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‘Cry, Trojans!’: Wooster Group’s Take on ‘Troilus and Cressida’

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.184  Wednesday, 14 April 2015


From:        Hardy Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 15, 2015 at 10:51:15 AM EDT

Subject:    ‘Cry, Trojans!’: Wooster Group’s Take on ‘Troilus and Cressida’


Review: ‘Cry, Trojans!’ Is the Wooster Group’s Take on ‘Troilus and Cressida’

By Ben Brantley

April 7, 2015


There’s smoke rising from the tepee that occupies upstage-center at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. But as hard as you may look, you won’t find the fire — dramatic, emotional or intellectual — in “Cry, Trojans!,” the befuddled and befuddling work in which the mighty Wooster Group lays siege to Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida.”

This being a production of an iconoclastic company that likes to occupy several dimensions at the same time, that smoke is only virtual, a rising wisp on a screen. Such is the classic stuff that the Wooster Group’s mind-bending dreams are made on. And there are plenty of the sort of witty, senses-melding touches here that have become Wooster signatures.


Staged by Elizabeth LeCompte, one of the troupe’s founders and its artistic director, this Native American-themed production features artful layering of voices artificial and real, and eye-popping costumes that might have been culled from an epochs-spanning cultural compost heap. There is also exactingly choreographed movement, often synced to replicate scenes from movies on video monitors.


But to what purpose? Since its founding in the mid-1970s, the Wooster Group has been performing acts of blessed profanation on sacred texts, including Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” Eugene O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones” and Racine’s “Phèdre.” As a rule, the company’s text-scrambling, anachronism-flaunting productions confuse only to clarify, and usually wind up commenting astutely not only on their source materials but also on our changing perspectives in interpreting them.


Yet “Cry, Trojans!,” which opened on Tuesday night, only piles obscurity onto a play that has baffled and divided scholars, critics and audiences for centuries. The most unclassifiable of Shakespeare’s works, probably written shortly after he completed the great existential question mark that is “Hamlet,” “Troilus and Cressida” is a tragicomic, antiheroic history play, steeped in a sticky cynicism that tars everybody and everything in it.


Seldom performed before the 20th century, this portrait of love, betrayal and hypocrisy during the Trojan War seemed well matched to the anti-militaristic mood that swept Britain and the United States during the Vietnam era. It is, after all, a play that pronounces on the legendary conflict at its center: “All the argument is a whore and a cuckold.”


Those words are spoken by the toxic Thersites, “a deformed and scurrilous Greek,” who makes Shakespeare’s other misanthropes (Timon of Athens, Jaques from “As You Like It”) look like Pollyannas. Those words are not spoken (unless I missed them, which is possible) in “Cry, Trojans!,” and Thersites himself sadly makes only a cameo appearance.


That’s because this version concentrates largely on its Trojans, and not the Greeks who invade their land to recapture one of their own, the cursedly beautiful Helen. Such lopsidedness was not always true of “Cry, Trojans!”


The show began in England as a coproduction of the Wooster Group and the Royal Shakespeare Company, with the Britons doing the Greeks (under the direction of Mark Ravenhill) and the Americans embodying their adversaries. It was staged (and widely dismissed) as a binational venture in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2012.


So now the Wooster Group, whose work is always a work in progress, has rethought the play, although conscious thought seems to have had very little to do with it. The Greeks are often missing in action. The overwhelming emphasis is on team Trojan, presented as Native Americans, whose tribal gear wittily includes backpacks that resemble ancient statuary. (Folkert de Jong and Delphine Courtillot are credited with “set elements, props, costumes.”)


I’m pretty sure there’s been at least one Wild West “Troilus” before, which makes sense if you choose to read the play (and, really, you should not) as an account of a colonialist invasion of an indigenous people. Anyway, that doesn’t seem to be an allegory that much interests the Wooster Group.


Instead, Ms. LeCompte and company seem to be searching for — and dissecting — the enduring archetypes within the love story of Shakespeare’s title characters, doomed lovers embodied here by the Wooster stalwarts Scott Shepherd and Kate Valk. These characters are not naturals, though, for the kind of magnificent implosion practiced by the troupe upon the African-American railroad porter in “Emperor Jones” and the love-sickened queen Phèdre.


Both those parts were taken on by Ms. Valk, the group’s longtime leading lady and its most brilliant exponent of acting as a disembodied chain of mechanical mannerisms. But she’s unable to make much sense of the faithless Cressida, whom she portrays as a skipping Pocahontas type, given to flatline flirtation.


