Of course, plays have their own performative advantages. Foremost, they benefit from being performed by professional players, well skilled in captivating their audience with an intonation of their voice or a dramatic gesture, and even if not evoking audience involvement (other than the odd boo, cheer, tear-drop, or thrown rotten tomato), they could viscerally spark responses in their audience, such as toe taping to a performed tune or dance.
Still, though less skilled than professional performers, broadside ballad hawkers must also have worked hard to engage their audiences—for that way market profit lay—pointing to an intriguing word in the ballad title or striking visual woodcut illustration on the sheet, reaching out to a passerby to grab their attention, enthusiastically or dolefully intoning a particularly popular tune to which the ballad could be sung, and inviting the audience to sing along, thus themselves becoming actors in the performative event.
In voicing the words of the characters in broadside ballads—who often speak in the first person, as does Titus in the ballad “Titus Andronicus”—the audience has the opportunity momentarily to inhabit those sung roles. They also get to adopt, should they choose, oppositional and even multiple points of perspective both within and between ballads, which broadside ballad producers encouraged in their production, aiming to net the largest sector of potential consumers.
As part of drawing in their audience, broadside ballads were also intended to be touched and handled. Cokes, in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair
(1614), on hearing a balladmonger hawk his ballads at the fair, fondly recalls to his sister the illustrated broadside ballads above the chimney in their country home: “O sister, do you remember the ballads over the nursery chimney at home o’my own pasting up? There be brave pictures!" (3.5.45-47). Though the hawker has invoked Cokes’ imaginative recall of the visual appeal of ballads, we hear other senses being sparked as well: the tactile engagement with the artifacts. Those ballads placed above his nursery chimney were “o’my own pasting
,” Cokes proudly declares. Similarly, as we see in the series of images above depicting hawkers and buyers of ballads, the woman in the middle picture, showing interest in purchasing a broadside ballad, seems compelled to touch it. Broadside ballads were intended, among other purposes, to be hand-pasted on walls or posts, yes, but also simply to be held in the hand, or passed around, or pocketed and carried about for later showing at one’s pleasure.
Viewed through something like a prism of possible modalities for making meaning out of the multimedia of broadside ballads, “residual” seems an understatement for the experience they might evoke of staged plays. This collection seeks to activate more fully the performative roles of broadside ballads and plays as distinct genres but also as interactive or companion genres mutually constitutive and citational of each other.The Interperformativity of Ballads and Plays
In pursuing Smith’s call for new inroads into thinking about broadside ballads within theater history/performance studies, we are thus at the same time
answering the call made by the two early modern genres themselves, or at least by their authors/producers and, to the extent they were also participatory makers of meaning, their audiences. Public broadside ballads and the public theater were the most popular, indeed mass-marketed, of early modern performative multimedia as well as the most affordable.
They evince an intense consciousness of the many ways of capitalizing on their media through a variety of modes of performance. They also exploited other popular works within their individual genres. Towards maximizing cheap marketability, ballad producers drew on other popular ballads—often literally stealing bits and pieces of them, usually in the form of refrains, images, and tunes—and playwrights invoked other popular plays—not only repeating snatches of text but adopting theatrical methods (think of ghost of Hamlet’s long-worn wail). The creators of these genres further complicated such profitably evocative practices by consciously crossing their genres and drawing on each other’s marketable performativity. Most of the essays in this issue explore such self-conscious capitalizations within broadside ballads and between broadside ballads and plays.
Of course, the “affordances of performance,” to cite W. B. Worthen citing Donald A. Norman, offered by these two popular genres, it should be stressed, are by no means identical.
Broadside ballads and drama played not only complementary but also competitive roles in their mass-market economy. They also shared a performative environment that was occasional and associative in very unstable and mobile ways, as William N. West underscores in discussing theater performance as “intertheatricality.”
I shall explore in more detail below this concept of the intertheatrical, or—focusing more precisely on their multimodal dramatization—what I would call the “interperformative” character of both broadside ballads and plays.
