I recently attended the latest meeting of the North West Early Modern Seminar Series, which was held at Liverpool University on 1 November.  It came at the end of a particularly busy few days for me, so I was really quite tired, but happily there was lovely homemade spiced apple cake from Elaine Chalus and great big cups of tea to wash it down.

2017-11-01 15.22.58The first paper was by Sophie Jones, a  student at the University of Liverpool: “‘Drinking the King’s Health’: Taverns, Sociability and Loyalism in Revolutionary New York”.  The main questions she asked were: how did taverns come to play such a political role? and how did they become so closely associated with royalism?

Her paper focussed on Albany, an area of colonial New York. It was at the centre of territorial disputes with New England,  but Albany was relatively small: it had fewer than 3500 inhabitants in c1700.  The county was predominantly rural apart from Albany town itself, therefore it represented the closest resemblance to feudal Engalnd in America.  The area was dominated by big estates with a lot of land, which provided a source of social tension in the 17th century.  There was little urban development,  and there were no coffee houses or other public amenities.  The social space it did have was a network of public houses and taverns which occupied the same functional space as coffee houses.  They were not, however, confined to the city of Albany but were also found in rural areas and they created focal points for unhappy tenants who sometimes turned into mobs.  She also pointed out that although ostensibly  a ‘public’ space, taverns also had private spaces and could therefore be seen as secretive.

During the revolutionary period, Albany was particularly afraid that tavern keepers were not loyal to the cause of American freedom.  Licenseto run taverns were issued on the basis of an oath of allegiance and committees were set up to detect loyalism.  One of their methods for identifying the disaffected was to listen for people who drank the king’s health.  Sophie suggested that this was a fractured society.

Next up was Dr Jonathan Spangler of Manchester Metropolitan University on “The Miseries of War: The Duchy of Lorraine, Jacques Callot and the 400th Anniversary of the Start of the Thirty Years War”.  His paper presented his recent research on the Westreich a bilingual not bi-confessional region.  Lorraine was nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire, and the dukes were constantly trying to balance between French and German political influence by marrying French  and Germans.  In 1618, fraternal strife increased between Henri, who had 2 daughters, and Francois, who had 2 sons.  They fell out over the dynasty – to whom the children should be married and, alongside that, whether to fight for the French or the empire.

2017-11-01 15.40.52Jonathan is interested in what effect this had on the dynasty.  Francois was allied to the empire, while his brother Henri was trying to appease France, whose army was getting bigger and only had access to the empire through Lorraine.  The marriage of one of Henri’s daughters to one of Francois’ sons in order to create a dual monarchy fell apart when Francois’ son overthrew his wife, and this created a split in the nobility, who were more pro-Catholic than loyal to their country.

By end of 30 years war Lorraine had lost 60% of its population. Beauvau described it as like an apocalypse.  The printmaker Jacques Callot was a product of this society.  His work has been described by art historians as technical but not emotional.  His most famous work is the series of woodcuts,  The Miseries of War.  They are moralising images which show that soldiers who are let loose to run amok will get their comeuppance.  They represtent peasant horror and peasant justice.  Jonathan argued that they are good evidence for him being more emotional than has hitherto been thought, because they might represent the trauma of his homeland.


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The first speaker after the break was Dr Anna French (University of Liverpool), who spoke about “Salvation of the Soul in Pregancy to Early Infancy”.  This talk was based on her new work on the social and cultural impact of belief, particularly surrounding the question: when did the human become a person?  She is investigating early modern perceptaions of infants?  They have small bodies and often fleeting lives, and attitudes to them demonstrate spiritual uncertainty, especially until baptism.

The first of her two key texts was a funeral sermon by Samson Price from 1624 – The two twins of birth and death.  This text described the closeness between these to parts of the human life cycle. It shows that birth wasn’t necessarily seen as the beginning of the new life because death often followed quickly.  A successful birth meant that child and mother had lucky escape from death. Original sin meant that although mother and child could and probably should have died during childbirth and been damned, they were saved from by God’s grace.

She pointed out that although birth meant that babies were awake, they were yet to be awoken to the presence of God. However, even infant baptism didn’t solve this so childhood was a difficult time for salvation. Children were seen to be in great spiritual danger. Indeed, infants were often not seen as a child or even as he/she until baptism – they were not given a name and were instead referred to as ‘creature’.

Her second text was Jacob Ruff’s The expert midwife, translated in 1637 and addressed to the ‘daughters of Eve’.  It described the inevitable but risky venture of pregnancy and labour, seeking to prevent ‘the great danger and manifold hazards’ to mother and child.  This text suggests that even after the quickening, when the woman first felt the child move in her womb, the foetus was not considered to be a person. It had a spirit, which moved it, but this was not the soul.  Instead, it just provided a channel for the soul, which came later.

Her overall argument was that life was defined broadly and ensoulment was crucial but piecemeal process.  It reveals some tension about what it meant to be a human.

