Malone Society Research Fellowship: Maria Shmygol, part 2

This is the second of two blog posts from Maria Shmygol about her research into William Percy’s manuscript play The Aphrodysial, for which she received a Malone Society Fellowship.

Maria is based at the English department of the University of Liverpool, where she is assisting Nandini Das with her work editing Volume 6 of a fourteen-volume critical edition of Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, general edited by Daniel Carey and Claire Jowitt for Oxford University Press. She recently completed an AHRC-funded doctoral project entitled ‘“A Sea-Change”: Representations of the Marine in Jacobean Drama and Visual Culture’, research for which engaged with a range of commercial plays, civic entertainments, and court masques.

Maria’s current work—particularly her edition of William Percy’s The Aphrodysial, for which the Malone Society awarded her a Research Fellowship—develops her interests in textual editing and manuscript culture. Other research interests include cultures of knowledge in the early modern period and the relationship between natural history and print.

She was the co-organiser of a conference entitled ‘Making Knowledge in the Renaissance’ (Liverpool, March 2015) and is currently writing an article on theory and practice in the textual works and artisanal practice of the French Huguenot potter, Bernard de Palissy.

 

William Percy’s The Aphrodysial (1602)

Part II: An Early Modern ‘Marinall’ 

The Aphrodysial is a piscatory pastoral (Percy himself identifies it as a ‘marinall’ in the running title) and is rather unique as it is set almost entirely underwater. The play follows the events leading up to the Aphrodysial sea-feast at the court of Oceanus, where Cytheræa presides over the festivities and features an exciting array of characters lifted from classical mythology and literature. As well as Vulcan, Jupiter, Proteus, Cupid, and the nymphs Arida and Humida, the play unsurprisingly makes use of characters specifically associated with the sea, such as Thetis, Nereus, Oceanus, and Arion, all of whom, in one way or another, become embroiled in romantic schemes and pursuits. Likewise, Percy capitalizes on the popularity of the Hero and Leander story which he adapts in his play with a suitably happy conclusion befitting the festivities and contests in this remarkably innovative piece of drama.

The Aphrodysial bears the date 1602 in both surviving manuscripts (although the manuscripts themselves were transcriptions carried out in the 1640s; see Part I). Madeleine Hope Dodds used this evidence to suggest that the play was most likely written for performance at the christening celebrations of Percy’s nephew, Algernon Percy at Essex House in October 1602, although this is conjecture and ignores the external evidence that links Percy to the child actor companies elsewhere.1 Although there are no known records of Percy’s plays being professionally performed, the detail and richness of the stage directions (particularly in The Aphrodysial) demonstrate his keen awareness of staging practices reveal much about how Percy envisaged his play in performance by child and adult companies.2

One of the play’s most striking elements is a monstrous talking whale that a group of somewhat dim-witted fishermen attempt to capture as a prize for Cytheræa. As well being a source of spectacle and slap-stick, the whale proves instrumental in resolving several of the play’s weightier concerns. When the ‘monstrum horrendum’ is dissected at court, an apprentice boy is found in its belly and revealed as the ventriloquizer of the hideous creature. The boy makes known that he is in possession of Thetis’s lost magical bracelet, which explains the oracles and different tongues that the whale was previous able to utter to the amazed fishermen. The preceding parts of the play devote ample attention to Thetis’s suitors and their fruitless search for the enchanted bracelet, since she had vowed to marry no-one other than its finder. Following her initial chagrin at the idea of marrying the apprentice boy, she offers him a bribe to forego his right to her hand and so preserves her virginity.

