Scales of Time and Shakespeare (#mla16 #s228)

How does time affect our experiences of Shakespeare? Come to “Scales of Time and Shakespeare” on Friday morning at the 2016 MLA convention (8:30–9:45, 6A, ACC) to learn explore how the passage of time and its conceptualization might help us approach Shakespeare’s plays.

“Inside Time in Shakespeare’s Late Plays,” Christopher D’Addario, Gettysburg College

What happens to the audience’s perceptions of the passage of time in Shakespeare’s plays when the King’s Men move indoors to the Blackfriars Theatre in 1608-9? In addition to more clearly dividing the play into five acts due to the necessity of resetting the lights of the indoor theatre, the move would also have mostly sheltered the audience from the ambient reminders of the passage of real time in the city outside, the ringing of church bells, for example, that would have colored the experience of watching at the Globe. This paper will detail the phenomenology of the theatrical experience at the Blackfriars in order to identify the specific and varied rhythms, both within the drama and in the surrounding atmosphere, that were present to spectators as they watched Shakespeare indoors. In many of these late plays, the passage of time is often dimly marked and understood by characters and the dramas themselves, suggesting a deferred or blunted sense of chronological passage. And yet, plays like The Winter’s Tale also slow time, forcing the indoor audience to attend to the localized effects of slight or more drastic temporal shifts, the particulars of psychological or seasonal temporalities.

“‘Redeeming Time’: Prince Hal’s Reformation and the Poetics of the Everyday,” Katherine Attié, Towson University

This paper argues that in representing Prince Hal’s reformation as a seemingly spectacular event concealing a gradual, constructive process, Shakespeare deflates the dramatic buildup associated with momentous time and amplifies the quiet beauty of diurnal time. Hal seems to privilege what the Greeks called kairos—qualitative time, the pregnant instant, the opportune moment, the spectacular event. However, the royal son can only break through “the foul and ugly mists” (1.2.180) of idleness by doing the opposite of his tavern cohorts—that is, by working. Labor happens in chronos—quantitative time, the orderly sequence of clocks and calendars, hours and days, months and years. Similarly, Harry’s victory at Agincourt is not the spectacular, miraculous event it seems to be. Rather, it is the payoff of hard work, of being “early stirrers, / Which is both healthful and good husbandry” (Henry V, 4.1.6-7), as the king proclaims in the crepuscular gloom before Agincourt.

The Puritan spirit of these lines suggests that Harry and his soldiers—“warriors for the working day” (4.3.110)—are laboring in their vocation, working in their calling. Most scholars have judged that Puritanism was entirely anathema to Shakespeare’s art. Nonetheless, I am suggesting that Shakespeare found something congenial to his art in Calvinist theology’s sublimation of routine, in its spiritualization of profitable labor into a sign of election. In “Redeeming time” (1 Henry IV, 1.2.195), then, Hal essentially redeems chronos, the working day that Falstaff so famously flouts. By turning daily routine into an aesthetically meaningful pattern, Shakespeare advantages the simple beauty of the ordinary, which outlasts the spectacular but evanescent beauty of “rare accidents” and which reiterates the chronological unfolding of the history plays themselves.

“One Time: Shakespeare in the Key of Anecdote,” Paul Menzer, Mary Baldwin College

Anecdotes bedevil historiography. Fernand Braudel called the anecdote “capricious and delusional,” for instance. He further opposed the anecdote to the history of important events, which are ones that “bore consequences.” And he is right, in that an anecdotal history is eventful but inconsequential. “One Time” focuses, instead, on the contranymic sense of “one time”—meaning both the timely and the timeless—to argue that the theatrical anecdotes that follow Shakespeare across the last four hundred years have as much to do with the future as with the past. Anecdotes, then, are not just a form of history, they are a form of prophecy. The “once” that launches every anecdote receives an echo from the future. “Once” calls out, and “once” again replies. Ultimately, theatrical anecdotes gather their paradoxical force by pretending to punctuality and in so doing achieving durability.