We also heard short papers from two research students. Toni Prince (University of Sheffield) spoke on 2017-11-01 16.55.10“Authorship, Ovid and The Tempest”, arguing that some of Shakespeare’s scenes don’t sound the same and the lexical units (grammatical units which have meaning, not just words) are different.  Some of these lexical units appear again and again in Shakespeare’s plays as a whole, others appear to have been written by someone else.  Finally, Tom Morrissey (University of Liverpool) talked about “Exploring the reaction of the West Country Gentry to the English Reformation”.  He suggested that the gentry were complicit with successive Tudor regimes throughout the reformation as it changed the face of the localities. Their role was one of policing and enforcing the reformation – and their own faith.

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At the end of September I killed several birds with one stone by taking a short trip to London.  As well as attending a Historical Association committee meeting, I spent an afternoon in the British Library and an evening at the Royal Historical Society lecture given by Professor Christopher Marsh, ‘The woman to the plow and the man to the hen-roost’: Wives, husbands and best-selling ballads in seventeenth-century England.

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He  made a case for seeking the origins of pop music in the 1590s not 1950s.  This was the decade of Thomas Deloney, and of ‘Mother Watkins Ale’  – a song full of innuendo and sporting a jaunty melody.  Written in a man’s voice, it provoked moral outrage, and Marsh described it as a lascivious under-song.

He then described the broadside ballad format which was developing in this period of a title, one or two woodcuts, a border, and the lyrics in two columns of type.  They were commercially driven and mass produced.  He argued that we would know little about ballads if not for educated men like Selden and Pepys.

The main focus of the lecture was the ways in which relationships between men and women were portrayed by balladeers.  He described them as a good source for scholars who work on the field of marriage and bewailed the distorting tendency of historians who most often deploy them to show problems with marriage, especially problems with women.  Most often, scholars use them to show ‘relationships endangered from within’ – the cuckolded husband or the murderous wife.  He argued that many historians were guitly of cherry-picking and pull out the ones which provide the evidence for what they want to show.  Instead, we need more sophisticated approach than source mining. In fact, early modern ballads assumed that marriage was part of the context.  Many included married couples and this in itself gives us insights into popular tastes.

His case studies were based on his project to produce versions of the best-sellers of the 17th century based on a wide range of criteria including the number editions, evidence that publishers keen to assert copyright, spread of time, whether they generate new names for tunes, and whether they were long-lasting.  He acknowledged that the list would nto be definitive, but claimed that it means we can be confident that the songs were very popular. The project seeks to provide an integrated approach to texts, tunes, pictures and performances.

The lecture was based on the 25 of the top 120 ballads which relate to marriage.  He sought to investigate how husbands and wives were represented and how this affects our understanding of ballads or of gender relations.  What I found particularly interesting, having looked at this area myself, is that the 25 popular marriage-related ballads are not the ones that scholars have usually picked out. When I looked at gender relations in ballads while I was writing Chapter 4 of my book, I wasn’t particularly bowled over with them, if I’m honest.  I couldn’t find a great deal that was interesting to say; after all, there’s only so many times you can say ‘boy meets girl, they fall in love, someone objects, but they overcome the obstacles’ or ‘boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl spurns boy’.  In the end, I left it out altogether.  What Chris Marsh managed to do, that I did not, was turn it into a fascinating angle in itself.   Because what it means is that historians haven’t picked out the most popular but rather the ones that are most useful to them.  The most popular marriage ballads don’t sit comfortably among the “marriage problems” trope.  The only unremittingly wicked wife is Eleanor – but her wickedness is related to the fact that she is Spanish, so she’s not indicative of English marriage.  In fact, she appears in her song as a contrast to the happily married mayor and his wife.


8 more ballads have wicked wives and harried husbands, but there are subtleties. For example, in one ballad by Thomas Deloney the wife murders the husband, but although she’s gone awry, she is presented sympathetically.  Other ballads featured female adulterers, but they wer not the blunt and brutal lascivious wives of scholarly stereotype.  The rest of the 25 presented happy marriages. Although they show an acute awareness of the dangers in marriage, these were threatened by external forces not dangers within the bounds of marriage itself.  Often, as I noted myself but couldn’t find an angle to hang it on) the problem is with the parents, and based on the different social status of the protagonists.

Marsh asked important questions about who formed the audience for this type of material and suggested that maybe the ballads contributed a different way to the gender debate.  We don’t know who bought the virtuous wife ballads and why, but perhaps it was about how to find fulfilment in patriarchy by making it their own.  We have little evidence for the audience of early modern ballads, but he thinks it was often female because the majority of the opening ‘come all ye’s were aimed at females.


The fascinating lecture was illustrated by musical examples sung live by Vivien Ellis, accompanied by Chris on fiddle.  It was followed by some really interesting questions about the performance practice of ballads, their continued popularity and the ways in which gender is portrayed in music.




Over the weekend of 25-26 February 2017, I attended a conference in Lancaster which looked at new materialist approaches to the pre-modern  period: ‘Embodiment and New Materialism in Premodern Literature and Culture 1350-1700’.  Having already blogged about the first day of the conference, I thought it was time to share my recollections of the second.

