Milton Senior’s Music

February 9, 2010

Recently discovered music by John Milton,  father of the poet, was heard on a Radio 4 programme,  ‘Milton’s Music’, on 9 February, along with discussion by William Poole amongst others. You can hear it again at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qhql9. The consort music, edited by Professor Richard Rastall of Leeds University,  is being recorded by Fretwork.

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Early Modern Drama

February 5, 2010

Specialists in Spanish, French and English early modern drama presented their work and surveyed the state of the art in a Works in Progress session on Monday 1 February. The audience’s disciplines ranged from classics to Oriental Studies.

Jonathan Thacker’s publications include Role-Play and the World as Stage in the Comedia (Liverpool University Press, 2002) and A Companion to Golden Age Theatre (2007). Spanish scholarship on the drama of the Golden Age, he argued, had lagged behind Anglo-Saxon scholarship in a number of respects, from editorial theory to performance studies. There was a relative lack of a performance tradition in Spain, the Spanish equivalent of the RSC having been established only in the 1980s. On the other hand, there was an abundance of relatively uncharted documentary material. Dr Thacker contributed to the ArteLope project at the University of Valencia, which works on attributions of Golden Age plays mentioned in contemporary theatre documentation, and the Spanish government had just supported research in the field with a major award. In England, Dr Thacker was a director of the ‘Out of the Wings’ project which will make the riches of Spanish-language theatre available to non-Spanish audiences. (It is staging a conference on ‘Spanish Golden Age Drama in Translation and Performance’ at Merton College, 18-19 March 2010: http://blog.outofthewings.org/2010/01/2010-out-of-the-wings-symposium/)

Tiffany Stern has written extensively on theatre history from the Elizabethan period to the eighteenth century, her publications including Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan (2000), Making Shakespeare (2004), Shakespeare in Parts (2007), and most recently Documents of Performance in Early Modern England (2009). Though English theatrical documents may seem to have been sifted through more thoroughly than their Spanish counterparts, Professor Stern argued that they still had more to tell us about the theory and practice of playwriting. She chose the example of ‘plots’ or outlines of plays, which an author might sell to a dramatic company for someone else to turn into a play: one might be a good plotter without necessarily being a good writer, and the potential split between action and language placed Elizabethan drama, and dramatic collaboration, in a new perspective.

Edward Nye’s publications include Literary and Linguistic Theories in Eighteenth-Century France: From Nuances to Impertinence (2000), which shows how eighteenth-century linguistic theories are aesthetic theories in disguise, and has edited anthologies on the bicycle (À bicyclette, 2000) and on dance (Sur quel pied danser? Danse, 2005). His work in progress concerns the ballet-pantomime, mime dance, in eighteenth-century France. Its foremost protagonist, Jean-Georges Noverre, was an inspiration to Etienne Decroux, the ‘father of modern mine’. Dr Nye argued that the genre had yet to be fully understood on its own terms, as an exploration of non-verbal communication that took a different path from theatre, opera or ballet.

All three papers in different ways opened up approaches to drama other than the study of historical themes and ideas, with a focus on the specificities of the medium, and a lively discussion followed these leads.

Ferreira and Buchanan

February 5, 2010

The CEMS Neo-Latin series held two sessions on sixteenth-century tragedies with the theme of female sacrifice. Thomas Earle (King John II Professor of Portuguese Studies) led a discussion of António Ferreira’s Senecan tragedy, Castro, which he has edited (Ferreira, Poemas Lusitanos (Lisbon, 2000, 2008). Written in the 1550s, this play is an example of the close adaptation of Senecan tragedy, including Senecan metres, to a vernacular context: though it was written in Portuguese, some passages adapt Latin metres. Professor Earle showed how Ferreira deploys a particularly interesting double chorus structure to represent contending viewpoints, and linked this with the moment of relative cultural openness before the Counter-Reformation imposed greater cultural orthodoxy. the seminar did something to remedy what Professor Earle has called ‘the notorious invisibility of Portuguese culture in England’ (see also his ‘Portuguese scholarship in Oxford in the early modern period: the case of Jerónimo Osório (Hieronymus Osorius’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies, 81 (2004), 1039-49, and his Portuguese Writers and English Readers: Books by Portuguese Writers Published before 1640 in Oxford and Cambridge Libraries, soon to be published by the Oxford Bibliographical Society).

Ferreira’s play avoids the sensational aftermath of the story, which has inspired many plays and operas: after being killed by political adversaries, Ines de Castro was given an elaborate burial and in some versions of the story, she was posthumously crowned and courtiers were made to kiss her corpse’s hand. Ferreira the classicist omits this splendidly baroque aftermath (though some of it is treated in James Macmillan’s recent opera, which was partly based on Ferreira). The play’s focus is on the political machinations that lead to Ines’s fate and her resolute defiance: elements the play has in common with the Jephthes of George Buchanan, who himself spent some years in Portugal. Elizabeth Sandis discussed this play and showed that, as in Ferreira, the play of different viewpoints sets the audiences major challenges of interpretation. Jephthes’s role as agent of a divinely ordained victory seems to heighten his extreme fidelity to a vow that will lead to the death of his own daughter. Buchanan is often close to his main Greek model, Euripides’s Iphigeneia, and the group discussed the extent to which a Greek tragic perspective, or Roman Stoic values, could be reconciled with the Biblical setting (the play was often published along with his paraphrases of the Psalms).