*** Read ARDEN of FEVERSHAM***
PREP WORK: On your own, work on developing a deep comprehension of your speech. You should know what every word and phrase means. This means looking words up, and spending time parsing tricky syntax. Ideally, you should be able to reproduce the speech, perfectly accurately, in contemporary English—in your own regular everyday speech.
The next step is to think about the rhetorical purpose of the speech: What is the character expressing, and why? What does s/he want from the speech’s listeners–is s/he trying to persuade, move, argue, combat, instill fear or love? Or is s/he alone–and, if so, why talk at all?
Practice the speech out loud a few times—lots of times!—to try to convey all your answers to these questions in the delivery itself. A clear understanding of what a speech says and why your character says it will produce a complex, interesting delivery.
RECORDING: you will record yourself, on video, first explaining who is speaking and to whom, and then delivering the actual speech. This sample mini-essay contains an example. Note: memorization is encouraged but not required. Be familiar enough with the speech that you are looking down at the paper less than half the time.
POST: Post (1) a brief note of context and then (2) your recording on the course blog. Note that you may post a link to Dropbox or Google Drive (or TikTok or YouTube–just as long as anyone with the link can see your video) if you have trouble uploading the video file directly.
After the video, include (3) a ~600 word reflection explaining (1) your initial sense of the speech’s rhetorical function and the speaker’s intentions and (2) what you learned from working deeply on the speech, not just as a literature student but as an actor trying to embody a character enmeshed in complicated social relationships.
Bad Soup, Good Strategy: Alice Arden’s Rhetorical Tactics
CONTEXT: The speech I chose is from scene 1 of Arden of Faversham. It is spoken by Alice Arden, speaking first to her husband and then to Mosby. Arden has just said his broth tastes unwholesome, and asked Alice if she made the broth.
*** Insert Video**
I chose this speech (1.367-377) because I find Alice’s verbal tactics counterintuitive and contradictory, and I wanted to see if I could figure out why she delivers this speech. Here, Arden has just complained that the broth tastes off; he has zero suspicions that it is actually laced with deadly powder. But Alice immediately all but accuses him of accusing her of murder, declaring “You were best to say I would have poisoned you” (1.369). Since she was, in fact, trying to murder him with the broth, telling him . At the end of the speech, she makes a second strange rhetorical move, insisting that she has “only” kissed Mosby. Presumably she’s talking about polite greetings, which kisses can express in some cultures (including early modern England). But why emphasize this here, when fanning the flames of Arden’s jealousy seems like a bad idea. So at the outset, I had questions: why would she bring up murder in this moment? And why would she then call attention to physical contact between herself and Mosby?
In practicing and performing the speech, I learned how to better understand Alice’s verbal strategies. Before, I thought she was being reckless and risk-taking; now, I think in fact she’s very cunning in what she says to Arden. Alice comes really close to telling the truth–she’s trying to murder Arden, she’s having an affair with Mosby–but she does so while criticizing Arden; she essentially claims these are his ideas only, not external realities. Beginning the speech with the claim that her making the soup is “the cause it likes not you” (1.367) and then saying “There’s nothing that I do can please your taste” (369), she paints a picture of a cruel man who criticizes everything she does. She goes on to say that she can’t even speak or look freely; everything she does makes him think she has “stepped awry” (371). I looked up “awry” in the OED, and it can mean “improperly” or “out of place.” Here, she’s essentially saying that everything she does makes him think she’s gone astray. She paints a picture of constant, stifling, unbearable husbandly surveillance. And this is smart, since in so doing she turns all her actual faults into products of his imagination. If he suspects a murder plot or an affair, that’s his fault–because he’s so prone to thinking she’s gone “awry.” It’s sort of genius: Alice renders herself impervious to criticism and suspicion by claiming her husband is too critical and suspicious!
But there’s something else going on here, too: Alice’s deep anger at Mosby comes out in this speech. She claims he “wouldst see me hang” (1.375), a serious accusation, and addresses him as “thou, Mosby, thou” (1.375). Perhaps this is a pure performance, designed to hide her true feelings for him from Arden. But given their stormy interactions elsewhere in the scene, I’m not so sure. Earlier, she calls him a “base peasant” (198) and rages at him for, essentially, trying to break up with her. Though the two are now once again in cahoots–both of them are in on the poisoning plan–I think Alice uses the speech as a way of attacking Mosby as well as her husband. Even as she fakes distance from and disinterest in Mosby, she finds a way to express her very real frustrations with him.