SHINE: Shakespeare in Europe:

History and Memory

International Conference

Jagiellonian University, Krakow
17-20 November 2005

OOrganised 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 Politics / Abstracts


Convenor: Madalina Nicolaescu, University of Bucharest e-mail:

Participants & abstracts


Patricia Kennan (Università del Piemonte Orientale, Italy;
"The Positioning of History for the English Renaissance Theatre" (abstract)

This paper steps back from the actual performance of history – its characters and themes – on the Renaissance stage to examine how the concept of history was negotiated and re-negotiated in an epoch-marking text like Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poetry.

It discusses the various heterogeneous strands of history Sidney faced – the classical  and medieval  heritages, sixteenth century changes, the English obsession with their past,  the great Renaissance debate on the primacy of the arts, English and Italian practitioners of the time.

It ends by illustrating the way Sidney releases the arts – and therefore the theatre too - from any diktats imposed by history in order to align themselves with a higher function.

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Piotr Szymczak (University of Warsaw)
"Fire in Her Eyes: Book Destruction as an Element of the Dramatic Code in Early Modern England" (abstract )

My paper focuses on the under-researched phenomenon of book destruction in early modern England and continental Europe, and studies its influence on our understanding of certain passages in Shakespeare’s work. Historically significant but largely disregarded by scholars, the outward aspects and conditions of official book destruction practices were a familiar element of social life in the 16th and the 17th centuries, and they made their way into the cultural code part that would have been immediately recognizable to Shakespeare’s contemporaries.

Far from being an isolated or impromptu affair, book burning campaigns were a vigorous, methodical and practically continuous exercise in early modern England, involving a systematised set of patterns and practices. This paper discusses some of the typical elements of book burning ceremonies to trace their reflections in literature, and to recreate the context in which references and allusions to book burning could be used by a playwright as a means of dramatic expression.

When treated as a research subject in its own right, mechanisms of book destruction can be effectively provide new insights into the ways in which early modern theatre discussed power relationships. Today, shorn of their original context, such passages lose much of their dramatic potency. This paper attempts to recapture such allusions, and to evoke the resonance they might have had on the Shakespearean stage. In doing so, I hope not only to contribute to a better understanding of the early modern cultural code, but also to offer a glimpse of a fascinating historical spectacle that only survives in veiled allusions and laconic references.

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Iclal Caetin Vanwesenbeeck (State University New York;
(no title) (abstract)

This paper will explore how the historiography of Plutarch has influenced the political tone of Shakespeare’s Roman tragedies. The historical perspectives of Plutarch, Tacitus, Suetonius, Livy, and Sallust provided the early modern playwrights with ample inspiration and dramatic material. Although Oxbridge scholars or playwrights such as Ben Jonson could easily master Tacitus, Seneca, and Sallust in the original, Shakespeare’s grammar school Latin may not have sufficed for the Annals or The Rise of Rome (although Anne Barton defends the thesis that Shakespeare’s Coriolanus proves his reading of Livy). Thus one can argue that limitations in language might have determined Shakespeare’s choice of historical resources, particularly his use of Plutarch’s Lives (North translation). Yet, Plutarch’s biographical history is not as straightforwardly political and anti-tyrannical as that of Tacitus, for instance. In this manner, it may be argued that Shakespeare’s Roman plays were not as politically overt as the anonymous Tragedy of Tiberius neither were they as analogous to current political events as Jonson’s Sejanus. In this respect, the proposed paper will compare the political connotations of Plutarch and Tacitus in seventeenth-century England and discuss the nexus between Shakespeare’s political view in his Roman plays and his reading of Plutarch. Several questions will thus be the subject of such an inquiry, such as how political Shakespeare was in his Roman plays, in what ways he indulged in a comparatist study of Roman and English Empires, and to what extent he agreed with Plutarch’s historiography. In answering these questions, a comparison of non-Shakespearean Roman plays with Shakespearean ones will help one determine Shakespeare’s political use of the Roman historical sources as well.

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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

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last changes: November 2005