Seminar: History and Criticism / Abstracts
Convenor: Zoltán Márkus, Vassar College / e-mail:
Mark Bayer (American University, Beirut, Lebanon; email@example.com):
“Joyce’s Ulysses as Shakespeare Criticism” (abstract)
Shakespeare’s ambivalent and complex positioning within successor cultures is forcefully registered in the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode in James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). As Stephen Dedalus expounds his theory of Shakespeare for George Russel, John Eglinton, and all others who care to listen in the National Library in Dublin, they debate the cultural afterlife of Hamlet, illustrating that Shakespeare and his plays are far from politically neutral and, in fact, comprise markers that might be used to trace and asses the transition from the uncritical endorsement of enlightenment values throughout the nineteenth century to the more reflexive posture of “high” modernist writers like Joyce.
Here I wish to argue that Stephen’s “criticism” of Hamlet is built upon an idiosyncratic understanding of literary reception as a form of authorial liability whereby both the work and its author are held responsible for actions rendered in their name, even in unforeseeable future contexts. Stephen recognizes that literary artifacts constitute important cultural agents that continue to influence Subsequent generations, often negatively. Ulysses, then, functions as a critique of Shakespeare in two senses: it interrogates the conditions under which Shakespeare’s plays achieve long-term cultural authority as well as being highly critical of Hamlet in more modern contexts.
“‘Happily They Had No Choice’: Shakespeare’s Elizabethan Audience and the Ideal of a Unified Cultural Sphere” (abstract)
It is not only the professed desire for a lost social unity which can be traced in early twentieth-century constructions of "the Age of Shakespeare" but also a strong anxiety about safeguarding the status of what Leavis called the cultured minority (Leavis 1930). However readily they bemoaned the loss of a large and homogeneous forum for their own literary and critical activities, figures like Ezra Pound were adamant in their conviction that "Great Art is NEVER popular to start with" (Pound  1974:101) – and that contemporary cultural life was beset with a decline of intellectual standards. This anxiety translates itself into Shakespeare criticism, mainly in the guise of the question how Shakespeare managed to appeal to such a large and heterogeneous public. Several hypotheses were advanced to account for this phenomenon, among them the notion that the plays were quintessentially ironic (Greg 1917; Gould 1919) and the idea of a "concentric" meaning which reveals itself in different degrees of completeness to different sections of the audience (Lawrence 1931; Bennett 1941). One of the more radical suggestions came from Q.D. Leavis, who saw the reason for Shakespeare's general appeal in a lack of entertainment catering specifically to the lower classes: "[T]o argue that they would have preferred Tom Mix or Tarzan of the Apes is idle. Happily they had no choice […]" (Leavis  1965: 85).
If Leavis's "ideal of a unified cultural sphere" displays disturbing undertones of enforced conformity and repression here, other attempts to explain Shakespeare's success with a mass audience face their own difficulties in designing a historical situation which suits present needs: irony in fact undermines the alleged unity of the audience; and a "concentric" meaning endangers the privileged status of the cultured minority – at the same time as it seeks to bolster that status. My paper aims to trace some of these ambivalences and impasses in early twentieth-century conceptions of Renaissance theatregoers and the wider repercussions they had within Shakespeare criticism.
Paul Franssen (University of Utrecht, The Netherlands; firstname.lastname@example.org):
“‘Strictly ideal’: Shakespeare’s Personality as a Historical Construct in Nathan Drake’s Noontide Leisure” (abstract )
This paper is part of a larger project about representations of Shakespeare as a literary character. From the late seventeenth century onwards, we occasionally come across representations of Shakespeare as a ghost, descended from heaven to admonish (or bless) actors who put on his plays. It is only in the course of the nineteenth century that appearances of a living Shakespeare as the hero of a novel become commonplace. An early example, which has not attracted much critical attention so far, is Nathan Drake’s Noontide Leisure (1824), a Gothic romance in which an older, retired Shakespeare has to use all his professionally acquired insight into the human heart to resolve a mystery plot that bears some resemblance to Schiller’s Die Räuber. Part Gothic/sentimental fiction, part fictionalized criticism, Drake’s novel paints its hero as an impeccable private gentleman of the sentimental variety, who is little short of a saint. In conversations with friends, who in 1615 already voice the critical opinions to be held 200 years later by some of Drake’s contemporaries, the Bard himself refutes all objections to the morality and decorum of his works, in particular the Sonnets, and to his life and theatrical career. In particular through his biased reading of the Sonnets, Drake constructs a Shakespeare to his liking, be it sometimes in defiance of probability.
In my paper, I will analyze Drake’s representation of Shakespeare as a form of textual criticism, and read it in the cultural-historical and critical context of Drake’s day and age.