First, let us revisit the self-conscious “residual” features of drama in broadside ballads, wherein the later often evoke plays in their plots and, even more commonly, in their titles, refrains, or tunes. What is at stake in this remediation of plays via broadside ballad artifacts? It would seem, as has been suggested above, that in so deliberately drawing on stage plots or stage personae, or even snatches of lines and tunes sung in plays of the period, makers of broadside ballads catered to the desire of consumers to reproduce something of the witnessed stage performance, or perhaps even a performance much talked about that they had not personally seen. In performing ballads in a communal setting (whether public or domestic), consumers could draw upon not only the thing itself—the play—but the theatrical effect of the play having been staged to a gathering in the theater.
Did the play text, then, serve as something of a musical “score” both
for the play performance and
for the subsequently printed and performed ballad artifact? Did it offer performance cues for its users? This is a fascinating question when one considers that musical notation actually starts to appear on broadside ballads of the later seventeenth century, often as a substitute for woodcut images of figures or scenes.
Worthen raises but ultimately rejects this notion of play-text as “score” for the enacted performance, refusing it together with other oft-used analogies, such as “script,” “blueprint,” “information,” and “software.” Rather, he affirms, such analogies work to “polarize poetry and performance, largely by identifying the text with a representation to be authentically downloaded to the stage.”
With qualification, he prefers Kenneth Burke’s terms, “tools” and “technologies,” which suggest “a mobile, reciprocal relationship between the work writing might perform as symbolic action
and the scene of its affordance, as equipment for living
in the changing technology of the stage.”
That is, Worthen wants more emphasis on the performance of the play-text as a realization of “agency” and “use.” Bottom line: “in performance, the text becomes material for use, used and used up, eventually put aside in the process of making a play.”
orthen is clearly thinking of “score” more in terms of classical music than the very personalized and impromptu use of a musical score, or more simply just a tune title, as it typically appears printed on ballad sheets, which serve merely as a pointer to the melody to which the ballad should, or could, be sung. Given the reuse of ballad tunes, even their later appearance on broadsides in the form of musical notation would seem to function something like a trace or residue of the popular and variously sung tune.
One thing is certain: the musical score on broadside ballads in no way would have dictated the sung performance(s) of ballad-texts any more than the scripts or promptbooks of plays would have dictated their staged performance.
Indeed, many of the musical scores printed on broadside ballads have been dubbed “meaningless,” signifying that they either don’t make up a recognizable tune or that the notation printed on the sheet cannot be matched to the poetic measure of the words on the page (Weinstein, Catalogue
, xxv). As such, they are likely as meaningless as stage directions in promptbooks that end up being altered or simply ignored. Particularly of value is Worthen’s alternative notion that the play is an affordance or tool that gets “used up.” This concept as experienced phenomenon would explain why people across the social spectrum would want to grab hold of some re-creation of a performed play. That recreation could well have been held onto in the form of the physical thing of the broadside ballad, which offers a multimodal performative experience through text, illustration, and tune, even if ballad artifacts were themselves used up, both in any moment of their performance and more literally through over handling or recycling (as toilet paper, kindling, bird-cage lining, and the like).
But the above discussion suggests that the flow of “usage” between plays and broadside ballads was one-directional whereas, as Chess notes, it in fact moved back and forth between these two competing market forms of ephemera. Smith is surely correct that broadside ballad makers capitalized particularly on popular plays by Shakespeare and other dramatists. This is evident, for example, in the many extant ballads in EBBA with titles that include “Titus Andronicus,” “King Lear,” and “Mad Tom of Bedlam,” or have printed on them the ballad tune, “Willow, Willow,”
to which Desdemona sings her now famous death-bed song in Othello
A search by title word in EBBA further shows that broadside ballads appropriated the story-line of many other plays of the period not just Shakespeare’s, as Smith observes.
