Fargo Shakespeare Month

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.519  Tuesday, 3 November 2015


From:        Verena Theile <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         November 3, 2015 at 11:03:33 AM EST

Subject:    Fargo Shakespeare Month


Fargo, ND is hosting a community-wide celebration of Shakespeare during the month of February, 2016:


ShakespeareFest 2016 in FARGO ND


During the festival, artists of all disciplines will create and present work inspired by the festival’s celebrated artist, William Shakespeare. The WinterArts Festival is much more than an arts event. It turns the perceived injustice of our long, dark winter into a point of pride and participation for the whole community. It’s a unique opportunity for artists to engage with each other in the spirit of collaboration and to challenge each other artistically. Visit our the event-website ( to see all of the performances, concerts, happy hours, talks, readings, lectures, and other experiences that our creative community has planned. Plenary speakers include Douglas Lanier (University of New Hampshire) and Jennifer Roberts-Smith (University of Waterloo). 



CFP for edited collection, Contending with Shakespeare through Adaptation


Chapter proposals are invited for a collection of essays that will explore Shakespearean adaptations as statements, often assertions about the nature of the work they engage. That adaptations have contributed to Shakespeare’s afterlife cannot be disputed. They are re-imaginings of his work in a new context and against a new medium, and, as such, adaptations of Shakespeare are derivative and unique at the same time. With that premise in mind, the history of Shakespeare in adaptation may also uncover the history of assumptions about what Shakespeare constitutes–as a playwright, poet, cultural icon, or otherwise. 


The collection we envision will take up adaptations and appropriations with a focus on what these new products reveal about Shakespeare’s parameters or limits. Accordingly, we seek essays that explore cases of appropriation that help bring these limitations to light and confront the implications of transposing Shakespeare to a particular situation or audience. Essays might consider, for example, unexpected failures in appropriation; critically controversial productions or editions; adaptations that explicitly address conflicts in Shakespeare’s reception; or any other instance where a particular appropriation of Shakespeare helped draw attention to unexamined preconceptions of his literary or cultural stature. 


Please submit enquiries, chapter proposals (500 words), or drafts of essays (7,500 words) to the editors Verena Theile (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and Adam Kitzes This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by December 1, 2016


Verena Theile

Associate Professor of English

Dean's Fellow/College of AHSS





Francis Yates CFP: A Celebration of Her Life and Work

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.515  Monday, 2 November 2015


From:        Paul Hamilton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 30, 2015 at 2:25:19 PM EDT

Subject:    Francis Yates CFP: A Celebration of Her Life and Work








The great Renaissance and Shakespeare scholar Frances Yates lived for over half a century at Claygate, near Kingston-upon-Thames, and to mark the 50th anniversary of her book The Art of Memory, Kingston Shakespeare Seminar will host a one-day conference on her life and work at the Rose: a playhouse inspired by her theory of the ‘theatre of the world’. Close to where Yates wrote her books, participants will be asked to evaluate their current significance, and to reflect on her ideas about Europe, empire, occult philosophy, academies, architecture, memory, performance, intellectual history, and the place of a scholarly community in the modern world.


Proposals are invited for 25-minute papers that address these or other aspects of the life and career of Frances Yates. Submissions should be made by February 1 2016 to:


Professor Richard Wilson,

The Rose Theatre, 

24-6 High Street, 

Kingston-upon-Thames, KT1 1HL




Blackfriars Conference

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.510  Tuesday, 27 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Subject:    Blackfriars Conference


Dear Subscribers,


Later this afternoon, I leave for the Blackfriars Conference, driving through the Shenandoah Valley during the loveliest time of its year—fall with its brightly colored leaves.


I am taking my laptop with me, but it has been acting funny. I believe I have fixed it now, but tomorrow is another story. I will strive to get out Newsletters, as I am able. If I am not able, I will return by Monday November 2.


I hope to see many of you there.