While Percy is careful to specify that the monstrous whale keeps to his ‘den’ throughout the play, the descriptions of the creature that we hear from the group of startled fishermen constructs a rather terrifying image:

It is a thing Abosonaunt in Nature, see what Fegaries the villain will fetch. He roareth like thirty Barril of gunpowder,
He springeth at a spring Three Acres, o[f] water, He squirteth Fyre not onely before but also behind. (fol. 124r)

This description vividly calls to mind the mechanical water pageant devices commonly used in the Lord Mayors’ Shows on the Thames. The hydraulics and pyrotechnics that the fisherman’s description alludes to reveals Percy’s familiarity with such devices shaped like fish. A description of precisely such a device is found in the Ironmongers’ records for the waterworks used in the 1609 show: a whale ‘rounded close without sight of the boate and to row with ffins open for ffireworkes at the mouth and water vented at the head.3  It is my hope that my edition will make it possible to fully address the ways in which Percy’s literary and cultural experiences shaped this fascinating and regrettably little-studied play.

Although Percy’s poetic and dramatic efforts were derided in a smattering of essays written in the 1930s, Matthew Dimmock’s more recent edition of Mahomet and His Heaven (Ashgate, 2006) has highlighted how provocative Percy’s drama can be when read alongside similar material written by his contemporaries. Percy’s plays are remarkably inventive and, as is the case with The Aphrodysial in particular, bring together a variety of diverse literary sources and characters.4 For example, Percy imaginatively dramatizes a world of classical deities in a way that shows awareness of conventions used in masque texts as well as civic pageantry. The play is an important early example of the kinds of ‘underwater’ themes that would characterise masques and entertainments that flourished at the Jacobean court in the years following its composition.5 I’m really excited to be working on the play and hope that my edition will generate interest among scholars and practitioners alike – I’d be delighted to see a script-in-hand production of the play once the modernized text is ready, so if there are any interested parties, please do get in touch!

 

1 Madeleine Hope Dodds, ‘William Percy’s Aphrodysial’, Notes and Queries, 161 (1931), 237-40 (p. 237). In his entry on Percy’s Mahomet and His Heaven, Wiggins suggests that ‘one scrap of evidence tying the play [i.e. Mahomet] to 1601 (and indeed the Children of Paul’s) is the fact that the subtitle, A Dream of a Dry Summmer, is quoted in Blurt, Master Constable, performed late that year by the same company (see British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011-2014), vol IV: 1598-1602, p. 339). Mary C. Erler provides a very useful overview of ‘William Percy and Plays at Paul’s’ in Ecclesiastical London, Records of Early English Drama (Toronto and British Library: University of Toronto Press, 2008), pp. 278-91.

2 For instance, towards the end of first act of the The Aphrodysial, the stage direction calls for ‘a shower of rose-water and comfits, as was acted in Christ church, in Oxford, in Dido and Aeneas’, which clearly refers to a performance of William Gager’s play, an account of which appeared in Holinshed’s Chronicles (see Patrick Kincaid, ‘A Critical Edition of William Percy’s The Cuckqueans and Cuckolds Errants’, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Birmingham, 1999, p. 25.

3 Jean Robinson and D. J. Gordon, eds, A Calendar of Dramatic Records in the Books of the Livery Companies of London, 1485-1640, Malone Society Collections, 3 (Oxford: Malone Society, 1954), p.73.

4 Harold N. Hillebrand rather unfairly described Percy’s works as ‘dramatically and artistically […] wretched—the prolix, pedantic, bloodless, laboured excogitations of a queer, cramped, academic personality; only when one tries to build [the plays] into this picture of the man do they acquire a half-pathetic, half-absurd interest’ (‘William Percy: An Elizabethan Amateur’, Huntington Library Quarterly, 1:4 (1938), 391-416 (p. 408)).

5 In fact, Kincaid supposes that the Percy’s affectation to write the stage directions in past tense was caught from masque texts (‘A Critical Edition of William Percy’s The Cuckqueans and Cuckolds Errants’, unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Birmingham, 1999, p. 107).

John Edward Kerry Prize, 2015

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the John Edward Kerry Prize for 2015 is Amy Lidster of King’s College London. Amy is working on a PhD entitled ‘Producing the “History” Play: From Stage to Page’ under the supervision of Sonia Massai. Her research research investigates the influence of performance and publication practices on the development of early modern history plays, drawing attention to the multiplicity of ‘producers’ reflected in the extant texts, and highlighting the role of theatrical companies, patrons and stationers in shaping historical drama through a variety of political, aesthetic and economic strategies. She will receive 30 Malone Society volumes and a year’s free membership – watch this space for a forthcoming blog post on the way in which the work of the Malone Society has facilitated her research.

