that much better.

- Nicholas Corda, Mak, The Second Shepherd's Play

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Two Typefaces

If you've been keeping up with our most recent posters, you've probably noticed that our Second Shepherds' Play poster uses a different type face than some of our others....

That moderately fancy, and somewhat hard to read typeface in The Second Shepherds' Play title is what we refer to as "black letter," which differs from the more familiar typeface that you find in The Cronicle Historie of Henry the V the The Taming of a Shrew titles on their posters. And, yes, there is a reason for it.

The written word has been around a lot longer than the printed page, and around 1450, when Gutenberg introduced mechanical movable type printing to Europe, the earliest type faces were designed to emulate the letters of written script. We actually do this today all the time, and the number of typefaces (aka fonts) that come with whatever word processor you use: not only will your word processor simulate manuscript letters (think of your signature typefaces), but it will also simulate other forms of type, including the descendant of the type face on the Henry V and A Shrew titles above... Times New Roman.

The roman type face was a later development, and in its earliest applications was used for books printed in Latin (most schooling after the age of 6 would have been in Latin and Greek in early modern London). By the end of the 16th century, you can almost judge a book by it's typeface: books printed in roman typefaces catered to the more educated reader (who would have been accustomed to the typeface from their studies), and books designed for those without a formal education were printed in the blackletter typefaces that were reminiscent of the texts used in the most rudimentary levels of schooling.

The Wakefield manuscript, opened to the first page of
The Second Shepherds' Play

The use of a typeface that simulates those found in early modern printshops is one of the ways we set the tone for the type of performances you'll see at Bad Quarto Productions, and so we offer the blackletter font for our Second Shepherds' Play poster this year as a gesture to the manuscript writing that The Second Shepherds' Play survives in.

If you're interested in learning more about these fonts, or using them yourself, they are produced and distributed by Jeff Lee, and they are freely downloadable (and licensed for use) from his website.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Meet the Cast and Director of The Second Shepherds' Play

The Second Shepherds' Play is just about a week away! Meet the folks who are bringing it to life!

Derek Peruo (Director) does classic plays and heightened language like Shakespeare, Molière and Beaumarchais. This is Derek's third production with Bad Quarto Productions, and his directorial debut with the company. In addition to Bad Quarto, Derek was also in Much Ado About Nothing, Iphigenia In Tauris, Life's a Dream, Kosi Dasa, Machinal, and Man of La Mancha. He appeared Off Broadway as Doofus in the premiere production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Snow Angel. Derek was a Recognized Actor/Combatant by the Society of American Fight Directors and a member of Chicago Stunt Works for 5 years. Derek attended the School of Performing Arts at LaGuardia High School in New York and received his BFA in acting from DePaul University. He studied Commedia dell’Arte, Feldenkrais, Lecoq, sword fighting, and comedy. Special thanks to Sara for her guidance and love.

Jessica Webb (Coll, the first shepherd) is thrilled to be working with Bad Quarto Productions, after recently moving to New York and appearing in The Cranky Cabaret and Bound for Broadway Showcase. Favorite recent credits include Vicki Smith in "Caught in the Net" with Prather, "Annie Get Your Gun" with The Palms Theatre, and "Godspell" with MET. She is an AriZoni nominee as well as a two time NYA winner for her roles as Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors”, Sally in “YAGMCB”, and Cinderella in "Into the Woods" all with Studio 3 Performing Arts. Love to Emma, Ajax, and the family!

Andre Silva (Gib, the second shepherd) is a New York based actor. He recently finished an intensive course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). He has been seen in Bad Quarto Productions' Taming of a Shrew as Aurelius and in Daniel Adams production of Three Sisters at the Alchemical Theater Laboratory. He also has several short films currently in post-production and being submitted to film festivals around the country. He is delighted to be a part of this cast and wants to thank his friends and family for their ever growing support!

