SHINE: Shakespeare in Europe:

History and Memory

International Conference

Krakow, 17-20 November 2005

Organised by:
Institute of English Philology, Jagiellonian University
Polish Shakespeare Society
Institute of Modern Languages, Pedagogical University in Kraków
In cooperation with the British Council


Seminar: History and Histories /Abstracts

Convenor: Carla Dente, University of Pisa / e-mail:

same page without frame

Peter Bilton (University of Oslo, Norway;

"On the Complex Derivation of the Shrew Plays" abstract

The European memories that literature handed down to Shakespeare and from him to us reach back to a distant past:  those evoked in this paper span perhaps three millennia.

We can begin with Homer, if only to note that in Book II of The Iliad Sestos and Abydos are listed as helping to provide one of the units of the Trojan defence force.  George Chapman’s translation of the first seven books was published in 1598.  Sestos and Abydos were at one time important and prosperous city-states, and also figure in history as strategic jumping-off points in the campaigns of Darius, Xerxes and Alexander the Great.  Associations with Hero and Leander take us back to Musaeus and Ovid, and forward to Marlowe and Chapman.  The appearance in the Athens of the anonymous The Taming of a Shrew of a powerful and wealthy Duke Jerobell of “Cestus” suggests a period for the play when Sestos was in the Athenian sphere of influence.  The play also recalls the Hero and Leander story at some length.
Analogues to the deceptions of Sly in the Inductions of the two Shrew plays have been found at least as far back as in the Arabian Nights in fiction and alleged medieval fact in history.  Shrew-tamings of varying degrees of brutality or humanity are folk literature material.
Stock characters like the witty servant, and the plot device of bringing a lover into the beloved’s home in disguise, derive from Plautus and Terence (and, in the case of The Eunuch, Menander).  Plautine comedy also provided the wooer’s false and real fathers that appear in both Shrew plays.

In the Renaissance, it was Duke Ercole of Ferrara, patron of Ariosto, who set in motion a Plautus revival, commissioning translations and performances.  The “Bianca plot” in The Shrew and the corresponding wooing plot in A Shrew originate in Ariosto’s I Suppositi, translated into English as Supposes by George Gascoigne.  Sly’s erotic temptation by a cross-dressed page in the two Shrew plays has an interesting counterpart in Pietro Aretino’s Il Marescalco.   

A Shrew  is set in Athens and The Shrew in Padua, placing them notionally far apart in time, and suggesting a classical frame of reference for the one and a renaissance context for the other.  Ferando the shrew-tamer in A Shrew is a resident of Athens.  Petruchio is a third gentleman of Verona, aiming to wive and thrive in Padua.  Petruchio has, he says, seen military service.  More likely than not, at a time when Italian states were constantly forming and dissolving alliances against each other, and foreign invasions were threatening or happening.   The story that Tranio tells the Mantuan merchant in The Shrew, “Your ships are stayed at Venice” etc., is all too plausible (and has a parallel in Supposes).  In a war between Ferrara and Venice in Ercole’s time, Ferrara won a naval battle on the Po, an achievement praised by Ariosto in his Orlando Furioso

In Aretino’s Il Marescalco, set in Mantua, the Gonzaga Duke is metadramatically as well as socially speaking completely in charge, with the deception of the Marescalco, unlike that of Sly, constituting the core of the play.  The Ariosto/Gascoigne Supposes unfold in Ferrara, with due homage to the omnipotent Ercole.   In A Shrew, the manipulation of Sly by a Lord is sustained to the end:  the play remains within a play.  In Shakespeare’s version, the frame disappears early,  and stage control and direct audience relations are largely left to Petruchio, with some planning and manipulation carried out by Tranio in the “Bianca plot”.  Apart from the Lord in the Induction, The Shrew has a thoroughly bourgeois cast, whose chief concern is money.  The sequence in which A Shrew and The Shrew were penned has not been settled to everyone’s satisfaction, but whatever their order one may choose to see some meaningful intent in the virtual removal from Shakespeare’s comedy of aristocratic metadramatic authority.  Petruchio exercises his independent power as he will, from within the play, and in the process deliberately upsets bourgeois conventions.  The anti-authoritarian and unconventional slant imposed by Petruchio distinguishes The Taming of the Shrew from much of what went before.


