Posts Tagged ‘Johann Gregory’

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‘Nature’s Fragile Vessel’: Journal article by @DrJ_Gregory

August 4, 2017

My journal article on ‘”Nature’s Fragile Vessel”: Rethinking approaches to material culture in literature’ has been published this week ‘Online First’ and will be in the next issue of Cahiers Élisabéthains: A Journal of English Renaissance Studies.

Abstract

The notion of fragility is a pervasive one in Western culture. Considering its appearance in early modern texts can help us to understand the history of fragility, as an idea, metaphor and feeling. The relationship between humans and breakable things is used as a metaphor that recognizes human limitations in body or mind. This essay begins with one peculiar instance of fragility from Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens before analysing other examples in early modern culture. It ends by making a few tentative propositions regarding the relationships between literature, material culture and the representations of human fragility.

Read the article (open access)

As well as reading the one instance in Shakespeare’s work where the word ‘fragile’ is used, the essay considers other early modern writing and paintings. I’m especially interested in the way that people are described in literature as being fragile like an object, whether that object is a ship at sea, or a fragile vase on the edge of a table.

The essay is partly me working out my next steps in this area for a larger project, as well as being an attempt to negotiate the scholarly field as it relates to material culture and object-studies, the idea of the human, and the (now, not so recent) turn to the study of literature and the emotions. It seems to me that these three areas are highly contested and fraught with different priorities, perspectives, and concerns; but these three interdisciplinary research foci still have huge potential in terms of developing new research methodologies, research impact (outside of academia), and, of course, thinking about our engagement with literature.

I’d welcome any comments. My contact details are on my profile page.

Four Ages of Man (national gallery)

The Four Ages of Man (Valentin de Boulogne)

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Review of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona @RWCMD

December 3, 2016

verona-web-image

Royal Welsh Colege of Music and Drama, Cardiff

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Director: Caroline Byrne

Review by @LucyMenon

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s first works and as such is often held up as an example of the immature playwright experimenting with ideas that will later return in his more established comedies.  To an extent this is true as we are presented with a love triangle, a disguised boy-heroine and an escape to the green world of the forest where all the knots can be untangled and the correct pairs can be united in marriage.  These are plot devices that will be used in later comedies such as As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This play however, also causes consternation in its seeming disregard for women and the value it places on homosocial bonds between men and the importance of friendship over and above that of male-female relationships.

A reflection from Johann Gregory:

Shakespeare’s play speaks to our own time in a very unsettling way. Near the opening of the play, for example, the heroine Julia is represented wishing she hadn’t returned an unread letter via her servant:

And yet I would I had o’erlooked the letter.
It were a shame to call her back again
And pray her to a fault for which I chid her.
What fool is she, that knows I am a maid
And would not force the letter to my view,
Since maids in modesty say ‘No’ to that
Which they would have the profferer construe ‘Ay’.
(1.2.50-56)

Julia says that she wishes that she had read the letter and hadn’t rejected it. The servant is a fool, she says, not to force the letter on her when the servant knows that she must for modesty’s sake say no to something, even if she really wants it. Of course, this moment of ‘forcing’ something on a maid could be easily read differently without too much of a stretch of the imagination. ‘What do you mean?’ is Justin Bieber’s highly popular song, controversial for arguably promoting a rape culture. Sofia Lyons wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post that

the lyrics perpetuate the idea that unwanted advances or sexual misperceptions are at the fault of the woman because she wasn’t clear about her intentions or a man thought she wanted it because she couldn’t ‘make up her mind’.

How ‘What do you man?’ Promotes Rape Culture

So in a year that saw such a high profile case at Cardiff Crown Court concerning a charge of rape that rested on the issue of consent, the language and actions presented in Shakespeare’s play are uncomfortable to say the least. Of course, it remains an open question how disturbing this ‘comedy’ would have actually been in its own time to those who viewed it – apparently many, now, will listen comfortably to Bieber’s song.

***

Two friends, Proteus and Valentine each have their own love, but when Proteus meets Valentine’s paramour, Silvia, he seems to forget his own beloved, Julia.  He reveals Valentine’s plot to elope with Silvia to her father and this results in his friend’s exile.  In the meantime, Julia, who has been at home, decides to risk her reputation and follow Proteus to Italy, disguised as a page boy.  The play culminates in the attempted rape of Silvia by Proteus.  After firstly chastising Proteus for his behaviour and vowing to sever friendship, Valentine is quickly swayed when Proteus begs forgiveness and within a few lines, the men have reinstated their friendship and, most disconcertingly, Valentine has promised that ‘All that was mine in Silvia I give thee’ (5.4, line 81).  Frequently, this line is cut from productions as it is at odds with Valentine’s earlier behaviour and also emphasises the uncomfortable ease with which men can consider women as possessions and commodities.  The resultant marriages, or implied marriages at any rate, are therefore troublesome as we are left wondering whether or not the commitment to the women will be true and if the love the women bear the men is indeed, well placed.