It’s a single-note, if impeccably executed, performance that emphasizes what’s least interesting about Cressida. Mr. Shepherd — who dazzled as the inexhaustible narrator of “Gatz,” the Elevator Repair Service’s epic staging of “The Great Gatsby” — is even more unvarying as Troilus, whom he presents as an adenoidal, whiny adolescent.


Suzzy Roche, in a frizzy fright wig, shows up as the doom-saying Cassandra; Greg Mehrten, looking like Bloody Mary from “South Pacific,” is Cressida’s prurient uncle Pandarus; and Ari Fliakos, with a Scottish burr and a welcome light wit, is the martyred Hector. The male cast members put on masks to portray the warring Greeks. But most of the great speeches belonging to those characters have been excised.


So what are we left with? Well, mostly a single high concept that doesn’t take us anywhere beyond its own limited picturesque terms. Variations on Native American customs, accessories, war dances and tribal languages are deployed here, and are no doubt the product of the extensive research and discipline that is the Wooster Group’s hallmark.


But don’t expect much illumination on Shakespeare or indigenous American culture. The production runs a sluggish two and a half hours, but you do have the option of watching the movies projected in the video monitors on either side of the stage.


These include the psychosexual teenage weepie “Splendor in the Grass” (starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood) and “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,” a 2001 tale out of Canada based on Inuit myth. To its credit, “Cry, Trojans!” made me want to revisit “Splendor” and acquaint myself with the intriguing “Atanarjuat.” So I can say that at least I took away something from a Wooster Group production that is largely, and atypically, empty.


[ . . . ]

Graduate Scholar-in-Residence Program | Newberry

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.183  Wednesday, 14 April 2015


From:        Hardy Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 12, 2015 at 12:56:05 PM EDT

Subject:    Graduate Scholar-in-Residence Program | Newberry


Graduate Scholar-in-Residence Program


The Newberry Graduate Scholar-in-Residence program encourages PhD candidates in the humanities to conduct research in our collection and to join our community of scholars for a full academic year. We invite graduate students with advanced PhD candidacy to apply for this status, with preference given to those whose dissertation projects are well advanced. Graduate Scholars-in-Residence at the Newberry are expected to be “in residence” at the Newberry at least 10 hours per week from September to May, which will enable them to make good use of the collection and participate in the Newberry’s intellectual community. Like postdoctoral Scholars-in-Residence, Graduate Scholars-in-Residence should be willing to provide a small amount of service to the Newberry. Although the Newberry cannot offer remuneration to Graduate Scholars-in-Residence, we can offer some privileges, including reserve carrel space for paged materials, access to the Newberry during extended hours, and opportunities to present work-in-progress to the Newberry’s scholarly community.


Applications to become a Graduate Scholar-in-Residence are accepted each year in the spring. The applications for the 2015-16 academic year are due on May 1, 2015. We expect to notify applicants about their acceptance in June 2015. New Graduate Scholars-in-Residence are expected to begin their residences in the first week of September so that they can join the new long-term fellows in Fall Orientation activities.


If you have any questions about the webform, application materials, or the Graduate Scholars-in-Residence program, please email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Apply to be a Newberry Library Graduate Scholar-in-Residence

Please read the following Application Guidelines carefully before submitting your application.



Application Guidelines


Using the Webform

All application materials must be submitted together electronically through the appropriate Newberry Library webform. The webform cannot be submitted partially, nor can it be revised once it has been submitted. Applicants must complete the webform and upload their project description and CV in order for their application to be considered complete.


The Newberry will not accept re-submissions of materials. Once an application has been submitted, the Newberry will not accept any revisions or updates.


The Newberry will not accept application materials through postal or electronic mail.


PDF files are preferred but not required. The server will accept .doc, .docx, or .pdf files.


The Newberry server cannot accept attachments larger than 10 MB.

After you have successfully submitted your application, you will receive a confirmation screen. You will also receive an electronically generated email within 24 hours. If you have not received an email within the allotted time, please check your spam folder before contacting us.



Required Materials


The Graduate Scholar-in-Residence application consists of four elements, which will be reviewed by a sub-committee of the Newberry’s Academic Council.


1. The Webform, which asks for contact information, project information, and other details pertaining to being a Graduate Scholar-in-Residence at the Newberry. The Graduate Scholar-in-Residence Webform can be found here. Remember: Webforms cannot be saved for submission at a later date, and the Newberry will not accept additional or amended application materials once it has been submitted.