Stephen Zuccaro (Daw, the third shepherd) is thrilled to be a part of this production. Off-broadway credits include: Nightmare Before Insomnium (The Paper Box), Frolic!, Outcasts, Characters (June Havoc Theatre), Misfits, Players (Abingdon Theatre), andThespians (TAPNYC). Other recent credits include: The Lyons(Bare Bones Theatre Co.), And Then There Were None (AlphaNYC), and Antigone (Wandering Theatre Co.) Stephen would like to thank Derek, the cast and crew, and all those in attendance, with special thanks to his family and friends for their constant love and support. Stephen is currently represented by The Talent Express.

Nicholas Corda (Mak, a thief/an Angel of the Lord) is a theatremaker, actor, producer, writer, and the Managing Editor at Chance Magazine. His artistic focus is in community-based social theatre, Theatre of DeColonization, and Animal Studies. He has collaborated with New Brooklyn Theater, The Living Theatre, One Year Lease Theatre Company, and Amerinda to author four pieces for Chance Magazine and produced Chance Issues 4-7. Nick also edited and designed Bond Street Theatre’s book A Decade in Afghanistan, about the company's decade-long work in Afghanistan. Nick is the founder of the Artistic Theatre Collective Acteurs sans Limites, and an alumnus of Vassar College (General and Department Honors) and the National Theatre Institute. Off Broadway: Captain Hook’s Cabaret by Erika Jenko; Times Scare (Smee), The Tempest; Perchance to Dream Theatre (Ferdinand), Deirdre, a New Musical (Ardan); Off-Off Broadway: Twelfth Night; Stag & Lion Theatre Company (Sebastian), As You Like It; Stag & Lion Theatre Company (Orlando), Richard III; Stag & Lion Theatre Company (Richmond), Cymbeline; Wyrd Theatre (Aviragus/Philario/Lord 1/Gaoler), The Midsummer Experiment; Wyrd Theatre (Egeus/Flute), Tinkerbell Theater: Cinderella; Frog & Peach Theatre Company (Albert&Cameron/Chef/Royal Announcer), Tinkerbell Theater: The Tinderbox; Frog & Peach Theatre Company (Evil Queen), Lullaby by Lynn Rosen; Guest Artist with The Box Collective (Father). He also loves to make tomato sauce on cold winter days.

Courtney McClellan (Gill, Mak's wife/Mary, the Blessed Virgin) excitedly joins Bad Quarto Productions for the Second Shepherds Play! Credits include Ripper (Lizzie/Mrs. Lusk) in NYC, Hamlet (Gertrude) and the Comedy of Errors (Adriana/Courtesan) with NCShakes and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in Nashville (Nurse Flinn). Other Nashville credits: A Raisin in the Sun and Once on This Island. Regional credits: Chicago (Mama Morton), Big River (Alice), and The Sound of Music (Sister Berthe) with Weathervane Playhouse (Newark, OH); Romeo and Juliet (Lady Montague/Lady Capulet/Benvolio), Macbeth (Witch/Malcolm), and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Titania/Helena/Quince) with NCShakes. BA Communications/Theatre, Hampton University; McCaskill Studios, NYC.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Second Shepherds' Play: Director's Notes

Character transformation makes for good drama, and while you might expect a medieval Christmas play to present characters as two-dimensional cartoons, the characters we meet in The Second Shepherds' Play are remarkably human. We all have a unique perspective of the universe that shapes our distinct points of view, and the characters in this play are no different: each clearly defines their point of view on their first entrance. These perspectives shift and evolve in only a few short pages as we see these characters transform and respond to the world around them.

These transformations anchor the action of the play and set the stage for the biggest transformation of all: The birth of Christ and the salvation of humanity. A transformation of this magnitude was made possible only by the goodwill the Shepherds show Mak after the theft of their sheep. The shepherds' act of grace and forgiveness was proof for God that the world could change for the better, and that such a change would start at the lowest rungs of society. This was why the Shepherds were chosen to witness the birth of Jesus.

I, too, transformed while directing this play. I began my process believing this production worked best as a farce, full of simple characters and base jokes. But while a clownish interpretation of the text is possible, working with the cast individually revealed support in the text for the deeper, more significant character transformations mentioned above. By the time I started working with the cast, many of their ideas and choices were already firmly rooted in the text and I took on the role of gardener, cultivating and curating these ideas into a cohesive production: they helped me see that what I had taken for a simple comedy was a far cry from simple, and the intrinsic humanity of the people of mid-15th century Wakefield speak to us across barriers of time and language.

