Thursday, December 22, 2016

Twelfth Night: Conclusion; Play Projects (One Acts)

After our quiz on Act III, we will read Acts IV & V in class today and conclude our comedy.

Remember that comedies often include:
  • Weddings (romantic pairings--sometimes with mismatched lovers...) This tradition is as old as Old Comedy--Ancient Greek comedy came out of phallic songs--songs about the penis and progenitive powers of procreation (say that 10 times fast...); Weddings usually end a comedy.
  • Mistaken Identity (Sebastian is taken for Viola, Viola is taken for Sebastian. Shakespeare often used the trope of "twins" in his comedies to create mistaken identity situations to enhance his comedy. This is closely related to the item below: cross-dressing/disguises.
  • Cross-dressing/disguises: Boys dressing as girls and girls dressing as boys. Of course, Shakespearean actors were all men (it was illegal for women to be actors...) so this a common and practical play device in Greek and Elizabethan theater. Of course, the tradition continues today in the works of Charles Busch and other comedic writers. In Twelfth Night Feste dresses up as the curate (priest) Sir Topas to fool Malvolio, Malvolio dresses oddly in crossed-garters, Viola dresses up as Cesario. 
  • Farce: physical humor can be found throughout most comedies--and Twelfth Night is no exception. The drunken revelry of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste in the first act includes a lot of physical humor, the sword play between Sir Andrew and Viola in Act III is another example of humor, and, of course, the hiding scene as Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria, and Fabian trick Malvolio with the fake letter are all good examples of farce. Quick entrances, exits, close calls, and physical violence done in a hyperbolic way are all elements of farce.
What to do with all this info? Try adding some of these classic elements of comedies in your own play scripts. Try to add some farce, disguises, or a wedding/partnering between two unlikely characters in your own scripts. 

Keep writing your play scripts over break! (See HOMEWORK below).


According to David Ives when interviewed by the magazine "The Dramatist", one-act plays offer a writer a "greater challenge...greater than the challenge of larger...plays, in the same way that the sonnet with only fourteen lines remains the ever-attempted Everest of poetry. For what the one-act demands is a kind of concentrated perfection." He goes on to say that unlike longer plays which have time and space to develop plots and characters, the scenes in a one-act must be more constrained--the plot needs to be tighter, the characterization more apparent and specific, and the theme/message (Aristotle's category of IDEA) needs to be clear, but not too obvious to bore us, and stretched enough to be longer than the 10-minute play). 

The key, says David Ives, is compression. One-acts are often stripped-down but powerful. As you read the 3 short one-acts, note how the authors Strindberg, Wilde, and Chekhov masterfully tell a story that is not too long, but not too short. Note how the writers compress action, time, and place (the 3 unities) to cover just enough. If these plays went on to a second or third or fourth act, they would be tedious--their content would not be interesting and there would be too much extra, non-dramatic or effective action in the play. 

If you are working on your own one-act, remember that these plays require all the elements of longer plays, but must be more compressed and "tight" in the writing. 

HOMEWORK: Please read August Strindberg's Miss Julie, Oscar Wilde's Salome, and Anton Chekhov's The Boor over the break. Examine the scripts for the major action occurring in the play and how the authors attempt to compress and tighten their stories. For each play, answer how the one-act centers around one major action (or EVENT). Identify and explain that event in writing. To help you, consider the Major Dramatic Question you have as an attentive reader. (i.e., what do you want to know about the characters or the situation by the end of the play?) This homework assignment is due Thursday, Jan. 5. 

Also, please make sure you spend some time writing your play projects. Don't drop the ball on this project. It is due Jan. 20. We will be workshopping your script drafts when we return from break. 

Have a nice holiday!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Twelfth Night: Day 2

Period 1:

Please spend until 8:00 working on your play projects. We will then move to the classroom to take a quiz on Act 1 of Twelfth Night and begin reading Act II. After the quiz, please turn in your homework (see previous post for details!) You may use your homework on the quiz if you did it.

Written around 1601, Twelfth Night is based on the short story "Of Apolonius and Silla", which in turn was based on another story. It is named after the Twelfth Night holiday of the Christmas season.

Twelfth Night marks the end of a winter festival. The Lord of Misrule (sort of the mascot for this the Easter Bunny or Santa) symbolizes the world turning upside down. On this day the King and all those who were of high stature would become the peasants and vice versa. At the beginning of the twelfth night festival a cake containing a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean would run the feast--be "king for a day." Midnight signaled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition can be traced back to pagan festivals, such as the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.

