Previewing a Venetian-Ghetto “Merchant” with Director Karin Coonrod

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.082  Tuesday, 15 March 2016


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

Date:         March 16, 2016 at 12:28:01 PM EDT

Subject:    Previewing a Venetian-Ghetto “Merchant” with Director Karin Coonrod


Director Karin Coonrod

Previews the Merchant 

She's Preparing for July

In the Venetian Ghetto 


Monday, March 28, at 8 p.m.

National Arts Club

15 Gramercy Park South, Manhattan

Admission Free, but Reservations Requested


If you read Sunday’s Travel section in the New York Times, you probably saw David Laskin’s cover story about “500 Years of Jewish Life in Venice.” You may also have noticed that in late July a special production of The Merchant of Venice will be staged in the city’s historic Ghetto. The director behind this commemorative event is Karin Coonrod, and in a recent review New York Times critic Ben Brantley described her as “a theater artist of far-reaching inventiveness.” 


In 2005 Vanity Fair columnist John Heilpern, writing in the New York Observer, called her rendering of Coriolanus “bold and brilliant.” Similar accolades have appeared in American Theatre, The New Yorker, Village Voice, and other periodicals. Ms. Coonrod has founded two companies, Arden Party (1987) and Compagnia de’ Colombari (2004), and she and her colleagues have enchanted playgoers in such venues as BAM, the Folger Theatre, Hartford Stage, the Public Theater, and Theatre for a New Audience


We hope you’ll join us for what promises to be a memorable evening, and that you’ll encourage others to do likewise. Because space is limited, we request that you reserve spaces with an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


See and click on the blue links for additional detail, not only about this event and the context that gives rise to it, but about upcoming programs with Ralph Alan Cohen (April 18), Kiernan Ryan (May 23), and Peter Holland (June 20). You’ll also find information about other engagements, among them a festive Gielgud Award presentation that took place in October at London’s venerable Guildhall


John F Andrews, President

The Shakespeare Guild






CFP: Shakespeare and Fear

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.079   Monday, 14 March 2016


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

Date:         March 10, 2016 at 5:26:54 AM EST

Subject:    CFP: Shakespeare and Fear


Shakespeare and Fear


Call for papers for the 2017 conference of the French Shakespeare Society


12-14 January 2017

Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe, Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris



Call for papers


In an era fraught with economic violence, environmental anxiety, forced migrations, war and terrorism, it seems particularly relevant to examine the ways in which the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage made use of fear and to consider how these fears continue to reverberate in the present. Such connections are clearly envisaged by Robert Appelbaum, who applies the word “terrorism” to the violence that shook Early Modern Europe, including the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and countless plots and popular uprisings.* The re-appropriation of Shakespeare’s plays in the context of the crises we are experiencing is a case in point. How has Shakespeare been used to fend off fear, or deconstruct the workings of terror, dictatorship or armed intimidation — from Ernst Lubitsch’s To be or not to be to Shakespeare productions recently performed in Syria?


Fear is present in one form or another in almost all of the dramatic works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. From the ridiculous apprehension of being made a cuckold to the dread felt by Macbeth when confronted to Banquo’s ghost, from the mechanicals’ worry that the “lion” might frighten the ladies to the terror on which Richard III’s tyranny relies, all degrees of fear are to be found in Shakespeare, as well as in Marlowe, Middleton or Webster. Be it in tragedies attempting to instil sacred terror or in comedies making fun of the staging of terrifying events, in historical plays critiquing the Machiavellian uses of political terror or in the new-fangled Jacobean taste for spectacular stage shows, fear is pervasive on the Shakespearean stage, reflecting individual emotions such as  “the dread of something after death” mentioned by Hamlet, as much as the ever-present social apprehension of the plague or foreign invasions. Shakespeare, for one, distinguishes fear (which occurs over 800 occurrences in the canon) from dread (50 occurrences) or fright, which is often to be found in ironic contexts, with an underlying suggestion that the events in question are not really worth the fretting they cause.


The notion of fear in connection with Shakespeare goes well beyond the modalities specific to the Early Modern English stage: the fact that the Bard’s works have been canonised and become compulsory reading  at school and university has generated a fear of Shakespeare, while the arrival of his plays on the continental stages in the 18th century spawned trepidation among audiences and authors alike: there is certainly a form of fear in Voltaire’s loathing of, as much as in the Romantic playwrights’ desire to emulate, the master. This lasting dread is epitomized today under the alliterative heading of “no fear Shakespeare” and in the various attempts to domesticate the intricacies of Elizabethan writing with the help of reading companions, modernized editions, etc. The fear of Shakespeare can also become a fear for Shakespeare, in view of the endless probes and conspiracy plots around his identity that has arisen since the end of the 19th century.