However, as an instance of reverse appropriation, consider more closely Desdemona’s sing of the “Willow, Willow” ballad. It is highly unlikely that the tune to her song caught on in broadside ballads, which it did, because of Desdemona’s compelling tragic scene in Othello
. Rather, Shakespeare drew on what was already a very popular ballad tune—Desdemona notably refers to the song as “an old thing”—in order to lend affective power to his character’s performance. Indeed, as Megan E. Palmer points out, the ballad does not even occur in the first printing of Othello
In fact, we find snatches of ballad titles, lines, refrains, phrases, and even whole stanzas cited in just about every public and private stage production of early modern England, defined for the purposes of this collection broadly as c. 1550 – 1700. Furthermore, although the evidence for the appropriation of oral and printed ballads by playwrights derives primarily from short snippets of song printed in quarto and folio texts, likely much more than a piecemeal line or even stanza was sung in staged performances. As Smith points out, why reproduce full ballads in the published play when everyone knew the ballad text and tune?
Of course, not all lyrics nor even all tunes of ballads were common knowledge. But many were, which is part of the joke in The Winter’s Tale
when Autolycus refers to his ballad wares as “new.” The audience watching any stage performance where ballads were sung could enjoy recognized songs and texts, and maybe even sing along. I would further add that printing large chunks of ballads in play-texts would, in practical terms, have added to the cost of the publication—paper being the primary expense in publishing then, as it is today—and would have disrupted the narrative of the reading experience. Once again, we should not see the printed play as the “score” or “script” of the performed ballad, any more than we should see the printed broadside ballad as such. Both artifacts acted much more as “tools and technologies”
for the changing occasions that partially determine the character of their performance.
We might here return to West’s coinage of “intertheatricality,” expanding it to include the theatricality of broadside ballads as well as of plays, to discuss what he refers to as “the unconscious of the theater.” He explains: “Instead of reading the historical record of early modern theatricality as a collection of allusions, [intertheatricality] opens the possibility of understanding theater as made out of other performances.”
As part of such accumulated and remediated performativity, I posit, we need to consider the role of improvisation in both broadside ballads and dramatic plays. Hawkers selling their ballad wares on the street would have used all affordances of their surroundings and the multimedia of the ballad artifacts they sold to try to catch the eyes or ears or touch of people passing by. Gesturing to someone looking in their direction, waving an illustrated black-letter text in the air, encouraging passersby to gather round, and inviting them to participate in singing the song, and even perhaps to engage with them in moving or dancing to the ballad, as suggested in the movements of the figures in the illustration of “A Merry new Song”
—all would have been staple impromptu hawking tactics. Though occurring in a more orderly and delimited space, a stage performance would also have offered many opportunities for interchanges with the audience and off-the-cuff recitations and songs, which might be recollective of vocalizations or gestures just heard or seen by the audience a few moments earlier outside the theater, among the many public places where ballads were hawked.
In this vein, a stage performer—especially one with singing skills, such as Robert Armin,
who in 1598 replaced Will Kemp as the clownish character for Shakespeare’s company, who likely played such song chanting figures as Feste and Autolycus, would have surely been a master of improvisation. Seeing an audience smile at a one-line/one-phrase reference to a popular broadside ballad, he might well have spontaneously seized the opportunity to burst into extended song. Smith and Lupton in their essay explore precisely such a moment that might have been exploited by Kemp while playing a servant in Romeo and Juliet
. Stage performances, in sum, like broadside ballad performances, were open to tactical adjustment. The Winter’s Tale
, which features the most ballad singing in any of Shakespeare’s plays, cries out for such improvisational tactics, in the spirit of the roguish balladmonger, Autolycus. Extemporaneous ballad singing would also have been a means of extending and giving emotive power to the single act of this play devoted to the spring-like rebirth which Autolycus exudes on entering the stage in Bohemia, after three acts that end in wintry tragic deaths and mourning in Sicilia. A passing stanza sung by Autolycus could be extemporaneously expanded into two or three stanzas or even a whole ballad. Just how much of the snatches of broadside ballads extant in the play-text of The Winter’s Tale
would have been extemporaneously extended in performance by Autolycus live on the stage, or by other characters assigned ballad snippets in other play-text “residuals,” might well have depended on where the play was performed and for whom, and on the spontaneous rapport (or lack thereof) between actor and audience at a particular performance, just as with occasional performances of the parts or wholes of broadside ballad media on the streets of London, in public or private city spaces, or at country fairs.
