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June 14, 2011

Cardenio in Conversation

Writing about web page

The wonderful people at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have made a talk that I attended on Saturday available online. This was a conversation between Tiffany Stern and Greg Doran on the subject of Cardenio, chaired by Paul Edmondson of this parish.

It was a wonderful discussion, with Greg talking in detail about the history of his relationship with the play and adaptation, and Tiffany eloquently stating her case for scepticism over Double Falsehood. Happily, I don't need to report further, because you can listen for yourself:

Cardenio in Conversation

February 03, 2011

Early Modern London Theatres Database now online

Writing about web page

On Tuesday, I attended the launch of the new Early Modern London Theatres website. Connected to the Records of Early English Drama project, which is producing a frankly terrifying amount of data about the material conditions of early modern theatre, this database is a major new resource for theatre historians.

The strengths of the site are in the detail. It not only provides a bibliography of all early evidence pertaining to the theatres, companies and personnel of the London stage, but also provides a (reasonably comprehensive) guide to where that early evidence has been reprinted and discussed. It thus becomes not only a bibliography, but a study of historical interpretation. The Learning Zone section of the website gives a demonstration of the potential in relation to the Cockpit Riots.

I have a couple of initial reservations, based on my experience testing the first draft of the site, but these are to be resolved. The timelines of data are very busy at the moment, and require some patience to interpret. I'm also slightly uncomfortable with the 'faceted search' option, which has the potential both to open up entirely new areas for exploration but also to lead people down dead ends as they follow through the pre-determined categories. These are only user-based quibbles though; and with a database of this scope and variety, one might argue that there is no search mechanism that could fully open up the available data.

What I hope the website does allow in time is for users to upload their own lesson plans using the database. The Learning Zone is an ideal example; but I'm not sure how many theatre courses might cover the Cockpit riots. It'll be fascinating to see how academics use this opportunity to expand their own teaching.

January 17, 2011

Next Sidelights on Shakespeare Seminar – Jonathan Bate on 'Shakespeare's Olympic Moment'

Sidelights on Shakespeare

Sidelights on Shakespeare

Professor Jonathan Bate
(Dept. of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick)

Shakespeare's Olympic Moment: On Preparing an Exhibition for the Round Reading Room of the British Museum.


January 12, 2011

Arts Faculty Postgrad Seminar – Wednesday 19th January

The Arts Faculty Seminar Series

invites you
to their next session

on Wednesday, 19th January (Week 2)
in the Wolfson Research Exchange.
Pre-session snacks and chat from 4.45, papers start at 5.00.

This time be assured to find much ado about that which is but what is not, with
Alice Leonard’s 'Nothing' in Shakespeare

And then, leap over what may be digested in a play, from the be-all to the start-all and end-all, listening to

Daniel Ward’s
Prologues and Epilogues in Restoration Drama

The heated debate stirred and tempered by

Pete Kirwan

Snacks and drinks will be provided.

The Arts Faculty Seminar Series is sponsored by the English and the Italian Department, and the HRC.

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

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.

May 07, 2009

Drinking Habits in Shakespeare

Fascinating lunchtime paper yesterday, given by Rebecca Lemon of the University of Southern California. Concerned with the scenes of drinking and representations of alcohol in Shakespeare's plays, Lemon believes there is a prevailing view of these scenes as essentially convivial and celebratory. While there are naturally dark elements attached to them, performance and criticism revels in the communality of these scenes, the festival atmosphere, the joyous challenges to authority and the nostalgia of freedom and relaxation.

Lemon's paper posed a counter-argument to this reading, positioning herself (reluctantly!) as a "critical Malvolio". Her belief is that the idea that these scenes promote merry drinking is untenable, and instead finds them almost invariably to pose warnings about the tyranny and dangers of drink, and the people who employ it.

The prevailing view makes the critical examination of drink difficult. To question merriment is, in Lemon's view, to question art and inspiration, to come in from the position of 'official' culture and criticise 'folk' culture. However, Lemon feels that Shakespeare's drinking scenes similarly critique conviviality and the loss of control that drinking entails.

