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August 31, 2011

Sixty Minutes with Shakespeare

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The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's official response to the Authorship Question will be going live tomorrow! Sign up at the website I'm one of sixty scholars contributing a sixty-second podcast to a big batch of questions designed to show the wider contexts of Shakespeare's writing which mean that, fundamentally, only he could have written the plays (within certain stipulations - my own contribution is about the prevalence of collaboration during the period, for example).

I'm also in a line-up of mugs alongside people like Stephen Fry, Dan Snow, Antony Sher, Michael Wood and Simon Callow, as well as many of the leading academics in my field. I'm imagining this event's going to make a bit of noise...

July 24, 2011

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.

April 12, 2011

Shakespeare Association of America Annual Conference 2011

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I’ve spent most of the last week on the other side of the Atlantic, at the thirty-ninth annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Bellevue, Washington. This was my first SAA and, in fact, my first international trip for a conference, and I’m now deeply regretting not having been previously. While I was prepared for the size, scale and prestige of the event, I was pleasantly surprised by the generosity and friendliness of the overwhelming majority of people I interacted with, and by how (relatively) relaxed a community this was.

I began the conference with a rehearsed reading of A Yorkshire Tragedy organised by Jeremy Lopez and the team at Shakespeare Bulletin, an amusing round-the-table affair which, perhaps inevitably, found the play funny rather than tragic (I ended up playing the Wife during the big fight scene…). Although I was still horrifically jetlagged, it was a fun start to the event and a great chance to meet people before the official opening.

Thursday offered a gentle opening to the conference proper. I attended a paper session on “Actors as Shakespeare Critics” featuring Gail Marshall delivering a version of a paper she trialled earlier in the year at the London Shakespeare seminar on the notes of Victorian Shakespeare actresses such as Sarah Siddons; Denis Salter on Henry Irving’s revolutionary “evil” Macbeth; and Richard Schoch on a satire of Collier’s forgeries called “The Grimaldi Shakespeare” which anticipated some of the more substantial critiques leading to the denouncing of the Perkins Folio.

This was followed by Charlotte Scott’s seminar on “The Book on Stage”, which was importantly relevant to the seminar in which I was participating (on which, more later). It hardly does justice to a two hour seminar featuring a range of fascinating papers to try and trace the conversation, particularly when I of course hadn’t seen any of the papers, but suffice to say this was a wide-ranging discussion which covered the pedagogical implications of books; the problems of textuality in a contemporary culture whose verbal and material words are ever more widely-dispersed; and the use of the book as a theatrical space.

In the evening, we adjourned to another hotel a block away for a lively opening reception, before a group of us returned for the Taiwan BangZi Opera Company performing Bond (discussed over on The Bardathon) which, although I didn’t enjoy it much myself, provided a great deal of discussion over the next couple of days.

Friday began with the annual Graduate Breakfast, a lovely opportunity to meet other doctoral candidates and the trustees of the Association (and, on a personal level, I was very pleased to get the chance to have a proper conversation with Suzanne Gossett, whose work I hugely admire). The plenary session followed, boasting an outstanding paper by Laurie Maguire on the multiple uses, meanings and implications of “Etc.” in early modern texts. This was one of those rare talks that awake your mind to the importance of something you’ve seen a million times but never thought critically about: how a phrase signifying implied continuation carries euphemistic, rhetorical, commonplace and censorious meanings. Bradin Cormack followed with discussion of thy/their slippages in emendations of the sonnets, and then Stephen Orgel presented a characteristically entertaining paper entitled “Textual Narratives” which addressed the theoretical problems of editorial clarification of textual problems, our need to resolve a dramatic text.

A panel on “Memorialising Shakespeare” followed that covered some fascinating ground. Ramie Targoff discussed the implications of tombs as related to Romeo and Juliet, exploring the cultural purpose of epitaphs and communal burials and, most interestingly, the problematic role of Paris in the group burial. Karen Brown addressed the pedagogic use of memorisation of Shakespeare and its role in his canonisation; while Alan Stewart offered a history of memorial reconstruction predating Greg’s conceptualisation, suggesting a more sophisticated approach that combines misrememberings/mishearings of the ear with the work of poets and misreadings. The annual luncheon followed, with an hilarious address from president Russ McDonald.

