“Gesture”

Sunday, 11:30am-1pm

306 Wheeler

Moderator: Maura Nolan

 

Theodore Graham (Duke University)

Dumb Shows and Moving Pictures: The Interludes in Gascoigne and Kinwelmersh's Jocasta and the Elizabethan Reception of Classical Antiquity

Performed at Grey’s Inn in 1566, George Gascoigne and Francis Kinwelmersh’s Jocasta was the first tragedy of Greek provenance to be translated from the English stage. To this translation were appended dumb shows, pantomimic interludes that vividly illustrate the didactic message of each ensuing act. These wordless episodes, such as King Sesostris riding a chariot pulled by other kings or the pyre of Eteocles and Polynices which divides in two, are all drawn from ancient authors: Livy, Statius, Lucan and Boethius. Their very presence presumes the elite audience at the Inns of Court would have been familiar with—and able to appreciate—their ancient sources.

It is these dumb shows that will be the focus of my paper. I will argue that these dumb shows, vividly described in the text although staged only with musical accompaniment, illustrate the predominant mode of synthesizing classical source material in early Elizabethan England. The moral of an ancient anecdote could be extracted from its written source and intelligibly presented on stage devoid of text and context, as an image. Indeed, images from the majority of the dumb shows in the tragedy can be found in contemporary books of emblems, to which the pantomimes are essentially staged equivalents.

In an age fond of anthologizing (Gascoigne himself being a celebrated anthologist), the imagery in the dumb shows of Jocasta represents a collection of ideas and adages brought to silent life, and provides a window into the mindset of Elizabethan textual appropriation.

Theodore Graham is a third year graduate student in the Classical Studies department at Duke University. His interests include Greek historiography, ancient drama and the reception of ancient drama in the Early Modern period.

 

Hillary Taylor (Yale University)

Notes towards a History of Stammering (and Plebeian Inarticulacy) in Early Modern England

Historians of popular politics in early modern England have recently taken an interest in – to quote John Walter – the 'role of gesture in representing, constructing and maintaining [social and political] authority' as well as 'the vulnerability of authority in conflicts over the performance and meaning of gesture.' Less attention, however, has been paid to the side of the gestural coin: its spoken component. And while attention has been directed to verbal exchanges between subordinates and superiors, it has been disproportionately – though understandably – lavished on those varieties of plebeian speech which were blatantly threatening and/or offensive to their interlocutors.

This paper looks to correct these imbalances by focusing on discussions and reported incidents of a particular kind of inarticulacy: stammering. How was stammering perceived? How did perceptions of it differ according to the social background of the stammerer and the site in which the stammering occurred? Was plebeian inarticulacy simply taken as a sign of bumbling nervousness or congenital stupidity, or was it also seen as a threat to the social and political order? Sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth-century printed sources will be used to map out a typology of stammering, while depositions and trial accounts will be used to consider the ways in which subordinates spoke – or attempted to speak – to power.

Hillary Taylor is a second year history PhD student at Yale. She is interested in popular politics and social relations in early modern Britain.

 

Andrew Sisson (Johns Hopkins University)

“Speaking Pictures” and Talking Trees: Paralyzed Expression and the Allegorical Epic

The epic motif of the speaker trapped in the shape of a tree, inherited from Virgil via Dante, is among the most insistently repeated set-pieces of the Renaissance heroic poem. This paper argues that it is in fact the principal metaphor for a new problem in epic representation: how to reconcile the expressive force of emblematic, “frozen” characters with the understanding that the epic’s business is the display of actions and agents in their full singularity and decisiveness.

The speaking tree implores, warns, instructs, stirs extremes of sympathy and fear—projects par excellence the voice attributed to poetry as a moral art. Just as conspicuously, however, it also suggests a condition in which the very capacity for action has been enveloped by a rigid nature not open to decision or renovation. The trope thus helps to open a major question about allegorical narrative generally: how can poetry be the voice of instruction if the figures through which it speaks do not inhabit the open space and time of moral agents? Do even the most eloquent of emblems falsify and distort the very nature of the action they would seek to shape?

The sharply different status and effects granted to the tree’s words by Ariosto, Tasso, and Spenser, respectively, is an index to their correspondingly divergent approaches to this problem. This paper offers short readings of the motif’s three renditions, with a view to how the emblematic creature’s paralyzed condition stands in relation to the epic’s image of heroic action: as a bogus, mendacious counter-image in Tasso; as a source of non-allegorical psychological “realism” in Ariosto; and finally in Spenser as something like the inner moral logic of heroism itself.

Andrew Sisson is a Ph.D. candidate in English literature at Johns Hopkins, where he teaches courses on Renaissance literature and on classical American cinema. His dissertation deals with allegory and the philosophy of time in the Renaissance epic. He received his B.A. from Kenyon College in Ohio.