The intertheatricality or interperformativity of ballads and drama grew more intense in the course of the seventeenth century. By the mid-seventeenth century, whole ballad songs were so commonly sung on the stage that a new genre of musical theater emerged, dubbed “ballad operas,” the most famous of which is John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera
(1728). The addition of ballad songs to the stage had the advantage of intensifying and popularizing the orality of performances, and the theater capitalized on this fact by increasingly incorporating ballads, including their kinesic association with dance, as vividly dramatized in the after-play “jig” discussed in Smith and Lupton's essay. Broadside ballads responded competitively to such "ballad operas" by often adopting theater songs and lyrics which became popular, adding some extra stanzas and, sometimes woodcuts, and reissuing them on single sheets as, well, broadside ballads, often labeled as “new.” A famous conspirator in this back-and-forth appropriation between musical theater and the printed (as well as performed) ballad
was Thomas D’Urfey, who wrote ballads for both stage and broadside performance.
But D’Urfey was just one among many engaged in the cross-pollination between stage and broadside ballad.Remediating Performance and the Affordances of the Web
The self-conscious process of appropriation and adaptation by producers and consumers of broadside ballads, which I have dubbed “interperformativity” (a twist upon West’s “intertheatricality”), allowed for the remediation of one genre by the other. By “remediation,” I refer to the concept promoted by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, in their book by the same name (1999). This work serves as the keystone to the first contribution in this collection by Lori Humphrey Newcomb and her students, but it lies latent in all the contributors’ approaches.
According to Bolter and Grusin, as each emerging communicative medium strives for relevance, it inevitably recapitulates past media and in so doing calls attention to its own affordances and limitations. Such remediation requires a “double logic,” which might at first seem paradoxical: the fact that every culture “wants both to multiply its media and erase all traces of mediation.”
As they state more specifically, remediation thus draws on the two imperatives of “immediacy” and “hypermediacy.”
The authors focus in their book on modern digital and visual media, but as they observe, remediation “has been at work for the last several hundred years of Western visual representation.”
They cite as an example a seventeenth-century painter seeking to attain the illusion (read “immediacy”) of realism through linear perspective and the contrivance of realistic lighting (read “hypermediacy,” 11).
In sum, as “each medium promises to reform its predecessors by offering a more immediate or authentic experience, the promise of reform inevitably leads us to become aware of the new medium as a medium” or, to put this notion more bluntly, “immediacy leads to hypermediacy.”
Both professional theaters and broadside street ballads can be seen to be individually engaged in acts of remediation with previous media and with each other. In Bolter and Grusin’s terms, that is, they are involved in attempts at continued immediacy through new hypermediacy. By "hypermediacy," they refer to a multiplication of old media conjoined with the invention of innovative media. Such dual means of hypermediacy are employed in a (ultimately failed) effort to create the effect of an immediate, non-mediated experience. Commodified public drama emerged out of and adapted non-vendible communal rituals such as medieval miracle or mystery plays as well as local festivities;
these sources were themselves constituted of many media and modes of communication. But at the same time as they adopted prior practices of performance, professional playwrights sought to create the illusion of immediacy by adding new media: for instance, we are introduced to the “realism” of one-on-one interaction with the audience through the contrivance of soliloquy or through other nuanced emotive and visceral modes evoked by performers. Such “realistic” professional acting was accompanied by the actors drawing on the affordance of a situated, tailor-made stage as well as a plenitude of sound effects, instruments, song, costumes, and props. Along the same lines, broadside ballads remediated their precursors in manuscript illumination as well as in oral, handwritten, and printed songs. Such earlier, discrete media were re-constituted and concentrated on a single sheet of the broadside ballad in what was in effect hypermediated, in the sense of multiplied and thus a new use of media, all in the effort to create the effect of immediacy: black-letter typeface adapted earlier, familiar styles of handwriting and print
at the same time as printed tune titles invoked familiar melodies of oral song—extended later to include musical notation—and perhaps most innovatively, if still evocative of manuscript and book illustration, woodcut illustrations and ornaments decorated the ballad sheet of these texts and tunes. A multitude of old media—none particularly innovative on its own—were ingeniously crammed together onto a single sheet in the service of an experience of immediacy that would call up even more real-life intimacies (modalities of physical handling, of jostling up-close bodies, of a multitude of visceral reactions to overloaded senses), and even of communal dancing.