I spent the afternoon in part two of Leslie Thomson’s split seminar on “Lacunae in Theatre History” with an august group (Ros Knutson, John Jowett and David Kathmann all feature prominently in my thesis, and the chance to hear even these three in conversation let alone the other exciting members, was too good to pass up). The debate was extremely lively, discussing in great depth the methodology of theatre history. I’m hugely interested in the question of how we construct narratives: several panellists gave reiterated warnings about the danger of making assumptions when we know so little; while at the same time others argued that the role of the literary historian is to attempt to make responsible sense of what information we do have. Thomas More got discussed at some length too, raising some questions I’ll need to revisit in revising my current chapter.

A reception celebrating the fortieth anniversary of English Literary Renaissance followed, with tributes and, more importantly, free champagne. Following that, I escaped for my only substantial conference break to Seattle itself, with dinner in a gorgeous seafood restaurant overlooking the bay with mountain views, and an impromptu seminar on wine selections.

Saturday was overshadowed by preparation for my own seminar in the last session of the day, but that didn’t prevent me from attending some great papers. I was part of a breakfast focus group for the Arden Shakespeare in the morning (some very exciting developments happening with their online content), then went to the appropriately-themed “Editing Shakespeare” seminar. I was too late for most of A.R. Braunmuller’s paper on his experience of editing Measure for Measure, but thoroughly enjoyed Alan Galey’s research on digital editing, which located the new possibilities of the computer within older discourses of lithographic reprinting and the like. I had hugely looked forward to “Alfred W. Pollard Redux” delivered by one of my academic heroes, Paul Werstine, and was horrified when at first he appeared to be about to do a much better version of my fourth chapter, beginning with comments on the RSC Shakespeare and the conflict between the Folio-ideology and the requirements of a Complete Works. Happily, he moved instead to a discussion of emendations and a revival of Pollard’s views on the quartos being closer than the Folio to performance texts.

I skipped the next session in order to re-read my own paper, but after lunch came the close contender to the plenary session for Most Inspiring Set of Papers. “Beyond Playbooks” featured three extraordinary scholars: Richard Preiss, James J. Marino and Tiffany Stern. Preiss presented his work on the role of audiences, discussing the unreported (in textual form, at least) contribution of early modern audiences to the plays they attended and the importance of taking into account the experientiality of which playbooks can only give us a distant suggestion. Marino addressed the significant problem of the dominance of textual scholarship by editorial practice, calling for a reclarification of our textual study and a new focus on questions that do not pertain to editorial ends, such as the part-based revision of Romeo and Juliet, of which he gave a compelling account. Lastly, Stern discussed early modern fairs and their significance for Shakespeare’s plays. I hadn’t realised that Bartholomew Fair (and the associated Southwark Fair) ran for over 700 years from 1133 for a month of the year, and that its Southwark location was so close to the theatres. Stern discussed anecdotes of entertainments and their close corollaries in references made by Shakespeare’s characters; while also tracing the survival of Shakespearean characters in fair entertainments. This importantly changes our understanding of how a play circulated in culture, with characters in particular surviving independently of the plays they originated in and a performative understanding of popular entertainment crossing authorial and chronological boundaries.

My own panel, on “Shakespeare For Sale”, featured a range of “book geeks” (not my phrase!) from the well-established to the junior (ie me): Douglas Bruster, Peter Berek, Fran Connor, Alan Farmer, Sarah Neville, Tara Lyons, Emma Depledge, Vimala Pasaputhi, Christina Furtado and Ryan Zurowski, with Adam Hooks convening and chairing. The conversation was hugely stimulating. Methodological problems similar to those brought up in the theatre history seminar were raised, about how we draw narratives from the available evidence and what we can reasonably hope to know; and the ways we interpret that evidence were particularly up for grabs – what does the fact of reprinting actually tell us? How much can we glean about the way readers chose and collated books? I’m less knowledgable about these issues, but learned a great deal from both papers and discussion. The other major strand had more direct implications, as we discussed how authors are constituted and circulated through print. Questions of anthologising, serialising, reading out of order and the role of prologues, title pages and other paratexts are some of my favourite and, while I don’t have the space to go into detail here, will be directly formative on my work as I hit the final redrafts.

Dinner followed, and the conference closed with the infamous Malone Society dance. Which won’t be spoken of further here.