Christmas is not only a season of joy and miracles, it's also a time of transformation. As you take part in tonight's performance, consider your own unique perspective of the universe and how three shepherds and a couple of thieves might reshape that distinct point of view.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Holidays 2015

Exciting things always seem to be in the works here at Bad Quarto Productions! As disappointed as we were to learn that we were unable to bring The SantaLand Diaries to Burlington for another year of grown up holiday fun, I'm very excited to say that Bad Quarto will be revisiting our original Christmas classic, The Second Shepherds' Play in New York City this year.

The Second Shepherds' Play has a special place in my heart for a lot of personal reasons, but one ofthe strongest is the number of self-professed cynics who have told me that the play made them believe in Christmas over the years. The play possesses a child-like simplicity that invites you to set aside your grown up feelings about the commercialization of the Christmas season, And then it reminds you what it's all supposed to be about.

I have written previously on the similarity in structure between Second Shepherds' Play and The SantaLand Diaries; despite the differences in the comic tone, that structure is what most of us need right around this time of year. As we all get caught up in travel plans, work plans, family plans, &c, the best of Christmas plays give us a chance to escape from the cacophony of the holidays, and take a moment to think about what it's all about.

I hope you'll join director Derek Peruo and his excellent cast of The Second Shepherds' Play for our December 12th opening!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Dramaturg's Thoughts on the Production Footage

As the dramaturg for this production I mostly wrote these blog posts over the last couple months. Living on a different continent, I won’t be able to attend any of the performances, but Tony asked me if I’d like to watch some production footage and write a few thoughts on the show, so here I am! Here are some things about the performance that seemed especially strong:

  • How well the actors had prepared. Each actor gave a strong, dedicated and shining performance. I kept being impressed by different actors as they gave their individual speeches, maintained separate personas for each character they played and really brought their “A game” to this endeavor.

  • How quickly the actors were becoming a company. In most shows the actors have a lot of time to build up a rapport with one another. There’s a whole run of rehearsals, and maybe bonding exercises. In Shakespeare’s day the core of a particular company often stayed together for years, and produced hundreds of shows together, one can only imagine the teamwork they would display. It was something I looked for in the footage I could see of Taming, and what I saw was a group of actors vigorously accepting each other’s choices, and running together. I saw laughter as they got ready to sing together, I saw chemistry in the couples, I saw enthusiasm in the dialogue (dialogue that they’d only been able to rehearse together over one day?) This struck me as one of the most impressive parts of the show. These actors embraced their identity as a team, and together, really sold the show, and I could tell that that unity would only grow as they became more and more comfortable with each other.  

  • The tricky bits of staging. There were so many pieces of the play that required special attention. The singing, the stage combat, (complete with ukulele and an over the shoulder carry!) the massive group scenes all of which take a lot of rehearsal time in normal circumstances, all looked as though the actors trusted each other and were totally in control of the situation.

  • How much attention everyone paid to the text. While this was true of the actor’s delivery, it was also true of the costume choices. Ferando did have a red cap! The various servants did wear their master’s colors and insignia when described. When substitutions were made (for the various foods mentioned) the actors clearly sold the cookies or crackers as the “Beef and mustard” or whatever food it was supposed to represent.

  • How well this text works as a play. Despite working on this play as a dramaturg I am still much more familiar with Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew version from the folio, and this is the first time I’ve seen the bad quarto version staged. I was totally delighted by the pair of younger sisters, and I really enjoyed how much the cast brought out the protofeminist leanings of this text as opposed to the folio.

