I spent last week in the UK. This was my first time seeing my family for two years and it was also my first trip back to the archives. It felt so good to be there, although my enthusiasm was tempered by the ongoing disruptions of COVID. The UK is grasping for a “new normal” in which COVID is a mere nuisance, but we really aren’t there yet. Despite the stresses, there were many pleasures. I connected with friends and collaborators and made a trip to the archive at Shakespeare’s Globe.
I’ve worked at the Globe several times on practice-based research projects (workshop of the Restoration Tempest, showcase presentation of our Folger Macbeth production), but it was the first time visiting their archives, which houses material from productions at the Globe and at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. During the height of the pandemic I became interested in a production of Milton’s Comus performed at the Wanamaker in 2016. The masque began with a newly-written frame by Patrick Barlow that introduced the people who had performed in the masque in 1634, including the girl Alice Egerton, who played the pivotal role of the Lady. They also used some of Henry Lawes’s original music. The staff at the archive were very accommodating and they quickly digitized materials for me, including an archival video of the production. But some items could not be shared, including the prompt book and the music. I had been asked by Deanne Williams and Sophie Tomlinson to write an essay on the Globe Comus for their forthcoming edited collection on female performance, and I knew I needed to see these materials to complete my work.
My archival experience last week was quite typical: you never know what you will find in those boxes! I was greeted by Mel, the archivist, who apologized that the composer/music director hadn’t left a score behind. Indeed, when I looked in the binder, the section marked music/score was entirely empty. Still, combining information from the prompt book, the music cue sheet, and the rehearsal and production meeting notes, I was able to understand how the musical elements of the production came together.
Here’s a taster of what I’ll be discussing in this forthcoming essay (and in the conference paper I’m giving this summer at the North American British Music Studies Association at my alma mater, Illinois State University).
In 1634 the Earl of Bridgewater’s children performed John Milton’s Comus at Ludlow Castle, in honor of their father’s installation as Lord President of Wales. In 2016 professional actors performed Comus at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe for a London audience. In each incarnation of the masque, a young woman’s movement, song, and speech animated the central character of the Lady, in 1634 as rendered by fifteen-year-old Alice Egerton and in 2016 by the twenty-something Emma Curtis.
Focusing on specific moments of Alice Egerton’s/Emma Curtis’s music-making in 1634/2016 I close the temporal circuit between the two “Ladies” to consider how the past might be reanimated onstage in the present and, conversely, how performances of early modern texts today manifest the tension between then and now. To frame the temporal tensions that emerge in this 2016 production, I use Mark Fisher’s musicalized discussion of Jacques Derrida’s “hauntology”—a neologism that combines “haunting” with “ontology.” According to Fisher, “hauntology” “exposes a temporal pathology: it makes ‘out of joint’ time audible . . . both invok[ing] the past and mark[ing] out our distance from it . . . call[ing] out a whole disappeared regime of materiality:” in the case of the 2016 Comus, the body and voice of a long-dead early modern girl.