Lemon's key text was Othello 2.3. In Lemon's reading, the threat to Cassio is conviviality itself. To refuse to drink, to engage in the rituals of pledge-drinking, can be seen as unsociable and even disloyal. Despite his "unhappy brains for drinking", social custom overrules his acknowledged infirmity and therefore leaves him vulnerable to Iago's schemes. Social law tyrannically governs necessity and sense.

There is also a large meta-critique going on, which I found particularly interesting: the idea that audiences themselves are drawn into these scenes and swept along. The drinking scene in Othello provides a perfect example, if we imagine early audiences (themselves very possibly drinking) being swept along by the festival atmosphere of the scene and themselves becoming Iago's dupes, buying into the celebration and allowing themselves to forget that Iago is only pretending to be drunk, that the festivities are carefully orchestrated.

In this, I was reminded heavily of Filter Theatre's recent Twelfth Night, which turned that play's drinking scene into an epic party that included the whole theatre. To less sinister effect, Lemon's theory was played out for real in that environment - the audience, having rolled in from the pub for this late performance, bought into the party and were happy to put the play on hold, revelling in the celebrations and forgetting that we were supposed to be quiet, that this was an illicit party, that there was a play going on at all. No surprise, then, that when Malvolio entered he was booed by the entire auditorium. Here, the scene of festivity was used to deliberately draw along an audience to great dramatic effect.

I found Lemon's thesis convincing, though I have to admit I'd never particularly thought of the drinking scenes as being mere festivity. In particular, as I raised in the seminar, Antony and Cleopatra quite overtly criticises drinking: as the three pillars of the world topple under the influence, tensions rise, murder plots are hatched, latent homosexuality becomes (arguably) overt and the relationships between the rulers of the known world begin their inevitable collapse. However, investigating the ways in which Shakespeare uses and manipulates alcohol theatrically seems to me to be a useful and productive line of inquiry, and I look forward to seeing more of Lemon's research into this.

March 04, 2009

The Face and Figure of Shakespeare (Iain Mackintosh)

Writing about web page

The HRC lecture series at Warwick has been fascinating this year, and this evening's talk was no exception, being particularly relevant to my own research. Iain Mackintosh, a theatre designer (he designed the Cottesloe!) is curating an exhibition opening in April at the Orleans House Gallery entitled The Face and Figure of Shakespeare, which for the first time will be bringing together most of the major sculptures, frontispieces and illustrations of Shakespeare during the 18th century, creating a narrative showing Shakespeare being recast as the national hero.

The talk itself was illuminating, particularly in the context of what I've been hearing (Stuart Sillars etc.) and reading (Jonathan Bate, Gary Taylor, Michael Dobson et. al.) this year so far. The issue of illustration, artistic representation and other visual incarnations of Shakespeare keeps recurring in my investigations into Bardolatry and the rise of Shakespeare as national/cultural icon in the eighteenth century. Yet I'm painfully aware that, as exciting and rich as this area is, it can only be a footnote to my main concern, the apocrypha.

However, the exhibition sounds wonderful. If you go on a Sunday, they are running free shuttle buses to Garrick's Tempe to Shakespeare at Hampton, so you can catch both exhibition and the original sight of Garrick's specially commissioned Roubiliac statue in the same day. Catch it if you can, it runs April 18th - June 7th.

January 19, 2009

Arts Faculty Postgraduate Seminar series – Wednesday 21st January

This Wednesday, I will be presenting a paper at the Arts Faculty Postgraduate Seminar Series entitled:

"Those Wretched Plays: Bardolatry vs. The Shakespeare Canon

This paper discusses the Shakespeare canon, suggesting that the basic 36 play canon we still work from today was founded on bardolatrous - and hence, academically unsound by modern standards - criteria.I demonstrate that the First Folio was only retrospectively installed as the 'holy text' of the Shakespeare religion by the actions of 18th century editors and critics.

In particular, I look at the disputes between Alexander Pope and Lewis Theobald, the editors who returned to the 36 play canon after sixty years of a 43 play canon, and demonstrate that their motives for doing so were unsubstantial, yet their impact irreparable.