* Terrorism Before the Letter, Mythography and Political Violence in England, Scotland, and France 1559-1642, OUP, 2015.


We look forward to bringing together historians, literary scholars and theatre practitioners, as well as specialists in drama, cultural studies, psychoanalysis, sociology and anthropology to offer contributions on topics including (but not limited to):

  • Theories of/about fear in Early Modern England;
  • The different degrees of fear in Early Modern England;
  • Symptoms of fear on the Early Modern stage (body language, vocal language, masks, costumes, makeup, etc.) / a phenomenology of fear;
  • What and who is feared on the Shakespearean stage? (terrifying portents, threats, exemplary sentences, horrible and horrifying shows, mutilations and murders, ghosts, supernatural interventions, etc);
  • How and why is fear elicited in audience members? (staging tricks, noises, smoke, visions, etc.);
  • The fear of Shakespeare / “No fear Shakespeare”;
  • Fear for Shakespeare;
  • Updating Shakespeare in the context of war, terror or terrorism;
  • Invoking Shakespeare to allay fear.

Please send an abstract (maximum 500 words) and a short biography (maximum 200 words) by 25 may 2016 to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Scientific committee

  • Yan Brailowsky (Université Paris Ouest, Société Française Shakespeare)
  • Mark Burnett (Queen’s University, Belfast)
  • Jean-Michel Déprats (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense)
  • Pascale Drouet (Université de Poitiers)
  • Dominique Goy-Blanquet (Université de Picardie)
  • Sarah Hatchuel (Université du Havre, Société Française Shakespeare)
  • Pierre Kapitaniak (Université Paris VIII)
  • Harry Keyishian (Fairleigh Dickinson University)
  • Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (ENS Lyon)
  • Ronan Ludot-Vlasak (Université de Lille III)
  • Chantal Schütz (École Polytechnique, Société Française Shakespeare)
  • Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin (IRCL / Université Paul-Valéry – Montpellier III, Société Française Shakespeare).


For more information: 




British Shakespeare Association - March Bulletin

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.076   Thursday, 3 March 2016


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

Date:         March 1, 2016 at 1:20:56 PM EST

Subject:    British Shakespeare Association - March Bulletin


BSA Event Videos


Our website is now capable of hosting video recordings of BSA events. Members can currently watch the inauguration of Chris Grace and Dame Janet Suzman as honorary fellows of the association, complete with their reflections on their work with Shakespeare. A taster of the recording is available to all on the website, and members in good standing for the current year have been emailed a password for the full recording.


Teaching Shakespeare issue 9 now published


Issue 9 of the BSA magazine Teaching Shakespeare has just been published. This issue includes a bumper noticeboard and royally ushers in the year with two articles on the Henry IV plays by Michael J. Collins and Howard Gold. Submissions for Issue 10 can be sent to the journal editor at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Issue 9 can be downloaded from the BSA website.


Teaching Shakespeare: Call for contributions on Vietnamese Shakespeare


Dr Sarah Olive, chair of the BSA Education Committee and editor of Teaching Shakespeare, is seeking contributions focusing on Shakespeare in Vietnamese education. Anyone with experience of learning or teaching Shakespeare in Vietnam can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to be part of this British Academy-funded project. For more information, see the full call on our website.


BSA Journal Volume 11 now published


Volume 11 of the BSA journal Shakespeare is now out, including special issues on ‘Adaptation and Early Modern Culture: Shakespeare and Beyond’, and ‘“Roaring Girls: The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2014 Season’ as well as two open issues with a wide range of articles, critical debates and performance reviews.


New articles published online this month include Elizabeth Harper’s article on killing children in Shakespeare’s early histories, James O’Rourke’s essay on ethnic stereotypes in productions by Trevor Nunn and Dave Chappelle, and several new book and theatre reviews. Current members can subscribe to the journal – including the physical volume and full online access – at the heavily discounted price of £15. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details and missing volumes.


Preparing for Hull 2016


The BSA’s 2016 conference, ‘Shakespearean Transformations: Death, Life, and Afterlives’, takes place 8-11 September 2016 at the University of Hull. The conference team has received abstracts from all around the world and is currently in the process of confirming the programme and contacting participants. Hull has recently been named one of the ‘Top Ten Cities in the World to visit in 2016’ by Rough Guides. Please visit the conference website for full details.


Disability and Shakespearean Theatre Symposium


The BSA is supporting this conference, taking place at the University of Glasgow on 20 April 2016. Professor Chris Mounsey will deliver a keynote on ‘VariAbility in Shakespeare’, and the symposium will be followed by the premier of Molly Ziegler’s new play Let Her Come In, a one-act rewriting of Hamlet focused on mental illness, gender and disability. Attendance is FREE to BSA members in good standing. For more information, please visit the conference website.