KiSSiT: Shakespeare and the State of Exception

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.503  Monday, 26 October 2015


From:        Paul Hamilton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 25, 2015 at 9:11:10 AM EDT

Subject:    KiSSiT: Shakespeare and the State of Exception



Kingston Shakespeare Seminar (KiSS)




Following the success of its conference on ‘Shakespeare and Waste’, Kingston Shakespeare Seminar in Theory seeks participants for a one-day conference on ‘Shakespeare and the State of Exception’ to be held on Saturday 19 December, 2015 at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames.


The concept of ‘the state of exception’, associated with Carl Schmitt’s book Political Theology (1922), and recently revisited by Giorgio Agamben in The State of Exception (2005), refers to the total or partial suspension of the juridical order.


Far from being a mere footnote in legal studies, ‘the state of exception’ became the basis for the notorious Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which Hitler used to authorise a twelve year state of emergency in Nazi Germany, starting on March 23, 1933.


Schmitt theorised that such a suspension of law is intimately connected with a concept of sovereignty whose origin is not merely political, but also religious. He called this ‘political theology’.


‘Political theology’ has had a long and important history in Shakespeare studies beginning with Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology and Walter Benjamin’s Origin of the German Tragic Drama.


Literary critics such as Julia Reinhard Lupton, Debora Shuger, Victoria Kahn, Richard Wilson, and Eric L. Santner have recently revitalised and deepened the discussion of ‘political theology’ in the Renaissance, to explore the relationship between sovereignty, religion, citizenship, and state sanctioned violence in Earl Modern Europe in light of theoretical contributions by Michel Foucault, Hannah Arendt, Jacques Derrida, and Giorgio Agamben.


Regarding—or disregarding—this context, we invite abstracts for 20-minute presentations on the topic of Shakespeare and the state of exception. Papers might consider, but are not limited to, the following topics and questions:

  • Exploration of ontological or political ‘states’ of exceptionality and exceptionality in general in the works of Shakespeare.
  • State or status of exceptionality as an epistemological or ethical category, for example otherness in adaptations and performances of Shakespeare, perhaps in relation to the 21st century discourse on immigrants and refugees.
  • How is Shakespeare’s unique status as playwright entangled with issues of sovereignty and exceptionality? Consider, for example, Danny Boyle’s use of Shakespeare during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Summer Olympic Games or the famous copy of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, called the Robben Island Bible, inscribed by Nelson Mandela in prison.
  • The ‘state of exception’ is often described according to an apparent contradiction: it is a ‘suspension of the juridical order’ that is contained within that very order. How might Shakespeare’s conception of the Early Modern state be analysed in light of this complex topographical (inside / outside) metaphor?
  • The concept of ‘necessity’ is, according to Agamben, frequently asserted as the foundation for the ‘state of exception’. Consider the concept of ‘necessity’ in relation to law, nature, and human action in the Early Modern period and in Shakespeare.
  • Consider Early Modern political culture in relation to torture, surveillance, and extrajudicial imprisonment. How might these insights shed light on the continued ‘state of exception’ which justifies the ‘detainment’ of political prisoners in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp without due process?
  • Did sex offences in the Early Modern period produce a state of ‘exception’ in perpetrator and victim? Consider, for example, The Rape of Lucrece and its relationship both to suicide and the founding of Rome. Can such exceptionality give us insight into contemporary exceptional legal language surrounding sex offences, sex offender registries, and indefinite detention of sex criminals?

Please submit abstracts and brief CVs by emailing the organizers at before Friday 13 November, 2015.


Conference oganizers: Paul Hamilton, Timo Uotinen.

Further information: and


Paul Hamilton 

PhD Shakespeare Institute, 

University of Birmingham 




Shakespeare and Ecocritical Theory

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.500  Friday, 23 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, October 23, 2015

Subject:    Shakespeare and Ecocritical Theory


Gabriel Egan’s Shakespeare and Ecocritical Theory, a work in the Shakespeare and Theory Series, Editied by Evelyn Gajowski, has just been published.