The first speaker on day 2 was Dr. Robert Stagg (St Anne’s College, Oxford), who talked about ‘Shakespeare’s “Stuff”’.  The word ‘nothing’ appears 32 time in King Lear, but its range of opposites also appear a lot, and more often towards the end of the play. The monosyllabic irreducibility of Shakespeare’s language is part of the atomic sound scape of King Lear.

Emily Rowe (University of York) continued the focus on language with ‘Words and things: Francis Bacon, Lingua, and New Materialism’.  She explained how Francis Bacon criticised the construction of knowledge based on rhetoric as based on words rather than things. He acknowledged that language was necessary to explain, but it was often overcome by what Erasmus described as a ‘wild and wanton flow of words’.  In Thomas Tomkis’s play Lingua, the only female character is Lingua, who  fights and tricks others in her attempt to become the 6th sense. Appetitus, Gustus’s servant, presents a long list of Lingua’s failings. One of these is her power of translation, because vulgar language and mixed tongues were a concern of the 17th century.  Her biggest problem, however, is that she is a woman. During the early modern period the unruly tongue is particularly associated with women, because it is associated with the destructive power of female speech.  Bacon challenges the need for affected, metaphoric speech to explain, so while he wouldn’t describe language as a vulgar whore as Lingua does, he would not support her claim to be a sense.

I opened the second panel on ephemerality with my paper on ‘The (im)material sixteenth-century ballad’.  I talked about ballads and the Pilgrimage of Grace, focussing on the way ballads were sung and experienced rather than their material, printed form.  As usual, I got the audience to sing.

Following me was Catherine Evans (University of Sheffield) who spoke on ‘Pleating time in early modern almanacs’. Almanacs were the most popular early modern cheap print, containing astrological and medical information and guidance for every aspect of life at a low price. Almanac annotations show a great variety of readership. The flexible function of almanacs shown by the fact that they often contain all three of Heidi Brayman Hackel’s categories of annotation.  Chronologies at the beginning of almanacs give potted national histories, often with transparent political agendas. Nevertheless, people personalised these timelines by annotating these calendars with personally important information. Also people made changes to the printed dates. Therefore almanacs had another role as diaries. People interleaved blank pages, so printers started introducing blank leaves.  These changes create books that are long lasting records of the self rather than a plan of the year.  Furthermore, users did not stick to the linear notion of time indicated by the almanac because they were creating their own topographical understanding of time by using almanacs in ways that they weren’t intended.

The final paper in our panel was given by Beth Cortese (Lancaster University) on ‘Exchanging places: witty transformations’, much of which concentrated on the play of the weekend, Albumazar.  Betha argued that thieves and tricksters in early modern plays are the place of subversive wit, revealing anxieties about identity. Their plots are to do with material wit – inequality made animate in performance. Wit is therefore a performative and transformative form of subversion. The trickster often overturns rank.

Next came ‘An Embryo of rare contemplation’: a special panel chaired by Dr. Rachel White (Newcastle University). Dr. Lucy Munro (King’s College London) raised the question ‘how does one fall in love on stage’ in her paper ‘The Insatiate Countess: Body, Text and Stage’.   Her paper concentrated on The Insatiate Countess, written by John Marston even though he seems to have objected to his name being added to the published script. There are several textual difficulties with the play. She pointed out that it can be hard to tell stage directions from speech and vice versa in early modern plays. Different editions of the play have different names for the same characters. Also there were problems with the printing of different editions, with a lovely mondegreen where ‘the boxe unto Pandora given’ appeared in the text as ‘the poxe is unto Panders given’.

The play exploits the rampant sexuality of women and might have had a particular resonance at the time. It opens with the scene of the countess in mourning, before any speech, so the first line ‘what should we do in this countess’s dark hole’ is deeply shocking, especially with the men being described as ‘unruly members’. At the end she is executed, ostensibly for ordering the murder of her lover, but as much for the fact that her rampant sexuality subverts the patriarchy. The social hierarchy in the play is desperate for her to make a good death by admitting that she was at fault.

The next paper was given by Dr. Rachel Reid (Queen’s University Belfast) on ‘(Re)reading John Dee: Exploring Polytemporal Identities in his Collection of “Rarities”’.  Rachel showed that the placement and context of the object was what informed its meaning and focussed on polytemporalities as reaching across time rather than periodisation. John Dee had many roles and assembled the largest library in Elizabethan England. Although the Glindoni painting of ‘John Dee Performing an Experiment before Elizabeth I’ contains lots of things related to Dee, but it is not the image of a necromancer. However, in a fantastic animated slide that switched between the two images, she reminded us that the original painting had Dee surrounded by skulls.

