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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: May ::
Call for Abstracts: Shakespeare and Popular Culture
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0414.  Wednesday, 24 May 1995.
From:           Chris Stroffolino <LS0796@ALBNYVMS.BITNET>
Date:           Tuesday, 23 May 1995 16:45:49 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Call for Abstracts
Although there has been much academic attention directed to popular culture
outside the academy in recent years, one need not take an Althusserian approach
to understand institutions of higher learning, especially on an undergraduate
level, as itself a form of popular culture. In the field of Shakespearean
studies there has been much attention given to various "pop culture"
appropriati appropriations of Shakespeare's plays (and to a lesser extent the
sonnets) in advertisements, songs, cinema as well as TV shows such as
GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and MOONLIGHTING. Even relatively "straight" performances of
Shakespeare, however, circulate in a way that bears more of a resemblance to
pop-culture than most other academic culture. Thus, the role of the academic
"disseminator" viz-a-viz Shakespeare becomes a more highly visible site for
cultural contestation than other academic fields.
From the records we have, Shakespeare's plays were originally scorned by his
"high-culture contemporaries such as Sir Philip Sydney and Lady Elizabeth Cary.
Despite the "high culture" appropriation of Shakespeare, however, 400 years
later these plays still manage to appeal to the equivalent of the "groundlings"
(in both political and "apolitical" ways). In 1926, Riding and Graves argued
that, despit despite the difficulty and obscurity of "modernist" poetry, that
it is no more difficult than Shakespeare's sonnets. They argue that these
sonnets are more popular because they are willfully misread. If this is true of
the sonnets, it's even truer of his most popular plays. We can see this in the
debate between dramaturges,directors and performance critics on one hand and
"close readers" (whether New Critical, Post-structural or Marxist) on the
other. It has been much commented on that part of Shakespeare's brilliance was
due to his writing for two different audiences and that by giving the
"establishment" enough of what it wanted on a surface level Shakespeare was
able to encode a more subversive reading(s) into his plays. Whether or not
Shakespeare intended this, or whether or not people only read their own
positions into the plays, has not been resolved. Within the academy we see both
"populist" and "elitist" positions (In fact, one generation's "populist"
position often becomes the next generation's "elitist" one). One of the main
reasons Shakespeare studies is so compelling is that there is such a
proliferation of positions being taken due to, if nothing else, the
legitimizing position Shakespeare occupies BOTH in academia and in theatre
I am putting together a panel that interprets the notion of the Academic
Shakespeare Industry as "popular culture" in the broadest sense, as a site in
which "popular culture" intersects with "elite culture," with "revisionary"
and/or "subversive" readings of Shakespeare (be they from a historical,
anthropological, feminist, Marxist, post-structuralist, pedagogical, reader-
response,perfromance-oriented perspectives) and their intersections with other
aspects of culture or counterculture. Papers that problematize the 'relativity'
of the term 'popular culture' will be especially welcome. For instance, if
Shakespeare is served up as 'elite culture' viz-a-viz SCHINDLER'S LIST, this is
not the case if we set Shakespeare in relation to such contemporaty
contemporary experimental writers as John Ashbery and Carla Harryman, who share
much with the more 'elite' Shakespeare). Although i am more interested in the
META aspects to this debate, and especially welcome essays that, following
Carol Thomas Neeley's landmork reading of OTHELLO and Christy Desmet's recent
READING SHAKESPEARE'S CHARACTERS (1992), show how the debates that exist within
academic discourse often mimic and extend the debates within the plays
themselves, I would certainly welcome more "traditional" "transparent" and
non-academic readings that do not problematize the role of the
reader/critic/theatregoer/scholar as centrally.
AMERICAN CULTURAL ASSOCIATION (PCA/ACA) annual conference to be held in
Syracuse, NY November 3-5 (Friday-Saturday). For more information you may
contact me directly by email LS0796@ALBNYVMS.BITNET" or phone 518-432-4643 or
by "snail mail" at 356B State St., Albany, NY. 12210. Abstracts or outlines for
papers should be received no later than June 15th. Sincerely,
Chris Stroffolino

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