Applying for funding


The BSA is able to award small amounts of money to Shakespeare-related education events, academic conferences and other activities taking place in the UK. For more information or to apply for funding, please email the Chair of the Events Committee, Susan Anderson (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or the Chair of the Education Committee, Sarah Olive (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).


Bardolph’s Box: An Introduction to Shakespeare


The BSA is pleased to be supporting Up the Road Theatre's Bardolph’s Box, a theatre production designed by BSA member Nicola Pollard for children aged 8-12 and their families. This 40-minute piece, featuring a number of lesser-known plays and characters, will be touring schools and libraries in the Liverpool and Kent areas in March. For more information, please see the company website.



We are pleased to advertise news and activities by our members and other Shakespeare associations. If you would like to advertise a Shakespeare-related activity, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Items below are not affiliated with or endorsed by the BSA – please use individual contact details for more information.


Death on the Shakespearean Stage: Call for Papers


Globe Education is marking the 400th anniversary of the deaths of Shakespeare, Francis Beaumont, Philip Henslowe and Miguel de Cervantes with an international conference running 1-3 December 2016 that explores death, rituals of dying and the experience of loss on the early modern stage. Please submit proposals of 150 words to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 1 March 2016.


Follow the Ardingley Shakespeare conference on Twitter 


Ardingly College is holding its annual Shakespeare conference on 7 March.  As well as featuring presentations by teachers and students from sixteen schools, this year’s conference will feature plenary talks by scholars Tiffany Stern, David Schalkwyk and Russ McDonald, and actor Pippa Nixon. The conference will be broadcast at @ardinglyenglish #ardinglyshakespeare . For more information, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  


Margaret of Anjou: a ‘new’ play by Shakespeare


To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March 2016, Royal Holloway stages ‘the premiere of Shakespeare’s most feminist play’ at its Egham campus. Elizabeth Schafer and Philippa Kelly have pirated Margaret of Anjou from Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Richard III, tracing Margaret as she matures from feisty princess to scheming queen, cold-blooded killer to grief-stricken mother, shameless adulteress to cursing crone. The event is free, but please register here


The Woman Hater (Edward’s Boys) on tour in March


The acclaimed children’s company Edward’s Boys (of King Edward VI School in Stratford-upon-Avon) tours a new production of Francis Beaumont’s The Woman Hater to Stratford, Oxford and London from 9-12 March. For tickets and more information about the company, please visit its website at http ://www . edwardsboys . org/ .


Sidelights on Shakespeare 


The University of Warwick ‘Sidelights on Shakespeare’ series continues on 10 March 2016 with a talk by Dr Velda Elliott entitled ‘Detecting the Dane: Shoehorning Shakespeare into Genre Studies in A Level Literature’. This talk may particularly appeal to members working with A-level students. More details of the talk can be found here.

Shakespeare 400 Events at King’s College London 


Shakespeare 400 events at King’s College London in March include the Beaumont 400 conference (March 12th) and a lecture entitled In Nature’s History More Science: Forbidden Planet (March 16th). For full information about the Shakespeare 400 festival and more upcoming events, please visit the website.

Propose a Research-in-Action Workshop at Shakespeare’s Globe


Shakespeare’s Globe invites scholars to apply to run practice-led research workshops in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in Spring and Summer 2016. This is an opportunity to test an idea related to the drama of Shakespeare or his contemporaries in performance indoors. Full information is available on the Globe website, and proposals should be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by Monday 14 March. 


The Bard in Bury


The Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds is hosting its very own Shakespeare festival for schools .  Students aged 8-16 are invited to be part of a special production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in front of a paying audience. For further details on how your school can take part, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 01284 829935. Schools will need to sign up by the end of March in order to participate.


Shakespeare’s Musical Brain, 16 April 2016, King’s College London


The Musical Brain is convening a special conference to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. ‘Shakespeare’s Musical Brain’ will include talks from academics, composers and neurologists, examining the relationship between words and music in aesthetic and scientific terms, and how it affects the relationship between actor and audience then as now. A limited number of student tickets are available at £35; full price £95. See the website for full details.


Call for Papers: Shakespeare in Latin America 


The Institute of Literature at Universidad de los Andes (Santiago, Chile) is organising an international conference that will bring together scholars around the topic of the presence of his works within the Latin American canon, either in the existing tradition of translating his plays and poems by writers, poets, and academics, or in the re-writing and adaptation for performance. Abstracts are due 22 April 2016. For more information, please visit the conference website.

