The World Shakespeare Congress in Prague
I'm just back from the World Shakespeare Congress in Prague. This is the biggest gathering of Shakespeareans, which happens once every five years in a different corner of the globe. I just wanted to post quickly about the sessions I saw, and I'll leave out my joyous experiences of Czech beer. It's a beautiful city though, and I was pleased that the schedule built in plenty of free time for sightseeing.
Day One was an opening reception in the beautiful National Theatre, with a talk on the theatre's history by Martin Hilsky, the prestigious and erudite translator of Shakespeare into Czech, and a performance by several clowns riffing on The Winter's Tale and the gravediggers of Hamlet.
Day Two began with Stanley Wells on "Shakespeare: Man of the European Renaissance", a typically entertaining and learned lecture from Stanley. In the afternoon I attended a session on "Editing Hamlet" which discussed the practical and theoretical issues raised by a number of traditional and online editorial projects. Neil Taylor was particularly good, reflecting candidly on the decisions made in the third Arden Hamlet. I then had my own seminar on "Magic and the Occult in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries." This was a fun discussion, which focussed particularly on the (apparent) decline in magical belief/representation, and the problems of discussing magic in a sceptical age. I was disappointed not to manage to talk more about my own paper, but I received good written feedback and had chats with people afterwards, so felt like I got a great deal out of the seminar. In the evening I saw a student production of The Winter's Tale, starring several of the efficient conference assistants.
Day Three gave us the best plenary, Martin Hilsky on "Shakespeare's Theatre of Language: Czech Experience". With detailed discussion of particular examples, Hilsky introduced us to the problems of translation, arguing for remaining faithful to the playfulness of language rather than the words themselves. The translation of puns, double-meanings, ambiguities of gender and reference etc. into another tongue is perhaps the closest form of close-reading there is, and Hilsky was superb in his explanation of the potential. Next, "Shakespeare Illustrated" combined an interesting paper on labyrinths by Sophie Chiari with a typically fascinating look at Fuseli by Stephen Orgel. The day concluded with "International Perspectives on Shakespearean Theatre Reviewing", a lively seminar chaired by Paul Prescott, Peter Smith and Janice Valls-Russell which was a thematic sequel to the conference I participated in in Stratford two years ago. The issues remain live, but the international scope drew particular attention to problems of translation and reviewer expertise, and it'll be interesting to see the ouctomes of the seminar.
Wednesday's plenary speaker was Marjorie Garber, with the most purely entertaining (if less "academic") paper on "Czech Mates: When Shakespeare Met Kafka". The best parts of this featured in-depth discussion of the infinite number of monkeys mathematical problem, with the immortal line "One infinite monkey will suffice." The rest of the day was given over to sightseeing, and a gorgeous conference dinner at the castle.
Thursday began with Djanet Sears, formerly of this parish, discussing her play Harlem Duet. I love the play, and Djanet spoke fascinatingly to it, although I did think that the extensive quotation was perhaps overkill - I most enjoyed her discussion of the influences that went into creating it. The general meeting followed, with announcement that the next Congress would take place in Stratford-upon-Avon or Montpellier, both exciting venues. An afternoon panel session on "The Queen of Bohemia's Wedding" featured three great papers by Nadine Akkerman, James Marino and especially Richard Preiss, who discussed Bartholomew Fair in the context of the amalgamated, and therefore ambiguous, Lady Elizabeth's Men. I then went to a seminar on "2000-2009: A Decade of Shakespeare in Performance." Several delegates discussed Bond, which I wasn't a huge fan of, but which acted as a nice contrast to the discussion of institutional British theatres as in Michael Dobson and Christie Carson's papers.
The final day began with a fascinating selection of papers by the Czech director Karel Kriz, the dramaturge Vlasta Gallerova and the Georgian director Robert Sturua on "Directing Shakespeare: The Cold War Years". While translation was a bit difficult, and the session overran quite tremendously, the speakers (especially Sturua) spoke movingly to the trials of an earlier period and the changes on the world stage. In the afternoon, Marion O'Connor chaired two sterling papers by Anthony Parr and Lucy Munro, the latter of which was particularly interesting to me, focussing as it did on casting in the Caroline period and the ways in which we can read casting strategies into dramaturgy. I think we still lack a sophisticated enough methodology to talk persuasively about this, but Lucy convinced me that it can be done. Finally, a fine panel on "Expectations, Experience, and Experimentation in Shakespeare's Theatre". The main question raised here was of how we judge audience satisfaction - as opposed to success - and the speakers raised a series of fascinating perspectives. Immediately after that, we moved on to the residence of the US ambassador for closing speeches and free champagne.
Huge congratulations to the organising committee, especially the ever-affable Nick Walton and Martin Prochazka who ran events with wit and grace. I had some extremely useful and exciting meetings while I was there, and am now feeling fired up for the final month of my thesis. Very much hoping I can get back to Prague again soon.