CFP: Premodern Disorder (a graduate student conference)

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.363  Wednesday, 19 August 2015


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

Date:         Tuesday, August 18, 2015 at 8:24 AM

Subject:    CFP: Premodern Disorder (a graduate student conference)


Please share the following announcement widely.



Premodern Disorder


GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (MEMSI) Grad Student 

Conference at the George Washington University: 

Friday, February 26th, 2016.


Keynote Speakers: Sharon Kinoshita and Drew Daniel


Foucault famously defines order as “that which is given in things as their inner law, the hidden network that determines the way they confront one another, and also that which has no existence except in the grid created by a glance, an examination, a language; and it is only in the blank spaces of this grid that order manifests itself in depth as though already there, waiting in silence for the moment of its expression” (The Order of Things). For Foucault, the great order of the premodern episteme was similitude, equivalence, a God-ordained map that could apply as commensurately to the stars in the sky as to the lives of humans and animals. And yet, were these affinities and similitudes always so readily apparent to medieval and early modern peoples? Did an epistemology of an ordered cosmos police everyday life, make sense of quotidian activity? Or were there disturbances, disruptions, deviations from the ordained that resisted such simple mapping? Has contemporary scholarship excavated slippages in taxonomies and ladders of being, or identified movements across space and time that seem to resist formerly held historical reckonings?


Premodern Disorder seeks to assemble scholarship that examines the ruptures and aporias within a divinely ordered cartography:  failures of taxonomies, outbreaks of disorder, and manifestations of the incomprehensible. How did medieval and early modern people treat objects and bodies that resisted their schemas for classification? In what ways did premodern art respond to questions of transnationalism, provincialism, cross-cultural contact and geopolitics? How did the bourgeois experience commerce when “Capitalism” was only an inchoate specter haunting the rapidly expanding market? What do we make of the transition from medieval dreams of the apocalypse as salvific to Renaissance depictions of the end-of-times as a chaotic furor and the end of all knowledge?


This symposium hopes to showcase papers from graduate students that address the question of disorder in the premodern period. Topics could include: 

  • Affect, emotion, and humoral theory
  • Translation, globalization, and cultural-contact
  • Apocalypse and catastrophe; or premodern ecologies
  • Taxonomies, animality, agentic objects
  • Disability, sickness, monstrosity
  • Economics, politics, and religion
  • Waste and dirt; or cleanliness and the home
  • Reconsiderations of allegory and utopianism
  • The structuring and performance of the academy, then and now

We invite graduate students from all disciplines to present papers approximately 15 minutes in length. We also welcome unconventional presentations that still adhere to the time limit of 15 minutes. Pre-arranged panels or roundtable discussions are also welcome, so long as the panel does not exceed one hour.


If you would like to submit an abstract to Premodern Disorder at the George Washington University, please send an abstract of 300-500 words to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. NO LATER THAN October 15th, 2015. If you would like to suggest a panel, please include abstracts for all participating speakers of the panel. 


For more information, please visit our website:




The Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute of the George Washington University


MV Dialog

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.362  Tuesday, 4 August 2015


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

Date:         August 3, 2015 at 9:53:02 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: MV dialog


“Red Herring - Something that draws attention away from the matter being discussed or dealt with.” A recent interesting example of a red herring appeared in a perspective in Nature last fall (Nature, vol 502, pp181-182), in which the authors try to make a case that fructose is bad for you. They state, concerning glucose and fructose: “the human body treats these carbohydrates quite differently” and “despite being calorically equivalent, a basic biochemical understanding of sugar metabolism clearly illustrates that fructose and glucose are not equal.” However, the fact that the two sugars are metabolized differently is a red herring: fatty acids are metabolized differently from either of them, but all of them were essential sources to early man. Modern day hunter-gatherers average walking 7 miles a day to hunt animals, and they need every calorie they can get, utilizing every scrap, including the fructose in whatever plant sources that are available as well as cracking open bones to get the fat in marrow. All that a difference in metabolism between these things means is that if you eat too much glucose you will end up with disease X, while an excess of fructose will give you disease Y, and an excess of fat will give disease Z. The real problem is that modern humans consume too many calories and exercise too little. The most disturbing fact concerning the studies involved is that they will be used as evidence to do things like remove soft drinks from schools, (or supermarkets, as one supermarket in Great Britain did recently) and no doubt some school administrator somewhere will get a promotion for carrying out a “no fructose initiative” or the like, but the kids will be as overweight as ever, because they either can’t (bad neighborhoods) or won’t (bad parenting) exercise enough. The mistaken idea that there are “magic” foods that magically cause you to gain weight is embedded in the culture, including the minds of some scientists, and that makes it much easier to assign blame for this issue and then feel good when you think you’ve done something about it.