Bard by the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Morecambe


From 22-24 April, Morecambe will be hosting a major Shakespeare festival. Events include five adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, Shakespeare Comedy Dinner Theatre, a midnight screening of Theatre of Blood, workshops on acting and stage fighting, wine tastings, music from the Haffner Orchestra celebrating orchestral Shakespeare, a night of The Bard on Broadway, a puppet version of Forbidden Planet and even a historical and artisan market. For more details, please visit the website


The Merchant of Venice in Venice, 27-28 July


The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is organising a fundraising event in Venice to support its re-presentation of New Place. You are invited to attend a production of The Merchant of Venice in the Jewish ghetto (500 years old this year). Tickets (priced at £450) also include talks from Shakespeare experts and theatre practitioners, a three-course lunch at Locanda Cipriani, coffee and a drinks reception. For more information, or to reserve a place, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Shakespeare Documented online exhibition launched


Shakespeare Documented is a multi-institutional collaboration convened by the Folger Shakespeare Library to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. This free online exhibition constitutes the largest and most authoritative collection of primary-source materials documenting the life of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). It brings together images and descriptions of all known manuscript and print references to Shakespeare, his works, and additional references to his family, in his lifetime and shortly thereafter.


BBC Shakespeare Archive now available to UK schools

The BBC has recently launched the BBC Shakespeare Archive Resource. This new online resource provides schools, colleges and universities across the UK with access to hundreds of BBC television and radio broadcasts of Shakespeare’s plays, sonnets and documentaries about Shakespeare. The material includes the first British televised adaptations of Othello and Henry V, classic interviews with key Shakespearean actors including John Gielgud, Judi Dench and Laurence Olivier, and more than 1000 photographs of Shakespeare productions.


New Book by BSA Member


Why Shakespeare?  Who is this Hamlet? Is Lady Macbeth really evil? Can Caliban really be a twitchy speeded Goth freak? These and many more questions are addressed by BSA member Ruby Jand in her book Shakespeare Calling, a personal journey of exploration into the plays of Shakespeare and the search for an explanation of what a 450 year-old playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon means to us today.


RSC Resources for Schools


The Royal Shakespeare Company has released a new set of school resources to accompany its current UK tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation, which features local amateur companies taking the roles of the Mechanicals. Resources and information about events can be downloaded from the RSC website.




Shakespeare:Birmingham organises weekly gatherings / Shakespeare play readings at the Birmingham & Midland Institute in the centre of Birmingham (Tuesdays, 6.30-9.00pm) and monthly workshops aimed at increasing enjoyment of Shakespeare through any means possible! In March we will be starting our reading of King Lear, all are welcome to attend. For details of meetings, please visit the website at http ://shakespearebirmingham . co . uk, which also lists all Shakespeare productions happening in the area.




Shakespeare400 at Chichester Festival Theatre

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.075   Thursday, 3 March 2016


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

Date:         March 1, 2016 at 9:12:00 AM EST

Subject:    Shakespeare400 at Chichester Festival Theatre


CFP, Deadline Friday 25 March 2016.


Shakespeare400 at Chichester Festival Theatre, Sat 23 April 2016. 


In partnership with the University of Chichester English department, CFT will host a series of lectures and discussions devoted to bringing the latest scholarship in Shakespeare studies to Chichester. Featuring talks and interviews with leading Shakespeare scholars and theatre professionals the day will mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The day will explore the context for Shakespeare’s writing and new ways of approaching his plays. Heather Knight, senior archaeologist at the Museum of London, will be offering the latest findings about the early theatres from current excavations in London. Professor Simon Palfrey (Oxford University) will also be talking about his most recent work on Macbeth. More talks and workshops will be announced at a later date. Tickets £20 (includes 11am panel discussion in the Minerva Theatre. Short 20 minute papers are invited on any topic relating to Shakespeare and his context. 


Please email a 250 word abstract of your paper to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. no later than Friday 25 March 2016.


Duncan Salkeld




Next Week

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.074   Thursday, 3 March 2016


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

Date:         Thursday, March 3, 2016

Subject:    Next Week


Dear Subscribers,


I am going to be in Devon at Sharpham House for the first module of the Committed Practioners’ Programme that I will be taking over the next two years.


This is a teaching module, so I will have Internet access and might have the time to edit SHAKSPER Newsletters. 


Should I not, this message stands as my explanation.


Best wishes,





SBReview_26: Shakespeare’s Verse: A User’s Manual

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.070   Monday, 29 February 2016


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

Date:         Monday, 29 February 2016

Subject:    SBReview_26: Shakespeare’s Verse: A User’s Manual


[Editor’s Note: All SBReviews are peer-reviewed and are archived at the SHAKSPER web site’s Scholarly Resources section: in book-quality PDF files.]