Those are my thoughts for now! On a more personal note, I’d love to congratulations to the cast and crew on such a fun show, and thanks to Tony for asking me to work on this project with him. It’s been great being part of the team.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Early Modern Rehearsal Structures Today

With preparations in full swing for The Taming of a Shrew, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell a bit about how Bad Quarto rehearsals fit in with a history of early modern rehearsal process. James Overton gave his enthusiastic perspective as an actor on Wednesday, and Tony wrote about the scary rehearsals a while back but just in case you missed those posts, Tony has cast this production and he is working individually with each cast member over Skype, but the whole cast will have only one rehearsal together before opening night. If you scroll through this blog you’ll see that this hasn’t been the way the process has worked for each production, but as a company, Bad Quarto has experimented with different variations on the idea of the early modern rehearsal.

So what are some of the precedents for this sort of rehearsal structure? From Henslow’s Diary and other artifacts from the time we know that a single company of actors could put on twenty different plays a month, leading to huge questions of how they could have possibly rehearsed them all. One of the companies to try out some of the hypotheses was The Queen’s Men, a well funded and heavily researched all male company performing in 2006-7 who list the steps they posit the acting companies in Shakespeare’s Day would have followed. They suggest 5-9 weeks preparation for a new play but only one day of rehearsal.

At about the same time, Tiffany Stern published her groundbreaking book Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan, where she details the evidence available about rehearsal practice in Shakespeare’s day. In response to Stern’s research, the American Shakespeare Center set up the Actor’s Renaissance Season, where the first play goes up in just two days, there are no directors, do designers, and no full scripts. It’s still just one of the seasons at the ASC, but it’s one that has gained a lot of attention.  Oxford made a lovely little video about the collaboration between The ASC and Tiffany Stern’s research, which is well worth a watch.

In 1993, The New York Times picked up on the trend writing about companies performing without directors and with minimal rehearsal time, and as these practices gained notice they became more and more prevalent. Today these projects are becoming common and more and more is being learned from experiments with this sort of process. Other companies doing this sort of rehearsal process right now include:

  • Back Room Shakespeare Project- this ensemble in Chicago performs Shakespeare without directors and only rehearse one time before performing in bars.
  • Oxford Shakespeare Company- Performs with three days of rehearsal-- in this instance Richard III performed at Stratford on Avon.
  • A Masters’ student at The Theatre School at DePaul University wrote this lovely take on “Not Rehearsing Shakespeare” and what he learned from the process.

These companies and projects all ask many questions: What was it like in Shakespeare’s day? What kind of benefits can we gain from doing a similar rehearsal process today? Are they just financial and practical--no need to deal with multiple schedules and rent a rehearsal space? Does this sort of environment capture the energy of improv theater? What can we learn about the plays themselves, and in what way were these plays written to facilitate this sort of rehearsal structure? I hope that as these experiments continue (in Taming and beyond) theater will change dramatically and for the better. It certainly seems to be making some waves already.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I think Tony is a mad-man, a heretic and a genius for having his rehearsals via Skype with each actor individually. I won't say it's an objectively better way to go about making theatre, but I think for the purposes of Off-Off Broadway it's a gosh-darned revolution. You're an actor, but you also happen to work at the Pet Supply Store and Bar-tend on weekends, there's only so much you can make yourself available for. By having just one day (dress rehearsal) that everyone has to commit to to assemble the show, Tony can cast his show based on which actors he wants, not which ones are available to meet with all the other actors. He's essentially cut that headache out.

Of course, that means there's another headache that presents itself. I haven't met any of my cast members, in particular the one which I'll be doing about an hour's worth of improvisation with. Which means when we've gotta bust our asses by ourselves just to be sure that when we get in a room with each other, we've got each other's backs. The ensemble is bonding over a trust-fall, rather than time spent with each other.

I don't know yet whether or not I prefer it, for all I know this could crash and fail, but I honest-to-blog feel pretty good about it, and that's because of the kind of director we have at the helm. My rehearsals with Tony focus on making my side of the show as strong as I can make it so that when it gets put with likewise performances something really cool can happen.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Cross Casting and Gender

As you may have noticed Bad Quarto Productions has released the casting of Taming of a Shrew, and one thing that you may have noticed in this production and others in this company is the casting of various women actors as male characters. When producing Shakespeare’s plays today there is a lot of flexibility in how to portray the genders of the various characters.