Marginal Malone

The Malone Society is very pleased to inform members and others that a symposium, ‘Marginal Malone’, will take place on 26 June 2015 at the University of Oxford. This symposium examines the lives and afterlives of Malone’s readings of English literature, and is a collaboration between the Yale Program in the History of the Book and the Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book.

The speakers are Margreta de Grazia, Arnold Hunt, Clive Hurst, Kathryn James, Ivan Lupić, Bill Sherman, and Tiffany Stern.

Malone Society Photo Competition Launch

Most of us have a favourite Malone Society title. Add a dash of creativity and a photo, and you could win that volume.

We are launching our brand new photo competition today, and this is how you participate: 1) pick your favourite title from our list of publications (https://malonesociety.files.wordpress.com/…/malone-catalogu…) 2) Get creative: create a little scene with lego men, do a drawing, use sock-puppets – it’s all up to you, so long as the title is clear. 3) take a photo and post it to twitter or facebook with the hashtag ‪#‎malsocphoto‬. Winners will be announced here, on twitter, and on facebook, and we will be picking a new one each month.

Best of luck to you all!

The Fair Maid of the Exchange: Malone Society Staged Reading and Symposium

This guest post comes from Dr Eoin Price, who recently gained his PhD from The Shakespeare Institute, where he currently works. He is preparing a book about the meaning of the terms ‘public’ and ‘private’ in Renaissance theatrical discourse and has work forthcoming in Literature Compass and The Map of Early Modern London [http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/]. His reviews of Renaissance drama can be read at asidenotes.wordpress.com and Reviewing Shakespeare [http://bloggingshakespeare.com/reviewing-shakespeare/author/eoinprice/]

The Fair Maid of the Exchange

Are comedies meant to end happily? We’re often told this, but it’s easy to cite examples that don’t fit the bill. In Shakespearean comedy, we are left with unaccommodated figures like Shylock or Malvolio, while in Love’s Labour’s Lost death postpones the expected marriage. Jonson’s Volpone ends with punishment and the happy ending of Marston’s Antonio and Mellida turns out to be a ruse: in the tragic sequel, Antonio must avenge Mellida’s death. Renaissance dramatists devised a variety of ways to undercut the assumption that a comedy ends happily. To the long list of established comic undercutting must be added The Fair Maid of the Exchange, a curious play, of uncertain authorship, which was given a deserved outing in the form of a staged reading sponsored by the Malone Society and hosted by Somerville College, Oxford. A terrific cast, assembled at short notice by Edwina Christie and directed by Gerald Baker, used the full space of the Flora Anderson Hall to deliver a subtle and surprising production. As the illuminating post-show symposium discussion demonstrated, there were a number of points of interest: in the first session Martin Wiggins addressed the difficulties in attributing to the play a date, author, or playing company, Katherine Duncan-Jones discussed the play’s allusions to Shakespeare, Susan Anderson focused on the representation of disability, Tim Smith-Laing (who played the character known as ‘the Cripple’) talked about his experience acting in the play, and Baker commented on his experience directing it.

L-R: Martin Wiggins, Susan Anderson, Katherine Duncan-Jones, Gerald Baker, Tim Laing-Smith and Lucy Munro. Photo credit: Jackie Watson.
L-R: Martin Wiggins, Susan Anderson, Katherine Duncan-Jones, Gerald Baker, Tim Smith-Laing and Lucy Munro. Photo credit: Jackie Watson.

In the second session, Susan North offered an illustrated account of Jacobean embroidery and Rebecca Tomlin analysed the place of commerce in the play. In this post, however, I want to focus on the play’s oddly abrupt ending, which was so skilfully handled in the staged reading.

