Bursary Funded Research: Performing ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’

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This post is the third in our series of guest-authored posts written by scholars who have been awarded funding for their research by the Society. This post was written by Emma Whipday, a PhD candidate at University College, London.

Performing ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’

I was awarded a 2014 Malone Society Bursary to stage a research production of ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’ from Two Lamentable Tragedies (1601), which portrays the murder of a London shopkeeper by his neighbour. The play is significant in its tragic portrayal of a murder in the home of an ordinary Londoner, and in its unprecedented attention to the forensic processes of detection. On Friday 21st March, the production was staged at UCL in what was, to my knowledge, its first performance in modern times.

Freyja Cox Jensen as Merry and Eleanor Rushton as Rachel. Photo credit: Niina Tamura

Freyja Cox Jensen as Merry and Eleanor Rushton as Rachel. Photo credit: Niina Tamura

The play is based on a true murder that took place in London in 1594: Master Merry, who ran a tavern, murdered a neighbouring shopkeeper, Master Beech, and the surrounding community worked together to solve the crime. This sensational murder caught the attention of Elizabethan London; it was reported in news pamphlets and sung about in broadside ballads. In 1600, a play named ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’ was performed at the Rose by the Admiral’s Men. The following year, a play based on Merry’s crime was printed in quarto, in a collection entitled Two Lamentable Tragedies. The title page claims that the author of the plays is Robert Yarington. The only surviving record of a Robert Yarington living in London refers not to a playwright, but to a scribe; it is impossible to discover whether he was the author of the plays, or whether he simply compiled them into a single narrative. The second play is fictional, set in Padua, and stages the murder of a nobleman’s ward. Scenes from both tragedies are intertwined in the quarto, and thus Two Lamentable Tragedies is unique in presenting a traditional, elite tragedy alongside a true and recent neighbourhood murder. In staging only the tragedy of Merry, I wanted to test whether it was performable as a standalone play.

Drawing on the Malone Society edition of Two Lamentable Tragedies (edited by Chiaki Hanabusa), which was the Society’s ‘Book of the Year’, this research production aimed to discover how our understanding of the play alters when it is performed. This project is grounded in an interdisciplinary approach to practice as research, combining the expertise of theatre practitioners with the knowledge of literary critics and historians. Freyja Cox Jensen (University of Exeter) co-organised the production; Helen Hackett and Alexander Sampson (UCL) were the executive producers; and the cast was composed of both professional actors and UCL staff and students.

Our production was prepared using Elizabethan rehearsal practices, based on the research of Tiffany Stern (Oxford). We sought to explore the ways in which reconstructing early modern rehearsal and performance practices could illuminate spatial dynamics and character development in the play. In so doing, we hoped to demonstrate the validity of practice as research as an approach to early modern drama.

The actors received their ‘parts’, composed of only their own lines and short cues, thirteen days before the production, at the read-through, at which they read the play aloud; they then met with me individually to discuss their character choices and work on their lines. A week later, we also had a single ‘stage business’ rehearsal, where we plotted use of props, fights and the closing jig, and a single dress rehearsal. These were the only times the actors rehearsed together; the rest of their work on the text took place alone. As the ‘book holder’ or prompter, I sat to the left of the playing space during the final performance, visible but not part of the action, to highlight the role of the book holder for the audience.

 - ?? as ??. Photo credit: Niina Tamura.

Charlie Howitt as Second Waterman, Becky Moore as First Waterman, Brian McMahon as Constable, and Eleanor Rushton as Rachel. Photo credit: Niina Tamura.

The performance was accompanied by music contemporary to the play. Our lutenist Sam Brown performed at the side of the stage, and was visible to the audience throughout. He drew from his repertoire pieces by various composers, including John Dowland, Robert Johnson and Francis Pilkington. Our musical director Simon Smith assisted in the selection of pieces, and worked with us on adding musical cues to the script, ensuring that our musical practices were appropriate. Music was used as an overture, in the act breaks, at moments of heightened theatricality – such as when the narrator-figure, Truth, appeared – and to accompany the closing jig.