Finally, I look ahead to the mid-18th century, to a period where Shakespeare himself was invoked to deny his own involvement in 'those wretched plays', the Shakespeare Apocrypha.

This is based on the very earliest phases of my research, but it's been useful working through the narratives, and there's definitely some original thought in there! Hopefully it'll be an entertaining and interesting paper, and a good introduction to the issues surrounding the apocryphal plays for anyone with an interest.

5.30pm, Arts Faculty Graduate Space. All welcome!

December 02, 2008

The Co–Authors of Edward III

And so to London, for the latest meeting of the London Forum for Authorship Studies.

For this session, Professor Sir Brian Vickers presented his latest research on "The Co-Authors of Edward III". Beginning with an overview of the attribution history of the play, he proceeded to his core argument - that Shakespeare's collaborator (and the author of the larger part of the play) was..... Thomas Kyd.

The evidence is fairly compelling. Vickers based his findings on searches for like collocations of phrases between the play and the corpus of early-modern drama pre-1596, and the correlations with the Kyd canon are extensive, often running to five or six consecutive words repeated between the texts. The sheer volume of evidence is, to be frank, quite intimidating.

If there is a problem with the findings, it is this: they are heavily dependent on Vickers' previous research on the Kyd canon. Vickers is a Kyd specialist as well as an authorship expert, and much of his work over the last few years has been to establish Kyd's presence in a wide range of plays, including 1 Henry VI, Fair Em, Arden of Faversham and others. Many of the correlations between Edward III and the Kyd canon were to plays that Vickers has pioneered the case for.

This doesn't mean the argument is circular; however, it does lead me to approach the results with a (hopefully healthy) cautiousness. The results for Edward III are dependent on Vickers' successful attribution to Kyd of several largely-disputed plays, and I'm not familiar enough with the earlier research to know how confident those results are. Vickers, of course, is confident, but I would certainly want to be sure that those earlier attributions are sound before I then use them to attribute a further play. The definitive, undisputed Kyd canon, in my understanding, consists only of The Spanish Tragedy and a translation, Cornelia, though there are other, slightly less confident attributions such as Soliman and Perseda. To have extrapolated a fairly substantial canon from these relatively few base texts is quite an achievement, and if anyone can do so confidently and scientifically, it's Vickers. It's also worth noting that most of the links did seem to be with Spanish Tragedy, which at least is safe ground (or as safe as ground can be in this field).

I'm certainly looking forward to delving further into this; the idea of Kyd and Shakespeare collaborating on the play certainly doesn't seem too much of a stretch. Richard Proudfoot, who was also in attendance and is editing the play for the Arden Shakespeare, put forward a theory that would create a rather pleasing symmetry; that if Kyd and Shakespeare were collaborators on both Edward III and 1 Henry VI, that would see them effectively bookending the hundred years' war, possibly deliberately so. It's a stretch, but a nice one.

As a last footnote to this discussion, I also spoke briefly to Tom Merriam while there, whose articles on Edward III I've been surveying. His claims have been for Marlowe as Shakespeare's collaborator, which also provides a rather neat story: with Marlowe writing Edward II and Shaksepeare writing Richard II, the two of them collaborating on Edward III would effectively bridge the gap between their two careers with the play that historically links the two. Merriam additionally finds Kyd and Marlowe difficult to distinguish (Vickers finds them distinctive) - and we know, of course, that Marlowe and Kyd were roommates. Finally, it was admitted at the seminar that the single play with most links to Edward III is Marlowe's Tamburlaine, which is a substantial part of Merriam's arguments. However, the Kyd team note that Tamburlaine was the most influential text of the period and that its presence can be found pretty much everywhere owing to imitation; which therefore devalues the evidence it provides.

This brief overview hopefully gives a sense of the debates and issues at stake in this kind of search for internal evidence. I'm far too early in the game to be coming up with my own opinions, and thankfully my role in the project is currently more historically focussed - what people HAVE thought as opposed to what they DO think. It's always fascinating, though, to hear what's going on at the cutting edge.


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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