It’s first necessary to offer a brief and partial plot summary. In the play, two brothers, Antony (Peter van Dolen) and Ferdinand Golding (Ariel Levine) pursue the titular fair maid, the pleasingly alliteratively-named Phillis Flower (Edwina Christie). Phillis loves neither man but instead apparently unrequitedly loves the Cripple (Tim Smith-Laing) who, at the play’s outset, had bravely defended Philis and Ursula (Constance Greenfield) from an attack by the outlaws Bobbington and Scarlet (effectively doubled by the actors playing Antony and Ferdinand).

L-R: Constance Greenfield as Master Barnard, Jakub Boguszak as Master Bowlder, Tim Laing-Smith as Cripple and Sophie Duncan as Mall Berry. Photo credit: Jackie Watson.
L-R: Constance Greenfield as Master Barnard, Jakub Boguszak as Master Bowdler, Tim Smith-Laing as Cripple and Sophie Duncan as Mall Berry. Photo credit: Jackie Watson.

A third brother, Frank (Luke Rollason) also falls in love with Phillis but manages to hide his affection from his brothers. Calling upon a favour from the Cripple, he helps manipulate the situation to suit his own cause, winning the support of Master (Simon Tavener) and Mistress Flower (Lynn Randall) in the process. In the final scene, when the plot is revealed, Phillis must finally choose who she loves; after reflection, she chooses Frank.

Luke Rollason as Frank, Simon Tavener as Master Flower, and Edwina Currie as Phillis Flower. Photo credit: Jackie Watson
Luke Rollason as Frank, Simon Tavener as Master Flower, and Edwina Christie as Phillis Flower. Photo credit: Jackie Watson

On the one hand, this might be seen to be a fairly uncomplicated ending. Antony and Ferdinand have done nothing to suggest that they would be deserving husbands and the Cripple passes up on the opportunity to return Phillis’ love; Frank may be a somewhat underhanded and mischievous fellow, but he is also charismatic and clever. However, the production did a wonderful job of rendering such a reading problematic. The image of Phillis, surrounded by suitors, wavering before choosing Frank, was an evocative one. In the post-show discussion Tim Smith-Laing hinted at the difficulties in deciding how to play the Cripple’s reaction. Does he feign his disinterest in Phillis, or is he secretly in love with her? Is he happy about the arrangement? It’s difficult to tell, or for the actor to transmit that information, but the fact that the Cripple is a silent watcher for much of the final scene is instructive. Upon entering, he asks ‘‘Gentlemen sweet bloods, or brethren of familiarity,/I would speake with Phillis, shall I haue audience?’ (TLN 2587-8) He does not have audience; these are in fact, the last words he speaks in the play and the rest of the ending is played out around him. Some may feel glad about the prospective union of Phillis and Frank, but several spectators commented on feeling like the fair maid had made the wrong choice.

There may, then, already be misgivings among the audience before the final revelation, which causes a postponement to the festivities. Master Flower, the father of the bride-to-be, is unexpectedly arrested for (unknowingly, as it happens) possessing a stolen diamond. The play ends in infamy, as Flower says: ‘Words here are little worth, wife and friends all/Goe with me to my tryall, you shall see/A good conceit now brought to infamie’ (TLN 2690-2). In the day’s final discussion session, Caroline Barron suggested that this ending might offer a critique of the dark side of commerce; Flower is implicated in this seedy business even if not completely aware of his transgression. Again, the staging here drew out brilliantly the strangeness of the ending. The accusatory lines, spoken by Master Wood, were here delivered, to general surprise, by an audience member, Richard Proudfoot. The metatheatrical playfulness was certainly funny, but this staging also emphasised the jarring nature of the ending. The strangeness of his appearance may partly be to do with cuts made to the text, which slightly obscure the backstory of the diamond, but it was a smart and effective way to conclude this curious comedy. In the printed text, as well as in the performance, Wood emerges, like an inverse deus ex machina, not to solve a convoluted problem, but to cause one.

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

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.

Forthcoming Malone Society Conference at Oxford University

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…