I was particularly interested in the paper by Dr. Clare Egan (Lancaster University), ‘”By the singular operations of your excellent preparations”: Material Bodies and Medicinal Words in the Libel Case of Edwards v. Woolton (Exeter, 1604)’.  She pointed out that the difference between libel and slander was not so clear cut in the early modern period. One reason for the concern about libels might be that their epidemic nature made them more dangerous. This is illustrated by the move of libel trials from ecclesiastical to criminal courts, because disorder is the problem and can cause more scandal if it IS true than if not. The truth of the matter is not the issue – it’s not the content that matters, it is the manner in which they are spread.  Clare placed the emphasis on performance suggesting that  hearer is implicated in the performance by consenting to listen.

Matthew Blaiden (University of Leeds) talked about ‘Shakespeare’s Masks’, showing that masks in plays were structural devices which provided material splendour. Masking is mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays from very early on. First accepted appearance of masking within a play is in Love’s Labours Lost. Examples mentioning or including masks run the gamut of Shakespearean genres. The classic Elizabethan mask consisted of an entrance and a dance, but there are other types during the period. Much of the evidence Matthew uses for revels comes from revels accounts, but they were not exclusive to court, also taking place at the Inns of Court and also in towns where Queen Elizabeth went on progress.

The final event of the conference was a roundtable discussion, which developed the idea that the metaphor and the material occur simultaneously.

All in all, it was a very interesting weekend and much credit is due to the organisers of the conference for bringing everyone together.

Over the weekend of 25-26 February 2017, I attended a conference in Lancaster which looked at new materialist approaches to the pre-modern  period: ‘Embodiment and New Materialism in Premodern Literature and Culture 1350-1700’.  The first day of the conference was held in the lovely city of Lancaster itself, at Lancaster Castle and the Storey Institute.

Dr Rachel White introduced the conference with a brief description of how Thomas Tomkis’s play Albumazar had inspired the organisers to bring people together who might take a New Materialist approach to their work. She pointed out that, despite the emphasis on transformation in Albumazar, the physical world itself doesn’t change – just our perception of it. It therefore raises questions of agency and liminality.

Claire McGann (Lancaster University) presented the first conference paper on ‘Prophetic text, and prophetic body: divine constraint and seventeenth-century religious prophecy’. She described how the seventeenth-century saw a considerable increase in the production of newsbooks and revelatory texts. Both men and women turned to producing prophecy.   She commented that women’s part in such publications was interesting, because (as Smith and Purkiss have pointed out)) religious prophecy was divinely inspired, produced by God through human agency and therefore a role associated with men.  The  prophet is in fact dehumanised. Prophecy was an unseen cerebral process but also a physical process in which the body  suffered physical consequences.

Claire talked about the case of Francis Wilde, who petitioned Charles II because he’d printed a work prophesying that Charles woud return to his rightful throne. But Wilde began his petition by saying that he was bound by God to make his prophecy, thus undermining his claim of loyalty to the king. He also claimed to have suffered physically, through  deafness and unemploymen, as a result of his obedience to God and king.

She suggested that the frequent images of pressing in prophetic texts suggested that prophets were forced to obey the need to publish.   They provided authorial liberation from physical constraint. But it is wrong to assume the physical was just an image. The real body suffered the consequences of public prophecy.  This embodied materiality appeared similarly in the texts of men and women.

The second paper was given by Imogen Felstead (Lancaster University) on ‘“[W]e are gripped by God, and his grip upholds us”: the hand of God in premodern literature and culture’.  Imogen explored the ways in which hands communicate –silently.  Her work examines the iconography of the divine hand, including visceral experiences as well as the physical, following Bruce Smith’s work on phenomenology.  Early modern people believed that God’s hand was the creator and upholder of the self and that all people weregripped by God. God’s touch transcended the physical so mankind must put their trust and bodies in God’s hand. Chirologia contains many images of hand gestures and their meanings – pre-Modern face palm! Holding the hands to heaven allows the person to transcend the earthly to the spiritual.  Imogen reminded us that there was believed to be a direct link between hand and heart.  She pointed out that hands play a central role in pre-modern selfhood. It is only the hand that can translate thought into deed and action.

The final paper of the first panel was given by Jonah Coman (University of St Andrews) on ‘No strings attached: emotional interaction with animated sculptures of crucified Christ’.  He started by telling the story of the nun who wanted to go out to meet her lover and was struck by the crucified Christ. Jonah’s research concerns animated sculptures which are capable of movement. They are usually seen as multi-purpose props for processions but  because they are large they place demands on the spatial environment. The crucifixion images are bodies in motion. Any crucifix can be ‘mobile’ in personal encounters with a true believer.  Jonah commented that acutely embodied experiences such as terror and arousal help to remind the Christian of Christ and drive home the main Christian truth – the incarnation.

The second panel opened with my colleague from the English department at Liverpool Hope University,  Dr. Louise Wilson, talking about ‘“Keeping his bodies close and still after supper, setteth his mind a walking”: Reading, eating, and health in early modern England’. Louise explained that Plutarch describes suitable recreations for mealtimes: discourse was not suitable because in effect it causes indigestion.  It was better to read pleasurable tales, make light conversation and listen to music. Usually pleasurable tales are seen as bad for people, so Plutarch’s attitude is quite different. Plutarch suggests that it’s good to set the mind walking,  demonstrating the symbiotic relationship between mind and body. This was a common 16th century notion.  Louise pointed out that in the absence of records of reading light material, we might reconstruct them from the accounts of after-dinner reading in the very stories we are considering.