Barry Gaines (University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, US; email@example.com):
“Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be: Hamlet, Hitler, and the Holocaust”
Hamlet's existential question is the most recognized literary quotation in the world. Even Adolph Hitler used the phrase. In a chapter on war propaganda in Mein Kampf, he writes, "When the nations on this planet fight for existence-when the question of destiny, 'to be or not to be,' cries out for a solution-then all considerations of humanitarianism or aesthetics crumble into nothingness" (trans. Ralph Manheim, p. 177). The juxtaposition of "solution" and the abandonment of "humanitarianism" is chilling. In 1942 when Jewish immigrants Ernst Lubitsch and Jack Benny released To Be or Not To Be, the existential question was quite literal for the Jews of Europe. Lubitsch offended many with his satire of the German
“‘The goodly house’: Hosting the History of the Other in the Roman Plays” (abstract / extended abstract)
The theme of hospitality or inhospitality has been widely re-discussed in recent years as a way of interrogating our encounter with otherness in the multicultural milieu of our new millennium. Herald of this retrieval is the precious small book by Derrida, Of Hospitality (1997).
"Nahum Tate’s Art of the Probable" (abstract)
This paper focuses on the critical frameworks that shaped Nahum Tate’s King Lear—for moderns the most notorious of adaptations, yet a play which for 150 years held the attention of audiences and critics alike. Building upon excellent work on that play’s political connections with the Exclusion Crisis and ‘secularization’, I reach beyond our disciplinary boundaries to consider as well a different set of mid-seventeenth-century upheavals that bore upon Restoration theory and culture, namely the world-reshaping debates in mathematics and scientific experimentation. The vocabulary, anxiety and energy evinced in those debates—especially as they bear upon the concept of “probability”—carry over into Tate’s “altered” revival and other over-judged, under-read Restoration plays; they help make more sense as well of Tate’s enduring appeal.
Alexander C.Y. Huang (Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, United States; firstname.lastname@example.org):
While Hamlet--in Wieland's and Wilhelm's reworking--is the Enlightenment model of nobility, Wilhelm embodies Goethe's idea of Sturm und Drang sensibility and the growth of a noble but frail soul. This paper explores the ways in which the fictional biographies of Wilhelm and Hamlet intersect and create new identities.
In the incredible matrix of identities and identification, Wilhelm sees himself in Hamletian terms and uses Hamlet as a metaphor to synthesize, not to analyze, his own conditions. The first part of the novel (Book I to V) starts with Wilhelm's child play of marionette theater and progresses through his search for modes of expression and experiments in various forms of theaters to the dénouement when Wilhelm fulfills his dream in the foremost theater of the time and concludes, in a sense, his apprenticeship in theater. In Book VII he receives his apprenticeship certificate. He becomes the founding father of German national theater and distinguishes himself as the producer and actor of a great play, Hamlet. Theater is the ultimate site for Wilhelm's self realization, and producing and performing in Hamlet becomes his ultimate challenge crossing from fiction to reality and back. The novel can be seen as a performance of Hamlet with rehearsal notes.
Ros King (School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK; email@example.com):
Anna Kowalcze (Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland; firstname.lastname@example.org):
“Memory of the Text: Wyspianski’s Hamlet” (abstract / extended abstract)
On 14th December 1904 Stanislaw Wyspianski, a renown Cracowian playwright, painter and theatre reformer, wrote down in his notebook: “I am starting writing Hamlet tonight.” The emergent writing, The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke By William Shakespeare. Wed?ug tekstu polskiego Józefa Paszkowskiego, ?wie?o przeczytana i przemy?lana przez St Wyspianskiego [Following the text by Józef Paszkowski, read afresh and thought over by St. Wyspianski], is a highly idiosyncratic mixture of critical commentary, artistic creation and translation of fragments of the play, already translated into Polish by Jozef Paszkowski. Wyspianski’s gesture of writing/reading anew dismantles the ostensible integrity of Shakespeare’s play understood as an untouchable relic of the past, and becomes a gesture of disclosure for the text which in an act of reading undergoes the process of dissipation of meaning and its production, thus conforming to and “enacting the largely hidden operations of [textual] memory”*.
The paper provides insight into Wyspianski’s reading of Hamlet as a text of incessant cultural production and comments on the afterlife of the Studium of Hamlet in the Polish theatre, thus reflecting on the place of cultural memory in the transmission of the play.
Ivan Lupic (University of Zagreb, Croatia; email@example.com):
“Must I remember?”: Hamlet, Memory and Shakespearean Trauma (abstract / extended abstract)
The paper is intended to address the ethical dimension of studying Shakespeare (or, more precisely, of being a “Shakespearean”), starting with a discussion of a recent Croatian novel entitled William Shakespeare u Dar es Salaamu [William Shakespeare in Dar es Salaam]. The central character, a Bosnian refugee who finds shelter in Denmark in the 1990s, is described by some of the other characters we find in this narrative as a Shakespeare-phobe. To him, who has been tortured in concentration camps in Bosnia during the recent war, William Shakespeare is the worst name imaginable: it stands for pure evil and absolute horror. The well-known fact that one of the most prominent Shakespeare scholars in Bosnia was actively engaged in the creation and exercise of the aggressive war politics which caused so much gratuitous suffering in Bosnia during the 1990s (living and hurting still in the memories of many), will provide occasion for some points to be made about the (metonymic) links between Shakespeare and his guardians, the Shakespeare scholars. Bringing together several topics of this seminar, the paper is supposed to query the concept of “the Shakespearean ethic.”
