Tag Archives: nineteenth century theatre

Supervision, Publication!

an issue of the BLR which does NOT contain my article.

Supervision went well! Poor old William Archer was worried about nothing.

Equally important: I am finally published! My first article is now in print in the Bodleian Library Record, and sitting on my desk.

The citation is as follows: “Oscar Wilde’s ‘A Good Woman’: A Bibliographical Investigation into Magdalen MS. 300”, BLR vol 23 no 2 (October 2010), pp. 230-246. I am now Duncan (2010). This is very exciting, not least because the contributor list is so illustrious (the contributor bios are sort of hilarious. X is Emeritus, Y is Research Associate, and Sophie Duncan is a squit, we can say NOTHING about her really). Mary Clapinson, the Editor, was incredibly kind and helpful throughout the whole process, hacking the piece into shape and (above and beyond the call of duty) teaching me MS pagination. Helpfully, this ended years of me using recto and verso without any real idea what they meant.

So. Yes. An expensive and last-minute research trip has also been postponed until such time as it need be neither: today is a good day.

Call To Register: Oxford English Graduate Conference “The Famed and The Forgotten”

Registration is now open for The Famed and The Forgotten, taking place on 10th June in Oxford University’s English Faculty.

45 student speakers from Oxford and around the UK will be delivering papers on the concepts of ‘famed’ and ‘forgotten’, interrogated in the broadest possible terms across genres and periods encompassing Old English to the literature of the present day.

A panel discussion on “The Future of Reading” featuring representatives from Oxford University Press, SHM Productions consultancy and the Oxford English Faculty will take place, and we will hear a keynote address from Booker Prize winner Penelope Lively.

The £15 attendance fee covers lunch, snacks and all conference materials. Please register via our website – http://graduate-conference.english.ox.ac.uk/ – or with an email to claire [dot] waters [at] ell [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk.

Then, confirm your place by sending a cheque or postal order for £15 made out to the University of Oxford to Claire Waters, St Catherine’s College, Manor Road, Oxford, OX1 3UJ.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Performance: intentions and reception

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

This week I’ve gone back to my research into the 1888 Lyceum Macbeth, and more broadly into nineteenth century conceptions of Lady Macbeth. So, here’s something I’ve been musing on (with reference to the lady on the left):

What does it mean when audiences and critics interpret an actor’s choice onstage (a line-reading, action, gesture, pose, motivation, whatever) in a way an actor hasn’t intended? Or even in a manner that specifically contradicts the actors’ intentions for that action (or moment, or line-reading, or gesture, or…)?

What are the issues raised? What are the implications for the actor? For the audience? For the critic? For the, er, performance historian?

I’d love to hear your views.

Joseph Lunn’s “Rights of Women” [1843]

Mrs Stirling and Mary Anderson (1882).

While Europe’s eye is fixed on mighty things
the fate of emperors and the fall of kings
While guards of state must each produce his plan
and even children lisp the rights of man
amid the mighty fuss just let me mention
The rights of women merit some attention.

Mrs Blandish, Prologue (first played by Mary Anne Stirling, who lived between 1813-1895, performing everything and everywhere. She was Cordelia to Macready’s Lear, and the Nurse to Mary Anderson’s Juliet.)



Call it an early present for International Women’s Day (tomorrow). Now, back to the chapter.

early televised shakespeare

(Currently the idea is that) My doctoral research will look at Shakespeare performance history, focusing on stage performances of the Late Plays from about the 1860 to about 1933. I could go on, but the ideas are still as full of parentheses and italics as the King James Bible. But a post discussing television theatre before the war on the excellent Illuminations blog, makes me wonder how far I should include filmed performances. I’d thought about this in a leisurely way before, only been able to recollect one silent version of The Tempest (watched for interest, as an undergrad) and danced a mental jig, before shelving the thought again.

I’m not much further on (this post is just a placeholder), but reading John’s article made me realise how excited I am to be working on performance history in the first half of the twentieth century. Part of my Masters was a course on British Theatre 1850-1900 and 1950-2000, but 1900 (well, 1910-) to 1950 is something new. What I know so far hangs off (mostly) the later work of Terry, Achurch, Robbins and the Bensons – a heterogenous group.

Anyway, yes. It’s a sunny afternoon and I’ve spent it by the river, face-painted and reading stories to the under-5s, as part of the Stratford River Festival. Tomorrow, I’m going to see a friend perform his first Mass. My brain is enjoying a weekend off from work, and a chance to go ‘ooh, that’s interesting’ rather than dash between jobs. I’m also spring-cleaning and revisiting my teenage CD collection; without exception, anything that anyone could class as ‘good’ was burnt/bought for me by somebody else. This hasn’t changed.

P.S.: Happy Pride!

The Greatest Hamlet of Our Time

I love Hark, a vagrant more than is seemly for someone who won’t read graphic novels and ‘doesn’t like comics’. Every one’s a winner, but this… this is a fucking comic about nineteenth Shakespeare performance history, guys! It’s my DPhil in a line drawing!* I love it.  I include it because it reminds me of working for the RSC. Although David Tennant’s fans (self included) were usually a lot better behaved (apart from the guy who chased him backstage during one interval, or the people who hid behind his car. Or the two Chinese girls who sat outside the stage door, all day, every day, for a week).