With such a depth of characterisation to explore and treacherous issues to negotiate, I was interested to see how the cast at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama would interpret this play.  Using an interesting mix of the ancient world, through the use of stone-effect and pillars in the set and contrasting it with a more contemporary feel through the use of costume and music, the production quickly established the idea of incongruity that runs through the play itself.  The start of the play opens with Proteus (Joe Wiltshire Smith) bidding farewell to Valentine (Aly Cruickshank); this was played for laughs and in a sarcastic tone that reflected well the notion of the masculine bravado of youth which was strengthened further with the secret handshake the two had which was a nice touch.  This gesture was repeated throughout and served to show the close bond between the two friends which later makes Proteus’s betrayal even more shocking.  Julia’s tumult over receiving a letter from Proteus was extremely well delivered by Lola Petticrew and bringing the letter to members of the audience to show it off was a source of amusement.  The fact that Proteus also did this was a nice mirroring move.  Having the lovers exchange rings with an echo-like voiceover for their lines added a dreamlike quality to proceedings and made Proteus’s departure seem part of a fairytale which obviously is later undercut by his infidelity.

As with all good comedies, we have the scenes with the servants, and in this particular play, we have Launce (Charlotte O’Leary), complete with his dog, Crab.  Here, Luke Rhodri, completely excelled himself by having the tricky task of playing Crab, but executing it well.  The use of music was good, with a tense background sound of something like a police siren and radios to create a jarring atmosphere while Proteus debates love and friendship and what he is meant to do with his feelings.  When he screws up a letter and throws it to the floor, coupled with the line of Julia being dead, the action is heavy indeed.  I feel a special mention should go to Tom Murton who played Silvia’s father, the Duke of Milan.  Throughout, he delivered his lines well and commanded a very believable relationship with each character he encountered whether that was his daughter, his friends or Valentine.

Unfortunately, there was quite a lot of confusion as to whether or not there was an interval in this production.  The house lights went down and several people got up, but the actors were back on stage very quickly and the lights then dimmed.  Valentine and Speed (Elysia Welch) were shown in slow motion fleeing to the forest in exile and in the foreground, Julia was changing her costume to become a boy.  Whilst it is very probable that this was a time-filler, as there was no need for either of these processes to be staged for so long, I found it uncomfortable that the audience was leaving and entering and actually missing a silent showing of the despair and the lengths to which lovers will go for each other.

In the second half, we were treated to an entertaining spectacle of a band and song sung by Thurio (Louis Carrington) and Proteus to try and woo Siliva (Hannah Barker) who was sat in the balcony with the audience.  There were many instances where the characters came into the audience and I felt that this worked really well as it made the audience feel more involved and complicit with the action.  In order to be with Valentine, Silvia enlists the help of Sir Eglamour (Luke Rhodri) who is supposed to be a man of great virtue and chastity who still mourns the death of his love.  Silvia asks him to help her and, in this production, also kisses him deeply.  I felt that this was an incongruous interpretation as the very point was that there was somebody truly chivalrous left to rely upon and that he does aid Silvia out of genuine care rather than seeking any kind of gratification.  Silvia is also constantly confessing her love for Valentine, especially when rejecting Proteus’s advances, so it seems unrealistic and at odds with what should have been intended here.  It would also be incredibly tragic if Silvia was meant to feel obliged to offer herself in this way to ensure Eglamour’s help.

However, as the play moved towards its disturbing denouement of Proteus attempting to take Silvia’s love by force, the four central characters held their roles incredibly well.  It’s difficult to maintain the tension in this scene when the emotions alter so drastically in the space of a few lines.  Both male leads convincingly delivered their lines, even though we are left feeling that it is an inappropriate reaction to events: is it really so simple to excuse your friend for nearly raping your partner just because he says “Forgive me”?  Valentine’s line of offering Silvia to Proteus was kept in and served to cause distress and both women were shocked by the way the friends seem to value each other over them.  Even though each couple was united in the end, the women did an excellent job of showing little enthusiasm for getting married.  Silvia wraps her robe around Julia and continues the show of female solidarity that has been displayed throughout and Julia walks sombrely towards Proteus and in the final moments looks out into the audience, away from him, though he is gazing at her.  Even Silvia and Valentine are at different ends of the stage and exit off different sides: promised to each other yet distanced by events.

