Report: ‘Gesture on the Shakespearean Stage’ – UCD / Abbey Theatre Shakespeare

Guest post by Erin A. McCarthy.

On Friday 27th May, the Abbey Theatre hosted Dr Farah Karim-Cooper (Head of Higher Education & Research, Globe Education, and Visiting Research Fellow of King’s College London), whose talk, ‘Gesture on the Shakespearean Stage’, was the third lecture in this year’s UCD/Abbey Theatre lecture series. In order to advance the series’ goal of linking scholarship to theatrical practice, Dr Karim-Cooper was joined by actor Marty Rea, who is playing Iago in the Abbey’s current production of Othello (reviewed by Dr Edel Semple here). Rea read extended quotations from Shakespeare’s plays throughout the lecture, and while he’s always impressive on stage, it was amazing that he somehow managed to inhabit several markedly different characters while reading from a printed page and wearing street clothes.

Othello Abbey - Iago - Marty Rea

Marty Rea in rehearsal as Iago – Othello at the Abbey Theatre

The lecture comprised two main parts. The first half introduced the kinds of evidence available for the study of early modern gesture, including manuals on gesture and conduct as well as textual evidence from stage directions, textual annotation, and deictic cues, and Dr Karim-Cooper suggested that scholars’ understanding of early modern theatrical gesture has developed rapidly over the last thirty years. She then turned her focus to one specific kind of evidence, the ‘reported gesture’, or an offstage gesture described onstage by a character who witnessed the action. Attention to such gestures not only gives us a sociological perspective on how bodies could have interacted in early modern England but serve the theatrical purposes of moving plots along and highlighting broader themes.

Dr Karim-Cooper focused on reported gestures in the second half of her lecture, paying particular attention to Ophelia’s account of Hamlet’s visit to her chamber in Act II, Scene 1 of Hamlet. Hamlet’s hand gestures, Dr Karim-Cooper showed, not only wrought an emotional impact on Ophelia but also evoked iconic images of intervention, incapacitation, and dominance all at once. A brief but lively question and answer session followed, and Rea also responded to some questions about Othello.

Dr Karim-Cooper’s lecture drew upon material from her recent book, The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment (Arden, 2016). The event was also recorded and will be made available as a podcast.

The UCD/Abbey Theatre lecture series, organised by Dr Jane Grogan (UCD), is now in its fifth year. This series concludes on 9th June with a conversation between UCD’s Prof Danielle Clarke and Prof Margaret Kelleher. I’ll look forward to attending future installments of this compelling lecture series in the years to come.

Guest post by Dr Erin A. McCarthy, Postdoctoral Researcher on ‘RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing’ at the National University of Ireland Galway.

Image of The Globe from The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, edited by Edmund Malone (Dublin, 1794), by kind permission of UCD Library Special Collections.

Related events of interest

The final lecture in the 2016 UCD/Abbey Theatre Shakespeare lectures sees Prof. Margaret Kelleher (UCD) and Prof. Danielle Clarke (UCD) discuss ‘An “Irish Mode”? The Literary Writings and Legacy of Thomas MacDonagh’, and will be supplemented with selected readings from MacDonagh’s works performed by the UCD Ad Astra Drama Scholars. The lecture takes place on 9th June in the National Library at 7pm.

For more on Shakespeare 400 in Ireland see earlier posts on the blog and on Twitter: #ShaxIrl400 #Shakespeare400 #ShakespeareLives

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