We rarely concentrate on mealtimes to show how people ate and read recreationally. Recreation is a type of action, a pause from more vigorous mental and physical activity. Rather than being seen just as reading for pleasure, it ds a utility in mental, physical and spiritual activity.   Puritans attacked light reading, but there was also an explosion of this sort of print. Short popular prose fiction itself suggests that it was an important leisure activity – aiming to legitimise its use.

Next came Erin Thompson (Lancaster University) whose paper was entitled ‘“The Bellye of the Land”: Utopia and the Formation of a Nation’.  In the early modern, the stomach was a primary organ for understanding the self. The disposition of body and mind was a product of the surroundings. Unlike their southern neighbours, the northerners’ thick humours were believed to cloud their minds.  Northerners therefore felt the need to rehabilitate their image and recuperate an English identity. More’s text uses the stomach as a national signifier for military ability. English superiority rested on their strong stomachs which provided the soldiers with a physical and mental upper hand.

Kibrina Davey (Sheffield Hallam University) gave the final paper in the set: ‘“Thou Didst Eat My Lips”: Swallowing Passion in William Davenant’s The Tragedy of Albovine.  I must admit that I have never read the play, but at least I knew about the court of James I and Charles I.  Kibrina described how Davenant was criticised for the shocking violence in his plays. Albovine is a play concerned with passions and influenced by Galenic doctrine.

Passions in the play are infectious, transmitted not only from person to person but the nature of the court, with Verona mirroring the court of James I. When the play was published, James had just died. He had been criticised for his relationship with his favourite Buckingham. Praise of the Elizabethan state in the play in fact can be read as criticism of the Jacobean court, which was too passionate a place. The passions of the king and his favourite are breathed out through hot air and infect the rest of the court.  Passions are also represented by eating. Parasites and earwigs represent the court favourite as a disease eating away at the king’s brain, but there is also a lot of sexual cannibalism representing the relationship between passion and eating.

The final panel was opened by Bethany Jones (Lancaster University), whose paper was entitled ‘Tracing the premodern textual waive: introducing Long Meg of Westminster’.  She suggested that the outlawed man is inside a text in order to be outlawed. Outlaws are embedded in popular culture over centuries and adapted for a variety of genres. The woman’s terminological equivalent is the waive, but there is little evidence of them in popular culture. More flexible terms such as ‘unruly’ mean they are usually included under the umbrella term ‘transgressive’ women.

Bethany explained that a woman could not be outlawed because she was not under the law. She was only a person as part of her husband. But there was a paradox: the existence of a text means that women  were recognised as being able to break a law that they were not actually under! The waived woman can be considered one abandoned – claimed by no-one, she was abandoned property. John Cowell, however, described a waive as a woman who ‘contemptuously refuseth to appear’. So she was not one left behind, but one who had taken a decision to flee from the consequences of her actions in court.

Lancashire’s Long Meg of Westminster is portrayed in many competing ways. She is a female of Robin Hood (the definitive textual outlaw) who takes from the rich to give to the poor and is willing to violate law to implement her own brand of justice, often using domestic objects. Household objects, in fact, often appear in accounts of female violence. Long Meg also provides patriotic services, attacking with her women soldiers some French men. Again the women are described as using household or simple objects, not traditional weapons. Nevertheless, he is also a commodity, someone who can be impregnated to produce a generation of soldiers. Bethany finished by comparing Long Meg to a twenty-first century super hero, figuring Long Meg as an Elizabethan Wonder Woman.

The theme of martial women continued in the next paper, ‘Behold the Warrior Women: The Gendering and Embodiment of War through Martial Objects in Three Restoration Plays’,  given by Josje Siemensma (Radboud University Nijmegen).  The warrior woman was ubiquitous in Elizabethan literature. Nevertheless, how to portray these women on stage was a problem, because they were played by men. For women, chastity was a shield in itself, and a weapon. But by the Restoration, their social worth was valued in their ability to reproduce, and their fragility was also important. Women were fragile and delicate and therefore not suited to join the army.

The warrior women in the 3 plays that Josje studied show that women had the physical ability to use weapons and be a soldier. They need to be trained to use them and how to behave, but the weapon itself does not discriminate the wielder on the basis of gender. Although the women win, the fighting isn’t seen on stage and the victory is relayed by men.

Emily Soon (King’s College London) talked on ‘“by the influence of her beauty”: Transforming Eastern bodies in Davenant’s The Temple of Love’.  The play was intended to show how much Henrietta Maria could do to improve Britain and clearly aimed to speak on many levels. The fact that she brings the Temple of Chaste Love shows her household was not loose, as had been wracked by scandal. Emily argued that  it also shows her as submissive to her husband in the face of rumours that she didn’t support Charles I’s policy towards France. But Henrietta Maria played her role as an Indian in a time of particular xenophobia. Indians were bestial. Narsingar was presented as a place where girls were brought up to be concubines of the king. It was also a place where something like elephantiasis was rife, and the disease was portrayed in England as a divine curse on the Indians for their poor behaviour and lack of Christianity. It was  therefore odd to portray Henrietta Maria as queen of this place. Why then did they do it?