A troubling play, dealt with in varying degrees of success in this production. But, ultimately, this was a thought-provoking staging that didn’t gloss over the unsettling aspects of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, instead opting to leave the audience with a complex set of emotions and unanswered questions.

This production runs until December 10th. Find out more and book tickets.

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Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland: Book Review

November 20, 2015

The latest issue of Literature & History (2015; 24.2), which is currently open access, contains a book review by Johann Gregory (Cardiff University) of Ben Jonson’s Walk to Scotland: An Annotated Edition of the ‘Foot Voyage’ (Cambridge University Press, 2015):

Find out more here.

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New Book – Transmission and Transgression: Cultural challenges in early modern England

July 24, 2014

Transmission and Transgression: Cultural challenges in early modern England, edited by Sophie Chiari and Hélène Palma, has recently been published by Presses Universitaires de Provence. It includes a chapter by Johann Gregory (Cardiff University) on “The Publicity of John Taylor the Water-Poet: Legitimating a Social Transgression”.

Find out more here

 

p.s. Cardiff Shakespeare has a new twitter account – at the same handle @CardiffShakes. Please re-follow!

 

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Handle Change: Cardiff Shakespeare News

July 15, 2014

After many years at Cardiff University (my PhD graduation is tomorrow!), I will shortly be moving to the University of East Anglia. I’m hoping to take my twitter followers and those I follow with me to @DrJ_Gregory but Cardiff Shakespeare will live on with a new @cardiffshakes twitter profile and new contributors. I set up Cardiff Shakespeare in 2010 near the start of the blog craze. Running the blog has been a great experience and I’m tremendously grateful to the wonderful people from Cardiff and further afield who have been in touch with information and shown support. I hope that Cardiff Shakespeare will continue to be a useful resource and contact point.

http://johanngregory.wordpress.com/

 

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Dr Johann Gregory: Academic Portfolio

June 11, 2014

Academic Portfolio

I’ve recently created an academic portfolio.

You can view it here:

http://johanngregory.wordpress.com/

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‘[Theatre], thy name is woman’: Theatrical Value and Power in Shakespeare

April 24, 2013

Johann Gregory (Cardiff University) will be giving a paper entitled “‘[Theatre], thy name is woman’: Theatrical Value and Power in Shakespeare” at the Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft Annual Conference, Munich, 26 – 28 April 2013.

Find out more about the conference here.

“The Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft (German Shakespeare Society) was founded in 1864. It is one of the oldest literary associations in Europe, if not the world, and has about 2,000 members. It promotes the investigation with William Shakespeare’s works, particularly in the German-speaking countires. In doing so, it co-operates closely with scholars, teachers and artists.”

Paper Abstract

Freud suggested that in The Merchant of Venice the caskets are “symbols of the essential of femininity, hence of woman herself”. Quoting this passage, Bourdieu noticed how in Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education a silver casket is transferred between three women: in the novel, he argues, the significance of the casket “involves a homologous social scheme as well, to wit, the opposition between art and money”. According to Bourdieu, the three women come to be associated with different literary fields. Thus, Mme Arnoux might represent high art, while “mercenary art, […] represented by bourgeois theatre [is] associated with the figure of Mme Dambreuse, and minor mercenary art, represented by vaudeville, cabaret or the serial novel, [is] evoked by Rosanette”. Flaubert’s novel invites its readers to reflect on artistic fields. Shakespeare’s work can also be seen in a similar light, and a comparable technique seems to be noticeable when women are associated with performance in the plays.

The character of the Fool is often read as a symbol of the theatre, but this paper briefly explores the theatrical symbolism of Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Cressida in Troilus and Cressida and Cordelia in King Lear. It argues that Shakespeare’s characterisation of these three women can be seen to foreground issues of theatrical value and currency: Portia’s characterisation invites the audience to reflect on the power of a (financed) theatre; the characterisation of Cressida negotiates the theme of the theatre as prostitution; and, in Cordelia, King Lear seems to bewail the apparent failure of theatre to communicate its value. The paper thus responds to critical thinking on the making of theatrical value (Paul Yachnin), fictions of cultural production (Patrick Cheney), and the question of Shakespeare’s autonomy (Stephen Greenblatt / Richard Wilson).

Portia in Film 1992

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