back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page


Rui Carvalho Homem (Dept. of Anglo-American Studies, Fac. Lettras, University of Oporto, Portugal,

"Cross-Histories, Straying narratives: Anglo-Portuguese Imbrications and Shakespeare’s History Plays" (abstract)

This paper is not a study of translations, and yet it derives its raison d’être from a circumstance highlighted by translation. In their textual strategies as much as in their critical apparatus, Portuguese versions of Shakespeare’s histories hardly contribute to their readers’ awareness of how closely imbricated English and Portuguese history were in the period covered by Richard II, the Henry IV plays and Henry V. Indeed, despite the fact that Lencastre has come to be a fairly common family name in Portugal (the phone directory lists 149 entries for Lisbon,160 for Oporto), and that Dona Filipa de Lencastre is remembered in several Portuguese street names, not many educated readers will be aware that:

1. Filipa de Lencastre, alias Philippa of Lancaster, whose marriage to the Portuguese king João I strongly contributed to sealing the Anglo-Portuguese alliance (the longest extant political treaty in Europe), was a daughter of John of Gaunt’s and a sister of Henry Bolingbroke’s; hence,
2. the king of England from 1399-1413 and the king of Portugal from 1385-1433 were brothers-in-law;
3. both kings derive their power from dynastic conflicts; John of Gaunt looms rather large behind both these complex political processes;
4. there are a set of intriguing parallels in Portuguese and English history of the ensuing decades; these include the decisive role attributed by some historians to Philippa of Lancaster in fostering Portugal’s ambitions regarding expansion into northern Africa; as a result, 1415, the year of Agincourt, is also the year of the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta: Philippa’s sons obtain their knighthoods in northern Africa at the same time their English cousin triumphs on the fields of France. One of Philippa’s sons, Henry, will become known as “the Navigator” in recognition of his role as a promoter of the Portuguese maritime expansion.

This paper will argue that a critically productive reading of Shakespeare’s histories in a Portuguese context will have to coincide, to an important extent, with the acknowledgement and interrogation of these interconnections. It aims to offer a contribution to such a reading that will involve a careful consideration of some of Shakespeare’s sources against Portuguese historiographic accounts of the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Conversely, it will also highlight that an Elizabethan perception of the Portuguese implication in historical processes that mattered to the English was in fact bound to draw on developments that were then historically recent: the battle of Alcantara (1580) and Philip II’s accession to the Portuguese throne, the presence of a Portuguese pretender as an exile in Elizabeth’s court, and the Armada. Ultimately, this entails an unravelling of historiographic intertexts constituted by Shakespeare’s histories, in the conditions of their production as much as of their reception – and consequently the articulation of historical narratives that have all too often been separated and diminished by being constrained within national borders.

back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page


Scott R. Fraser (English and Drama Dept, University of the West of England, U.K.:

"Which oft our stage hath shown: Shakespeare and the repetition of History" abstract

The purpose of this paper will be to look at the plays of Shakespeare’s Second Tetralogy in terms of their relation to extant Chronicle sources, other early modern plays, and to each other. While obviously much of this has been touched on before, and in a variety of places, the ambit of this paper will be to explore the nature of the dialectical relationship that appears to exist between the printed 'history' text and the performed 'history' play. It will attempt to point to Shakespeare's manipulation of source material as a means of commenting both on that material as well as the historical moment itself. Thus, while the paper will be looking at the relationship between the Chronicles and Shakespeare's plays, it will also look at the relationship between those plays and others touching on the same material from the early modern period. For example, having acknowledged the dependence of Richard II on Thomas of Woodstock in terms of plot, the paper will also look at its relationship in terms in terms of the changing approach to historical sources and performance. While Woodstock actually has a Chronicle brought onstage and read from as a means of determining the validity of political action, Richard II begins a process of interrogating the validity of the Chronicles that is equally manipulative of the knowledge of Woodstock as a source. The paper will then explore the intertextual relationship that exists between Richard II, 1 and 2 Henry IV, and Henry V; and in which the plays become sources of reference for each other, both in terms of the repetition of rhetoric and form. Central to the reading will be the notion that through such repetition Shakespeare's plays are actually taking part in a dialectical relationship with each other that goes far beyond simple notions of chronology to a much larger early modern conversation about the nature of historical interpretation. In order for such a conversation to be understood, the plays require (indeed, demand) the audience have a working knowledge not only of the plays of the Tetralogy, but of the printed and performed sources form the period.