Roger Gross. Shakespeare’s Verse: A User’s Manual. Fayetteville, AR: Pen-L Publishing, 2015. Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1942428220, paperback ISBN-13 978-1942428046. xix + 189 pp. $32.95/22.95 US.


Reviewed by Annalisa Castaldo

Widener University


There have been, of course, books about Shakespeare’s verse, most notably George Wright’s 1991 Shakespeare’s Metrical Art. But Gross’s book is both unique and indispensable. It is unique because it is exactly what the subtitle promises—a true user’s manual. It is indispensable because it is a well-tested, comprehensive, and above all clear user’s handbook. It takes anyone—student, actor, director, scholar, or casual reader—from the very basics of the blank verse line to the complex nuances of late Shakespearean experiments with verse, and it does all this with copious examples and practice opportunities.


Gross begins his text talking about how, when he was the Artistic Director of the California Shakespeare Festival, he would receive raves from critics, except they always accused him of “massacring the verse” but they could never explain what exactly “respecting the verse” meant. So he set about trying to figure this out for himself. He then spent forty years reading modern and early modern sources about verse speaking, scanning every line Shakespeare wrote, testing the understanding of verse in productions, and listening to the verse in range of context (among other things). Gross is therefore uniquely qualified to not only explain the nuances of speaking Shakespeare’s lines as verse, but to providing practical, tested examples for students, actors, and directors to study and practice.


The book moves from the very basics—a definition of iambic pentameter—to variations to the basic form, to thoughtful engagement with how changes in pronunciation often lead accidentally change the rhythm. Gross has, for example, an entire section on “modern speech quirks” such as always wanting to emphasize (or as he puts it “kick the hell out of”) the word “not” wherever it shows up, or the fact that “able” words in Shakespeare are often pronounced differently than our normal speech patterns, so that we say “MIZ-uhr-uh-bull” for miserable when Shakespeare wrote it expecting the actor to say “MIZ-uh-RUH-bull.” Gross covers caesura and enjambment, dialect and even a bit of rhetoric, providing a complete course in verse speaking. Throughout he asks us to trust Shakespeare, to do the work of scanning any line we plan to speak and then speaking it in a way that honors the pattern of the line, even if it goes against modern American speech patterns. Doing this, he promises, will result in clearer, faster, more interesting productions.


Some scholars may find the relative lack of jargon to be off-putting: Gross goes so far as to rename certain poetic forms, such as calling the trochee followed by an iamb a “swoop” for example, and some of his terms seem, at first, overly cute (calling the modern habit of tossing away some syllables by compressing them “the diddley menace”). But his purpose in these moments is clear; he is trying to help actors and directors, especially, understand how changes to a regular (or “stock” as he calls it) line of iambic pentameter should sound on stage and how they will, if delivered correctly, engage the audience. Knowing that an inverted iamb is called a trochee is less important to Gross than knowing that it results in a specific burst of energy “Think of the inversion not as one reversed foot but as a four syllable movement which starts high, plunges down into the depths, and Swoops back up to the heights again” (27). Even if that imagery doesn’t end up working for the reader in the end, it clearly expresses how the verse moves in that moment.


Finally, Gross expands the discussion beyond the bounds of the book; he ends with an invitation for everyone to visit where he plans to have demos, coaching, clarification of some points that are hard to convey in text alone and, most importantly, an ongoing conversation about verse speaking. The website is basic at the moment—just information about the book, the author, and a way to contact him, but hopefully soon there will be many discussions about the finer points of the verse. This website is a wonderful addition to the book itself, especially if the promised demos show up, as hearing a variety of lines spoken with correct rhythm would be a powerful teaching tool and a very useful addition for actors (and even scholars) who learn better from hearing or doing than from reading.




SBReview_25: The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.069   Monday, 29 February 2016


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

Date:         Monday, 29 February 2016

Subject:    SBReview_25: The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio


[Editor’s Note: All SBReviews are peer-reviewed and are archived at the SHAKSPER web site’s Scholarly Resources section: in book-quality PDF files.]




Smith, Emma. The Making of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2015. ISBN: 978-85124-442-3. 180 pages. 8 figures. 32 colour plates. £20.


Reviewed by Pervez Rizvi

Independent Scholar


We are seven years away from the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio, an event less personal and poignant but more important than the one we are commemorating this year. No doubt some celebratory books will be published nearer the year 2023, perhaps even an affordable Norton facsimile. Emma Smith has got out of the starting blocks early and has written not one but two books about the Folio. The first is about the ‘making’ of that book, which Smith interprets generously as covering not just the Folio itself but the wider literary scene in London in 1623.


