CFP: Constitutions of Hamlet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.344  Tuesday, 18 October 2016


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

Date:         October 18, 2016 at 10:53:06 AM EDT

Subject:    CFP: Constitutions of Hamlet


CFP: Constitutions of Hamlet: Afterlives and Political Theologies of Trauerspiel

University of Split, Croatia

16th December 2016 (abstract deadline: 20th November 2016)

Keynote speakers: Prof. Andreas Höfele and filmmaker Ken McMullen


Tragedy and mourning plays stage, for Walter Benjamin, the point of failure around which absolutism constitutes itself. And the trauerspiel, or sorrow play, is never more acutely realized than in Hamlet’s melancholic Prince who, as Benjamin describes, “holds history like a sceptre in his hand,” but who is “incapable of declaring the emergency his very function is to prevent.” Yet this site of failure is also an intimation of futurity. As Carl Schmitt notes, modern European culture has never produced a constitutional myth with as great a reach as Hamlet. For Schmitt, the play signals an emergent modernity in its presentation of the Jacobean monarchy as historical intrusion into the drama, whose kingship has been emptied out - or “desacrilized” as Franco Moretti will later state - but whose absolutism agonistically obscures this fact from itself. This tension is met in Jacques Derrida’s notion of the play’s spectre as the ghostly presentation of that presence which “seems to remain as ineffective, virtual, insubstantial as a simulacrum.” Constituting for Derrida a “hauntology” of political theology, Hamlet speaks of a crisis in political representation by undoing the difference “between the thing itself and its simulacrum.”


Derrida’s hauntology pinpoints one reason why, following the crisis of language, or Sprackrise, that seizes major thinkers and works of high modernism, Hamlet recurs as constitutive text across vital moments of the European twentieth century. The play reopened the Deutsche Theatre in the Soviet occupied zone of Berlin following the collapse of the Nazi regime with Gustav von Wagenheim’s production, and forty-four years later the same theatre reopened for business following the collapse of communism with Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine. The melancholic Dane took a recurrent role in aiding revolutionary fervour to evade the censorship of communist regimes. In Romania, Alexandru Tocilesau’s 1985 Bucharest Hamlet strongly inferred parallels between Claudius and Ceaucescu. In Bulgaria two pre-independence productions used Hamlet as a mode of cultural reconstruction, and in Poland the Dane had played repeatedly since Wyspiański’s 1905 interpretation as a tool of political subversion; Wajda’s 1990 post-independence production was a key moment in national reconstitution.


Hamlet’s afterlives also show us how in modernity political theologies are transmitted as mass technological event. Benjamin’s analysis of melancholy and mass media technology, and Friedrich Kittler’s media archaeology are here invaluable. For it is the case that the age of analysis, the teletechnological episteme initiated in the newly established discourse networks of the 1880s and 90s (enabled by the technological development and mass uptake of the phonograph, cinema and typewriter), constitutes an unprecedented constitutional moment for Hamlet. Taking a central place in Freud’s theory of the unconscious, and critiqued in academic discourse vastly more than any other narrative, Hamlet is a quintessential object of analytic desire. Likewise, filmed more than any other story, the play wielded a constitutive influence upon the early cinema. Jointly in the institutional verification of analysis and the technological implementation of cinema, Hamlet haunts modernity.


This one-day symposium will explore how Shakespeare reworks early modern political theologies, and why modernity finds itself speaking of politics and subjectivites so frequently with and through Hamlet. In the context of Britain’s melancholic contemporary quest for political isolation, a quest arguably bound to an updated form of the very failure of political absolutism that Benjamin identifies as the heart of trauerspiel, it is perhaps more timely than ever to consider the political theologies constituted by Shakespeare's sorrowful Danish play.


The conveners welcome paper proposals that explore the subjective, philosophical, epistemological constitutions and political theologies of early modern tragedy, melancholy and trauerspiel, and the various ghosts, hauntologies and afterlives that reconstitute Shakespeare across modernity.


Please send abstracts of about 200 words to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 20th November 2016.



Shakespeare Explains the 2016 Election

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.343  Monday, 17 October 2016


[1] From:        Larry Weiss <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 12, 2016 at 2:59:25 PM EDT

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: Election


[2] From:        David Richman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         October 12, 2016 at 7:41:12 PM EDT

     Subj:         Re: SHAKSPER: Election




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

Date:         October 12, 2016 at 2:59:25 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Election


Dr. Greenblatt and Dr. Griffin are surely entitled to prefer politicians who practice Janus-like shape shifting and mendacity in their policy and governance over impulsive and disgustingly vulgar amateur dabblers.  As I said, I find it difficult to decide which form of demagogic pandering to the vox populi mobili is more reprehensible and dangerous.  Interestingly, and far more pertinent to this forum, neither they nor any other SHAKSPERean have commented on my observation that it appears that Shakespeare also had a healthy distrust and disdain for populism.