On a professional level, the conference was hugely stimulating and a great motivation at a time when I sorely need it; and the opportunity to talk to such a range of academics was enthusiastically embraced. On a personal level, I managed to catch up with several old friends and make a great many new ones; and the flight home with a 747 full of Shakespeareans was a lovely way to end, even if I regretted the lack of sleep the next day. I’m already looking forward to Boston in 2012.

November 09, 2010

The Gesture Lab and London Shakespeare Seminar

A busy weekend in London. Last Friday to Sunday saw the Gesture Lab take place at Shakespeare's Globe, then on Monday the London Shakespeare Seminar welcomed Evelyn Tribble and Roslyn Knutson. I hung about for both, while also getting in some dedicated British Library time on an article I've been preparing for hopeful publication.

The Gesture Lab, organised by Farah Karim-Cooper, brought together scholars and practitioners to interrogate the role of gesture in theory and production. This included: exploration of early modern gesture manuals and the information they provide regarding early modern methods of communication and stage presentation; the conscious use of gesture in actor training and in the creation of performance; the interpretation of unconscious and deliberate gesture by audiences; and the problems of understanding and representing gesture in textual and historical practice.

I won't go into the papers in great detail, but the range of presentations was extremely stimulating. Special mention must be made of Paul Menzer and Thadd McQuade's indescribable double-act that opened the conference, which introduced most of the key theoretical debates in a lucid, hilarious and interactive presentation unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It also set the tone for a fantastically integrated event that kept up a coherent conversation throughout the three days, despite a range of disciplines as varied as actor education, theatre history and behavioural psychology, in Geoff Beattie's introduction to his research on unconscious gesture (Beattie famous to many television viewers as the on-screen psychologist for Big Brother!).

The practical workshops, meanwhile, grew organically out of the debates and allowed us to play with gesture in its own language. Tom Cornford directed a stunning group of actors (including Jamie Ballard, a favourite of mine) through the Closet scene in Hamlet using a range of Chekhovian techniques that used formal gesture to draw out the physical dynamics of the scene. Meanwhile, in the session most relevant to my work, Steve Purcell, Andy Kesson and the Pantaloons took to the Globe stage to try out Robert Weimann's theory of locus and plateau, demonstrating different takes on a number of scenes that took greater or lesser account of the physical environment of the playhouse.

Flash forward to Monday, and Tribble (who presented at both events) gave an enlightening paper on early modern skill. This was followed by Ros Knutson's introduction to the Lost Plays Database, a hugely important new resource that has already done a great deal to rehabilitate the potential of lost plays to inform on our knowledge of theatre history. Knutson's work has been hugely influential on my own thinking, and it was a pleasure to finally get a chance to hear her talk.

I've since come down with flu, which is part of the reason for this extremely cursory overview of the events, but I'm still feeling hugely inspired by the work I've heard over the last few days. I'm already seriously rethinking my approach in sections of two of my chapters, and would love to find a way of thinking more seriously and methodically about gesture and repertory that will benefit the rehabilitation of the apocryphal plays.

October 12, 2010

Arden of Faversham: Inclusions, Exclusions, Transactions

I very much wanted to go to this conference in Paris; however, a combination of unfortunate timing and logistics meant it was impractical, this time at least. However, I understand that this may be a prelude to future conferences on apocryphal plays, and by then (who knows?) I might have even had the chance to learn enough French to follow the other papers!

Papers as follows - I apologise for utilising Google Translator, but they sound fascinating:

Yves Peyre (Montpellier 3) "Ovid-like !" Writing Mythology in Arden of Faversham

Jean-Claude Mailhol (UVHC) Arden of Faversham: Tragedy of Negation and Inversion.

Guinle Francis (Lyon 2) "Arden Must Die!" Chronicle of an Inescapable Death

Anny Crunelle (West Paris) "Holy deeds to despites": a Pilgrimage of (dis)grace?

October 08, 2010

The Big Three

Three big conferences in 2011, all of which I'm hoping to attend, and which I thought I'd link to here.

The Shakespeare Association of Americain Seattle. Seminar registrations for this are now closed, but I did get an application in, so I'm waiting to hear if I've assigned to a seminar; and, if so, which one.

The World Shakespeare Congress in Prague. This one only comes around every five years, and I've been accepted, so looking forward to a week in a city I've always wanted to visit!