Lutenist Sam Brown in rehearsal. Photo credit: Niina Tamura

Lutenist Sam Brown in rehearsal. Photo credit: Niina Tamura

The production was a great success. The actors gave wonderful performances, my services as prompter were only needed a couple of times, Tiffany Stern’s introductory talk about actors’ parts and early modern rehearsal methods was fascinating and accessible, and the audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. We were amazed by how smoothly the play went with so little rehearsal time; it seemed to suggest that, with early modern actors accustomed to learning lines from ‘parts’ and a limited rehearsal period, Elizabethan first performances may have been more polished than we might imagine. We were even more surprised by how funny the play was – the audience laughed heartily throughout, even at seemingly ‘tragic’ events. This has raised interesting questions about how comedy and tragedy interact in the play. There are plenty of comic moments, from farcical falls to one character’s mis-hearing of murder as ‘mustard’, and even seemingly ‘tragic’ moments, involving murder and dismemberment, are macabre to the point of absurdity, and thus provoke laughter. Yet the narrator-figure, Truth, repeatedly calls attention to the truth of the crime that is staged, and comments on the teary eyes of the audience, reminding them that the action they watch is ‘but a play’. In our production, Truth’s commentary became an uncomfortable counter-point to the audience’s vocal amusement; this provoked further thought about how the hybrid genre of domestic tragedy may have been received by its original audience. I will be discussing the production at Andy Kesson and Stephen Purcell’s ‘Practice as Research’ seminar at the upcoming 2014 Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting, and look forward to exploring this issue further.

I am extremely grateful to the Malone Society for supporting this project; their generosity made our performance possible. This allowed us to purchase necessary stage properties, from pewter tankards to stage blood. It also made it possible for us to provide refreshments for the audience, so that Freyja and I could distribute questionnaires about audience responses to the play, and then swap completed questionnaires for glasses of wine, which proved a popular bargain! We look forward to exploring these audience responses over the coming weeks.

Furthermore, thanks to the Malone Society Bursary, I was able to invite Philip Bird, an experienced actor, director and teacher, to lead a workshop for our actors on Elizabethan rehearsal practices. Philip worked with the Original Shakespeare Company in the 1990s, and regularly leads workshops on cue-scripts at Shakespeare’s Globe and elsewhere. Concentrating on examples from Shakespeare, he worked with the actors on how to approach a part, before giving out the cue-scripts for scenes of various sizes. The actors all rose to the challenge, and though they admitted to finding the experience of working with cue-scripts ‘terrifying’ at first, they produced some fantastic scenes where everyone was engaged, responsive, and listening very hard indeed. It was a demanding process, but Philip was generous with his advice, and everyone participated with enthusiasm and immense concentration. The workshop proved invaluable for the actors in preparing for the final performance.

An analogy Philip shared with us in a good luck message just before the performance proved particularly useful:

‘The audience will be on your side… Instead of baking a cake and offering it up for consumption on the night, you are bringing the ingredients and baking it in front of them. They will be delighted.’

This was a hugely enjoyable, if daunting, process for everyone involved. The fruits of this production will inform and substantially benefit my own research on both Two Lamentable Tragedies and the genre of domestic tragedy, and I hope that the performance of the play proved illuminating for other scholars in the field.

N. B. Click here if you would like to see the actors discussing their experience of working with ‘cue-scripts’ and early-modern rehearsal methods.

Book of the Month: The Comedy of George a Greene

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Regular price reduced from £15.00 to only £5.00 plus postage. Orders may be placed throughout April 2014. Available to Society members only.

APRIL: 
The Comedy of George a Greene

Follow the raucous adventures of George a Greene in April’s Book of the Month, where love, war, and mistaken identity abound! The Earl of Kendal and King James of Scotland plot to overthrow the English King Edward, but George endeavours to thwart their plans. Will peace be restored? Will George convince his sweetheart’s father to let them marry? And what do Robin Hood and Maid Marian have to do with it all…?

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The Society’s edition is a type-facsimile of the edition of 1599, and includes a reproduction of the title page of the Devonshire, with annotations by Sir George Buc recording information received from William Shakespeare and the actor Edward Juby concerning the authorship of the play.

HOW TO ORDER:
If you are based in the UK, please fill your details on the form below. Then click the ‘buy now’ button to purchase your copy for just £8.00 (£5 + £3 for postage):

 buy now

If you are based outside of the UK, please send your details (name and postal address including postcode) with a cheque (plus P&P) to The Shakespeare Institute, Mason Croft, Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6HP, UK.