Shakespeare and Theory

Series Editor: Evelyn Gajowski


This series provides a comprehensive analysis of the theoretical developments that have dominated Shakespeare studies since the advent of postmodernism, as well as those that are emerging at the present moment.


Each volume provides a clear definition of a particular theory; explains its key concepts; surveys its major theorists and critics; situates it in the context of contemporary political, social, and economic developments; analyses its significance in Shakespeare studies; and offers a wealth of suggested resources for further investigation


Shakespeare and Ecocritical Theory

By: Gabriel Egan


About Shakespeare and Ecocritical Theory


Combining the latest scientific and philosophical understanding of humankind’s place in the world with interpretative methods derived from other politically inflected literary criticism, ecocriticism is providing new insights into literary works both ancient and modern. With case-study analyses of the tragedies, comedies, histories and late romances, this book is a wide-ranging introduction to reading Shakespeare in the light of contemporary ecocritical theory. - See more at:


Table of Contents


Series Editor’s Preface 


Introduction: Done and Undone 


1 The Rise of Ecocriticism 


2 Shakespeare and the Meaning of 'Life' in the Twenty-first Century 


3 Animals in Shakespearian Ecocriticism


4 Crowds and Social Networks in Shakespeare 




Index - See more at:




Death of Tom Berger

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.499  Friday, 23 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, October 23, 2015

Subject:    Death of Tom Berger


Many of you may have heard already, but for those who have not. Tom Berger died a few weeks ago. He was a friend to many of us both personally and though his work. Tom was also highly active in the Malone Society. Here is the Malone Society’s official announcement of his death.


Professor Thomas L. Berger


It was with deep sadness that members of Council received the news, at their meeting on October 17th, of the death of Professor Thomas L. Berger the previous week.


Tom Berger became Malone Society Treasurer for the United States (a position he held for nearly thirty years) at a particularly turbulent period in the Society’s affairs. The chaos into which the Society had fallen in the early 1970s had been restored to a degree of order in America through the sterling work of Professor G. E. Bentley, but it fell to Tom, as his successor, to return the US sphere of the Society’s activities to their once-flourishing state. Characteristically, he brought not only considerable energy and enthusiasm to the task, but a whimsical humour designed to attract younger scholars to an organization associated with scholarship of the most exacting (and superficially uninviting) kind. It is to Tom that we owe the ‘Malone Ranger’ badges and Tee shirts (the latter recently revived), the ‘Malone Society Fun Run’, and a host of highly inventive conference stalls acquainting the uninitiated with the joys of belonging to a quirky, dynamic and highly idiosyncratic organization. For those of us who worked with him he was a tower of strength on a range of fronts – ready to conjure up money when needed, to offer advice as we confronted a host of problems arising from the Society’s near-demise, and to bring his own scholarly expertise into play in the editing of three of our publications (and making a signal contribution to a fourth). He was a relaxed presence at Council meetings on his visits to England, a witty and charming correspondent, and a firm believer in the value of the Society’s work. We shall miss him very much.




Regent's Park Open Air Theatre Digital Archive

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.490  Wednesday, 21 October 2015


From:        Karin Brown <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 21, 2015 at 7:00:48 AM EDT

Subject:    Regent's Park Open Air Theatre Digital Archive


Our Heritage: Shakespeare Institute Library & Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre Go Digital


Karin Brown, Shakespeare Institute Librarian


The award-winning Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is a London landmark – a firm fixture of summer in the city, providing a cultural hub in the beautiful surroundings of a Royal Park. Since the 1930s Shakespeare has been performed at The Park and the SI Library were fortunate to receive the archive of the Company in the 1990s and become its official repository. Formerly called The New Shakespeare Company it was the leading professional company of outdoor Shakespeare in the UK. 