In incorporating the multimedia of broadside ballads into the professional theater and vice versa, both printed ballads and printed plays in performance multiplied these processes of remediation, which always implied, and in the audience, invited, self-conscious reflection on those very processes. The immediacy of the hypermediated performativity of the kind professional theaters promoted was, indeed, precisely what ballads most needed to make them come even more convincingly alive for their consumers. On the other hand, broadside ballads offered professional theater, always physically at a certain remove from its audience, evocations of an intimate, up-close, and personally lived experience.
What we can now further add to this mutual remediation of and between drama and broadside ballads, as part of the mandate of the EMC Imprint, is our own remediation of traditional modes of criticism by ourselves incorporating these genres critically and self-consciously through the hypermedia of the world wide web: offering a plethora of images, film clips, interviews, recordings, and the like, which we invoke to make the experience of this collection simultaneously more immediate than a conventional printed volume and more reflective of what we today understand as lived experience. In sum, we draw on the affordances of the internet with which we are all familiar in the twenty-first century, including digital archives such as EBBA—which remediates “original” artifacts by making them more accessible precisely through the hypermedia of multiple facsimiles, metadata, and recordings—in an effort to bring more alive the performativity of early modern ballads and drama, then and now.Ballads and Performance in Review
The inspiration for this collection, Ballads and Performance: The Multimodal Stage in Early Modern England
, was a seminar on Shakespeare and Ballads that I led in April 2015 at the Shakespeare Association of America’s annual conference.
On reading my group’s submitted papers for the seminar, I knew right away that many of them were unusually strong and also that they addressed in new ways the timely topic of how ballads and plays interacted in the period. Four contributors to that session—David Baker, Claire M. Busse, Kris McAbee, Jessica C. Murphy, and Rochelle Smith—significantly revised their papers for this collection to further hone their focus on ballads and performance; Baker further recruited as collaborators to his expanded piece graduate students in an upcoming class he would be teaching on the topic (Travis Alexander, Adam Engel, Katharine Landers, Mary Learner, and Ashley Werlinich). In addition, four scholars who were not part of the seminar were brought on board: Julia Reinhard Lupton, working together with Matthew J. Smith; Lori Humphrey Newcomb, collaborating with her graduate students Michelle M. Chan, Hilary Gross, Kyle R. Johnston, Sabrina Y. Lee, Kathryn E. O’Toole, Michael J. Ruiz, and Stacy Wykle; and Pamela Reinagel. Finally, Bruce R. Smith graciously agreed to provide an Afterword. Together, these scholars, by discipline alone, remediate an established literary cultural approach to ballads and performance by adding to the traditional literary disciplinary perspective History, Information Science, and Neurobiology.
Following the mandate of the EMC Imprint, the collection also encouraged the contributors to draw on all the affordances of the web, offered through the Scalar platform, to emphasize the sensory and interactive experience of both broadside ballads and theatrical performances: examples of ballad woodcut illustrations and recordings; film clips; videotaped performances and interviews; diagrams and digital visualization tools, etc. Their resultant compilations are gathered into five sections: Remediating Ballads and Plays; Marketing Theatricality: Producers and Consumers of/in Ballads and Plays; Performing Knowledge, Senses, and Emotions; Staging Deformity and Female Disease; and Beyond the Last Act.
