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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
We are delighted to announce that registration for the Malone Society’s symposium and staged reading of The Fair Maid of the Exchange is now open! See the poster below for full details and how to register. We look forward to seeing you there!
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…
As any Malone Society member will know, there are plenty of obscure Renaissance dramas that never have been and never will be, part of the widely read canon. The Hogge hath lost his Pearle is one such play. It’s unlikely to appear as a set-text on school curriculums or on stage at the RSC.
Which prompts the question: why bother with it at all? As the conference about the play revealed, however, even the most obscure dramas ought to be taken from the shelf and dusted off every once in a while. The conference took place on 22 September 2012 in Corpus Christi College, Oxford and was co-hosted by the Malone Society and the Faculty of English at Oxford. Participants of the event were treated to a delightful script-in-hand staged reading of the play (directed by: Elisabeth Dutton), which featured a young band of dancing wood nymphs and some pretty impressive, yet tricky, stage work with a ladder. This was followed by two panel discussions: one on performance aspects of the play led by Katherine Duncan Jones, and the other on the historical and textual context led by Lucy Munro.
These revealed that Tailor’s play used tropes and plot devices recognizable in the more widely read and canonical texts of the period, including a fake death, a woman who disguises herself as a man, an avaricious usurer, and a mad scene. The blending of generic modes and lapses in narrative chronology struck familiar chords when considered alongside plays such as The Winter’s Tale; the father/daughter relationship between Hogge and Rebecca was particularly relevant when compared to the relationship between Shylock and Jessica.
Though The Hogge Hath Lost His Pearle may never be considered a classic, seeing the play on its feet was the perfect way to redeem it from obscurity, allowing it a moment to shine as the centerpiece of a scholarly discussion.
Jointly with the English Faculty of Oxford, the Society is once again sponsoring a staged (and costumed) play-reading and mini-conference. This will take place in the splendidly re-furbished MBI Al Jaber auditorium in Corpus Christi, Oxford, which some members of the Society will remember as the Old Music Room, on Saturday 22nd September 2012. The play is Robert Tailor’s The Hogge hath lost his Pearle, which was published in a censored version in 1614 after a disastrous premiere at the Whitefriars the previous year. It was edited for the Society by D.F.McKenzie in 1967. The day’s programme will consist of a performance of the play in the morning, followed, after a light lunch, by two discussion sessions. The first will be led by Dr. Nicholas Shrimpton (Emeritus Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall), who will be playing the role of ‘Hogge’; the second by Dr. Lucy Munro (University of Keele), an expert on the children’s companies of the early Jacobean period.
For further details see the University of Oxford, Faculty of English page here.