Packaging and Postage:

Europe & Ireland £6.00

USA/Canada £12.00

Australia/New Zealand - please send cheques ($9.00 AUD for the book + $16.00 postage) to Dr. David McInnis, the Australia/New Zealand Regional Representative or email him for EFT details:
School of Culture and Communication
Room 216, John Medley West
University of Melbourne 3010
AUSTRALIA.

Forthcoming Malone Society Conference at Oxford University

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It is our pleasure to announce that with the support of the Malone Society, there will be a staged play reading and afternoon Symposium in the Flora Anderson Hall, Somerville College on 17th May 2014. The performance will take place in the morning, followed by an academic discussion in the afternoon. The play will be the anonymous Fair Maid of the Exchange, 1601/2, which we anticipate will be very enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Registration details are currently being finalised, so watch this space for more info soon…

Book of the Month: The Raging Turk and The Courageous Turk

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Regular price reduced from £15.00 to only £5.00 plus postage. Orders may be placed throughout March until 3 April, 2014. Available to Society members only.

MARCH: 
The Raging Turk
and The Courageous Turk

Get two Turks for the price of one in this month’s volume! In The Raging Turk the sons and brother of Bajazeth vie for their place to succeed him as Emperor, sparking a series of bloody events in which Bajazeth wages war, orders the murders of his sons and brother, and stabs his army chief with his own hands. In the final scenes Bajazeth is poisoned, but will his chosen son emerge victorious or will another seize power and become Emperor?

In The Courageous Turk love and war collide as Amurath falls in love with and subsequently marries a Greek concubine, thus halting the progress of his conquest of Europe. Amurath struggles with the limitations his martial responsibilities place on his love life, but eventually decides to continue his quest, beheading his new wife. He travels through Europe, crushing the Christian armies who try to resist him, and everything seems to be going his way until he comes face-to-face with the last Christian survivor, the general Cobelitz…

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The Society’s edition is a type-facsimile of the Quartos of the plays printed for Richard Meighen in 1631 and 1632.  The edition of The Courageous Turk collates the text with the known MS exemplars and includes photographs of the author, Thomas Goffe’s hand, and of the first section of the surviving actor’s part for the role of Amurath, the eponymous courageous Turk.

HOW TO ORDER:
If you are based in the UK, please fill your details on the form below. Then click the ‘buy now’ button to purchase your copy for just £8.00 (£5 + £3.00 for postage):

 buy now

If you are based outside of the UK, please send your details (name and postal address including postcode) with a cheque (plus P&P) to The Shakespeare Institute, Mason Croft, Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6HP, UK.

Packaging and Postage:

Europe & Ireland £6.00

USA/Canada £12.00

Australia/New Zealand - please send cheques ($9.00 AUD for the book + $16.00 postage) to Dr. David McInnis, the Australia/New Zealand Regional Representative or email him for EFT details:
School of Culture and Communication
Room 216, John Medley West
University of Melbourne 3010
AUSTRALIA.

Exploring the full back catalogue

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Does your library have a complete set of Malone volumes? Any library that’s serious about encouraging the study of the drama of this period needs these volumes, which are essential for advanced undergraduate and MA work, as well as staff research. We are finding that an increasing number of university libraries are now bringing their collections up to date by supplementing their annual subscription with the purchase of all remaining imprints from the back catalogue, especially when they see the discounts  available on a bulk purchase!

Dr Keenan has recently purchased the run of titles for De Montfort University. She says, ‘We saw the offer to purchase a set of Malone Society volumes as a fantastic opportunity to increase our stock of Renaissance plays and as an investment that promises to benefit our undergraduates, postgraduates and staff working on Renaissance drama and theatrical culture now and in the future.’

If you would be interested in finding out more about ordering this wonderful resource we would be delighted to talk through titles and costs: you can contact our Orders Secretary, Catherine Richardson (C.T.Richardson@kent.ac.uk), or ask your subject librarian to do so.

Book of the Month: The Lincoln ‘Crying Christmas’ Ceremony

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Regular price reduced from £15.00 to only £5.00 plus postage. Orders may be placed throughout December until 1 January, 2014. Available to Society members only.

DECEMBER: 
The Lincoln ‘Crying Christmas’ Ceremony

The Mayor commands that this Christmas everyone in the city must make merry and do charitable work or be thrown into a dungeon full of noxious reptiles. Happy holidays!