Shakespeare’s male characters massively outnumber his female characters, and modern directors often cast women actors in some of the male roles in Shakespeare’s plays. The fact that all the roles would have originally been played by men and boys gives gender a history as part of the performance of Shakespeare, not just a current anomaly.

Theaters such as The Globe often performs All Male productions, such as the recent Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance as Olivia. These productions aim to recreate the past, and are often produced in period costume and makeup, often with period music to accompany. Most of them have adult men playing the women rather than prepubescent boys, so the historic recreation is faulty at best, but it is an interesting exploration of at least part of historical traditions of casting.

Some theaters perform all female productions, such as Phyllida Lloyd’s lauded production of Julius Caesar. These productions go nicely in conversation with the all male productions. They are often more politically charged, often make casting more women actors as a specific reason for these directing choices.

Many more cross cast some roles and not others. This can look very different depending on the production. Sometimes that means the gender of the character and the text of the play is changed to accommodate the sex of the actor. Polonius becomes Polonia, and Laertes and Ophelia's mother. Usually this sort of choice is on the sidelines of a production, (such as in Joss Whedon's Much Ado) but sometimes the main character is changed in productions like Julie Taymor’s Tempest.

Other times the text is left as it is, and the actors simply play a character with a different gender from their own. This is the route Bad Quarto is taking, a fascinating one in its own right. Particularly interesting in a show such as Shrew where there is so many questions of gender roles and theatrical roles (the play is itself a play within a play). When are the characters playing parts? When are the actors? What does it mean to be male or female? These are all questions to wrestle with when thinking about performance.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Shakespeare's Scary Rehearsals

I like to finish auditions for Bad Quarto shows by going over the rehearsal process a little bit, because it is very different than what most actors are used to, and right before I ask the auditioner if I've scared them off at all, I like to remind them that our approach to rehearsals is, more or less, the approach Shakespeare and his fellow players used.

And, for the record, yes, sometimes it does scare people off.

For those interested in the full story, I recommend Tiffany Stern's Making Shakespeare, and Stern and Palfrey's Shakespeare in Parts. These books present a version of rehearsals on the stages of Renaissance London that goes a little like this: the company would rehearse together once, on the day they opened a new play. They would meet at the playhouse at about dawn, and stage the play in its entirety before performing at about two o'clock that afternoon. Prior to that rehearsal, senior members of the company would meet with junior members for "individual instruction," where the leading players would essentially tell the junior players how to say their lines.

That's more or less how things work here at Bad Quarto, too. Although I don't give line readings to actors, and would never encourage another director to do so, "individual instruction" sessions via Skype are a vital part of our rehearsal process so we can explore the subtleties of language to develop character. But just as important, to my mind, is the lack of shared rehearsal time.

Knowing that we'll only rehearse the play together once forces us all to trust one another, and it forces us to make bold choices in acting and directing because we won't have the chance to polish things for weeks. This method of rehearsal helps give our actors a strong sense of their own characters while providing a performance context that forces them to actually listen to one another. Most actors, by the time a show opens, have already heard every conversation in the play they're in at least a hundred times. In a Bad Quarto show, the rawness of the experience is still fresh, and the result is that our shows capture a mastery of verse and character combined with the liveliness of improv.

It's my mind that plays on the stages of early modern London functioned similarly. Most companies rehearse more than us, and some rehearse less, but I'm of the mind that our method captures the spirit of the texts in performance in a way that only rehearsing the plays as they were intended to be rehearsed can.

I understand why that can scare some actors off, and I'll never hold it against them. And while we'll never been able to offer perfectly polished performances and pieces of stagecraft that are pinnacles of engineering, we can offer you a performance of Shakespeare's plays that brings his plays, and the plays of his contemporaries, to life in a way you have never seen before, and will help you see some of the greatest works of English literature as, quite simply, not the play you think it is.