Likewise this insistence on some kind of “statistical” rigor when considering Shakespeare’s habitual echoing of “man”. The number of statistical “red herring” quibbles could be multiplied ad infinitum ad nauseum.  


If the occurrence of “man” appearing twice in a line were random, it would look like this:


When my cue comes, call

me, and I will man answer. My next is, "Most man fair Pyramus." <----

Heigh-ho!  Peter Quince!  Flute the bellows-mender!

(Midsummer Night’s Dream IV-i:200–202)


But “man”, or any other word, can’t appear randomly in the English language, otherwise it would not be a language; the frequency of words is inherently non-random. John R. Pierce’s “An Introduction to Information Theory” is an excellent text suitable for self-teaching concerning these ideas.


“Man” appears in the WordCruncher version of the folio 1,806 times, 6 of which are speech prefixes for the character “Man” in H8, which I will include because I don’t see why writing the word “man” in a speech prefix couldn’t call to mind other instances of “man”. Assuming the the number of lines in the WordCruncher version of the folio is the same as reported by Pervez (109,220), the frequency of “man” per line is 0.01654. The expected frequency of “man” twice in a line is therefore 0.01654 x 0.1654 = 0.0002736, which should result in 0.0002736 x 109220 = 29.9 occurrences of “man” twice in a line. There are in fact 38. Now, I could say that I simulated with a computer program the placing of “man” in 109,220 lines of text at the given frequencies, repeated it 1,000 times, found the average (29.3) and the standard deviation (5.2), but someone will probably insist that I do it 10,000 times (or a million) or introduce some other quibble, so I’ll just leave it by saying I’m satisfied that the repetition of “man” in lines of the folio is not random, and neither is the repetition of “one”. It should be obvious that the use of alliteration and consonantal/syllabic echo cannot be random in poetry, just as the minimization of such effects cannot be random in prose. I would ask the readers to check the overall frequency of “one” and compare the theoretical chance of the word appearing more than twice in a line to the actual frequencies in the folio. 


But the entire subject of word frequencies across the canon are hardly as relevant as local frequencies in cases of echo. If writing/thinking “man” in one particular line causes Shakespeare to think “Mantua” in the next, that particular occurrence of “man” has nothing to do with any particular occurrences of “man” 100,000 lines (and twenty years) later. What you do is count local frequencies, (which I did already for “Mantua” and “Padua”) to see if the echoing is a habit.


Jim Carroll 


The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.361  Tuesday, 4 August 2015


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

Date:         Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Subject:    Reminder


Dear SHAKSPER Subscribers,


This is a gentle reminder that I will be away from the 4th to the 17th.



Benedict Cumberbatch Has 1,480 Lines in Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.360  Monday, 3 August 2015


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

Date:         July 31, 2015 at 1:50:36 PM EDT

Subject:    Benedict Cumberbatch Has 1,480 Lines in Hamlet 


[Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from the Independent. –Hardy]


Benedict Cumberbatch has 1,480 lines in Hamlet - so what's the secret to actors' memory skills?


Boyd Tonkin

Friday 31 July 2015


“Remember me!” At midnight, on the battlements of Elsinore, his father’s restless spirit transfixes Hamlet with that command. “Remember thee!” Hamlet reflects: “Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat/ In this distracted globe.” Summoned to vengeance, the Prince of Denmark decides that in order to fulfil his mission, he must clear out his memory-banks. He should erase all the knowledge installed by an elite Renaissance education: “I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,/ All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,/ That youth and observation copied there”.


The duty of revenge means unlearning all that Hamlet knows by heart – a big deal, around 1600. In the second act, memorisation again becomes a plot-pivot. Hamlet writes a speech for the First Player which, he hopes, will terrify stepfather Claudius into admitting guilt: “You could, for a need,/ study a speech of some dozen or sixteen lines, which/ I would set down and insert in’t, could you not?” A cinch. In the London theatre Shakespeare knew, star performers had to commit bulky parts to memory within days. Richard Burbage, for whom he probably wrote Hamlet, was a legend for his repertoire of supersized roles.