Smith opens with a guided tour of the Folio, starting with the Droeshout engraving and the dedications. She talks readers through matters such as the Shakespeare canon, genre, the ordering of the plays and textual provenance. Most of the material will be well-known to members of SHAKSPER and most of it is recited in many other places, but Smith offers some interesting insights along the way. For example, she notes that the servants’ dialogue in the blinding scene in King Lear might have been written to allow the actor playing Gloucester at the Globe performance enough time to get ready for his entrance early in the next scene. But the dialogue was cut later for the Blackfriars performance because in that performance there would have been an Act break after the blinding scene, giving the actor the time he needed without cover from the servants’ dialogue (p. 47). Unfortunately, Smith then shies away from the obvious conclusion and hedges her bets by claiming improbably that the cut was for both practical and artistic motivations. Consistent with the latest trends in Shakespeare scholarship, Smith ends the chapter by discussing collaboration and joint authorship, using Macbeth as her example.


The literary culture into which the Folio was received in 1623 appears to be of much more interest to Smith than bibliographical details. This is reflected in the greater liveliness of her next chapter, on Shakespeare’s reputation among playgoers and readers. She is at her most evocative when she tells readers about St Paul’s churchyard, a place that Carlyle called “a kind of Times newspaper” (p.75), revealing it not as a place of hushed reverence but the busy centre of the London literary scene, the place where people went not just to buy and read books but to be seen doing so. She briefly adopts the style executed so successfully by James Shapiro in 1599, weaving disparate facts into a novel-like narrative, as when she tells us that the Folio was published in an autumn which was “unremittingly wet, and the London streets were thick with mud” (p. 80). Sadly, this style does not last and the rest of the book is a dutiful but dry recital of mainly factual material. Except in a handful of pages, the eighteen-month long process that produced the greatest secular book in the English language is never brought to life. 


The third and longest of Smith’s four chapters is called ‘Team Shakespeare: The Backers’. This is devoted to biographical information about the men who are named in the Folio preliminaries or who were involved in some other way in the project. Inevitably these biographies suffer from unevenness. Ben Jonson gets detailed treatment but Heminges and Condell, who of course deserve pride of place in any history of the Folio, are disposed of more briskly because so little is known about them. Smith has to make do with such facts as previous research has unearthed, as when she tells us that the Folio’s lead publisher Edward Blount “was associated with the import of art objects as well as seeds and exotic foodstuffs” (p. 116).


Smith leaves the technical details of the printing to a chapter at the end. Her account of procedures such as casting off and setting by formes is useful, though some diagrams would have helped the reader encountering the material for the first time. In matters of genre, textual provenance and printing history, Troilus and Cressida is the problem child among Folio plays. In her account of its printing, Smith leads readers astray with her statement that “a few copies [of the Folio] exist with a cancelled sheet following Romeo and Juliet printing only the first two pages of Troilus…” (p. 143). This is not correct and appears to be based on her garbled recollection of the fact that in a few copies of the Folio the tragedies section begins with the crossed-out last page of Romeo followed by all the pages of Troilus except the prologue. Smith would not have made the error if she had reproduced the relevant pages from one of those copies, held by the Folger. For an illustrated book about the making of the Folio to omit the most sensational evidence of its printing history is a noticeable shortcoming. Smith’s book is published by the Bodleian Library and naturally most of the illustrations come from that library’s treasures. But there are illustrations also from further afield, including Meisei University in Japan, so it is disappointing that Smith and her publishers did not seek, or did not receive, permission to reproduce images from the Folger copies of the Folio. 


The chapter on printing is also short and somewhat perfunctory. For example, even before Charlton Hinman’s celebrated reconstruction of the Folio’s production, it was apparent to the naked eye that there had been some disruption involving The Winter’s Tale. The play has anomalous signatures and is unique in the Folio in being preceded and followed by blank pages. It was obviously a late insertion and that fact might or might not be related to the lost document that Malone reported seeing in the eighteenth century, showing that in August 1623, while the Folio was still being printed, Heminges had had a copy of The Winter’s Tale relicensed because the company had lost the original. A book-length account of the publication of the Folio needs to tell the reader these things; Smith’s book does not.


A few errors have gone undetected. Smith tells us that Robert Greene died in 1593 and Christopher Marlowe in 1594 (p. 23), a year out in each case. She writes that The Comedy of Errors is the fourth play in the Folio (p.37); it is the fifth. More interestingly, she tells us that Ralph Crane ‘definitely’ transcribed The Comedy of Errors for the Folio (p. 126). She appears to have got this claim from John Jowett’s book Shakespeare and Text which she stars as a key resource for readers seeking more information, but she should have alerted readers that the attribution is far from definite.