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 The Society’s edition of Lincolnshire dramatic records includes, among much else, extensive information relating to both the Lincoln mystery play cycle and its scaled-down replacement, The Story of Old Toby, and the complete text of the 1560s ceremonial pageant announcing the arrival of the festive season.

HOW TO ORDER:
If you are based in the UK, please fill your details on the form below. Then click the ‘buy now’ button to purchase your copy for just £8.00 (£5 + £3.00 for postage):

 buy now

If you are based outside of the UK, please send your details (name and postal address including postcode) with a cheque (plus P&P) to The Shakespeare Institute, Mason Croft, Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6HP, UK.

Packaging and Postage:

Europe & Ireland £6.00

USA/Canada £12.00

Australia/New Zealand - please send cheques ($9.00 AUD for the book + $16.00 postage) to Dr. David McInnis, the Australia/New Zealand Regional Representative or email him for EFT details:
School of Culture and Communication
Room 216, John Medley West
University of Melbourne 3010
AUSTRALIA.

Book Of The Month: Common Conditions

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Regular price reduced from £15.00 to only £5.00 plus postage. Orders may be placed throughout until 10 October, 2013. Available to Society members only.

NOVEMBER: 
Common Conditions
 

Sedmond and his sister Clarisia are advised by the vice Conditions to flee the court, as the King seeks their death after banishing their father Galiarbus from Arabia. But the siblings become separated in the woods after they are attacked and robbed by tinkers. Sedmond becomes a wandering knight called Sir Nomides who is unwillingly pursued by Sabia, and Clarisia falls in love with the knight Lamphedon. Soon, however, the lovers are torn apart by a band of pirates led by Conditions who throw Lamphedon overboard. Will the family ever be reunited, will Clarisia find her true love, or will Conditions destroy them all?

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The Society’s edition reproduces the only surviving complete copy of the Quarto, now owned by the Elizabethan Club, Yale.  (The Huntington copy available on Early English Books Online lacks the first and last quires.)

HOW TO ORDER:
If you are based in the UK, please fill your details on the form below. Then click the ‘buy now’ button to purchase your copy for just £8.00 (£5 + £3.00 for postage):

buy now

If you are based outside of the UK, please send your details (name and postal address including postcode) with a cheque (plus P&P) to The Shakespeare Institute, Mason Croft, Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6HP, UK.

Packaging and Postage:

Europe & Ireland £6.00

USA/Canada £12.00

Australia/New Zealand - please send cheques ($9.00 AUD for the book + $16.00 postage) to Dr. David McInnis, the Australia/New Zealand Regional Representative or email him for EFT details:
School of Culture and Communication
Room 216, John Medley West
University of Melbourne 3010
AUSTRALIA.

Bursary Funded Research: Staging Daniel’s Cleopatra

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This post is the second in our series of guest-authored posts written by scholars who have been awarded funding for their research by the Society. This post was written by Yasmin Arshad, a PhD Candidate at University College London.

STAGING DANIEL’S CLEOPATRA

I was awarded a 2013 Malone Society Bursary to mount a production of Samuel Daniel’s neo-Senecan closet drama, The Tragedie of Cleopatra. The performance, with Emma Whipday as director and Professor Helen Hackett as executive producer, was held on Sunday, 3 March at the Great Hall of Goodenough College. This may well have been the first such staging of Daniel’s play in four hundred years and certainly the first in modern times.

Published in 1594, Daniel’s tragedy is significant as the first original drama about Cleopatra in English. Written as a companion piece to his patron, Mary Sidney’s Antonius (a translation of a French play by Robert Garnier), it portrays a strikingly different Egyptian Queen from the usual representations of the scheming seductress we have come to expect. Daniel’s play focuses on the final hours of Cleopatra’s life, showing a great queen in defeat as she struggles to negotiate some form of mercy for her children, while knowing that she has no option but to commit suicide or be led as a trophy in Caesar’s triumph.

Charlotte Gallagher as Cleopatra

Charlotte Gallagher as Cleopatra. Photo credit: Yi Ling Hunag

Daniel’s closet drama is important also as a play that is in dialogue with Shakespeare. It was almost certainly a source for Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, but Daniel was in turn influenced by Shakespeare in his much-revised 1607 edition. Although considered obscure today, Daniel’s play was a best-seller in its time, going through nine editions and five sets of alteration. Malone Society bibliophiles will be interested to know that in his study of early English plays, Peter W. M. Blayney has pointed out that Cleopatra would have ranked second in the number of editions published, out-performing Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and doing better than any of Shakespeare’s plays.