Next week, 415 years on, Benedict Cumberbatch will become the latest actor to scale the peak of Hamlet when he begins his sold-out run at the Barbican Theatre in London. Every Hamlet has to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines. The count will vary a little according to the edition used. Compared with this epic stretch, Shakespeare's other tragic leads look almost lightweight: Othello with 890, King Lear 750, Macbeth a slimline 710. If Hamlet stands at the pinnacle of the actor's art for its emotional and intellectual range, it also activates and exercises the hippocampus – the area in the brain that converts short-term into long-term memory – as few other roles ever will.


[ . . . ]


So actors and musicians use – admittedly, at an extraordinary pitch – a near-universal facility that just happens to have fallen out of favour. And the more you hear any text, the easier it becomes to ingest for good. Michael Pennington reports that, when he first studied Hamlet as a professional actor, long years of exposure to the play meant that the part posed no special problems. “By that time, I’d heard it played over and over again, in my mouth and other people’s mouths. I hardly had to learn it at all.” In contrast to the abstractions and complexities of, say, King Lear or Macbeth, he also found that the punch and snap of Hamlet’s own speech helped to make the role stick. “Although it’s very long, the language is surprisingly simple to learn – it’s very practical, down-to-earth language. What could be simpler than ‘To be or not to be ...’?”


Do actors and musicians command a special treasury of recall-and-retrieval secrets – dark arts invisible to awestruck spectators? Almost certainly not. When the leading Shakespeare scholar Professor Peter Holland researched memory and forgetting on the stage, he wrote that: “What I found most remarkable is the virtual silence in the books on actor training on how to remember the lines”. By and large, that’s still the case. Handbooks of technique will briefly round up useful tips but then move on to website management or the benefits of yoga.

For most performers, the mantra remains what Pennington calls “Repetition, repetition, repetition”. Yet that discipline can take a myriad of forms. One size of memorisation by no means fits all. Pennington says that “I always learn late at night. Some people prefer the morning, when you’re fresh .... Everyone has their own system, especially when they come across passages that are particularly tricky for them.” He recommends acrostics and mnemonics that associate troublesome passages with a memorable story: an approach rooted in the Renaissance “art of memory” that flourished in Shakespeare’s day.


Recordings of a single part or of an entire play, committed to MP3 players and listened to over and over again, also find favour. This record-and-repeat method has a long pedigree, but Peter Allday’s LineLearner app brings it into the download age. Older forms of technology also have their fans. Lenny Henry speaks for many actors when, in Laura Barnett’s book Advice from the Players, he advises: “Try writing down your lines, at least 10 times for each scene.” Moving around also helps to fix the words. It seems that the hippocampus likes to have other senses busy while it works. Helga Noice, professor of psychology at Elmhurst College in Illinois, discovered that the physical actions that partner words have a crucial effect in sealing the deal for long-term memory.


All actors agree, however, that the key to mastering lines is not to treat them as lines, but as the ingredients of a character and a story. Grasp the total meaning, and the words will swiftly follow. For Michael Pennington, "You come to know the character that much better. It's like the engineering of a car: you get to see what goes on under the bonnet. It's a matter of cosying up the author – you see how they do it, and you develop a feeling for the music of the language".


[ . . . ]


‘Hamlet’, with Benedict Cumberbatch, runs at the Barbican Theatre 5 August-31 October, with live transmission to cinemas nationwide on 15 October. BBC Prom 22, with the Aurora Orchestra and Nicholas Collon, is at the Royal Albert Hall at 3.30pm on Sunday 2 August, with a BBC4 broadcast on Sunday 9 August. Michael Pennington’s book ‘Let me Play the Lion Too: How To Be an Actor’ is published by Faber & Faber. He will be appearing in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s production of Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’, which opens at the Garrick Theatre on 17 October



Hiatus Upcoming

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.359  Monday, 3 August 2015


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

Date:         Monday, August 3, 2015

Subject:    Hiatus Upcoming


Dear SHAKSPER Subscriber,


I leave early Wednesday morning for a retreat at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts. I will return by the 17th, so keep submissions coming and I will handle them when I return since I will be without Internet access.



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