Over the last few years staff at the Shakespeare Institute Library have been scanning material from Regent Park’s archive for a new web site which includes a digital archive giving access to the theatre’s rich history for the first time. This is a long-term project with over 80 years and 300 productions to cover. The archive will be added to as more and more resources are digitised by the company and the SIL. The new web site, launched on 16 October, focuses on four of the theatre’s alumni: Judi Dench, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville, Janie Dee and the 1995 production of Richard III directed by Brian Cox.


The SIL team are proud to have been part of this project highlighting the significant output of this much neglected company and to have contributed to this impressive and attractive resource. Do check it out:

Project featured in The Times: Set for the big stage The Times (London), October 17, 2015 Saturday, p7



Karin Brown

Shakespeare Institute Librarian

Shakespeare Institute

University of Birmingham

Mason Croft, Church Street


Warwickshire CV37 6HP

Direct line: 0121 414 9521

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Twitter: @UoBLibServices

Library website

SI Library blog:





The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.489  Wednesday, 21 October 2015


From:        Brian Corrigan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 20, 2015 at 4:45:28 PM EDT



Dear Hardy:


You might remember back in 2002 you were kind enough to post a call for scholars to contribute to an ambitious database project which had already been in the works by that time some 13 years. Little did I realize that would mark the ‘half-way point’. Nevertheless, as of this morning I am delighted to announce that The Compendium of Renaissance Drama (CORD) has found an online home.


The University of Georgia Library system will house the fully searchable database as an open access, free resource. No announcement yet as to when the database will be available for access, but I wanted to let you know in hopes that you would spread the word on SHAKSPER (which is prominent in the listing of CORD contributors, as indeed are you personally).


Briefly, the CORD is a five-million-plus-word database featuring synoptic treatment of every extant play from the English stage to have been performed in English between 1486 and 1642. It includes interactive maps, illustrations, finding lists of persons and plays, a complete prosopography of every character to appear or be mentioned on the Renaissance English stage, a complete topographical dictionary of every place-name mentioned in the period drama, animated stemma of the British monarchs from the Conqueror to Charles I and another of the Julio-Claudian Emperors, comprehensive timelines of playhouses, playing companies, and playwrights, all inter-linked to the relevant play synopses.


I will send you additional details (and links) when they become available. In the meantime, additional information is available by writing to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I invite any SHAKSPER reader (and especially CORD contributors) to send me a post. I am anxious to reestablish contact with many who have moved onto new email accounts.


Warm regards,



SBReview_21: Shakespeare Made in Canada: A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.460  Friday, 9 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, October 9, 2015

Subject:    SBReview_21: Shakespeare Made in Canada: A Midsummer Night's Dream 




William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare Made in Canada, General Editor Daniel Fischlin. Oakville, ON: Rock Mills Press, 2015. Xli + 107 pp. US$14.95. (ISBN-13 978 0 9881293 6 8).


Reviewed by Peter Hyland, Huron University College 


A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first volume in a series from Rock Mills Press, alongside Hamlet, that is directed primarily at Canadian students, and so it is reasonable to judge it as representative of the series as a whole. The series has been developed from the Adaptations of Shakespeare Project supervised at the University of Guelph by Daniel Fischlin. It makes on its cover a strong nationalist claim that ‘Canadians have uniquely remade Shakespeare,’ and this is bolstered with an account of the Sanders Portrait (which is reproduced on the cover and will presumably decorate the entire series), a Preface by the fine Canadian actress Martha Burns, recounting her first childhood encounter with the play, and an Introduction by Andrew Bretz, a researcher with the Adaptations Project, examining ways in which Canadian scholars and theatre practitioners have ‘remade’ the play.  