The idea for this production is based on my research on a portrait of an early-seventeenth century English aristocratic woman depicted as Cleopatra holding the asp, accompanied by an inscription. The painting has remained relatively unknown and was misidentified and misdated, with little work done on its inscription. The lines can be identified as coming from the 1607 Cleopatra (or the 1611 reprint) and the sitter as possibly being Lady Anne Clifford. The portrait is exciting as it may be a record of an actual performance of a closet drama. Until recently it was thought that such plays were written to be read aloud in coterie circles, but recent scholarship has suggested that they may have been fully staged in elite country house settings. The painting, which last came up for sale at Christie’s in 1948, has disappeared during the last sixty-five years. Its only visual record is the photograph the National Portrait Gallery had taken at the 1948 auction. Although more light can only be shed on the questions surrounding the portrait with its location, the painting itself provides us with a remarkable visual image of a Jacobean lady ‘playing’ Daniel’s Cleopatra in some way. It adds something new to our knowledge and understanding of early modern closet drama and female agency.

The aim of our production was to test the performability of Daniel’s closet drama, and to change the commonly held perception that there was no female participation in drama in Shakespeare’s time. Women were not only writing closet drama, but may well have been performing in these plays in the great country houses, using them to explore models of female heroism. As much as possible we wanted to replicate the probable conditions of a Jacobean country house performance.

We used Daniel’s 1607 Cleopatra as our play-text, primarily because the lines in the portrait’s inscription come from this edition. We decided to keep the play to about two hours for audience comfort, and as we were preparing the script and reading it out loud to time it, we began to realise that Daniel’s closet drama with its implicit performance cues, make it very performable. We also decided to follow the inscription’s lines in the script rather than those from the play text itself. If the portrait is a record of a performance then the excerpted inscription may suggest that an abridged version of the closet play was staged to make Cleopatra’s final 36-line speech more manageable for the actor –this also set a precedent for our cutting some lines. By moving beyond a staged reading with script in hand, we are satisfied that we have demonstrated that Daniel’s closet drama is fully performable. We were fortunate to have a cast and production team of extraordinary talents, and to have Charlotte Gallagher as our impressively mesmerisng Cleopatra and the talented Beth Eyre as our coldly ambitious Caesar. Both, alumni of UCL’s English Department, are now professional actors.

The cast of Cleopatra

The cast of Cleopatra. Photo credit: Yi Ling Hunag

It has been an exciting and wonderful experience to produce Daniel’s Cleopatra and to show how fantastic this moving and fascinating play is in performance. Staging this production has provided valuable insights into Daniel’s play and into understanding the workings of closet drama in general. I am very grateful to the Malone Society for their generous support of this project and in helping make the magnificent costumes and the DVD of this production possible.

Malone Society editions have formed an important part of my PhD research, particularly Daniel’s Hymen’s Triumph and Cary’s Tragedy of Mariam.

DVDs of the production can be purchased at: http://thetragedieofcleopatradvd.eventbrite.co.uk

To learn more about the production please visit: http://thetragedieofcleopatra.wordpress.com

The Cleopatra team will be discussing the research that led to this production and performing scenes from the play at Knole House in Kent, on Saturday, 9 November, and at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford on Tuesday, 12 November. Details will be posted on our blog and on the UCL Centre for Early Modern Exchanges website (www.ucl.ac.uk/eme).

For more on women’s participation in drama in Shakespeare’s time, see Helen Hackett, A Short History of English Renaissance Drama (London: I. B. Tauris, 2013), pp. 175-88.

For more on the portrait of a Jacobean lady in role as Daniel’s Cleopatra, see Yasmin Arshad, ‘The enigma of a portrait: Lady Anne Clifford and Daniel’s Cleopatra’, The British Art Journal 11.3 (Spring 2011), pp.30-36.

Elizabeth Sharrett, manning the Malone Society table at the Great Hall, Goodenough College, March 2013.

Elizabeth Sharrett, manning the Malone Society table at the Great Hall, Goodenough College, March 2013. Photo credit: Yi Ling Hunag

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