In the first section, “Remediating Ballads and Plays,” Newcomb, together with her interdisciplinary class of seven graduate students, self-consciously performed acts of remediation on early modern acts of remediation, resulting in their collaborative piece, “Shakespeare in Snippets: Ballads, Plays, and the Performance of Remediation.” Drawing specifically on Bolter and Grusin’s work, discussed above, they set about not only to enact historical remediation in our own time but also to rethink the affordances and limitations of each era’s characteristic media. Focusing on six of Shakespeare’s plays together with cognate (that is, related) early modern ballads, the students created new play-based ballads. They did so by “combining printed objects, vocal and instrumental performances, interactive digital platforms, a playlet, and performance installations.” They then added video-tapings of their reflections upon the process and product of their efforts and on those of their audience responding to their creations as performed at a “Ballad Fair.” The double-pronged demands of immediacy and hypermediacy that constituted their own remediations via modern media are so “in your face” that they raise the question, “When the practice of remediation itself leaps across centuries, does self-referentiality outweigh immediacy, or are new effects created?” Fearing self-indulgence or estrangement, the participants instead encountered often surprising new insights through their multimedia and multimodal engagement, even at such a vast temporal distance, with the historical processes of remediation.
The second section, “Marketing Theatricality: Producers and Consumers of/in Ballads and Plays,” focuses on one of the key cultural affordances exploited by both broadside ballads and professional theater: the market and its consumers. Claire M. Busse, in “‘Hear for your love, and buy for your money’: Ballads and Theater as Experiential Commodities,” explores how Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair
(1614) and Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle
(1607) demonstrate that the means of production and the demands of consumers which underpin both broadside ballads and plays work to undermine authority and resist limits on interpretation. But each playwright adopts a different perspective about his fact. Whereas in Bartholomew Fair
, Jonson explores what it means for his drama to be a performed product—both in terms of its creation and consumption—in The Knight of the Burning Pestle
, Beaumont focuses on the flexibility of his play as performance, examining ways in which the consumers of the aesthetic experience can recast it to fit their particular needs. Despite their different approaches, however, both authors show ballads and theater to be potentially disruptive genres at the hands not only in the hands of their creators but also, and more unpredictably, in those of their consumers.
In this same section, Kris McAbee, in “She’s Crafty, She Gets Around: Women’s Craft and Commodification in Ballads,” adopts an new approach and exposes the striking difference, not similarity, between Shakespeare’s plays and broadside ballads as seen through the commodified performativity of “craftiness” by maids. While crafty women are consistently viewed negatively in Shakespeare’s plays, she demonstrates, the figure of the crafty woman is much more multifaceted and widely embraced in broadside ballads. Indeed, employing digital visualization tools, she shows how the crafty woman in broadside ballads becomes all the rage toward the end of the seventeenth century. In marketing the crafty woman type, broadside ballads utilize the affordances of interperformativity continually to remediate this female “type” across the broadside ballad genre. The crafty woman, that is, calls up others of her kind while craftily shape-shifting so that she cannot be easily pinned down. In McAbee’s critical effort to get a hold on this slippery character, she divides crafty women ballads into four (sometimes overlapping) subsets defined by the use
to which they put their craft: first, to embrace the single life, second, to avoid unwanted sexual encounters, third, to punish or trick men, and forth, to fulfill their own sexual desires. In all these remediations of craftiness in broadside ballads, women are revealed to act as agents in their own financial circumstances. But this revelation suggests another crafty marketing strategy on the part of the authors/printers/publishers/hawkers of the broadside ballads (almost all of whom were male) who created and disseminated crafty woman ballads: their intent to appeal to an audience of women and inspire them as consumers of ballads. That is, if women saw themselves satisfyingly living on their own terms in the character of the crafty maid, another dynamic is at work in these ballads: their produces have created and sustained the “crafty” woman as a commodity of ballad culture. In the final analysis, women remain subjects, or more accurately, “objects” subject to remediation by producers and all consumers, who also include men.