Whatever nationalist agenda the series might have, it has to offer good editions of the plays. The apparatus attached to this one is student-friendly, perhaps to a fault, offering not only a plot summary, but also character synopses, and a list of ten tips for reading Shakespeare, some of them rudimentary and underdeveloped; for example ‘No Pedestal Shakespeare’ offers a single sentence that does not address the issues of Bardolatry that it appears to imply. More useful is its incorporation of questions in the footnotes that might help draw students into discussion of the play. The text itself is modernized, using Canadian English spelling, but otherwise attempting to create out of the original quarto and folio texts something that ‘as accurately as possible represents what Shakespeare actually wrote and had played on the stage’ (xli). It might have been helpful to explain that what was written and what was played were not necessarily the same thing. It is not clear who edited the text, only that it was ‘newly prepared by a team of researchers’ (102), presumably scholars and students involved in the Project. The editorial choices seem at times to be a little arbitrary and could certainly have been made more explicit. There are two reading lists. The first is attached to the Editorial Principles and lists sources of the explanatory notes and definitions, but includes only two earlier editions. One of these is O. J. Stevenson’s 1918 edition, from which the footnotes borrow copiously for no better reason than that Stevenson was Canadian. The second is a list of works cited in the introduction. This severely limits the range of books and articles that could have been suggested to the reader and excludes much important work on the play; a larger bibliography, preferably annotated, would have been helpful and would have made a good project for a student editor.  


Apart from the editorial work, the most significant pedagogical contribution is the Introduction. Bretz attempts to identify ‘a distinctly Canadian performance tradition’ (xviii), and finds the Canadian engagement with A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be shaped by a number of things: the nation’s conflicted identity, its multiculturalism, its confrontation with wilderness. Its various ambivalences have responded to ambivalences arising from the play, particularly to the Victorian tradition of reading the fairies as childlike or feminized innocents rather than potentially violent primitive forces, and this tradition has also concealed the play’s political meanings. Bretz is more interested in uncovering the bawdry than the politics, though, and he spends a lot of energy on elucidating double meanings, using Pauline Kiernan’s sometimes dubious Filthy Shakespeare as a source: at one point he provides a very questionable ‘translation’ of 2.1.42-56 (xvii). What matters primarily about all of this, though, is how it has been manifested in Canadian productions of the play, and Bretz provides a frustratingly brief survey of the stage history.  


A major problem for a project like this is the absence of much documentary material, particularly about earlier performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The history of Canadian performance of the play really only dates back to the late nineteenth century, and it is here that the struggle with the British Victorian tradition began. The erasure of the bawdy as opposed to the romantic potential of the play encouraged Victorian producers to shift towards spectacle, with effects that astonished audiences. Canadian theatres, generally smaller spaces, did not have the capability (or the money) to emulate this and so avoided the play or, if they staged it, avoided the spectacle. In the twentieth century and after, the play has been staged more frequently, and Bretz notes that the Canadian voice is increasingly one ‘that emphasizes plurality and diversity’ (xxvii). There is, of course, much more documentation of more recent productions, and Bretz’s survey of these is peculiarly spotty. Of the ten or so productions that have been staged at Stratford he mentions only three, including the two latest, both from 2014. Some of the others would surely have helped his arguments, though, and while he does mention Joe Dowling’s version of 1993, he does not mention that it had for its wood near Athens an aggressive set of phallic and vaginal structures for the fairies to sport in—about as far from the Victorian ethic as it was possible to be. While there is much in this introduction to like, perhaps it is trying to do too many things, particularly for an edition aimed at students who are thought to need character synopses. It does contain one egregious error: the Irish actor Barry Sullivan is identified as ‘of Gilbert and Sullivan’ (xxi) -- peculiar mistake for a theatre historian to make.  


Any new series of editions of Shakespeare’s plays needs to offer something powerfully different if it is to succeed in a very crowded field. As a text, this one does not offer much that can’t be found in more established (and often less expensive) series; consequently its value rests on its Canadian claims. Some of these are a little tenuous, and it is difficult to imagine how they can be sustained through a whole series. Certainly, the overarching methods and concepts of the series need to be more fully articulated than they are here; perhaps then there will not be the need to give such great to the Sanders portrait.  