The British Shakespeare Association in Cambridge. This year's theme is Shakespeare: Sources and Adaptation. The theme is almost a little bit too relevant to my research interests, and I'm still trying to think how I can boil down my work to a paper. Interestingly, though, the CFP suggests paper presentations rather than seminar papers, which I have to say is my preferred format.

I've done a lot of things so far during this PhD, but international conferences are not one of them (apart from international conferences held in the UK, which I'm not counting). I find these big conferences difficult to pitch for, so hoping to make the most of all three.

September 26, 2010

Hoffman Symposium, Magdalen College, Oxford

There was an exciting moment towards the conclusion of this, a one-day conference on Henry Chettle's The Tragedy of Hoffman, where a delegate finally asked a question that I'd been expecting to come up much earlier: "How does this play fit in with the rest of the Chettle canon?" It wasn't so much the answer that interested me (although there was an entertaining pause as everyone tried to remember what else was in the Chettle canon) as the fact that the question hadn't previously come up in a day of intense discussion of this one play. This, to me, was an exciting demonstration of the forms discussion can take when "authors" take a back seat to wider issues of repertory, genre and performance.

The day began with a fully-staged reading of Hoffman based on John Jowett's edition of the play (which I didn't realise existed, having only encountered the play in the Malone Society reprint), and directed by Elisabeth Dutton, which I've discussed over at The Bardathon. Even though 10.15am on a gloriously sunny Saturday morning is not my preferred time to watch obscure revenge tragedy, this was a truly inspired way to begin a conference. Levels of familiarity with the play ranged from the intimate to the uninitiated, so Dutton's clear, provocative and thoroughly entertaining production gave the delegates some common ground and raw material for the rest of the day's discussions.

Despite an extraordinarily distinguished line-up of contributors - one panel alone saw Dutton responded to by Andrew Gurr, John Jowett, Manfred Draudt, Brian Gibbons and Katherine Duncan-Jones - a collegiate spirit informed conference proceedings, even to the extent that co-organiser Emma Smith sacrificed her own short paper on Hamlet, Hoffman and Antonio to facilitate longer open discussion. Conversation pursued a number of topics: Draudt gave a detailed introduction to the play's geography, Tom Rutter argued for the play as a response to Hamlet specifically geared towards the skills of the Admiral's Men, and there was a great deal of lively debate over the role of Lorrique, dually prompted by George Oppitz-Trotman's paper on the type of the revenging servant and Nicholas Shrimpton's stunning performance in the role.

What emerged, from my perspective at least, was a fascinating range of responses to the play that situated it, not within an authorial framework, but within the more interesting "canon" of revenge tragedy, Admiral's Men's plays and the drama of the early 1600s. The close relationship between the play and Revenger's Tragedy was continually referred to, particularly prompted by the presence throughout the panels of the skeleton borrowed from Oxford Medical School for the production; but I was perhaps more fascinated by assertions of the play's later influence on Webster as well. As someone mentioned at lunch, we have a bad habit of considering a play a "failure" when it doesn't seem to have been reprinted; yet the mere fact of Hoffman being printed at all in 1631 seems to allow for the possibility of a powerful and influential stage history. That the play may have some resonance with the theatre of the Caroline era is, too, a tempting thought.

On a side note, the presence of the skeleton perhaps encouraged people to take the image too literally, and one sideline of discussion found people wondering how a skeleton would have been represented on the early modern stage - a picture or a real one? The quarto, however (as far as I can see) only specifies a "body" in stage directions - I imagine the most obvious, and perhaps very effective, early modern staging solution would have been to have an actor "play" Hoffman's dead father, maybe even capitalising more strongly on the visual recollection of Spanish Tragedy and allowing for an interesting build-up of bodies as Charles and Lorrique are added to the grisly display.

I'm already getting excited again thinking about the event. The intersection of performative exploration and academic discussion was an extremely fruitful one, and I do hope this is a model increasingly followed at Malone Society events. Congratulations to all involved; I'm already trying to think of ways I might crowbar the play into my thesis.....

September 15, 2010

Early Modern Exclusions @ The University of Portsmouth

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Rosie Paice introduced yesterday's interdisciplinary conference on "Exclusions" in the Early Modern Period as having emerged from a conference last year on "Amity". What is included in the language of amity, community, friendship and unified society is defined not only by the positive bonds that tie people and institutions together, but also by the "other" that they define themselves against. It's a fascinating concept, and one with enormous relevance to my own project on the "Apocrypha", a group of plays unified by their exclusion from an authorised canon.