Our upcoming production of The Taming of a Shrew will be a fine example of these principles in action, and I hope you'll be able to join us for it.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Pembroke's Men: A Timeline

When people talk about playing companies around Shakespeare's day, they mostly talk about the company Shakespeare acted with (called first The Lord Chamberlain's Men, and after James was crowned, The King's Men), and The Admiral's Men performing in The Rose theatre. However there were several other companies in London, including The Lord Strange's Men and The Pembroke's Men. Where there is not a great deal known about this company, we do know that they had several very financially successful tours, and that they got in a lot of trouble over a play called The Isle of Dogs. This play caused enough of a stir with its political satire that three of the Pembroke actors were arrested. 

Last week I wrote about title pages, and one of the things we know from the title page of The Taming of A Shrew is that The Pembroke's Men performed it. When it was published in 1594, it was likely published by the company, although we cannot know for sure. For more about The Lord Pembroke's Men, see the information on the Lost Plays database. The following timeline shows key points from their information on the right, and contemporary events in London on the left. 

Again, thanks for reading and feel free to comment with questions if there are things you'd like to hear about!

Monday, August 31, 2015

What's in a Title Page?

A lot of what we know about The Taming of A Shrew comes from its title page. But what is an early modern title page? What does it contain? What can we learn from it? Let's take a look at six features, and a seventh thing that it does not tell us.

1. The Title (with some strange typography) 

As the name suggests, a title page features the title of the work it covers. I am always surprised by the wonky sizing of the type on these things. Take a look at the detail:

From the way the sizing and capitalization looks, it seems like "Pleasant Conceited" is the main point here, and not what the history is called. It's like if "New York Times Bestseller" was more prominently positioned than the a book's title today. The only time I've seen something like that on a current book it was done as a clever twist on people's expectations in Susan Cain's book on introversion. Publishing style has changed a bit in the last 425 years. 

2. Buzz 

This sort of thing is still put on book covers today. Celebrity quotes, glowing reviews, all the reasons you should care about the book and buy it. Here's our detail on this topic:

For those of you who are rusting on reading early modern typefaces, in modern spelling that's "As it was sundry times acted by the right honorable the Earl of Pembroke, his servants." From this we know that this play was performed more than once by Pembroke's Men. Other title pages have less specific notes about the acting, so we could speculate that Pembroke's Men were well enough known and liked for that to be a selling point.

3. Woodcut decoration

Not all title pages get these sweet little decorations, but it's always a pleasure when they do. They usually don't have anything to do with the story and are more of a decorative symbol of the printer than anything else. For a project in grad school I looked at many title pages by the same printer, and it was fun to see the same decorative seal show up on the title pages of different books. 

4. The Printer, the Printer's city

These next three pieces of information are all packed in together. The printer here is Peter Short. Because there were strict laws on printing and printing houses, we still have extensive records of the books legally printed in London at this time, and anyone interested with access to some digital databases could look up the other books Peter Short printed.

5. The Shop

Today's books would never have the shop where you could buy them printed on the cover, but at this point in the history of printed books, that information could be useful. There are also scholars who think that printers made extra title pages and had them available as advertisements, much like publishers do today with extra large poster versions of the cover art. This information is given often enough that we can also reconstruct what books a particular bookseller (Cuthbert Burbie, in this case) would have had on his shelves. 

6. The Date

An very helpful piece of information. There is a lot of question about when this play in this form was written, but having a publication date lets us know that whenever it was written, it had to have been before 1594. 

7. The Author's Name

Why does the title page not contain the author's name? Was it not important to the people getting it published? Were there reasons to exclude this information? Would the people getting it printed even know the author's name? Many early modern texts were printed without the author's name. For this play in particular, having Shakespeare's name on the cover would mean a lot now, but it wouldn't necessarily mean much then. And so it remains a question.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to ask questions for me to answer in next week's post. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Two Kates, Two Answers. A look at the final speech in both texts.

In my last post, I wrote about what a “bad quarto” is, and how different printings of plays by Shakespeare can be wildly different. In the case of The Taming of a/the Shrew there is not even any scholarly consensus on whether The Taming of a Shrew was written by Shakespeare, or which play came first. Today I’m going to look at the ways in which the two plays are different in a very particular passage.