SBReview_20: Antony Sher's Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.459  Friday, 9 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, October 9, 2015

Subject:    SBReview_20: Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries




Sher, Antony. Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries. London: Nick Hern Books, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-18484-2461-6 189 pages.  £16.99


Reviewed by Kirk McElhearn


“Falstaff has never been a part I’ve remotely thought of as being mine,” says Sher on the first page of this new book explaining how he became Sir John. Nevertheless, he took on the role, to great acclaim, and wrote a book about the experience. 


He blames it all on Ian McKellan. Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Sher’s partner, had been trying to cast Falstaff for some time, considering actors such as Patrick Stewart, Jim Broadbent, and Brian Cox. When Doran asked McKellen, the latter replied, “But why are you looking for Falstaff when you are living with him?” 


After much thought and discussion, Sher finally acquiesced, and this book relates the process of his becoming Falstaff. Sher performed the role in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon, then in London. He is currently preparing to play the role again in London, in December 2015 and January 2016. 


Sher’s book is a diary, illustrated with a handful of his own sketches and paintings, in which he recounts the day-to-day process of becoming Falstaff. From the earliest casting choices through opening night, Sher gives a taste of what it’s like to be an actor in such a demanding role, and how he built up the part. The process was long and complex, even though Sher would have liked some more rehearsal time. He explains how he begins by learning lines, how the play is created in rehearsal, and how different actors use different techniques during the rehearsal process. For example, one actor tries different approaches each time they work on a scene; another always has his script in hand. 


Part of the process includes field trips – such as to the site of the battle of Shrewsbury – or visiting scholars, such as historian Ian Mortimer, who talks about the live of King Henry, or Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro, who examines the plays in the context of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. 


Sher says, in early January, “I’m still planning to play Falstaff as an alcoholic: I mean, explicitly. To do this, he not only researches alcoholism by reading books but also meets with a recovering alcoholic who explains what it’s like to need a drink first thing in the morning. As a result of this, Sher makes sure his hands tremble in the first moments he’s seen on stage as Prince Hal helps him take his first drink.


In between the first suggestion that he play Falstaff in February, 2013, and the play’s performances in the spring of the following year, Sher performed other plays, shot some scenes for The Hobbit in New Zealand (which were deleted from the final cut), and started thinking about playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, later that year, and King Lear, which he is to perform at the RSC in early 2016. 


The title of the book - The Year of the Fat Knight - highlights one of the more difficult aspects of the role. Falstaff is fat, florid, a bon vivant, prone to gluttony and bombast. A man of Sher’s physique needed some help to be able to exhibit these characteristics; help that came in the form of a “fat suit.” 


We take it for granted when we suspend disbelief for a couple of hours, we assume that the actor we see on the stage is the character, and often forget, in most cases, how much they need to alter their bodies. Sher goes into great detail about this transformation, not only with the suit, but also the wig and beard that he needed to make his face look fatter. It’s not easy performing with a fat suit, because of its weight, the difficulties one has in answering the calls of nature, and the amount of sweat generated. 


Sher’s book is interesting to the theater buff, but also to actors. He openly discusses his worries as he goes through the rehearsal process, thinking that only three months isn’t enough for the two plays. In late January, he wrote:


“I could do an impression of him - his voice, his character - but it was like an outline, a cartoon. I have to find the real man. It’s vital -otherwise the part can just consist of bluster.” 


I saw Henry IV Part 1 twice, and Part 2 three times. The first performance I attended of Part 1 on April 8, during the previews, was outstanding, and I was interested to read Sher’s comments on that specific evening in the book. He says:


“This evening’s audience - for Part I - was probably the best we’ve had: packed to the rafters and wild with enthusiasm. On occasions like this, I always say that the show flew, I flew - but tonight it was almost true. At one point I felt so exhilarated that I had a sort of out-of-body experience: it was as though I lifted out of myself, and saw the enormous theatre, filled with this joyful crowd, and there in the middle of it - there I was playing Falstaff. Now that wasn’t written into my destiny. And all the more fucking marvelous for it!”