back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page


Heike Grundmann (Anglistisches Seminar, University of Heidelberg, Germany ;

"Telling herstory - Shakespeare’s Defence of Cleopatra" abstract

Cleopatra, who had been denigrated as an eternal whore by the writers of the Augustan Age such as Horace and Virgil, receives a much more multi-faceted and much fairer treatment first in Plutarch’s ‘Parallel Lives’ and then in Shakespeare’s ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’. Far from being the epitome of male prejudices against a sexually active oriental woman B her ‘infinite variety’ being a >natural= defect of lunar-influenced femininity B, she in fact proves to be a conscious actor playing upon those prejudices, entertaining them and undercutting them at will. It is Anthony and not she who could be reproached for wavering, betrayal and change of allegiance, but in Shakespeare=s rewriting of Plutarch he too undergoes a change and is turned from Cleopatra’s victim into a weak and unreliable character on his own account.

This paper traces Shakespeare’s re-interpretation of the love story of Anthony and Cleopatra that he found in his sources and attempts to show how it becomes ‘herstory’ instead of Anthony’s. What makes this tidal turn in a long tradition of Cleopatra-bashing even more interesting is that it went almost unnoticed until the late twentieth century and the beginning of feminist Shakespeare scholarship. Sexism and a prurient fascination with Cleopatra’s ‘immorality’ not only governed historical and theatrical representations of her, but also the (male) criticism of Shakespeare’s play until the 1970s. Shakespeare’s rendering of the Cleopatra myth will be shown to be the meeting point of various ideological currents, from ancient and Renaissance texts to the modern critical tradition: both ‘historical truth’ and ‘meaning’ in drama are inherently ambiguous and elusive.

back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page


Francis Hagan (Theatre, Film and Television Dept., Glasgow University, U.K.;

"Decline and decadence in the History of Rome" abstract

It has often been fashionable to dismiss Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ as an early work, a piece of exhuberant juvenilia written to please the clamoring mob, stuffed with corpses and theatrical effects, which, while possessing moments of awe and beauty that anticipate ‘King Lear’, creaks from the weight of an aspiring writer still in the process of learning his craft. This fashion is then bucked, as it were, with eulogies written in praise of the piece in performance which stress its inherent theatrical power - particularly in the deployment of a poetic formal language married to a stark and often brutal violence.

My aim here is neither to re-affirm one prejudice nor the other but to instead examine the play in the context of a ‘historyless’ history, as it were. That, while the play - set in the late, decadent, world of Imperial Rome - lacks an authored pre-text in the manner of Plutarch’s ‘Lives’ nevertheless embodies in spirit and style the decline of Rome in the emergent Gothic world of the early Middle Ages and, therefore, stands in equal rank to Shakespeare’s other Roman plays as a comment upon both Classicism and the politics of civilisation. That, in effect, ‘Titus’ is very much derived not just from Shakespeare’s literary readings of the Classical world but also from the mood and tone of the end of Rome.

In this sense, then, ‘decadence’ will be examined not just as a theme but also as a stylistic concern principally through the deployment of Ovid within the diegesis of the play and in the reconfiguration of ‘Revenge’ from that of a meta-textual figure (Kyd’s ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ being a prime example) to a character acted by another within the play. The key here is to resurrect ‘Titus’ as a ‘History’ play which uses a particular gloss on Tragedy to comment upon the decadence of Rome - as a Classical world in decline embodied through its language and literature. That although there is no formal Classical source for the history in the play as such (the chapbook will be considered as a history of the story), Shakespeare has embodied, as it were, the Fall of Rome, as percieved by Renaissance eyes. It is hoped that ‘Titus Andronicus’ will thus be examined as a ‘History’ play with a legitmacy as a valid as that of ‘Julius Ceasar’ or ‘Coriolanus’, for example.

back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page


Lucja Kozubowska - Pulawska (Institute of English Studies, Warsaw University, Poland;

