British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Exploring Jacobean Comedy Online

The University of York has published a cross-disciplinary multimedia website detailing its staging of John Marston’s rarely-produced comedy The Dutch Courtesan. Michael Cordner looks at its realisation on the stage and online.

cordner218wAbout the author:  Michael Cordner is Ken Dixon Professor of Drama and Head of Theatre in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York. he is also the founder and general editor of Oxford English Drama for Oxford University Press.

In autumn 2010 the University of York’s newly created Department of Theatre, Film and Television moved into a specially designed, splendidly equipped, building, which contains an array of performance spaces, television and recording studios, and post-production labs. Possessing such remarkable resources challenges the department’s staff to invent fresh initiatives to match them.

My own research focuses on seventeenth-century drama, with a particular interest in the relationship between scripts and the performances that can be developed from them.  I had previously taught in the University’s Department of English and Related Literature and had staged there a number of plays from this repertoire with student casts.

The best pre-civil war playscripts provide brilliantly crafted dialogue, which can be delivered in a rich variety of ways – and, therefore, to divergent effect – by its performers. Similarly, the scripts contain little or no indication of how they might be physically realised. However, eHHxploring in print alone how radically a scene by Marlowe or Webster can be transformed by subtle variations in vocal inflection or physical grouping poses severe problems, since we lack the calibrated technical vocabulary to convey such delicate calculations with precision. The internet’s capacity to combine video exemplification of performance choices with written analysis potentially provides us with a more effective means to examine such questions.

My next Jacobean production was scheduled for June 2013. What if this time we created a website which would, among other features, map aspects of the show’s planning and development and host a scholarly debate about the play? This time I was attracted by John Marston’s comedy The Dutch Courtesan, a play which has provoked lively scholarly interest, but about which little agreement has been reached. The situation is compounded by the scarcity of modern productions of The Dutch Courtesan. Stage history provides no substantive body of practical evidence against which academic theories and assertions about the play can be tested.

The Dutch Courtesan: Dan Cornwell (Mulligrub, R), Nick Armfield (Freevill, C), Stevie Jeram (Malheureux, L)

The Dutch Courtesan: Dan Cornwell (Mulligrub, R), Nick Armfield (Freevill, C), Stevie Jeram (Malheureux, L) (image: Dr Ollie Jones / University of York)

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