Opening night, April 16, came, and Sher, like much of the cast, was stricken with a “terrible coughing illness which swept through the building.” Standing around Shakespeare’s grave in Trinity Church, in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the cast prepared to launch the play with the tension that is common on such evenings. It’s a tough day; the cast performs both of the plays to the press, and the anxiety one must have on such a day is doubled. Sher says, of Part 1, “after the interval, I start to get that press-performance feeling: just getting through it, no sense of enjoyment or inspiration.” And for Part 2, in the evening, the theater isn’t even full. “Then finally it’s over.” 


But Sher isn’t cynical for long. The context begins to take hold. A few days later, on April 23, Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, after a performance of Part 1, he writes: “How wonderful to be here, in this town, on this particular night. I have just played one of Drama’s classic roles in a production which Greg directed, in the theatre that he runs, and then we joined all those people to pay homage to the playwright who made it all possible, the local boy made good. It’s one of those moments when I realise I’ve been sleeping through my job, and then suddenly wake up, and see it for what it truly is, and it’s completely bloody amazing.” 


He concludes the book, saying “I have Falstaff inside me now - I can say it confidently at last - and that great, greedy, glorious bastard leaves no room for anything else at all.” 




SBReview_19: Women Writers of the Early Modern Period

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.458  Friday, 9 October 2015


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Friday, October 9, 2015

Subject:    SBReview_19: Women Writers of the Early Modern Period




Bicks, Caroline and Jennifer Summit, eds. The History of British Women’s Writing 1500-1610. The History of British Women’s Writing, Volume 2. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-230-21834-5; xxx + 346. US$30


Dowd, Michelle M. and Thomas Festa, eds. Early Modern Women on the Fall: An Anthology. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2012. ISBN-13 978-0-86698-458-4; 386.  US$60


Frye, Susan. Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-812-4238-6/ 978-0-8122-2252-4; xx + 302. US$65/27.50


Hodgson, Elizabeth. Grief and Women Writers in the English Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1-107-07998-4. 196.  US$90 


Knopopers, Laura Lunger, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0-521-88527-0; xxvii + 306.  US$344.99


Reviewed by Annalisa Castaldo, Widener University


Scholarship on women writers of the early modern period continues to be a thriving and growing field. From collections of early modern texts to monographs on specific topics, new work is being published all the time. This review highlights the range of that scholarship over the last ten years. It does not aim for coverage; there have far too much published for that, but instead it aims to give a taste of the different ways scholars engage with women writers from the 16th and 17th centuries.


One major publishing trend has been collections about women writers designed to introduce teachers and students alike to the writers of the period. In the 1980s and 90s, these works tended to be straightforward collections of excerpts with brief headnotes about each writer: collections such as Moira Ferguson’s First Feminists: British Women Writers 1578-1799 (1985), Katharina Wilson’s Women Writers of the Renaissance and Reformation (1987) and James Fiztmaurice’s Major Women Writers of Seventeenth Century England (1997) fall into this category. A more recent example of this type of collection would be the 2004 Reading Early Modern Women, edited by Helen Ostovich and Elizabeth Sauer, which includes not only poetry and plays, but letters, legal documents, and medical manuals. Now, with the majority of these texts widely available in print and on line, publishers have shifted from simply providing editions of works by early modern women writers to collections that offer much needed context and background of these writers.