The Winter Solstice (December 21st--that's tomorrow, folks!) historically marked the first day of many winter festivals. The 12 nights following and including the solstice represent the 12 zodiac signs of the year - and the 12th Night (New Years Day) is a culmination and celebration of the winter festivals. Thus, Shakespeare's title refers to New Years Day.

Food and drink are the center of this celebration. A special alcoholic punch called wassail is consumed especially on Twelfth Night, but throughout Christmas time, especially in the UK. Around the world, special pastries, such as the tortell and king cake are baked on Twelfth Night, and eaten the  following day for the Feast of the Epiphany celebrations.

What's the connection? Look for reversals (of fortune, as well as gender), drunken revelry (particularly Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek), and a general misrule or mayhem that occurs. Party on!

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is one of his most loved comedies. Many of his comedies rely on the mistaken identity shtick, as well as the cross-dressing shtick. These theatrical conventions are taken from the Roman comedies and commedia traditions (remember commedia dell'arte?) Other shtick's or stereotypical characters include the pining lover, the wise fool, and the foolish master. In any case, there's mishaps, misrule, and bawdy drunkenness in this playful play. Enjoy!

Period 2: Classroom.

After our quiz, please read Act II-IV together. See below.

HOMEWORK: Please read through Act IV for Thursday. As you read, take note of the following:

ACT II: How does the action in act II become complicated? What complications exist to the plot?
ACT III: Identify one of the characters and explain this character's 'dark moment' (in what scene and line # does this occur?); identify the turning point for this act. How does this turning point change the plot or status of characters? Explain.
ACT IV: What enlightenment or anagnorisis happens in this act? (identify the scene and line # in which it occurs). 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Play Projects; Titus (conclusion); Twelfth Night (Act One)

1st Period: Lab.

Please continue working on your play projects.

At 8:00, please go to the library to pick up Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

2nd Period (after library): Please complete our viewing of Titus. We are watching the 5th act.

The structure of a Shakespearean play (most 5 act plays) is:

ACT ONE: Exposition, Inciting incident, Major Dramatic Question is introduced, sometimes the protagonist has made a Major Decision. Often a complication occurs to disrupt the status quo.
ACT TWO: Rising Action, Complication(s), Establishment/development of the Major Conflict, sometimes the protagonist has made a Major Decision. Introduction to sub plot (minor plot).
ACT THREE: Crisis or Turning Point, Dark Moment, Major Decision.
ACT FOUR: Enlightenment, development or Resolution of minor plots.
ACT FIVE: Final climax, Resolution of minor and major plots, falling action. Major Dramatic Question is answered.

As we read Twelfth Night in class (and as you read Twelfth Night at home), keep track of these events. Find the page # and line #'s that can support your findings.

HOMEWORK: Please read ACT ONE of Twelfth Night. Find examples (lines from the text) that support the EXPOSITION (who's who, setting/location, situation--events that happened in the past before the play begins, etc.), INCITING INCIDENT, and consider what the audience might want to know by the end of ACT ONE in the way of a MDQ (Major Dramatic Question). 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Titus Andronicus: Day 2

Please continue to view Julie Taymor's Titus.

HOMEWORK: Continue working on your play projects. Completed project drafts are due in January.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dr. Faustus: Act 5; Titus Andronicus: Day 1

Dr. Faustus (Act 5, scenes 2 & 3). Let's read the rest of this play. After our reading, please take a moment to consider the following information:

Titus Andronicus is believed to be Shakespeare's first tragedy. He may have co-authored it with George Peele (although we can't be certain) between 1588 and 1593. Popular in his day, the play is thought to be needlessly violent and the most bloody of all his revenge plays.

The play is set at the end of the Roman Empire and tells the fictional story of a Roman general, Titus, who runs afoul of Tamora, Queen of the Goths. As you watch the play/film (see below) please take notes on the following for your notebook.