2. A Project Description of no more than 1,000 words. This document should describe the research project, explain its significance, enumerate the Newberry materials to be consulted, and outline a plan of work. Additionally, please describe any other ways that being in residence at the Newberry will help advance your dissertation. When prompted, upload the project description to the webform.


Please note that candidates’ need for and intensive use of the Newberry’s collections is a crucial factor in our consideration of applications. Thus, please be as specific as possible about the Newberry materials you would like to use. For information about the Newberry’s collection, see our Core Collections and consult the Online Catalog.


3. A current Curriculum Vitae (CV) of no more than five pages. Upload your CV to the webform when prompted. Please use the following commonly accepted terms to describe forthcoming publications:

  • “in progress” (not yet completed or submitted)
  • “submitted” (currently under review at a journal or press)
  • “accepted” (contracted for publication; currently under revision)
  • “in press” (in the hands of copy editor, typesetter, or printer)

4. Two Letters of Recommendation. These letters are required by the same deadline as all other application materials. Applicants are responsible for contacting their referees and making sure they submit their letters on time. Letters must be submitted through the Letter of Reference Webform.



Additional Information about Letters of Reference

  • Graduate Scholar-in-Residence applicants must have their dissertation advisor submit one of their letters of reference.
  • Letters must come directly from the letter writer, not from the applicant.
  • The Newberry will not accept letters sent through postal or electronic mail. We strongly prefer letters to be submitted via the Letter of Reference Webform.
  • Each letter should speak to the proposed project, the value to the applicant of a residency at the Newberry as well as to the qualifications of the applicant. Letters that speak of the applicant’s project in specific terms are more effective than general letters from a dossier.
  • The Newberry prefers to receive letters on institutional letterhead, with a signature (either electronic or manual).
  • The letters must be written in English.
  • References can submit their letters before the applicant has submitted their application.

Please Note: The Newberry will not accept applications which include any materials in excess of the Required Materials. Excessive materials include but are not limited to:

  • Images (either embedded or in appendices)
  • Project descriptions, appendices, or bibliographies exceeding the word limit
  • CVs longer than the five-page limit
  • Personal cover letters
  • Audio-visual materials
Digital Renaissance Editions Launched

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.182  Wednesday, 14 April 2015


From:        Brett D. Hirsch < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 11, 2015 at 10:01:23 AM EDT

Subject:    Digital Renaissance Editions Launched




Digital Renaissance Editions officially launched during the Shakespeare Association of America meeting in Vancouver, on Saturday 4 April 2015. The project launched its new website with completed editions of The Honest Whore Parts One and Two (edited by Joost Daalder) and An Humorous Day's Mirth (edited by Eleanor Lowe).


Digital Renaissance Editions publishes open-access critical editions of non-Shakespearean early English drama and related materials. Each edition offers a fully annotated modern-spelling text, collations of textual variants, facsimiles and transcriptions of early textual witnesses, and generous introductions and commentary. A growing database of multimedia performance materials supplements the editions, and critical essays on topics relevant to the study of early English drama are soon to be commissioned. Digital Renaissance Editions shares the publication platform developed by the Internet Shakespeare Editions, allowing for complementary interlinking between both projects' editions and content. All content is subject to rigorous peer review, and is completely open access.


Some 50 scholars, theatre practitioners, directors of stage and screen, software developers and designers from around the world serve on the project's editorial and advisory boards. Such a project also relies on its users -- the scholarly community in particular -- to grow and thrive. We invite you to join our mission to expand the canon of early modern drama, one play at a time. We welcome your contributions, whether by proposing to edit a play for the series, submitting materials to the performance database and Critical Companion, using the completed editions and works-in-progress in your teaching and research, or by simply reporting bugs, errors, and areas of possible improvement to us. We have much to accomplish, and this is only the beginning.


Brett D. Hirsch

Coordinating Editor, Digital Renaissance Editions

Co-Editor, Shakespeare

SBReviews Is Seeking Potential Reviewers

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.181  Wednesday, 14 April 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Subject:    SBReviews Is Seeking Potential Reviewers


Dear SHAKSPEReans,


Associate Editor Annalisa Castaldo and I are seeking potential reviewers for SBReviews, the SHAKSPER Book Review feature.


If you might be interested in reviewing a book for the SBReviews, please e-mail Annalisa < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it > and me < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it > with your expression of interest.


So that we can identify books with reviewers, please include a description of yourself and your research specializations. We will keep a list of potential reviewers, and when we identify a book in your area of interest, we will contact you to see if you are interested.


SBReviews is one of the best new features of SHAKSPER. It has been quiet of late, but we are very interested in getting it back as a functioning feature of SHAKSPER.