The two plays follow the same plot for the most part—the characters (excepting Sly and Kate) have different names but most of the scenes run parallel to their counterparts in the other play. In the final scene of the play (in both versions) Kate and her husband return to Kate’s father’s house for the wedding celebration of Kate’s younger sister(s). At one point the men make a bet about whose wife will come when he calls, and only Kate comes when commanded, promptly obedient, and fetches the other women as well. Kate’s husband then asks her to instruct the other women how they should treat their husbands, and in both versions Kate gives a long speech, but the content of those speeches is quite different. In The Shrew Kate gives a longer lecture, and covers a broader range argumentation over full forty-four lines. In A Shrew Kate has only 29 lines and confines her argument to a religious premise that women are inferior by design and by their own actions and history. Here are the two speeches in full, we’ll discuss them in closer detail in the following paragraphs. 

Kate in The Shrew gives her speech mainly comparing husbands and wives to kings and subjects. In her introduction (where she insults the women for their disagreeable facial expressions) she titles their husbands with the terms, "thy lord, thy king, thy governor." Throughout the speech she gives several reasons why women should not fight their husbands. In the first place, it's unattractive (with the troubled fountain analogy), secondly it's wrong (women owe their husbands obedience), and thirdly if you try to fight them you'll lose because they're stronger ("our lances are but straws").

Kate in A Shrew gives a bit more of a complex argument, even though she does it in a shorter space of time. Instead of merely asserting that husbands are the lords of their households, she gives an elaborate invocation of God as the creator of all things and bestower of power. Just as God creates, he also bestows order, gives bodies, and in his good will, woman became the "woe" to man, and therefore for her sin Adam died. In response women should behave should Sarah, Abraham's wife in the old testament, and their defining feature should be their obedience to the authority of their husbands, service to them in every way. Kate ends her speech (as in The Shrew) by offering her hand beneath her husband's foot. This speech reminds me of two speeches by Shakespeare's women. In the courtroom scene in The Merchant of Venice Portia answers Shylock's question about why he should be merciful by broadening the argument to show how God is merciful. Isabella, in Measure for Measure also talks about authority as coming from God. By contrast Isabella does not link authority and virtue, and unlike Anonymous' Kate, Isabella points out a certain fragile and arbitrary quality to authority. For Isabella authority is something you are dressed in, but for Kate, the ordering of the chain of authority is set in the epic language of creation and the cosmos.

BBC Shakespeare Retold, a personal favorite
At the level of the text, both of these speeches make me feel a little sick. It upsets me that these ideologies were ever considered valid, and upsets me still more that I continue to see similar sentiments expressed in our culture today. But I stand with Tony in considering the shorter of the two speeches to be the less misogynist of the two. There are many less debasing insults to women in the version from A Shrew, and the justification, while not one I stand with, is at least succinct and specific in its argument. However, like every text intended for performance, the words themselves only convey a fraction of the meaning when performed onstage. Either of these speeches is a wildly different statement depending on Kate's state of being. Has her husband broken her so she's speaking out of brainwashing? Is she showing up her sister? Has she learned the cultural expectations so well that she can perform them on cue whenever it's advantageous to do so? Is she wildly, passionately in love? I do not know what Tony plans on doing with this scene as he directs it, but I know that the audience is in for a unique view of this story. Whatever interpretation of the scene the actors present, the text they will speak is so rarely performed that it will be well worth the audience's attention. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

What does "Bad Quarto" even mean?

Curious person: Hey, you’re the dramaturg, right? That means you answer questions?

Dramaturg: To the best of my ability.

CP: So, what is a “bad quarto” anyways?

D: A “bad quarto” is what some scholars call the early printings of plays by Shakespeare and other writers in his time.

CP: Okay, but what makes them bad?

D: Well, they don’t fit neatly into the simplest progression of a play from the Author’s mind to the printed playbook, and people don’t agree where they come from.

CP: How do plays usually get printed?