The third section, “Performing Knowledge, Senses, and Emotions,” turns self-conscious remediation of performativity inward. David Baker, together with a cohort of graduate students, focuses on just a snippet of Shakespeare’s Hamlet
in which the court, at the opening of Act 4, scene 4, comments amongst itself about the dangerous nothings of Ophelia’s madness, which is followed by her performance of that madness through snippets of songs and ballads. A key aim of Baker and his collaborators is to rethink a long-standing critical emphasis on ballads as almost exclusively about communicating and perceiving feelings. In investigating Shakespeare’s remediation of ballad snippets, Baker and his students draw on later-day remediations of Shakespeare through illustrations, film clips, and self-reflective interviews to show that much more is at stake in the court’s comments: a fearful and as yet not fully graspable set of intellectual problems facing humanists of the early modern period having to do with the truth claims made by popular texts like ballads, even as the ballads themselves claim to be “nonsense.”
The thought-piece by Baker and his collaborators about what one might term the power of ballads to provoke inquiring thought is deliberately positioned in this section in opposition to Pamela Reinegal’s essay, “Ballads on the Brain: A Neurological Hypothesis.” As if extending Francis Bacon’s call for an experiential science, which so threatened the long-standing maxims passed down by early modern humanists examined in the previous essay, Reinagel speaks from the position of a modern-day scientist. She here draws on both the neuroscience of emotion and experiential practice of singing ballads. Her analysis is supported by conceptual illustrations and charts of studies of neural responses to song, as well as by sound clips of ballads sung by professional and non-professional singers, including herself. The data reveals, she suggests, that such oral performances “may have conferred neurophysiological benefits to the singers, listeners, and communities that sang together.” Reinegal here turns modern-day science into a different remediation of the vexed interrelation of early modern “knowledge” and popular affection, returning ballad performance to a focus on the emotive, with a literally healthy payoff.
In section four, “Staging Deformity and Disease,” we return to the scene of Shakespeare remediating broadside ballads. As if looking back to the twinned essays that form the previous section, Rochelle Smith turns away from Shakespeare’s one overt reference to popular broadside ballads about monstrous births, made in The Winter’s Tale
, where Shakespeare appears to position himself and his audience in opposition to the naïve gullibility of the lowly shepherdesses who ask whether such wonder ballads are “true.” This scene has traditionally been read as confirming a comfortable humanist understanding that popular knowledge was nonsense, which Baker and his collaborators qualify. Smith’s focus, however, in her essay, “The True Form and Shape of Caliban: Monstrous Birth at the Edge of the Human,” is on Shakespeare’s more complex and questioning remediation of the monstrous birth ballad in the form of the character of Caliban in The Tempest
. In this late Shakespearean play, Smith acutely observes, the word “monster” recurs more often than in any other of Shakespeare’s plays, almost entirely in reference to Caliban. Drawing on early modern scientific inquiries into such monstrosity as well as textual and visual representations of such monstrous births in broadside ballads, she argues that Shakespeare in The Tempest
depicts an actual monstrous birth in his deformed slave, Caliban. In doing so, he remediates monstrous birth ballads that were so popular throughout this period in order to query our understanding of Caliban’s and our own humanity. Smith then jumps forward to later remediations of The Tempest
in futuristic TV series and films, where the cyborgian or human engineered is the monstrous, to show that what is at stake in all these performances of the monstrous birth is the very essence of what constitutes the “human.”
Jessica C. Murphy, in “‘Greensickness Carrion’: Re-reading Capulet through Broadside Ballads,” looks to a different kind of monstrosity or, in this case, “disease” as it was remediated by Shakespeare specifically in drawing on the affordances of broadside ballads: that is, the female disease of greensickness as described in medical treatises of his time. While treated seriously in these medical writings, Murphy points out, greensickness in the texts, illustrations, and songs of broadside ballads talk about greensickness more often as a joke about the “insatiable female body.” Maid after maid in broadside ballads desperately seeks sex with a man to cure her so-called illness. Shakespeare and his audience were more than familiar with this mass marketing of a supposed disease in broadside ballads for bawdy entertainment. So when Capulet calls Juliet “greensickness carrion,” and so frantically pushes her to marry Paris in the very scene after Juliet has had sex with Romeo, the audience would very likely have understood his near hyperbolic performance as, in Murphy’s words, a “calculated use of a female disease to bring his daughter’s body back under his control.” Through such “calculation,” Capulet is himself desperately and, in some film performances, Murphy shows, even violently, adopting the language of medical treatises in an effort to restore his daughter’s value as a commodity on the marriage market. But he is also subtly—and likely what for Shakespeare’s audience, which was immersed in the mass market of broadside ballads that made bawdy fun of female sexuality as a disease—remediating popular knowledge of Juliet’s sexual activity.