Major Characters:
  • Titus Andronicus – A renowned Roman general
  • Tamora – Queen of the Goths; afterwards Empress of Rome
  • Aaron– a Moor; involved in a sexual relationship with Tamora
  • Lucius – Titus's eldest son
  • Lavinia – Titus's daughter
  • Marcus Andronicus – Titus's brother
  • Demetrius – Tamora's son
  • Chiron – Tamora's other son; allusion to the centaur Chiron
  • Saturninus – Son of the late Roman Emperor; afterwards declared Emperor
  • Bassianus – Saturninus's brother; in love with Lavinia
Minor Characters:
  • Quintus – Titus's son
  • Martius – Titus's son
  • Mutius – Titus's son
  • Young Lucius – Lucius's son 
  • Publius – Marcus's son 
  • Nurse
  • Clown
  • Sempronius – Titus's kinsman
  • Caius – Titus's kinsman
  • Valentine – Titus's kinsman 
  • Alarbus – Tamora's son (non-speaking role)
  • Revenge
  • Human Kindness & Pity (and its limitations) (Cruelty, as its opposite as well)
  • Limbs (usually being hacked off--"parts" of the body just as children are "part" of the parent's body, and citizens are part of the body politic...)
  • Animals (particularly fierce bestial a wilderness of tigers, but also birds of prey, and their victims.)
  • Astrology (reference to Fate and the stars)

Ovid's Metamorphoses (the story of Philomela, in particular)
Seneca's play Thyestes (the myth of the House of Atreus--The Orestia)

Information about Julie Taymor (director; also directed The Lion King on Broadway, Across the UniverseSpiderman the Musical (on Broadway) and Fridaand the cast of Titus (1999)

While we're not exactly ready to discuss the finer elements of film, Julie Taymor's film is an effective visual work.

Notice what the camera is doing while watching the film. The camera provides POV in a film and conveys meaning, both literally and symbolically. As you watch look out for examples of:

  • Motifs
  • Frequency
  • Synechdoche

Listen to how TONE is created by the use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound elements. As you watch, also keep in mind the key themes and development of plot and characters Shakespeare uses in this play.

HOMEWORK: None. Keep writing your play projects!

Feel free to: 1. Pick a myth or Shakespearean story and update it (that's what Shakespeare did with Titus Andronicus--a retelling of the house of Atreus myth--like Agamemnon), or write your own version of 1). someone "selling" their soul (or selling out) in order to get ahead or gain power, etc., or 2). a revenge play. It works like this: a character slights or causes tragedy to another person's family or fortune. A close friend or family member of the victim exacts revenge. Usually, there is a confidante character--a character who the avenger can tell his/her plans to. Then the avenger finds ways to get back at the offending character.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Doctor Faustus: Day 2

Lab: (until 8:00)

Continue to work on your play projects.

Classroom: We will watch Act III of Dr. Faustus performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company's production. This is the contemporary Globe Theater in London. Note that the crowd is standing where the "groundlings" would have been. Information about the modern Globe Theater can be found here.

After viewing Act III, we will pick up our reading with Acts IV & V to complete this tragedy. As we read, consider Marlowe's use of music, spectacle, language, idea, character, and plot (or lack thereof).

HOMEWORK: Complete Dr. Faustus (if we don't finish it during class); Read Titus Andronicus--Shakespeare's bloodiest and most violent play.

Extra Credit Opportunity: Read the one-act play "The Devil and Daniel Webster" by Stephen Vincent Benet, adapted by the author from his short story. Compare Dr. Faustus with "The Devil...Daniel Webster"--how is the depiction of the devil similar/different? How is the plot similar/different? In a paragraph or two response, please examine and answer this question using textual support to back up your answers. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Play Project; Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

Please turn in your homework (see previous post for details). Please turn in your Hamilton scripts as well. Before you do, you should know the major characters, plot, and author of this musical. Take some notes, then turn in your script. You will be tested on the plays we have read in this course. We're over 15 at this point. More to come.

LAB: 1

Please continue working on your play projects. Before the end of period 1, please read the packet/handout on Christopher Marlowe and Doctor Faustus. A good idea would be to annotate these articles and keep notes during our reading about key concepts and script craft.

Go to the library and pick up the play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. We'll take a quick Shakespeare survey too.

Unsure of how my colleagues cover Shakespeare each year (and whether or not you come from a tradition that includes the study of Shakespeare) it's my duty to give you a little info.

Theater as we know it as being performed in a typical PLAYHOUSE (or theater) didn't occur until 1576. It was James Burbage who built the first playhouse in the Elizabethan period called, wait for it..., "the Theater"--a permanent building dedicated to showing plays for commercial interest.

Before then, plays were generally performed in courtyards and inns or guild houses. Private showings for the nobles or upper classes would be commissioned in indoor theaters.

Actors joined an acting company. Shakespeare, for example, first belonged to the Chamberlain's Men, then to the King's Men (after Elizabeth's death). Only men were allowed to act in the Elizabethan theater--a hold over from Ancient Greek and Roman theater traditions. Younger actors (boys) often played the female roles because they would have looked more like women (i.e., no beard). This helps to explain why so many of Shakespeare's plays include cross-dressing. New actors were often given smaller roles so as to train with the experienced actors--who often played the major roles.