Emily suggested that it was unlikely that Henriettta Maria didn’t know about the  reputation of Indians and Narsingar in particular.  Davenant’s play acknowledges and subverts common tropes. The queen has the power miraculously to  transform anything with which she is involved.

The plenary was  given by Professor Lisa Hopkins (Sheffield Hallam University) on the play that inspired the conference: ‘“Run slow, run slow, ye lobsters of the night”: literary and material transformation in Thomas Tomkis’ Albumazar’..

The nature of transformation and how it is effected is one of the central themes of the play. Costume can only change the outward apparel because they are inanimate and therefore true transformation is much more than this. She suggested that early modern plays raise 4 questions:

• By whom is the transformation effected?

• For how long?

• To what end?

• What is transformed?

Usually transformations are from human to animal, but in Albumazar it’s human to human, and what’s more, it’s not just what they are going to get from transformation that interests the characters – they are really interested in the process itself. They assume it will involve some form of cooking, and Trincolo is worried that he will be so transformed that his drinking and lechery will be affected. He also doesn’t want his immaterial emotional attributes such as his love for Armellina messed with. Other descriptions of the transformation include sculpting, or moulding like wax. Like acting, or self-fashioning, he believes in himself – he is told that he is changed and looks exactly like Antonio and he. believes, even though if he just looked down he would realise that he hasn’t changed at all. All the audience (real and in the play) sees is new clothes and self-confidence but everyone believes it including the real Antonio himself. It depends on confident acting, just as any play acting does in the first place –the ultimate transformation is theatre itself.

But questions remain. The play raises dangerous ideas about the soul. If there is a soul, where does it come from and how can you be changed without affecting it? Is it possible that things (without soul) can be transformed into men?

The day finished with a very amusing Albumazar Performance Workshop with The Rose Company, held in the beautiful surroundings of the Shire Hall at Lancaster Castle.   Each group experimented with performing a short section of the text.  I was involved in the section where Trincalo is robbed by Ronca. We decided to have two delegagates read the text while I mimed the part of Trincalo and Claire Egan played Ronca, because the section hinged on physical comedy  that would have been difficult if not impossible while holding a script.   It was great fun to try out different interpretations and possibilities then perform before the other delegates.  Sadly,  I have no photographs of this part of the conference because the Shire Hall is still a working court room, but it was an unusual and particularly interesting way to end the first day.

At the end of January, I happened to be down in London for a Historical Association committee meeting, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to the London Renaissance Seminar in order to hear Patricia Fumerton talk about ‘Moving Media, Tactical Publics – The British Broadside Ballad in Early Modern England’.

I was surprised, I must admit, to hear her talk about the  16th and 17th century broadsides in Manchester Central Library, one of which is marked by a seventeenth century handprint.  Professor Fumerton described how she attempted to gain a full appreciation of each ballad, including emotional responses.  She pointed out that although we cannot fully inhabit the lived experiences of people from hundreds of years ago, we can try to do it at one remove. In order to do so, we need a capacious theory or complement of theoretical components, such as assemblage theory, tactical media and plural publics.

Whereas EEBO gives only one image for all editions, EBBA gives the image for every edition.  Unsurprisingly, as founder and director of  EBBA, she argued strongly that studying digital rather than material ballads is fine, because the notion of whole in broadside ballads is already a fiction,  In fact, she suggested that EBBA’s collection helps us to experience ballads more like they would have in the early modern period because they allow us to experience many ballads together, they include recordings and we can see the images as well as words…  This is perhaps how the early modern person experienced ballads – hearing a snatch of a tune, catching a glimpse of another sheet’s words or images – then making associations with what they already –  knew of ballads.   They might ask themselves where they  had heard it before, or where they had seen that before?  To encounter one ballad in early modern England was to encounter many parts, and many were only experienced partially.   Soon, the EBBA database will include the ability to click on an image and it will bring up other links to all the ballads with that image.  EBBA uses  Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, so it takes what it calls an Item eg the ballad sheet, and then thinks of the things that make up its component parts and how they are related.  As it is modular, those parts can be plugged into another sheet – they are related but autonomous, therefore like the notion of assemblages.  She argued that because of this, ballads appealed to multiple publics.   Furthermore, like me, she argued that neither ballad performers nor audiences were passive recipients.  For example, performers could use hand gestures or movement to make a point, while tactical publics allowed consumers to subvert the authors’ intentions. If a ballad producer tried to over-manipulate the consumer, he actually empowered them.