This one-day conference was, as a result, one of the most fascinating I've been to. Naomi Tadmor kicked the event off with her keynote lecture on social exclusion, a tightly historical paper attending to the rules and rhetoric surrounding certain exclusions, particularly those enacted on the family unit; tales of enforced marriage, parish "banishment" and the self-regulating practices of gossip and informing that kept communities in line.

The fascinating thing as an auditor in the first two parallel sessions was that, despite the historical specificity of the exclusion narratives discussed, the same issues and ideas kept presenting themselves: the limits of physical exclusion as a way of ultimately marginalising socially excluded figures; the ghettoising of excluded groups and the policing of those borders. Marion Pluskota's paper on prostitution in Bristol and Nantes made an observation that particularly resonated with me; that the authorities generally took action against bawdy houses only when the activities of the house impinged on the wider community; ie in case of disturbances or violence. Stories of "out of sight, out of mind" repeatedly surfaced. Elena Taddia's discussion of Genoese plans to marginalise illegitimate children, shipping them off to Corsica, perhaps best illustrated the questions of morality raised.

A fascinating panel on "Protestantism and Exclusion" followed. Daniel Trocme Latter gave an extremely interesting paper Huguenot settings of Psalms; and Rosie Paice discussed issues of translation arising from Paradise Lost, relating this to anxiety over Biblical translations and the purpose of translation itself; issues of supreme importance which I'm more used to hearing in a contemporary context, but even more powerfully relevant here. Naya Tsentourou, meanwhile, examined early modern prayer manuals and the performativity of prayer despite instructions to remove the body to the "closet"; raising fascinating questions of the intended audience - the self or God? Tsentourou plans to relate this to closet drama, and I'll be extremely interested to see where this work takes her. The idea of private performativity is, it seems, sorely under-explored.

My own panel on "Staging Exclusion" drew a small but extremely generous audience. My paper, as you might expect, dealt with textual exclusions, focussing on the 1610 additions Mucedorus; first arguing for the role of the additions in reshaping the play as an old-fashioned romance in order to distinguish it from the new tragicomedy, particularly muting the "surprise ending" of the original; and then following through the implications of Mucedorus's perceived identity for his actions throughout the play, especially those dealing with Bremo, the wild man of the woods. I think, unintentionally, I also sold the play as a great piece of theatre! I was preceded by Richard Chamberlain, previewing his new book on Shakespeare's "refusers" - the characters who refuse to "play" and exempt themselves from amity and conviviality in deliberately disruptive and discomfitting ways. The really innovative thing about Chamberlain's work is seeing these characters, not as exceptiosn to a general rule of concord, but as key to an understanding of the plays' larger conceptions of community. Focussing on Troilus and Cressida, Thersites and Achilles were offered as two types of refuser: the active and the passive. Achilles' refusal to participate, and the destruction wrought by it, makes him one of the most powerful "refusers" in the canon. Louise Denmead, meanwhile, attended to plays I'm far less familiar with (Fletcher's The Knight of Malta and Monsieur Thomas, Massinger's The Parliament of Love and Brome's The English Moore) to highlight the discourses surrounding black maids. These characters are treated as licentious, in control of their own sexual identities and frequently (intended) substitutes in bed-tricks. The fear of the other, and their degradation as sexually available and immoral, contributes to a subset of intersecting discourses that become embodied in the black, female body. I was disturbed, listening to Denmead's paper, to think how endemic this has become to the point where white characters who fulfil similar functions - Emilia and Bianca, Diana in All's Well, Margaret in Much Ado - are frequently played by black actors on the modern stage.

The really great thing about the day, though, was that it was one of the friendliest small conferences I've been to, decamping to the pub immediately after the last panel and allowing breaks to run over in order that we could continue the ongoing discussions; and due to that, I got a great deal more out of it than I could have expected. Lovely to finally visit Portsmouth, great to meet so many interesting people, and I'm now feeling newly inspired and confident to rebuild the relevant section of my chapter.

June 21, 2010

Britgrad 2010

I'm not long back from this year's British Graduate Shakespeare Conference at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford. It was my fourth time at Britgrad, third as a presenter, and it remains one of my favourite conferences. It's laid back, packed with interesting stuff, and they serve strawberry cheesecake - what's not to like?