Plays were written (often in collaboration) by the actors in the company (who also doubled as the house manager, director, props master, producer, etc.) This helps to explain why some characters in Shakespeare's plays disappear mid play or return as new characters in the 4th or 5th acts. It's hard to be on stage while also taking money at the door.

Lines for a play were written on sides and distributed to the company members. It would be rare for an actor to have a complete script (the writer would, of course) but printing costs money, so copies were kept to a minimum. This helps explain why there are A sides and B sides to Shakespeare's works. Some lines or sides were changed by the actors or the writer during the performances. Famous actors might even change the author's lines by slipping in a bit of well-rehearsed and well-known comedic business for the audience's benefit. Having one's works collected in a book or quarto would have been rare. Scripts that got out of the hands of a company could be stolen by other theater companies, so copies were not passed around. The King's Men must have thought highly about Shakespeare to have his works printed and bound! Luckily they did--or we could not frustrate future high school students by reading these works!

More information about all of this can be found here. and here.

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Things to note in Act 1:

  • The first act of any Elizabethan play introduces us to the main protagonist and provides the inciting incident (the first action that begins our plot and involves the protagonist in the plot). In this case: Dr. Faustus, bored with all the earthly knowledge he possesses, tries out unearthy knowledge.
  • The Faust legend was published in a chapbook in 1587. Marlowe undoubtedly would have read this for his inspiration. Heresy, demons, and supernatural subject matter was a public favorite in Elizabethan popular culture.
  • Note the theme of master and servant throughout this play. We are introduced to Dr. Faustus' servant Wagner in the first act. Wagner typically takes the role of the "chorus", and early convention of Elizabethan drama.
  • Mephistopheles (named in the original Faust chapbook) undoubtedly was taken by Marlowe to represent part of the chain of command in Lucifer's dark army. It is important to note that Mephistopheles is only following Faustus' orders (as any good servant should only obey his master) but that Mephistopheles is not a free servant, he belongs to Lucifer (who rents him out to Faustus in exchange for Faustus' soul). The fact that he appears first as a hideous demon reverts back to the Medieval morality plays where devils and demons were comical characters. The form he takes in the play (a Benedictine monk) is a satirical joke and would have had Marlowe's audience in stitches.
In Act II, please note the following:

  • As there is the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost), there is the infernal trinity: Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Belzebub. These parallel ideas are common in literature.
  • The pageant recalls earlier Middle Age mystery plays and would have been well known to the audience, but seen as antiquated.
HOMEWORK: Please complete Act II if we do not do so in class. We will pick up the play with Act III on Thursday. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Play Project; Hamilton, An American Musical

This morning, please read these short articles (particularly if you are stuck for ideas!)

Jake Jeppson's Advice for Playwrights (how to get started!)
What actors want: Actors Imagine their Dream Roles (then ask your drama friends what kinds of roles they would love to play on stage...)
Time Management for Playwrights by Martin Zimmerman

Use your time in the lab to work on your play script projects.

2nd Period: Hamilton, an American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Review: All About the Hamiltons (New Yorker)
Review: "Why the show isn't as revolutionary as it seems"

As we read/listen to Hamilton, look for some of these Greek Tragedy elements in the libretto:
  • A story based on history or historical legends
  • Hubris (a tragic flaw or Hamartia of a character who feels he/she is too great, powerful, or perfect to make a mistake...this is usually taking the gods or fate for granted, or ignoring the natural reality of life, etc.)
  • A good (or powerful) character comes to a bad end
  • A peripety (turning point or change of fortune)
  • An anagnorisis (a discovery)
  • A chorus representing the populus (the people)
  • Aristotle's 6 elements of a play: Character, Plot, Idea, Language, Music, Spectacle
  • Stasimon (choral singing together)
  • Stichymythia (alternating short lines of dialogue between 2 or more characters)
  • Parados/exodus
  • Deus Ex Machina (a contrived ending)
HOMEWORK: Please complete Hamilton and a paragraph analysis identifying the bulleted points. Due Tuesday. Please return scripts to the library or to me (if they were photocopies). Instead of hoarding the script we read, please take notes about the author, basic plot, setting, themes, characters, and conflicts in the play.

The Murky Middle (Even More Advice)

Aristotle wrote that stories should have a beginning, middle, and end. Middles can be difficult. You might have a smashing opening to a stor...