Last Friday saw the publication of my first full length, peer-reviewed article, Verse Epitaphs and the Memorialisation of Women in Reformation England, commissioned by Liz Oakley-Brown when she was editor of the Renaissance section of Literature Compass.  I’m happy to say that it comes with its own teaching and learning guide, as well as supporting materials such as a ballad recording and a video abstract, although when I try to access the video abstract from the Literature Compass page, it takes me not to my abstract but to one by Jolyon Thomas.  Not that I’m not interested in the religious policy of modern Japan…  And frankly, I’d much rather watch someone other than me…

Anyway, it’s a nice way to start what promises to be an eventful week, because on Thursday I will be speaking at the Early Modern British History Seminar at Oxford University.  The title of my paper is ‘Text, Truth and Tonality in Mid-Tudor Ballads’. 

I’m also enjoying getting to know a bit more about twentieth century history, both for my tutoring of GCSE history pupils and my teaching at Holy Cross College for Liverpool Hope, although juggling all my different roles is proving interesting.

 Looking down, and south, from the A685.   © Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Looking down, and south, from the A685.
© Copyright David Medcalf and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

I seem to have been doing a lot of travelling lately, whizzing up and down the country on the pendolino and tootling across country on local trains.  I am, in the words of Doctor Seuss, a north going zax so frankly the journey through the valley in the Lakes where the west coast mainline and the M6 run alongside each other was infinitely preferable to the more familiar journey south towards London, although passing a trainload of mummified cars wrapped in bandages on a siding outside Oxford was a novelty.  The reason for all this travelling was academic, for once.  Early summer is conference season.  My twitter feed has been full of conference tweets for several weeks, which can be really interesting.  Several twitter hashtags have looked interesting enough to cause me to find out what the conference was that I was missing, and some of them I’ve really wished I could attend.   It’s a while since I gave a paper at an academic conference, so it was good to get back into the swing of things with trips to Reading and Newcastle.

Reading’s Early Modern Studies Conference was great fun. 410px-Codex_Mendoza_folio_2r Last time I went to Reading University I was on a two week accountancy training course and I hated every minute of it.  Reading was nothing like as unpleasant as I remembered it being, which just goes to show how much your experience colours your memories of a place.  The accommodation was lovely, although the lack of full wifi coverage if you couldn’t (like me and several other people) log into Eduroam was a distinct drawback. Because of my graduation, I wasn’t able to attend the whole conference, but on the Monday afternoon I very much enjoyed Maria de Jesus Crespo Candeias Velez Relvas‘s paper on ‘The Perception of the World in the Sixteenth Century’, as it took me back to undergraduate days of studying The First Hundred Years of the Spanish in the Americas and writing my dissertation.  I still find the impact of the Spanish conquest on the mainly oral tradition of the Aztecs and Inca’s fascinating and I recently downloaded the digital Codex Mendoza app!

The parallel sessions on Monday afternoon were all in seminar rooms, so I was somewhat surprised to find myself delivering my paper on Tuesday morning in a large lecture theatre.  My panel consisted of Richard Hoyle talking about ‘The King and the Poor Northern Man’, myself on ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in Sixteenth Century England’ and Jonathan Arnold on ‘Music, Morality and Meaning: Humanist Critiqus of Musical Performance in Early Modern Europe’.  It seemed to go very well. I had to leave Reading mid-afternoon on the Tuesday in order to get home for my graduation, so unfortunately I missed Jennifer Richards’ plenary that evening.

One of the interesting things about delivering a paper to most conferences and seminar series is that people seem surprised when I sing a verse or two of a ballad. Not so at the Voices and Books conference, where breaking into song mid-paper is normal!  I have really enjoyed all the Voices and Books meetings that I’ve attended, and they helped to cement the idea that I had early on in my ballad studies that we need to think of ballads as songs that were sung and read aloud.  It is a truly interdisciplinary network, with supportive scholars from music, history, drama, literature and language all sharing ther ideas and bringing their expertise to the table.  I can honestly say that I’ve come away from the conference with more ideas than I could possibly carry out in the rest of my working life, so I want to say a big thank you to the ever-smiling network organisers Jennifer Richards and Richard Wistreich for all their hard work and their inspiring example!

Voices and Books his was a really busy conference with parallel sessions and plenaries filling the days, leaving little space for tea and the wonderful food that was provided.  Having started the second day of the conference at 9.30am, I left the conference dinner the moment that I finished my main course through sheer exhaustion (in a good way) at 9.30pm, and, disappointingly, before the chewy strawberry pavlova.  My family would testify to how tired I must have been to walk away from a meringue!  And, by the way, the conference also had far and away the best food of any that I’ve ever been to, what with Thai beef salad; wild rice with currants, chickpeas and herbs; mini Yorkshire puddings with beef and horseradish; lemon posset; and dipped strawberries.