SHAKSPER reaches a large and diverse audience. There are 1120 subscribers who receive the Newsletter distributions and another 385 Facebook subscribers. In addition, the web site gets many hits from all over the world. SBReviews is peer-reviewed.


Also, if you have a book you would to suggest to us for possible reviewing, e-mail that information to both Annalisa and me at the above addresses. 


Thank you,

Annalisa Castaldo

Associate Professor of English

Widener University

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it




Hardy M. Cook

Professor Emeritus 

Bowie State University

Editor of SHAKSPER

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Gobbo Name

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.181  Tuesday, 14 April 2015


From:        William Blanton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         April 12, 2015 at 6:47:54 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Lear Films; Erne; Gobbo


To Alan Dessen


Thank you very kindly for the references. However, I do not believe that they match my criteria, which are that they be: (1) by experienced trial attorneys who have (2) familiarized themselves with sixteenth century English law and trial procedure and (3) who have analyzed the Trial Scene as though it were a trial. 


As an amateur in Shakespeare Studies — particularly one who has confined his studies to only The Merchant of Venice — I have no desire to analyze the play as a work of literature. I am content to leave that to you professionals.


I am interested in The Merchant of Venice primarily as a cultural and historical artifact. My article ( demonstrates that Shakespeare wrote the Trial Scene as a sort of parody of a trial. The legally-savvy patrons of its performances would have quickly recognized this fact, and would have enjoyed how cleverly Shakespeare accomplished that feat. They would also have known that Shakespeare was Up to Something.


I have hoped that those who are professionals in Shakespeare Studies would be curious about my analysis and its various discoveries. In the Appendices to my article, I included several sections that provided elements of my research related to those discoveries. To date, only a tiny fraction of those who read this forum have shown such curiosity. But hope springs eternal.



To Tom Reedy


I understand your puzzlement. The change from “precedent” to “President” matters to me because it aligns with my observation that Shakespeare was demonstrating that Portia was incompetent to try the case of Shylock v. Antonio. 


He had her pretend to be a Doctor of Law, just as was her invisible cousin Doctor Bellario. Doctor of Law was the title awarded to those who graduated from Oxford or Cambridge with a degree in Civil Law, which was based on a lengthy code of laws promulgated under the Roman Emperor Justinian (The “Corpus Juris”). 


Precedent played little or no part in this system of law. In fact, Doctors of Law (called “civilians”) were forbidden to practice in the common law courts, which is where the common law case of Shylock v. Antonio would have been tried had it been a real case. The “Trial” in The Merchant of Venice took place in the common law Court of Queen’s Bench.


Those who practiced the common law studied at one of the Inns of Court, often for as long as nine years. The common law of England was based on precedent, not on codes, and civilians were almost entirely ignorant of those precedents. A civilian such as Portia was pretending to be could easily confuse “President” with “precedent.” 


I believe that Shakespeare marked up Q1 of The Merchant of Venice for its performance before the Court of King James in February 1605. I further believe that he took this opportunity to change the correct “precedent” to the incorrect “President.” The actor playing Portia could have so enunciated the word so as to signal her ignorance. Hence my argument.



To Tom Reedy and Professor Egan


Thank you both for pointing out to me that the Concordance that I consulted did not provide Shakespeare’s spellings of “precedent.” Who knew?


I have since cross-referenced its instances to those in my First Folio in Modern Type, with these results. Shakespeare spelled the word correctly as “precedent” only three times, one of which was in The Merchant of Venice. He spelled it incorrectly as “president” twelve times. He also spelled it “precedent” in three instances in which he did not use the word to mean something like an authority.


From this meagre evidence I conclude the following. That when focused on the word in its strictly legal sense in Q1, he spelled it correctly as “precedent” instead of as was his customary practice as “president.” He then purposefully changed its spelling in the version used for F1 to the incorrect “President” for the reason discussed above. 


I do not believe that some unknown compositor, tasked with using a perfectly legible copy of Q1 with a few mark-ups, would bother to change the spelling from Q1 unless it was one of those few mark-ups. 


Anyway, that’s what I believe. You and other professionals may well disagree. In either event, it’s really no big deal.


As to Professor Egan’s dissing of what Heminges and Condell wrote in F1. I do not know what parts of it, if any, are “demonstrably untrue.” I believe that they chose the version of The Merchant of Venice that was prepared for the performance before the Court in 1605 because they considered it superior to Q1 or to any other printings floating around. 


Anyway, that’s what I believe. In any event, it makes little difference given that the changes from Q1 were few and largely insignificant.

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