Smith ends with a coda called Early Readers which is obviously intended as an appetiser for her next book about the Folio. In the meantime, this book will appeal to general readers looking for an introduction to the Folio and especially to some of the men connected with it. But readers who want an expert and accessible account of the printing of the Folio itself will continue to be best-served by Peter Blayney’s booklet ‘The First Folio of Shakespeare’ which the Folger Library generously makes available for free download (




SBReview_24: A Fury in the Words: Love and Embarrassment in Shakespeare’s Venice

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.068   Monday, 29 February 2016


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

Date:         Monday, 29 February 2016

Subject:    SBReview_24: A Fury in the Words:  Love and Embarrassment in Shakespeare’s Venice


[Editor’s Note: All SBReviews are peer-reviewed and are archived at the SHAKSPER web site’s Scholarly Resources section: in book-quality PDF files.]





Harry Berger Jnr. A Fury in the Words:  Love and Embarrassment in Shakespeare’s Venice, New York, 2013. Fordham University Press. pp. ix-x + 229.


Reviewed by John Drakakis

University of Stirling


Harry Berger Jnr. begins his discussion of ‘Love and embarrassment in Shakespeare’s Venice’ with an acknowledgement of R.P. Blackmur’s deliberate ‘misreading’ of a street sign that he takes to be a key to the understanding of language as gesture. The ‘sleeping monster’ that Blackmur awakened in Burger leads him to readings of Shakespeare’s two Venetian plays that he admits constitutes “a similar if monstrously more complex process of misreading” that he goes on immediately to name “close interpretation.” He immediately perceives a problem with the close reading of the texts of plays in that it   “interrupts the rhythm and flow of theatrical performance in order to create problems where no problems exist” (p. 2. My italics).


This is a provocative way of introducing a feature of Shakespeare’s plays that Berger invites us to perceive as part of “a general fiction of rehearsal.”  Actors, he argues, “distinguish what goes on between characters from what goes on within the language that characters speak,” and the distinction that he invites us to consider is between “the interlocutory and intralocutory properties of dialogue, where the latter is “semantic and lexical” and is the repository of “intralocutory or “inward” meaning.”  We are also invited to accede to the claim that “actors understand that even as their characters engage in interlocutory action with each other, their characters’ words engage in intralocutory acts on their own.” On the surface of it, this observation looks like a version of Derridean ‘play’, and although it leads in principle to a fluidity of interpretation, Berger seems to have something else also in mind.  The idea that actors “discover that Shakespeare’s language insists on doing its own thing, apart from the things its speakers intend it to do” (p. 3) raises two important questions; the first one is, who puts the ‘meaning’ in Shakespeare?  The late Terence Hawkes provided an eloquent and complex answer to this question in his book Meaning by Shakespeare (1992) and went on to lay the foundation for a literary-presentist challenge to the notion that somehow Shakespeare’s language works all by itself.  But, perhaps, this is not all that Berger has in mind. On the one hand, he appears to have a degree of contempt for the “slit-eyed perusal” of the text “in which every scene becomes a problem scene” (ibid.), and yet there is a sense in which his own methodology is curiously dependent upon it. The second question hovers between one of the tenets of New Criticism in its gesture towards the autonomy of the text, but then veers into psychoanalysis with its claim that intralocution operates beneath the plane of articulation but is not, it would seem, equivalent to the Lacanian ‘real’.  Indeed, Berger’s concern with what he calls “the ‘inwardness’ of language as gesture” brings together a neo-Kristevan concern with “the goings-on that irrupt within speech, the things that language does for its speakers, or with them, or to them, the things it says about them, regardless of their express intentions and interlocutory strategies,” on the one hand, a quasi-Stanislavskian compulsion on the part of the actor (here aligned with the critic in a “fiction of interpretation as rehearsal”) “to expose what characters feel, not what they ought to say” (p. 9).  Expressed as a formal property of language, this is an ingenious formulation that establishes a common ground between theatrical and ‘literary’ criticism. 


The initial examples he chooses to illustrate his point are not from the Venetian plays, and of the two he offers, the one from Macbeth might serve as an indication of the distinction he seeks to explicate. The moment is Banquo’s response to Duncan’s murder, and his instruction to “his fellow thanes:” “When we have our naked frailties hid, / That suffer in exposure, let us meet” (2.3.126-7). On the one hand this is an interlocutory utterance, “a simple directive or summons.” But, argues Berger, “at the intralocutory level there is a fury in his words.”  He continues:


“When we have our naked frailties hid” is a gesture of fear, bad conscience and moral weakness. It is a parodic gesture of mutual distrust: “when we have protected ourselves from each other.”