"‘Look on my George; I am a gentleman’. Heroic religion and Saint George in Shakespeare’s Histories" abstract

In his Histories Shakespeare often invokes the name of Saint George, whose legend was brought to England by the crusaders. Being the patron of the Order of the Garter since the mid 14th century, Saint George was the model of chivalry and martial prowess and had become the patron of England by the end of the 15th c. In Shakespeare's plays Saint George seems to represent both the chivalric ideal and England, in juxtaposition to the patron saints of other countries e.g. Saint Denis, the patron saint of France, or Saint David, the Patron of Wales (Bengston). However, in the late 16th c. when Shakespeare's plays were written and staged observance of the saints days had been officially abolished, and the shrines and altars removed. Protestant reformers rejected intercession and the Protestant martyrs were respected solely for their own holiness and the example they gave. Could they substitute for the Catholic national emblems and continue the early modern “wars of the saints”?

At this point it seems necessary to establish how the saints, and St. George in particular, are presented in Shakespeare's histories. In my paper I will focus on Henry VI, which seems especially favourable in this respect. Due to the numerous references to saints, they seem inherent in the histories dealing with late Middle Ages and one might simply assume that Shakespeare is trying to reconstruct the Catholic past. However, in the 16th c. history writing itself was still largely medieval in character. Accounts of past events were appreciated not for their accuracy but their ability to show meaning and providential design. Secondly, ideology was acknowledged in history writing (Machiavelli, Guiciardini). Therefore, Shakespeare must have been aware of the possibility to modify the vision of the past in his plays. Moreover, as was the Earl of Essex sponsoring the performance of Richard II (Rackin), Shakespeare too must have been aware that his plays had the power to influence the present.

As has been argued by Delumeau devotion to saints and the ensuing practices were not easily forgotten and persisted in various forms despite persecutions. Therefore, references to the patron Saint in Shakespeare's plays might have reminded the audience of the past and subverted the Protestant ban. On the other hand, by showing saints against larger scope of events, which could reveal their impotence in interceding for the living, Shakespeare leaves himself more space to criticize the Catholic concept of intercession.

The case of Saint George is the more interesting, since he is not only a saint for individual worship, but also the patron Saint of England. Bengston has already shown the link between Saint George and the formation of national identity. Moreover, he has shown the royal manipulation of the Saint's image to enhance their legitimacy and their position (Benston). However, it remains to establish how the Reformers dealt with the national identification with a Catholic saint. On the one hand, the myth of Saint George as the national hero could be substituted with the legend of another national hero, like Arthur, in whose case there would be no danger of idolatry. On the other hand, the Reformers could be trying to adapt the old “saint” into a more adequate national icon. This happens in Spenser's Faerie Queene, where the Redcross Knight plays an exemplary role and becomes the icon of the new Protestant church (O'Connell). Elizabethan Protestantism has been described as “heroic religion” (Barbour). It seems that Saint George, as a Catholic saint, could have been accepted insofar as he was a warrior knight. The story of the knight killing the dragon is associated with the apocalyptic battle of Archangel Michael and thus transformed into the symbol of the struggle with evil. Protestants perceived history in apocalyptic terms and the apocalyptic dragon came to be associated with Roman Catholicism, and the Pope. In this way Saint George, a Catholic Saint, could have been appropriated by the Reformers.

back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page


Ewa Meducka (Institute of English Studies, Warsaw University;

"The Shadow of Argus: Shakespeare and the Terror of Memory" abstract

To state that Elizabethans were strongly concerned with being well-remembered by the posterity is almost a platitude. The warnings they received, reminding of a judgment to be passed on them, were frequent and diversified - ranging from scenes of Shakespeare’s tragedies, where Othello and Hamlet strive to leave behind an ‘unwounded’ name; through various “Histories” written, like Raleigh’s, to “deliver (our dead Ancestors’) memory and fame (…) out of the depth and darknesse of the earth”; to accounts of ghosts of the dead, too quickly forgotten, returning to haunt their families. However, the anticipation of this future judgment was but one form of the powerful ‘terror of memory’ - a phenomenon that I wish to focus on in my paper.

