The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 30.037  Sunday, 27 January 2019


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

Date:         January 26, 2019 at 4:14:23 PM EST

Subject:    Special Issue of JMEMS: "The Fortunes of Tragedy: Medieval and Early Modern"


Dear SHAKSPERians,


I write to publicize a special issue of The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (JMEMS) 49.1 (January 2019) on “The Fortunes of Tragedy: Medieval and Early Modern,” edited by David Aers and Sarah Beckwith, which includes several articles on Shakespeare and which I thought might perhaps be of interest to the listserv.


Abstract for the special issue:


“Go, litel bok, go, litel myn tragedye.” So wrote Chaucer at the end of Troilus and Criseyde. But how compatible are the forms and ideas of tragedy with Christian tradition, its theology and liturgy? What are the relations between medieval and early modern discourses of tragedy? In The Tragic Imagination (2016), the distinguished Anglican theologian Rowan Williams presents a grand narrative maintaining the compatibility of “the tragic imagination” and Christianity. Yet the story neglects, without any comment, the entire Middle Ages. This special issue of JMEMS explores the fortunes of tragedy as a genre by investigating the sources and consequences of this missing middle of Williams’s book. It also concerns what led generations of Christians to invent or reinvent tragic forms of drama and literature in the early modern period. The essays illuminate in new ways the divide between medieval and early modern studies that continues to be intrinsic to departments of the humanities despite increasing acknowledgment of the distortions of cultural histories created by such institutionalization.


Alongside essays on Chaucer’s “Monk’s Tale” and medieval drama, articles in this issue on Shakespeare in particular include:


Jason Crawford, “Shakespeare’s Liturgy of Assumption” 


In his last exchange with Cordelia, a failing and ecstatic Lear promises that they together will “take upon ’s the mystery of things / As if we were God’s spies” (5.3.16 – 17). Take upon us: what are the implications of this language? Why not invite Cordelia (in the formulations Shakespeare uses elsewhere) to “see,” “discover,” “know,” or “pluck out” mystery? The mystery of things seems here to beckon God’s spies not toward acts of apprehension but rather toward an act of assumption. This essay seeks to make sense of Shakespeare’s language of assumption by looking to a cluster of terms that do important work in King Lear: “take on,” “take up,” “bear,” “bear with.” These terms are all complexly associated, in late medieval and early modern discourses, with the incarnation of Christ, and with the ritual taking of Christ’s body in the Eucharist. And they are all associated with narrative representations of the assumption of Mary, in which the son she has borne and taken into herself now takes her up and bears her to heaven. How, in King Lear, do these narratives and practices of assumption inform tragic action? How does the language of assumption enable this play’s peculiar, participatory grammar of suffering? In attending to these questions, the article sets Shakespeare’s play against the backdrop of ritual practice across the divide of the English Reformation, reflecting on how early modern cultural change matters to this tragic play’s own ritual and cultural work.


Patrick Gray, “Shakespeare versus Aristotle: Anagnorisis, Repentance, and Acknowledgment”


Efforts to describe Shakespeare’s tragedies and place them within the history of the genre have been long misled by dubious assumptions about Shakespeare’s secularism dating back to the influence of German Romanticism. The use of concepts drawn from Aristotle’s Poetics has been compromised, as well, by patterns of misinterpretation, reflecting the influence of Renaissance Protestants such as Melanchthon, who sought to reconcile classical tragedy with Christianity. As Aristotle uses the terms, hamartia does not mean sin, and anagnorisis does not mean repentance. Using these terms as euphemisms for these Christian concepts has allowed critics to avoid recognizing Shakespeare’s indebtedness to the moral vision of Christianity. Tragedy for Shakespeare, as in medieval biblical drama, is the failure of a sinner to repent. Shakespeare represents repentance as a process that requires engagement with other people: an intersubjective transformation Stanley Cavell describes as “acknowledgment.”


Paul A. Kottman, “Why Shakespeare Stopped Writing Tragedies” 


Shakespeare’s career moves from an explicit concern with theatrical drama to an increasing concern with what John Vyvyan called “the science of life.” This article argues that this increased concern with ethics led Shakespeare to stop writing tragedies. Shakespeare’s plays indeed point to the pastness of tragedy — the pastness of the hope that formal embodiments of ethical traumas can be directed at a beholding audience in the hope of rectifying them. That is, Shakespeare thought that the formal representation of social and ethical crisis, before an audience — the work of tragedy — could no longer, as such, hope to ameliorate it. Shakespeare understood that tragedy was not historically immune to the social- ethical crises it presented, and this recognition led to Shakespeare’s more radical presentation of the pastness of art in his late plays, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest.


I also wanted to announce an article that I co-authored with a former student of mine, Maurice Samely, which recently appeared in Textual Practice 33.1 (2019).


Patrick Gray and Maurice Samely, “Shakespeare and Henri Lefebvre’s ‘right to the city’: subjective alienation and mob violence in CoriolanusJulius Caesar, and 2 Henry VI 


I hope readers don’t mind the self-promotion. I know in my own case, I regularly read journals that specialize in Shakespeare, but I don’t always manage to keep up with the latest issue of other excellent but more generalist journals such as JMEMS and Textual Practice


Could I perhaps propose, then, that other SHAKSPERians likewise announce, not only new monographs, edited collections, and special issues focused on Shakespeare, but also new articles on Shakespeare that appear outside specialist journals such as Shakespeare Survey and Shakespeare Quarterly, when they first become publicly available, and include an abstract and a link to the article on-line? 


Other members of the listserv may object to such announcements, in which case, fair enough. I know I myself, however, would be grateful for the help, as I try to stay up-to-date on the latest research. The section on Shakespeare in The Year’s Work in English Studies, for example, provides an invaluable service, both of discovery and of exposition, but it does mean waiting a year or two.   


The same kind of announcement, come to think of it, would also be helpful, in fact even more helpful, for chapters on Shakespeare that appear in edited collections that are not obviously related to Shakespeare, i.e. that do not include the name “Shakespeare” in the title. Otherwise, I find I sometimes happen upon interesting work much later than I would have liked!  


With all best wishes,

Patrick Gray

Associate Professor

Department of English Studies

Durham University




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