D: The simplest story is that the author writes out the play, and it’s copied by a scribe with nice handwriting and that copy is called “the fair copy” and it is what a playing company would buy. Maybe they’d use it as the prompt book, maybe they’d make another copy, but if later they decided to get the play printed they could take that same copy to the printers and it would get printed. There’s still some room for error in this very simple story (at least one scribe copying, and the typesetter laying type) but it seems to be a pretty clear progression.

CP: But that’s not the whole story? Why not?

D: Well, sometimes plays got printed many times. Nearly all of Shakespeare’s plays were published after his death in The First Folio, a big impressive volume, but many were published earlier as Quartos, smaller, less expensive books with just one play each.

CP: Like today, you can get a big Complete Works of Shakespeare or a little copy of Romeo and Juliet for your English class.

D: Yeah, except some of the quartos were pretty different from the Folio.

CP: Different, how?

D: Some Quartos are much shorter than the Folio versions, some have different character names, the scenes could be in a different order, or the words are just different. The titles are sometimes a little different, or some of the plays we think were written by Shakespeare don’t have his name on them in the original printing.

CP: That seems like a lot more than copying errors! How did they get so different?

D: There are three answers scholars typically give to this question. The first is that the “Bad quartos” are pirated copies; audience members transcribed the plays as they watched them and then sold their faulty versions to printers before there were legitimate published versions of the plays.

CP: Like when people record movies in theaters on their phones? It’s an awful version of the film, but it’s good enough till it’s available on DVD or whatever?

D: Same old piracy idea. Except people transcribing are gonna make a lot more mistakes than the video on your phone. The second typical answer to the question of where all the differences came from is that the actors sold their parts.

CP: But in Shakespeare’s theater the actors didn’t get the whole play, right?

D: The actors only had what we call “cue scripts.” The company would probably have one full copy of the play, that fair copy, that they’d use for prompting. But the actors wouldn’t get that whole book. Their part would have their lines and their cues and nothing more, so if an actor sell his script to a publisher, he would have to write out everything else in the play from memory. This theory is called “memorial reconstruction” and it’s also a common explanation of why there are so many differences or “mistakes” in the early quartos.

CP: So what’s the last explanation?

D: The last explanation is the biggest and messiest, and it that the early quartos show an earlier (or later, or just different) version of the plays. Usually people think it’s an another version by the same author, but that doesn’t need to be the case. With the Anonymous Taming of A Shrew, we’re not even sure if it was written by Shakespeare or if Shakespeare based his play The Taming of THE Shrew on it or vica versa.

CP: Is that possible? Would Shakespeare write a different version of someone else’s play that was already doing well elsewhere?

D: Totally. Shakespeare almost certainly did this with The Famous Victories of Henry V, an anonymous earlier play, and John Fletcher wrote a sequel to one or both of the Shrew plays called The Tamer Tamed. Copyright was a more flexible thing in that century, but the same sort of thing happens even today. Think about the themes in kids movies. Disney makes fairytale movies, Dreamworks makes fairytale satire movies. Dreamworks makes a Scottish-y medieval-y magic-y story with dragons? Pixar makes one with bears. Think Finding Nemo vs. Shark’s Tale, or Antz coming out at the same time as A Bug’s Life.

CP: I still don’t get why they’re called “bad."

D: Well, most of the time the quartos people call “bad” are earlier than other quartos and earlier than the Folio for sure. There’s always been a reason to call the earlier version bad. Think about Lord of the Rings enthusiasts, who have all the DVDs in the extended versions. What do they call the other version of the films? Not the original or theatrical version but something with a little more stigma…

CP: The “unextended version”?

D: Yeah! So it makes sense for those who really love the version of Shakespeare that they’ve read most (based on the late, more “authentic” quartos or the Folio). They’re unfamiliar with these shorter, less noticed, alternative versions, and when they read them suddenly Hamlet is saying “aye there’s the point” instead of “that is the question” and it seems like it’s all wrong, all bad. But scholars today are beginning to embrace the early quartos. Just because these quartos are different than the Shakespeare we are most familiar with, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be looking at them. If anything, the bad quartos are an opportunity, an undiscovered country in performance and scholarly opportunities.

If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below! I’ll answer them in a future post.