Cambridge and Palgrave have both come out with collections of essays about early modern women writing, and the differences are instructive. The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing (2006) is specifically positioned as a teaching text, claiming to feature “the most frequently taught female writers and texts of the early modern period” (back cover). It does not focus on individual women but instead delivers a rich background on an array of genres as well on sites of productions, in six essays which discuss how women functioned as writers in a variety of spaces from the feminine (the household) to the masculine (the courts). Four other essays provide important information on reading, writing, manuscripts, and publishing. The editors, in taking this approach, join scholars who have “challenged or refined the essentialist assumptions . . . that took a largely biographical approach to women’s writing” (6). They seek to provide context for the women writers that students will read and scholars will study, and they even call into question the very idea that early modern women writers viewed themselves as women first: “Is the category of women’s writing a historical one?” (8)


Published just four years but a sea change later, The History of Women’s Writing 1500-1610 (2010) does not bother with the hand wringing evident in the Cambridge companion. Rather than consider whether or not “woman writer” is even a valid category, the series preface (of which 1500-1610 is volume 2) states, “As the research on women’s writing has moved from the margins to the confident centre of literary studies . . . no published series has taken on the mapping of the field.” This collection offers to do just that: “its ambition is to provide . . . a clear and integrated picture of women’s contribution to the world of letters within Great Britain from medieval times to the present” (viii-ix). The introduction to volume two picks up this claim “we propose a new approach to women’s literary history” (1).


For all of the boldness of this claim, the two volumes are actually rather similar. Both contain a chronology that lists major historical events matched with works by major women writers. Both have essays on reading and print culture; both recognize the value of looking at spaces. The difference lies in the way the editors of Plagrave’s The History of Women’s Writing confidently assume that women writers will be a central focus of study; none of the essays even considers that special pleading or arguments about relevance are even necessary.


One aspect of this explosion of research into women writers is works devoted not to an overview but to a specific topic-based slice. It is wonderful to see scholars engaging with women writers in a specific ways instead of lumping, together all women who put pen to paper in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One of the most interesting of these collections is Early Modern Women on the Fall (2012), edited by Michelle M. Dowd and Thomas Festa. Dowd and Festa have collected a wide range of female voices, from Aemilia Lanyer in 1611 to Mary Chudleigh in 1701, all engaging with the religious question of what the Fall, and Eve’s part in it, means for women.  The book has informative footnotes and a valuable introduction, but considering it is positioned as a teaching text, the lack of headnotes situating each author historically and culturally is baffling. A less successful work is Elizabeth Hodgson’s Grief and Women Writers in the English Renaissance (2015). The problem is not with the research or the individual readings—Hodgson offers nuanced and interesting readings of works by Mary Sidney Herbert, Mary Wroth, Aemilia Lanyer, and Katherine Philips. But it is not until the postlude that Hodgson makes any specific argument for focusing on women writers. In the introduction, she states she will “examine four particular sites of this complex connection between the dead and the living who mourn them” (2). A fascinating idea, but a book titled Grief and Women Writers by its very nature suggests that there is something about the way women mourn that is different and worth paying attention to, a claim that is not convincingly explored.


In addition to collections of early modern writers, of course, scholars have continued to investigate the work from a variety of angles, analyzing rather than just presenting the primary materials. There are many more works than this review can hope to cover, so I will mention two that I feel deserve special attention. The first is Susan Frye’s Pens and Needles (2010). In this truly original piece of scholarship, Frye redefines what it means to be an author by considering the needlework women produced in this period as text and by demonstrating intertextual connections between written works and needlework creations such as samplers. 


Finally, a work that will appeal especially to those of us who are interested in early modern drama is Alison Findlay’s Playing Spaces in Early Women’s Drama (2006). The first task Findlay must undertake is demonstrating that women did create drama in any sustained way before the 17th century, which in itself might require a book length study. Even early modern scholars might not be faulted for thinking that very few women wrote and no women performed in plays before the Restoration. Findlay presents credible and engaging evidence that this is not true if we take as playing spaces the courts, gardens, and homes as well as the actual theaters. She then argues that fully understanding the importance of place allows us to understand how women participated much more fully in the dramatic tradition than has been understood.


These are only a few of the works published in the last ten years which tackle the topic of women writers in the early modern period. There are sure to be many more to come, with both pedagogical and theoretical approaches. The work of these and other scholars makes it possible for those who do not specialize in women’s writing to bring women into their work and their classrooms and for that we should all be grateful.




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