I won't even begin to attempt to list or describe every panel I went to, but just pick out a few of the most relevant highlights for my own work.

The plenaries this year were excitingly relevant for me, concentrating as they did on textual issues and editions. Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen began the three days by discussing their dual projects: the Folio-based RSC Shakespeare and the new Collaborative Plays volume. Of course, these are the books to which I'm attached as a PhD student, so the discussions weren't particularly new to me, but it was exceptionally useful to be able to say, whenever anyone during the conference asked what I was doing, "I'm working on the book Jonathan and Eric were talking about" - very useful shorthand! Rasmussen did offer some useful points which I hadn't considered, however, such as the suggestion that the 1633 Pericles and 1634 Two Noble Kinsmen were published as deliberate supplements to the 1632 second Folio. That's obviously a very useful context within which to put the myriad appearances of apocryphal plays, especially those printed in the third Folio, so I'll be able to build this in to my first chapter.

On a related note, Rasmussen's dissection of the reviews of the edition was extremely amusing - I hadn't noticed the volume of reviewers who attacked the "yellowness" of the book!

The extremely lovely and approachable Emma Smith was the final plenary speaker, bringing the conference full-circle with a discussion of reading the First Folio. Methodologically, this was of real use to me. I'm offering, in my first chapter, an imagined reader response to the 1734 volume of Shakespeare's works published by Robert Walker, which was the first collected edition of Shakespeare to mix up the order of the plays. Smith's acute paper explored the implications of sequential reading, arguing that the lack of paratextual connections between the texts as printed in the First Folio suggests that there was no systematic effort to ensure sequential consistency - to wit, that the reorganising of history effectively began and ended on the title page. It's a fasinating thought that's going to help shape my own writing. Most important is the point that sequence does not dictate interpretation; however, it does allow for different possibilities of reading: we are not forced to see the plays in sequence, but equally their positioning in sequence allows the reader to draw meaning from this sequence (as, obviously, has happened in the twentieth century as the history plays became an integrated cycle). I was also intrigued by the possibility that, although speech prefixes are not made consistent in a literary sense throughout individual plays, the examples Smith used of changing names (e.g. both Antipholi in Comedy of Errors are, at different times, "E. Anti"), there may appear to be an attempt to create experiential consistency: stage directions always clarified in a linear fashion how the speech prefixes that followed were to be interpreted. It would be interesting to follow this through the First Folio and see if there is an attempt to impose this kind of linear consistency on the plays, which may perhaps suggest a rigorous form of editing, even if with a different end.

The big speaker on Day 2 was the affable David Bevington, speaking on issues related to his new book on Shakespearean biography. I've been thinking a great deal about biography this year, partly because my supervisor has written two (sort of) biographies of Shakespeare, and partly because I increasingly believe it's got a major rolle to play in perpetuating the anti-Stratfordian practice. As I suggested to Bevington, it seems to me that the vast majority of Shakespeare biographers (whether anti-Stratfordians or orthodox) are drawn to the gaps; that it's the ability to create the "Shakespeare" that we want that perpetuates the Shakespeare Biography industry - as seen by the conflicting accounts (which Bevington drew particular attention to) of whether Shakespeare was Catholic or Protestant. I'll be extremely interested to read his book, and his talk reminded me of how useful biography can be in helping flesh out an understanding of the author's work; however, I remain convinced that the divide between biography and works needs to be far more clearly delineated, otherwise we open ourselves up to methodological critique and, essentially, imaginative fiction rather than historical research.

Among the main panels (as exciting as the plenaries are, the graduate panels are invariably far more important), Titus Andronicus was this year's black, along with romances and Macbeth. The standard of papers was extremely high this year, I thought (and I'm not just saying that!), so I'll just pick out a couple which were of particular use to me: Micah Coston's work on the Folio's "brothers and sisters" usefully contextualised the printing culture in which the book was created and sold, as well as indulging in the kind of paratextual reading of publishers' rhetoric that I'm myself extremely partial to. On the same panel, Enrico Scarevelli alerted me to aspects of the 1616 Jonson Folio paratext that I hadn't appreciated the significance of. Briony Frost discussed the Jacobean succession and the response of the wider print culture to James' own printings, which will be extremely helpful in fleshing out my own section on The London Prodigal's relationship to the Jacobean Moment. The panel on objects of significance on the early modern stage was helpful to me, not in the specific contents (which were deeply fascinating), but in the wider questions raised of physical dramaturgy and significance.