Marta Minier (Drama Department, University of Hull; M.Minier@drama.hull.ac.uk):
“Claiming Shakespeare as ‘Our Own’” (abstract )
This paper will examine some of the main areas and the rhetoric of the phenomenon of claiming Shakespeare as one’s own.
Shakespearean appropriation – cf. the Latin adjective proprius: ‘one’s own’ – can be examined both in its diachronicity and synchronicity. A diachronic overview would survey how Shakespeare has been appropriated at different historical times (for example, the Shakespeares of the Restoration, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, postmodernism), whereas a synchronic perspective would demonstrate the specific ways and areas in which this appropriation takes place (for instance, genres, art forms, different ethnic communities and ideologies “recruiting” Shakespeare). Acculturation – appropriation by other languages and cultures – is one of the ways of nostrification (cf. Dinglestedt’s nineteenth-century term Nostrifizierung) that the article will look at, giving examples of linking Shakespeare to nation-formation from Eastern and Central European cultures.
Apart from illustrating these areas or types of nostrifying Shakespeare with a few examples, the article will also focus on the – not necessarily new but recently resurfacing issue of Shakespeare as ‘property’ in the discourse of Shakespeare studies, in order to point out the protectiveness apparent in the rhetoric of the debate (for example, Healy 1997 and Ciglar-?ani? 1994). Shakespeare has been commandeered by various groups and communities with the purpose of self-definition, in a process of establishing an identity, hence the sense in these communities of having an authentic Shakespeare of their own. Concepts such as ‘own’ as opposed to ‘foreign’ or ‘other’ Shakespeares now appear to be entirely relative terms, depending on the perspective and cultural affiliations of the speaker. For somebody who was brought up on Shakespeare in translation, that particular Shakespearean experience is the homely, authentic one, while Shakespeare in ‘original’ might come across as secondary (without the intention of disrespect), foreign or uncanny. The paper intends to shed some light on this inescapable contemporary paradox.
Maddalena Pennacchia (University of Rome III, Italy; firstname.lastname@example.org):
"Julius Caesar and the representations of Rome" (abstract)
“All the sway of earth shakes like a thing unfirm”: the Crystallization of Shakespearean Rome in Joseph Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar.
When the Globe was inaugurated, in 1599, one of the first plays to be performed there was Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Producing the tragic story of a man whose very name was synonymous with Ancient Rome was a meaningful start for a theatre that aimed to put the whole world (“totus mundus”) on stage to instruct and divert Elizabethan playgoers of all classes and genders. Shakespeare, who owned the theatre as a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was offering his ‘countrymen’ a confrontation with the authoritative model of Ancient Rome, adapting the historical sources at his disposal for the stage. In the first macro-sequence of Julius Caesar (Act I-III), Shakespeare draws a vivid and fluid picture of Rome where images of fire and water prevail and where the streets, the market-place, the pulpits, Brutus’ garden, the Tiber’s banks, the Capitol are brought back to life from the written sources through the actions and words of characters.
Dana Chetrinescu Percec (University of Timisoara, Romania; email@example.com):
“Interdisciplinary Shakespeare in 70s and 80s Romania. A Comment on Official Censorship and Subversive Practices” (abstract)
The paper intends to present some interdisciplinary approaches to Shakespeare’s work in Romania during the communist regime. Motivated by Ian Kott’s umbrella idea that every historical epoch finds itself in Shakespeare and searches successfully for a common experience, the discourse shaped around the Bard’s work – on stage, in film adaptations, in works of literary criticism, or in interdisciplinary applications – becomes a conspicuous metaphor of contemporary political and social issues in the years before the fall of the Iron Curtain. As John Elsom also noticed, it can be even argued that Shakespeare is more contemporary in some historical moments than in others and more relevantly so in some countries rather than in others, various cultures relating themselves differently to the playwright’s work. Two years ago, at the Craiova Shakespeare Festival in Romania (26 September - 6 October 2003), John Elsom, admirer of Silviu Purc?rete (a celebrated Romanian director who staged a very well received Titus Andronicus) and good friend of the late Marin Sorescu (Romanian poet whose poem devoted to the Bard is part of the Romanian literary canon, studied in all schools) came back to this idea: “The Craiova festival is very close to my heart… As to Shakespeare, I think that each nation sees and interprets him today according to how much it has suffered. In my opinion, the rich America and we in Britain – a country that has experienced no real tragedy on a national scale for a long time – are more remote from Shakespeare’s world, tormented by horrible tragedies, than you, the people in the countries of Eastern Europe. Especially you, the Romanians, who experienced Ceaucescu’s terror, feel, I think, with increased intensity, the heroes’ sufferings in the Shakespearean drama” (my translation).
The conference gets financial support from:
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Shakespeare in Europe
University of Basel, Switzerland
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last changes: November 2005