There wasn’t a single session that didn’t include fascinating papers, but the plenaries were particularly excellent. Heidi Brayman Hackel spoke on the relationship between hearing and speaking and the the role of the dumb-show in early modern drama.  Anne Karpf was truly inspiring when she talked about restoring the voice, pointing out that even oral history tends to priviledge the recorded or transcribed voice over the act of speaking itself, making me wonder again how to weave in to my  studies the ballads collected from the oral tradition.  I was struck by her comment that the first voice we hear is the maternal voice which we hear in the womb and can even feel its vibration – it made me wonder if the maternal lullaby works in a similar way to skin-to-skin contact for babies? Perry Mills, talking about performing early modern drama with a company of boys, reminded me of everything I miss about teaching.  And then, of course, there was Christopher Marsh and the Carnival Band demonstrating how to write a hit song in the seventeenth century – the first plenary session any of us had been to with a beer break in the middle!  Apparently the Carnival Band had been given free reign to interpret the songs  as they saw fit, and I noticed that they had chosen to accompany them using major and minor keys rather than modal harmony.  Apologies also for the state of my photographs of them, as my camera didn’t cope well with the limited light!

On Friday I talked about ‘Reinterpreting  the Sixteenth Century English Ballad’, giving a brief airing to my theories about tonality and knowingness, but my main point was that ballads were good for spreading news because they were passed from person to person and used tunes that were easy to pick up and remember.   I decided to demonstrate this by having my very own Gareth Malone moment and getting the conference delegates to sing!  I had been having kittens prior to the conference – as a teacher I used to get children to sing all the time but I’ve never tried it with adults, and if they didn’t go for it and join in I would end up looking rather daft.  Fortunately, they almost all joined in with varying amounts of enthusiasm and learned the first verse of ‘The Hunt is Up’ very  quickly.

At the conference dinner on Friday evening, Jonathan Gibson asked if I might be able to sing a verse of a ballad during his paper the following morning, which I was pleased to do.  So  after retreating from the dinner I went back to my hotel, where I attempted to learn the tune of Wilson’s Wild, while feeling the bass and vocals of ‘I-I-I-I-I’m not your stepping sto-one‘ vibrate through the floor.   On the final day I particularly enjoyed Jonathan’s paper, Naomi Barker on traces of orality in Italian keyboard music and John Gallagher‘s paper on the teaching of foreign languages.  I’m very interested  in the idea of learning a language through singing its songs, so that’s something we’re both going to look out for.

So I’m home, brimming over with ideas, just as my institutional login is about to run out.  Ho hum.

New Year’s Day, and I am back at my desk for the first time in several months, mainly in a late attempt to put together a panel for the Reading Early Modern Studies conference in July, for which the call for papers closes very soon.  It’s galvanised me into thinking properly about ballads again for the first time in several months.  I’m also thinking about an abstract for the Voices and Books Research Network conference in the summer.

It feels good to be back here.   So I have decided to share my new year’s resolutions. I don’t usually make them, but as I have ‘time on my hands’ (do I really?) I’ve decided that this year I’m going to make a real effort to learn to play the piano and I’m going to crack the Spanish once and for all. I have two books for the piano that will help if I make myself do it. As for the Spanish, I don’t know quite how I’ll go about it, though I think Juanes, Penguin parallel texts and Spanish news media might play a heavy role…

More immediately and more ‘smart’ in terms of their outcomes, here are my 2015 spring goals:
1. Gain the title of doctor.  My viva is at the end of the month.  More than that you’re not going to find out until afterwards!
2. Revise the articles on John Roberts and the Lady Marques ballad.
3. Put together a post-doc application.

DSCF3258  With the children on their Easter break, work over the last couple of weeks has been rather hit and miss.  Mainly miss, to be honest.  But I have spent some time working on a short historiographical piece about the relationship between ballads and news, which I’m happy to say is nearly finished.  In the end it will form part of the final chapter of my thesis, although not the very beginning of it as I’ve found a nice piece from the State Papers to open the chapter.  The historiographical essay runs from Shaaber and Rollins through to much more recent work by Joad Raymond, Angela McShane and Adam Fox.  It looks at popular song in France, Italy and Spain as well as England.  Earlier this week I bought Andrew Pettegree’s latest book, The Invention of News, so I’ve included some of his comments too.

Last week I was lucky enough to attend two workshops in the space of two days.  DSCF3242Both held in Manchester, the first was the ‘Music, Circulation and the Public Sphere’ workshop at which I presented my first paper to an audience of musicologists, ‘Ballads and the Public Sphere in Sixteenth Century England’.  It was scary but fun, and the paper seemed to go down quite well.  On the strength of it I was invited to attend another workshop on ‘Voices and Books, 1500-1800’.  That was a very interesting day and a half, at which I found myself sitting next to a professor from Harvard!  It really brought home to me the importance of the ballads as songs.  Of course, one of the aims of my thesis is to investigate the ballads as song rather than text where it is possible, but it’s easy to forget the oral culture in which they played a part when you are working with just the words.  The workshop gave me a lot of things to think about, especially with the chapter on which I’m currently working – topical ballads performed in public spaces provoking debate about the news of the day.

Apart from the two days in Manchester, the rest of the work has been crammed in between days out to Dunham Massey, Rufford Old Hall, Fountains Abbey and Stainforth.  Lots of walking in the spring sunshine!

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