As the need arose for new, subtle means of social control over the so-called ‘ruling class’, the accents mysteriously shifted, and the Renaissance man found himself responsible not only to God or posterity, but - first and foremost - to his contemporaries. Man’s reputation became a commodity granted by the others (“bought (…) from all sorts of people”- Macbeth, I, 7, 31-35) - or, as Sir Walter Raleigh remarks, with all the distance of a historian and a bitterness of a resident of the Tower, a “purchased glory”. Failure to meet high standards set by the society was often fatal. In the words of Richard Allestree, a contemporary Anglican divine - “to be careless of (one’s reputation) is looked on as a mark of a Degenerous mind” (Allestree, The Government of the Tongue). There was no way of finding shelter from constant observation; exposure to rumours, spying, court critique, and court schemes were all inescapable components of a courtier’s life, and a source of suffering for Hamlet. In real life, this machine killed Sir Walter Raleigh; in Shakespeare’s play, it is swung against Hamlet. In the absence of public censure, the young and ambitious grew potentially dangerous to the order and the society, and needed to be curbed and punished – as it happens to Angelo in Measure for Measure.

Yet another aspect of the control - parental as well as political - was replacing one’s personal ambitions with expectations of one’s elders. Sir Philip Sidney, voicing his dismay at being constantly controlled, tested, and judged, characterised “o’ershooting expectation” as “a friendly foe”, and “the most cruel adversary of all honourable doings”. The aim of this paper will be to bring to light the mechanisms in which memory and anticipation of the future serve as powerful agents of history - the relations between memory and reputation, as well as the mechanism of control by ‘observation’, a way of both expressing admiration and checking if the ‘observed’ indeed fulfils hopes (however unreasonable) entertained of him.


back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page


Joanna Moczynska (Institute of English Studies, Warsaw University, Poland;

"Importing Oblivion: ‘An adjunct to remember’ in King Lear" abstract

In bridging the gap between memory and oblivion one cannot but pay tribute to critics such as Graham Holderness and Phyllis Rackin, who identified the implications of the art of historiography newly developed in Renaissance as the invitation for Shakespeare contemporaries to explore the limits of historical interpretation, and to Jonathan Baldo, who examined the patterns of forgetting present in The Tempest and Henry V. Baldo's concept related to the former, 'exporting oblivion' in the name of remembrance, is particularly inspiring in the context of the struggle for public legitimacy. However, as the Renaissance notion of memory involved both the public and the private, a question arises as to what is comprised in the analogous process concerning the individual, the one of 'importing oblivion,' embracing the external framework concocted by a Prospero-figure seeking to affect one's memory. Apart from featuring in The Tempest, the scheme is reiterated in Shakespearian drama, but one work displays particularly well its mechanisms and implications. It is King Lear, a play unique in eschewing the problem of legitimacy, historiographic or providentialist, which brings the discussed issue to the foreground. As a historically-based non-history, King Lear could be positioned between The Tempest and Henry V as a study in transmitting oblivion shown from an individual's perspective, present but not dwelt on in other plays.

Transmission demands a medium, and the ruling metaphor of the play that I would like to assume is 'an adjunct to remember' as it appears in the Sonnets: 'to keep an adjunct to remember thee / were to import forgetfulness in me.' The concept of a memento echoes throughout Shakespeare's plays and its visual aspect has often been interpreted in the context of Protestant dread of Catholic ritual by such critics as Judy Kronenfeld, Huston Diehl or Stephen Greenblatt; here it will be limited to a spoken or written comment or reminder. 'Importing' stands for assimilating as well as appearing and seeming, which points to the concern with external manifestation interpreted as assimilation. Along these lines I would like to discuss the characters' individual struggle not to submit to 'adjuncts,' which can be potentially subversive as displayed in the case of Edmund, or can imply ignoble neglect with which Cordelia seems to be preoccupied so much. On the other hand, the characters yearn themselves to provide 'adjuncts' to other characters, but aware of the universality of the above predicament, guarding off external influences, they try to manipulate others into 'importing' their insight rather than 'export' it openly. It is necessary to add that although 'adjuncts' can be aimed at either good or bad ends, the outcome of 'importing' them is always tragic because it induces oblivion to the world (even to the point of madness) and automatically eliminates the possibility of acknowledging alternative readings of reality.