The cartoon hysteria’s not unmerited. Edwin Booth was pretty awesome. As well as introducing a sorely needed note of introspection to mid-Victorian Shakespearian acting, he saved Abraham Lincoln’s son from going under a train, perfected the Charles Kean Crawl (the traditional moment in a Victorian Hamlet when Our Hero writhes about on his stomach, at his uncle-father and aunt-mother’s feet…. okay, so, less introspective) added some rug-rumpling, and was the brother of the guy who SHOT ABRAHAM LINCOLN (see start of paragraph). It makes me want this book. Even by the Macready-fancying, death-fetishising, Shaw-obsessing, gender-bending standards of my usual Victorian theatre favourites, Booth’s exciting.

I think he’s also the earliest nineteenth-century actor whose voice is still available to us in recorded form. More famous is Ellen Terry reciting Portia’s “The quality of mercy is not strained […]”, dating from 1912, and which I first heard at the British Library, during marginally related research into Wilde. But Booth’s 1890 recording of Othello Act I, Scene 3 is 22 years older (and 9 years older than the first silent Shakespeare film, Beerbohm Tree’s 1899 King John). You can download here (the embedded file begins “Most potent, grave and reverend signiors”), or listen to a slightly cleaner extract at YouTube (clip 1 begins “My story being done”). I love hearing nineteenth-century actors at work, although as yet it doesn’t affect my critical methodology. I wonder if it will. It makes me think about the possible impact of audio and film recordings on the “archaeological” approach to performance stories: I’ve never yet read a performance studies work on nineteenth or even early twentieth-century drama that seriously considered audio recordings as a source. Perhaps that’s because, as far as I can tell, these records seem to exist outside theatrical performance (I seem to remember reading that Ellen Terry’s recording was part of a lecture – although those, of course, married academic and theatrical experience for her listeners, and are key to my doctoral research), or perhaps there simply isn’t enough material. It’s still worth investigating. Note to self, then.

*I wish this comic were my DPhil.‡

‡Be careful what you wish for.

Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

Fabian Theatre, Paterson.

Fabian Theatre, Paterson. (c) Marchand and Meffre.

Maschinenfabrik Swiderski, Leipzig. (c) Marchand and Dumerre.

Maschinenfabrik Swiderski, Leipzig. (c) Marchand and Meffre.

Loews Palace Theatre, Bridgeport. (c) Marchand and Dumerre.

Loew's Palace Theatre, Bridgeport. (c) Marchand and Meffre.

(c) Marchand and Meffre. Lee Plaza Hotel Ballroom, Detroit.

Lee Plaza Hotel Ballroom, Detroit.(c) Marchand and Meffre.

(c) Marchand and Dumerre. Lee Packard Motors Plant, Detroit.

Lee Packard Motors Plant, Detroit.(c) Marchand and Meffre.

(c) Marchand and Meffre. St Margaret Mary School.

St Margaret Mary School, Detroit. (c) Marchand and Meffre.

Bleichert Transportanlagen, Leipzig. (c) Marchand and Dumerre.

Bleichert Transportanlagen, Leipzig. (c) Marchand and Meffre.

Piano. (c) Marchand and Dumerre.

Piano. (c) Marchand and Dumerre.

These images are the work of French photographers. Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.  As you can see, they have a bit of a thing for ruins, and I have never loved any photography so much. Choosing from the three collections (The ruins of Detroit | Forgotten theaters of America | Eastern Germany indiustrial vestiges) was impossible – I could live in any of these photographs for a hundred years. I’m trying to quantify why, but don’t yet have the vocabulary to discuss photography. But it’s like you can see the stories of these places etched in the photographs; they’re very narrative, there’s not just the sense but evidential proof of process (like any images of degeneration and decay). But at the same time – with the play of the light – there’s the simultaneous stamp of stasis and immediacy, that sense of now and nothing else, not ever. I love them. I want prints of all of them. Wall-sized prints. External walls.*

Oh my God, their photography blog is nearly as amazing, and it’s by a whole host of different people. Goodbye kisses, productivity.


How’s your thesis going?

Ellen Terry, painted in Choosing by Godwin. 1864. He married her WHILE SHE LOOKED LIKE THIS, people. Pervert.

Ellen Terry, painted in 'Choosing' by Godwin. 1864. He married her WHILE SHE LOOKED LIKE THIS, people. Pervert.

People In My Thesis With Appalling Daddy Issues:
1. Edward Gordon Craig (re: Irving)
2. H. B. Irving (INEVITABLE)
3. Fanny Kemble (re: J P Kemble), and
4. Helen Faucit, OH MY GOD, Helen Faucit, apparently she had it with Charles Kemble and Macready. I cannot tell you how happy this makes me, I love how messed up she is.