In the final and fifth section of Ballads and Performance
, “Beyond the Last Act,” we appropriately extend our gaze on the performance of plays beyond their ending, opening up the apparent divide between play as text and play as performance to entertain multimedia and multimodal performativity more generally, including, of course, drama’s key ally and competitor, the broadside ballad. Such an embracive opening up of the play occurs in the performance of a jig on the stage afterwards
, as an extension of the dramatization or, to follow through on a clear theme of this collection, as a remediation of the play world. To bring this elongated performativity alive, Smith and Lupton begin their essay with another remediation they helped sponsor together with EBBA: a modern enactment of one of the many dialogue ballads in EBBA titled “jig” or “jigge,” often sung in a comic and bawdy vein. The jig we chose, “A Pleasant Jigg Betwixt Jack and his Mistress”
was performed by EBBA actors/singers and instrumentalists before a public audience in January 2016 at the University of California, Irvine. In this subsequent essay, Smith and Lupton ask us to imagine just such a jig occurring at the end of a performance of Romeo and Juliet
, and raise their questioning bar one level: “How,” they ask, “would a theatrical presentation like this, with bawdy dialogue and comic mood, affect an audience’s digestion of the tragedy they have just witnessed?” Drawing on the multimedia affordances of the web to illustrate their answer, the authors demonstrate that the ballad-like features of even tragic performances—Capulet’s ball,
the duet dialogue of Romeo and Juliet, inter-act songs and banter, and repeated evocations of specific ballads—exhibit not a dichotomy but the continuity between the tragedy and the ballad-like jig.
In sum, this concluding contribution to our collection, through a focus on the jig, underscores many aspects of the multimedia and multimodal performativity of plays and ballads that runs consistently through the essays. We recognize that the ballad as jig is but another remediation of the multifaceted ballad as artifact, which is yet another tool that gets used and used up visually, textually, and orally in its creation, dissemination, and consumption in early modern England, surviving only residually in some rare artifacts that can be digitized and further remediated in databases like EBBA. At the same time, we recognize that the play as play-text was also used and used up, as Worthen argues, in drawing on the occasional affordances of performance. And we can acknowledge once again that the interperformativity of plays and broadside ballads (even if the latter are only sometimes evoked through “snippets”) involves a self-consciousness of each other and of their roles as agents and commodities in a popular market economy.
Viewed as an assembled whole, this collection reflects upon the culture of a period that was actively engaged in twinned, if not identically twinned, genres that were heavily invested not only in the market but in thinking about their use of multimedia performativity. Liberally drawing upon each other, plays and of broadside ballads each in their own ways interrogated how, as major participators in a market economy, they could affect and probe their role in the life of the masses, which extended to include a broad-spectrum public of both high and low. Necessarily, they probed the very nature of the multiple media and many-faceted modes of performing those media that were available to them. In so doing, they demonstrated that such theatricality for the masses, of all sorts, could address important issues about the nature of human knowledge, the senses, and the emotions as well as culturally constructed notions of monstrosity, disease, and gender. As the after-play jig demonstrates, audiences themselves wanted the multimedia performance at the theater to extend beyond the last act, as if inviting it to reach out to join the everyday life inhabited by the broadside ballad. Ballads and Performance: The Multimodal Stage in Early Modern England
offers many paths of understanding where to begin in undertaking an investigation into broadside ballads and theater/performance studies. In the process, we hope to have achieved a fresh perspective on what has now become Shakespeare’s stale line, “All the world’s a stage.”Bibliography