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

Date:         October 12, 2016 at 7:41:12 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: SHAKSPER: Election


To extend Greenblatt’s analogy, those who can’t distinguish between the two candidates in the current election may wish to consider Richard III and Edward IV as Shakespeare depicts them. One is corrupt and venal, the other is extremely dangerous, a killer, an existential threat.  


David Richman




"High Art" and the Nobel

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.342  Monday, 17 October 2016


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

Date:         October 14, 2016 at 10:22:38 AM EDT

Subject:    "High Art" and the Nobel


I am speaking of the recent Nobel prize in literature award, which has somehow confused genres.


Pop music since at least the '50’s has been aimed primarily at the 14-25-year-old segment of the population with money to burn, and the simple-mindedness of most of the music that results is a testament to that. Genuine artists are rare and sui generis, and Dylan’s music is certainly unique, regardless of its quality...but his writing? One has no difficulty distinguishing Faulkner from Hemingway, or either from (insert hundreds of popular novelists here). They were/are not marketed by big-business force-feeding their art to teenagers (and overgrown teenagers), as Dylan is. So why Dylan and not Woody Guthrie? How about the Rolling Stones, they were agents of change, or they were at least reflecting it, weren’t they?


Here are some quotes from Academy members I found in the news media:


“He is probably the greatest living poet,” Swedish Academy member Per Wastberg said. 

—Source: NBC News Margolin


“Sara Danius, a literary scholar and the permanent secretary of the 18-member Swedish Academy, which awards the prize, called Mr. Dylan “a great poet in the English-speaking tradition” and compared him to Homer and Sappho, whose work was delivered orally.... Asked if the decision to award the prize to a musician signaled a broadening in the definition of literature, Ms. Danius jokingly responded, “The times they are a changing, perhaps,” referencing one of Mr. Dylan’s songs....Mr. Dylan’s many albums, which the Swedish Academy described as having “a tremendous impact on popular music,” include “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited” (1965), “Blonde On Blonde” (1966) and “Blood on the Tracks” (1975), “Oh Mercy” (1989), “Time Out Of Mind” (1997), “Love and Theft” (2001) and “Modern Times” (2006).” 

—Source: NY Times Sewall Chan & Ben Siserio


Here’s an excerpt from one of the album’s mentioned above:

Pledging My Time (from Dylan’s “Blond on Blonde”)


Well, early in the mornin'

'til late at night,

I got a poison headache,

But I feel all right.

I'm pledging my time to you,

Hopin' you'll come through, too.


Well, the hobo jumped up,

He came down natur'lly.

After he stole my baby,

Then he wanted to steal me.

But I'm pledging my time to you,

Hopin' you'll come through, too.


Won't you come with me, baby?

I'll take you where you wanna go.

And if it don't work out,

You'll be the first to know.

I'm pledging my time to you,

Hopin' you'll come through, too.


How is this any different from a million other mediocre love songs? Or this:


Visions of Johanna


Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet?

We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it

And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it

Lights flicker from the opposite loft

In this room the heat pipes just cough

The country music station plays soft

But there's nothing, really nothing to turn off

Just Louise and her lover so entwined

And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind


Oooh, rhyme. Is this really better than Carly Simon’s “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be”?


My father sits at night with no lights on

His cigarette glows in the dark.

The living room is still;

I walk by, no remark.

I tiptoe past the master bedroom where

My mother reads her magazines.

I hear her call sweet dreams,

But I forgot how to dream.


As far as pop music goes, that’s a personal favorite of mine, but perhaps that’s all it is, a personal favorite of mine. I don’t put it up there with The Iliad. For an excellent description of the difference between poetry and lyrics, see the recent Slate article by Stephen Metcalf, although I think he is vastly overrating the influence of Dylan when he says “More than any individual, I think, he pulled the American mainstream away from its near absolute commitment to a style of middlebrow-po-faced-imperial-parochialrighteousness that helped drag us, among other places, into Vietnam. “What? I think the “imperial-parochialrighteousness” was done in by the many needless deaths in the war, not by any pop singer. And Dylan’s musical anarchy was preceded long before by Woody’s Herman’s First Herd (try “Appple Honey” and “Wildroot”) and then Charles Mingus (try “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” and “Ecclusiastics”). I often get the feeling these days that when someone is promoting their favorite pop musician, that they’ve never heard (and heard enough times to appreciate) Thomas Tallis, or John Coltrane, or Brahms, or Bill Evans etc. 