People In My Thesis With Appalling Paedophilic Tendencies:
1. John Ruskin.
2. George Frederic Watts.
3. Edward Godwin.

Awesome Lesbians:
1. Edy Craig.
2. Christopher St. John.

People Who Permit G B Shaw To Publish Their Mother’s Letters, Exhibit Their Huge Mummy Complex Then Run Round All Of Literature Claiming They Didn’t:
1. Edward Gordon Craig (AS IF WE EVEN NEEDED TO ASK).

People Who Played Hamlet With A Wooden Leg:
1. Sarah Bernhardt.

People Who Played Shakespeare’s Youngsters After It Was Technically Advisable
1. Sarah Bernhardt (Hamlet at 55)
2. Sarah Siddons (Isabella in her fifties)*
3. Ellen Terry (Innogen at 50)
4. Mrs Jordan (Isabella while, like, unbelievably pregnant and mid-30s).

People Who Died After Being In All’s Well That Ends Well

People With Whom Ellen Terry (may have) Had Sex
1. ALL.

*it should be noted that Clement Scott was sort of awesome about this.

**worryingly, this is currently the main point of my Chapter 2.

On Sarah Bernhardt: Clement Scott, feminist?

Clement Scott, policing society to save it from Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw.

Clement Scott, policing society to save it from Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw.

Sarah Bernhardt, being awesome. On a poster.

Clement Scott was a bit rubbish. Think of your least favourite, self-satisfied male theatre critic and then walk half a mile to the right. Scott’s there. He’s the one who thought that Ibsen would destroy society, and conspired with George Alexander to make Oscar Wilde change the original, too-radical plot of Lady Windermere’s Fan.

On the other hand (as Gail Marshall has just pointed out to me, via Shakespeare and Victorian Women 2009 although what an Oxford Brookes don is doing publishing with CUP, hem hem), he managed to write an entire chapter on Sarah Bernhardt’s Hamlet without getting worked up about the fact she was a woman.

Used the female pronoun throughout? Check. Thought her performance was completely fantastic? Check. Used the phrase ‘the actor or actress Hamlet’ without hyperventilating, snideness or mouth-frothing? Oh, Clement Scott, all is so very nearly redeemed.

Best of all, when he says that Bernhardt’s ‘task was heroic in its significance and importance’, he doesn’t just mean ‘well done, that woman, for being Hamlet without mucking it up, have a hairbow’, he’s talking about what she’s done for her career and for Hamlet in general: she’s done what Scott felt needed to be done for Hamlet (and, of course, for theatre in general) by offering not only ‘new readings, new ideas, change for the sake of change’ but also ‘genius and the gift of inspiration’.

‘These things,’ Scott concludes, ‘belong to Sarah Bernhardt’. And thus Hamlet does too.

Constance Benson in “Unreasonable Harpy” shock.

Janet Achurch (1854-1916). I agree she does not look a barrel of laughs.

Janet Achurch (1854-1916). I agree she does not look a barrel of laughs.

I am still at home. My poor parents are currently watching me write a chapter of my Masters thesis.

Working on coursework at home is always fraught – you don’t feel quite able to descend into the maelstrom of skank, lunacy and botched cicadian rhythms that have previously characterised your writing experiences in college, but just enough of the madness leaks out to let them feel concerned. It’s, you know, the little things – the slow spread of A4 printouts across the dining table (I have gone back to working on paper, and the planet weeps for me and its forets), the inability to type unless listening to 90s pop, 80s pop, godawful C-pop or, er, VERY LOUD BAROQUE. The tea-drinking. The broken skin. The appalling, stupendous bad temper with which no human being should have contact.

So to my lovely parents, I apologise. I have eaten and slept better this week than in months. It is not their fault I want to put a fork through my own eyes. Or the eyes of Constance Benson (1860-1946), that sanctimonious uncharitable cow, were she around for me to do it. She is so mean about Janet Achurch, guys. Not even the AMAZING FEUD between G. Bernard Shaw and E. G. Craig (look at his tiny smug face, I love him) can console me (basically, Gordon Craig, arch bastard, gave Shaw permission to publish his letters to/from Ellen Terry, then pretended he hadn’t. ALL OVER LITERATURE. It’s so great).

…I nearly said ‘I must remind myself these people aren’t real‘ (my usual tactic when raging at Dorothea Brooke, or Romeo, or the other Mrs Rochester), and then I remembered that no, actually, they were. The pitfalls of (semi-)interdisciplinary work, you store up all sorts of grudges for the afterlife. Including ‘Oscar, why were you such a git?’ and ‘Stuffed sacks of hay, Gordon Craig, what were you thinking?’.

Writing this post has actually cheered me. My thesis may not be hugely interesting – at the moment it is being written very slowly, yet reads like the work of a four-year-old twit on acid – but the subjects are. Divine Ellen Terry (look how beautiful she was at sixteen) has a death-story that reads like the rapture of a Catholic saint. Janet Achurch’s husband killed himself by drowning in a suit of armour. Helen Faucit had an incredibly messed-up relationship with Charles Kemble and doesn’t seem to have noticed. Simple pleasures.