Kate Harvey's paper on the Animated Tales was one of the most fun papers of the second day, very much the kind of thing I originally wanted to do PhD research on, and a particular quote in relation to puppetry - that it's not the poses in stop-motion that create movement, but what happens in the spaces between them - gave me an oddly useful way into thinking about textual spaces, expanded by Emma Smith in her discussion of the absence of paratextual connections between supposedly linked plays. Rebecca Warren-Heys discussed "forward recollection" in the history plays more broadly and Richard II in particular, which was helpful theoretical contextualisation for the continuing arguments about the priority of Woodstock and Richard II that has become so central to the authorship debate surrounding the former play. Alison Stewart's paper on the Histories had a similar relevance to my work, thinking about the importance of the History plays as a sequence and how that has tied in to particular cultura moments.

The final thing I must mention is my own panel. I was part of a plenary discussion of Double Falsehood, presenting my paper on the play's inclusion in the Arden Shakespeare. The fundamental premise of my paper was that, although we now talk of different authorial paradigms as applied to Shakespeare's and ideas of what being "Shakespearean" means, canonicity is still dominated by attribution studies that prioritise linguistic evidence over all else, which serves to keep plays with potential minimal contributions in a state of neglect. My argument was that the inclusion of Double Falsehood in a Shakespeare series is an important part of a movement that sees canonicity as a beginning point for discussion rather than an end result, opening up a discursive and porous authorial canon - if an 18th century adaptation of an adaptation can be usefully considered "Shakespearean", then canon may no longer be functioning as a limiting entity.

I was sharing the panel with two keynote speakers, John Jowett of the Institute and Greg Doran of the RSC. The discussion with Jowett was particularly useful to me, highlighting as it did the important questions of how we define the word "Shakespearean" (as I explained to Jowett afterwards, the essential core exploration of my thesis) and how we reconcile shifting theories of a porous canon in material books. It's my hope that online editions will ultimately democratise literature so that canons can be instantaneously broken down and reconstituted in myriad forms, but this is a long way off, and certainly we need to think more seriously about how, right now, we begin integrating Shakespeare's canon with other authorial canons and with other networks of "authorship". Doran then discussed his forthcoming production of Cardenio, which will utilise bits of Double Falsehood in what will be a dramatised production of Shelton's translation of the Cardenio episodes from Don Quixote. It'll be a fascinating imaginative version, hopefully, and Doran's comments on what he sees as the inherent unfitness for stage of Double Falsehood were extremely interesting, particularly his belief that the play lacks two scenes: Henriquez's seduction of Violante, and Leonara's liberation from the nunnery. I agree on the second, though am not sure on the first - how often does one see a rape onstage in the early modern drama? The surviving treatment is perfunctory, but is still logically coherent.

I attended several other panels and papers, including some really stunning discussions of Titus, useful papers on genre and stage conventions, and much more, so apologies that I've only taken the time to discuss the ones with direct impact on my own work. It was, as ever, a fab conference, and from a personal point of view I left it with a real buzz - really appreciate the opportunity the committee gave me this year, and I've made some extremely important contacts for the future. Now, sadly, back to the day job.

May 25, 2010

Excluding Mucedorus

I've just had a paper accepted for a conference entitled Early Modern Exclusions, to be held at the University of Portsmouth in September, which I'm already very much looking forward to. The paper is to be called

"A Prince and His Play in Exile: The Excluding Practices of the 1610 Additions to Mucedorus."

This is a paper I'm excited to write, as not only does it come directly out of bits of my thesis that I've already written (as opposed to other conferences, where I seem to end up writing papers based on chapters that I haven't yet begun), but it'll allow me to give a reading of the play itself, as well as the paratextual materials and bibliographic practices which I usually talk about.

It's also the first non-graduate student conference at which I'll be presenting on my apocryphal research. I've given apocrypha papers to a number of grad conferences, and talks on reviewing/performance/pedagogy to larger conferences, but this'll be a great opportunity for me to bring my PhD study to a wider audience of early modern academics.


I’m Peter Kirwan, a final year doctoral student in the English Department at Warwick, and this is my PhD blog.

Conferences, reviews, articles, thoughts and links relating to my interests in the Shakespeare apocrypha, early modern drama, authorship and performance.

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  • Congratulations. by Andrew on this entry
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