  More generally, the struggle to escape, produce and transmit 'adjuncts' in King Lear could be used to interpret the ways in which the private affects the public in other Shakespearian plays, both histories and non-histories. Such a reading also poses a question whether history- and story-driving forces are not related first of all to the assumed mnemonic system, `and to what extent they rely on oblivion as both the source and the result of the transference process.

back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page


Antonella Piazza (Università di Salerno, Italia;

"Coriolanus: the hero’s body and the body politic." abstract

Coriolanus’ Rome-  represented in a transition from a monarchical to a republican structure and   launched into an irresistible imperial trajectory-is for Shakespeare the screen for projecting two of the most urgent political questions of the young English state: the form of its national government and its relation with the world out of its borders.

Coriolanus (1609-10) was published almost half a century before Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1660), the text which creates for the Western imaginary the state as a monstrous body, created by man rather by nature. If the Shakespearean Roman tragedy-sort of anatomical premise of the Hobbesian conception-presents the state by an utopian organic metaphor in Menenio Agrippa’s famous plea to the Roman plebs (The body  needs all its organs for its health), it , then, reveals the dystopian  and despotic risks of a ‘state-engine’ when it misses the empathic relations among its parts. It is the case of Coriolanus who, functioning as an autistic war-engine-scornfully refuses to show the people the war scars engraved on his body. Coriolanus’ psychopathology consists of  removing his body and the body of the state from any possible compromise formation. His mother reproaches him for being too ‘absolute’.

As for the relationship with the world outside, the dark Roman hero’s tragical ending is related to the absence of an elsewhere: there is no world outside Rome. Coriolanus is wrong: ‘There is a world elsewhere’ (Coriolanus, III, 3,136). Coriolanus’ Rome as well as Shakespeare’s Europe had by then “made all the world its stage, leaving no imaginable ‘world elsewhere’” (Jonathan Crewe, 1999).

back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page


Andreea Vertes (Law Faculty, Uni of the West, Timisoara, Romania; or,

"Medieval crime and punishment" abstract

The paper deals with the connections between Costache Negruzzi’s Alexandru Lapusneanu and Shakespeare’s Richard III. In my opinion, far more than any respectable historian, and despite the fact that professionals have doubted their historical accuracy, both Shakespeare and Negruzzi are responsible for whatever notions most of us possess on the medieval period and its political leaders – namely Richard III and Lapusneanu.

Literature has played quite a nasty trick on both of them. The real Richard III only partially resembled the murderous, deformed lump and deceitful villain depicted by Shakespeare. His brother, Duke of Clarence, was a much more blatant schemer. In his turn, Alexandru Lapusneanu was not the cruel leader portrayed by Negruzzi. In fact, historians do not accept the version that he killed those 47 noblemen during the feast which was presumably given in their honour and, moreover, they claim that his wife (who in the novel appears as sweet, beautiful, delicate and pious) was far harsher than Lapusneanu himself.

These resemblances made me bring these two characters together. But my analysis will not focus on them. Unfortunately, such central characterizations are quite often all that we retain from history plays. And that is not due to the fact that the authors might have neglected the presentation of surrounding circumstances. The problem lies in us and in our manner of grasping a historical text. The complexity of medieval texts suggests that the audience of the time was more accustomed to comprehending a large cast and an intricate plot than modern drama has trained us to be.

So let us try to match our predecessors and for once leave behind the two main heroes and concentrate on something different. And when I say “something different”, what I have in mind is the legal system – with a focus on crime, torture and punishment in Medieval England and Moldavia.

In today’s Romania, such topics as European integration, enlargement, acquis communautaire, legal harmonization are highly debated issues. This paper will make an attempt to analyse to what extent did the Romanian (namely Moldavian) legal system matched the British one some 400 years before the drafting of the European Constitution. back to: Seminar histories
Conference Krakow Main Page

The conference gets financial support from:

ACUME, the  European Thematic Network for Cultural Memory in European Countries
Institute of English Philology, Jagiellonian University, Kraków
Rector of the Jagiellonian University, Kraków



same page without frame

Shakespeare in Europe
University of Basel, Switzerland

for additions etc. contact

last changes: November 2005