All entries for November 2010

November 29, 2010

Sidelights on Shakespeare – inaugural seminar

Sidelights on Shakespeare: Wednesday 1st DecemberSidelights on Shakespeare

A new interdisciplinary seminar series

Professor Gary Watt (School of Law)

"Shakespeare and Cultures of Proof: An Interdisciplinary Study in Law and Humanities."

Wednesday 1st December, 5pm. Ramphal Building R0.03/4, Library Road, University of Warwick.

William Shakespeare is one of the most widely circulated and recycled literary figures of all time. His person has been appropriated as a spokesman (and apologist) for theoretical, philosophical, political, nationalistic and religious agendas; his plays have been translated and performed in every context from the early modern stage to POW camps, colonial projects to council estates, and bourgeois theatres to civil uprisings; his words are part of the everyday lexicon of business, law, sport, fashion and entertainment; and his works remain a strange source from which myriad interpretation continues to be richly drawn.

This seminar series embraces the plurality of Shakespeare(s), historical and contemporary, and offers unusual and thought-provoking perspectives from scholars working in a diverse range of faculties, disciplines and theoretical fields. Through sideways explorations of the ways in which aspects of Shakespeare are interpreted, packaged, enlisted and attacked, the series aims to illuminate what it is that continues to make Shakespeare so broadly important. 

Series organisers: Alice Leonard ; Peter Kirwan

The shape of things to come

On Saturday, I submitted the first full draft of my fourth, and final, chapter to my supervisor for critique. I say "draft", but this probably suggests something far more sophisticated than I've actually created. I prefer to think of it as my first Technical Rehearsal. The shape of the thing is there, the length and the timing, and it's fully blocked and plotted. However, there are still key components missing, still a lot of elements - the actors, if you will - to be carefully integrated.

Nonetheless, it's a big step. I now have a full 80,000 word dry-run of the whole thing, minus Introduction and Conclusion. While the research/planning stage is essential in shaping my ideas, I find that it's only in the act of writing that I really understand what I'm doing. Now I've reached the end, I can step back and see the whole. There's a great deal still to be done, but now I know what that is.

Chapter Four has ended up being structured around canon theory. I'd been worried about it being essentially a long review essay, but I think and hope it's now much more sophisticated. Taking in turn the RSC Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Oxford Collected Middleton and, in massive shift, the RSC Complete Works Festival, I discuss paradigms of canonicity and completeness, comparing and contrasting the theoretical principles on which the bibliographic, the authorial and the performative canon are made "complete".

I'm still building up the canon arguments. Much canon debate centres around the exclusion of minority groups and the political/ideological mechanics that determine the classics. My work is less political, but the language of selection/exclusion in canon theory, and an understanding of the institutions that invest "significant" works with cultural capital is directly transferable to the determination of the "Complete Works".

Ultimately, I end up arguing that "completeness" - and, indeed, the adjective "Shakespearean" - are highly subjective and contingent concepts, that shift according to purpose and defy homogeneity. The repertoire, however, offers a far more productive understanding of canon as a fluid pool of works that fade in and out of fashion, and act collectively to authorise new and fringe works alongside the canonical. The idea that we might be able to move away from a consumer-led desire for the "complete" and accept a more democratic, flexible formation of canon that removes the boundaries of separation is perhaps currently impractical; but my guess is that the electronic text (allowing playlist style selection of linked plays according to the researcher's interests) may well be the medium through which canonical boundaries finally become truly porous.

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.


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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