I read somewhere in the last few days that the Nobel committee must be recognizing that there is no gap between “high” culture and popular culture. Really? There is no gap between “Come Ona My House” (#1 in 1951!) and Beethoven’s 9th?. At best, they are claiming, as they usually do with the literature awards, that a literary artist can sometimes be an agent for social change, or be involved with that somehow. At least, one hopes so, that it was not simply some of the committee members giving a prize to some favorite of theirs of their youth, and that The Spice Girls are up next, or that maybe the committee members simply don’t know the difference between “high” art and time-killers for kids, or that maybe they are just the usual over-educated social climbing types who memorized a bunch of stuff and have no idea what art is at all, or that maybe they just want a chance to meet Dylan at the ceremony, or that maybe the Queen said “I want to meet Dylan at the  ceremony.” At worst, one has the uneasy feeling that money could be involved, and somebody at a music company is going to make a few bucks with increased sales of Dylan. 


This next recommendation is probably hopeless for those who can’t look up from their device for more than a few minutes, but the power of “high” literature can be seen in the recent Hollow Crown series productions of “Richard II” and “Henry IV”. Shakespeare manages to make Richard II, a failed king, a stand-in for his employee, Chaucer, and the poetic depiction of the decline of his reign creates a contrast with the political reality of the situation that is impossible for me to put into words. This is followed by an entirely different depiction of young Hal, and the further contrast of the style of “Richard II” with that of both the play “Henry IV pt1” and the character of Hal himself mirrors as closely as anything I know in literature the contrasts of real life and the personalities in it. I highly recommend viewing “Henry IV pt1” immediately after “Richard II”. 


If the Nobel committee had existed in 1610, would the prize have gone to Shakespeare, or to Thomas Deloney?


Jim Carroll




Broken Link Repaired: NEH Seminar: KING LEAR

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.341  Monday, 17 October 2016


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

Date:         Monday, October 17, 2016

Subject:    Broken Link Repaired: NEH Seminar: KING LEAR


[Editor’s Note: The announcement for Professor Strier’s NEH Seminar on King Lear had a broken link that I have corrected. Below is also a copy of that message with an operating link. –Hardy]


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

Date:         October 11, 2016 at 3:53:33 PM EDT

Subject:    NEH Seminar: KING LEAR


Richard Strier will be offering an NEH Seminar for college teachers on King Lear at the University of Chicago this coming July.  All college instructors (but not graduate students) are welcome to apply.  For a full description, stipend information, and application instructions, please go to:


Richard Strier

Sulzberger Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus

Department of English

University of Chicago




CFP: Offensive Shakespeare Conference, Northumbria University

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.340  Monday, 17 October 2016


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

Date:         October 17, 2016 at 11:56:13 AM EDT

Subject:    CFP: Offensive Shakespeare Conference, Northumbria University


CFP: Offensive Shakespeare Conference, Northumbria University, UK, 24 May 2017


Dear all,


We invite abstracts for the forthcoming “Offensive Shakespeare” conference, to take place at Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, on 24 May 2017. This conference is sponsored by the British Shakespeare Association.


Offensive Shakespeare


Keynote speakers:  Prof. Douglas Lanier (University of New Hampshire)

                                  Dr. Peter Kirwan (Nottingham University)

‘Outrage as BBC bosses “use Shakespeare to push pro-immigration agenda”’.
This was a headline in The Daily Express on 25th April 2016, after the BBC included what has become known as the ‘Immigration Speech’ from Sir Thomas More in a programme celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. From Thomas and Henrietta Bowdler expurgating passages from their Family Shakespeare, through campaigns in the early 20th century to remove The Merchant of Venice from American classrooms, to this recent ‘outrage’, people have been offended by what Shakespeare wrote or by the uses to which others have put him. But what is it that offends us and how do we deal with it? What makes Shakespeare and his appropriations such a sensitive issue? We welcome 200-word abstracts for 20-minute papers that might address the following (or related) topics:


  • Case studies of individuals or groups taking offence at Shakespeare’s texts.
  • Examples of Shakespearean rewritings aimed at addressing ‘offensive’ issues. 
  • Shakespearean plays or performances which have been banned, censored, or campaigned against. 
  • Debates around removing Shakespeare from educational curricula, or making the study of his work mandatory. 
  • Appropriations of Shakespeare by anti-democratic or repressive movements (e.g. ‘Nazi Shakespeare’, ‘racist Shakespeare’). 
  • Iconoclastic uses of Shakespeare that ‘offend’ against established orthodoxies. 
  • Adaptations of Shakespeare into popular genres or idioms. 
  • Means of teaching or tackling plays which include morally, ethically, or politically problematic passages (e.g. The Taming of the ShrewOthelloThe Merchant of Venice).
  • Uses of Shakespeare in propaganda, inflammatory speeches, or heated political debates.
  • Authorship controversies. 

Thanks to a generous grant from the BSA, we are able to offer two bursaries of £75 each to assist postgraduate students with the costs of attending the conference. Email the organisers if you would like to apply for one of these.

Please submit abstracts to Monika Smialkowska (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Edmund King (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) by 15 February 2017.   


To register, visit



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