It is also a gesture of embarrassment: “when we have protected ourselves from ourselves.” The whole of Macbeth is about the anxiety of characters who try to hide the “naked frailties” of their murderous lust for power and who worry about exposure. Among the “frailties” Banquo hides is his motivated failure to tell Duncan about the witches’ prophecy, thus insuring the old king’s ignorance of and “exposure” to the murder he “suffers”.  (ibid.,  pp. 3-4)


It would not be difficult to assent to most of this. The king has been murdered, hence the fear of those who remain alive. The “bad conscience”, however, is fanciful since there is no suggestion that Banquo regrets not informing Duncan about the encounter with the Weird Sisters; indeed he has had his own concerns about what their prophecies signify and before the murder he is at pains to protect himself from them. The clause “naked frailties hid” recalls the ‘hidden’ frailty that was exposed earlier, and the extent to which Macbeth it at pains not to express it, and his desires, in words. This clause repeats in condensed form something that as theatre audience we have already seen and heard, and although it cannot be anything of which Banquo is fully conscious himself, the link is made by the audience whose collective memory is activated by what has already been said earlier about “nakedness”, “frailty”, and the Macbeths’ capacity for “hiding” their ambitions and their actions. 


We might also note the immediate realism of Banquo’s utterance: nakedness (though not necessarily nudity) and frailty are features of a post-lapsarian existence, and the resultant ‘weakness’ that inheres in uncontrolled ‘Nature’, and that emerges only in the night-time is something that a little earlier in the play Banquo has asked “merciful powers” to protect him from.  That Banquo’s utterance is concentrated is not in doubt, but the protection that he may seek from “himself” has a very specific application, and cannot be inflated to universal proportions.  Here Berger’s “slit-eyed perusal” displays a certain filtering of detail, while occluding some of the historically specific cultural questions that might have formed the basis of a speculation on the sophisticated oral practices that a Jacobean audience might have been expected to bring to bear on the experience of seeing and listening.      


Of course, the fun of Shakespearean interpretation is that we can quibble over particular readings, and there is a welcome tantalising energy, sometimes innocent, sometimes faintly mischievous, that runs throughout this fascinating book.  And it is the example from Macbeth that crystallises a particular problem in that it seems to herald a retreat into the ‘character’ criticism of the last century.  Berger invokes Anthony Giddens on the topic of institutional hegemony to describe “forms of consciousness involved in ‘the reflexive monitoring of conduct’”, but he amalgamates this, curiously, with a notion of the dramatic character’s intentions and motives:


Shakespeare’s texts dramatise situations in which the characters may not want to, may try not to, confront and report on “their motives”. On the contrary, they may “wish” or “try” not to become aware of their motives. They may wish or try to disown knowledge. Shakespeare equips them with the ability to occlude, ignore, or forget – to disown or “disremember” – whatever interferes with their belief in a chosen discourse. (p. 11)


What he calls a discursive “practical consciousness” (his italics) that involves knowledge or belief that cannot be expressed discursively is balanced in Berger’s lexicon by a “practical unconsciousness” which he claims is “a storehouse of disowned knowledge” (ibid.).  This thesis has its attractions, but what in an example such as Polonius’s momentary forgetfulness in Hamlet where the character/actor seems to forget his own lines (2.1.51-2) can be traced to the play’s preoccupation with ‘memory’, is extended in Macbeth to provide an unusually candid definition of the operations of the Jacobean unconscious.  Prior to the moment that Berger elucidates, and before the murder of Duncan, Banquo reveals not only how the unconscious operates, but also what its contents might be. “Those thoughts that Nature gives way to in repose” are not repressions in the Freudian sense, but suppressions, in this case of the Weird Sisters’ prophesies, that in sleep would be the stuff of nightmares.  Here there appears to be no discursive dislocation involved since Banquo is fully conscious of what he knows the ‘unconscious’ contains, and how vulnerable the state of sleep is.  Nor could we say that he is somehow in denial since what Banquo is ‘disowning’ (perhaps in this case a better word would be ‘refusal’) here is not ‘knowledge’ but certain of the consequences that could follow from the possession of that knowledge if he were, as Macbeth later does, to act upon it. 


All of this makes Berger’s ‘practical unconscious’ rather problematical, since it invites the interpreter to enter the realm of free speculation about what the dramatic character (and the actor) may be concealing. 


This is an important methodological quibble because if we accept Berger’s categorisations at face value, then we give ourselves permission to slide between the demands of a formal philosophically augmented discursive analysis and a neo-Bradleyan ‘character’ analysis that may or may not be refurbished by the insights of psychoanalysis.  Berger moves perfunctorily, though not entirely unproblematically, through Kant to a Sartrean “skew” in which he argues, “it may be necessary to curtail knowledge in order to make room for bad faith” (p. 12).  It is in this way that Sartre’s “inward turn” of consciousness (Being and Nothingness (1984), p. 48) can be made serviceable for Shakespeare’s Venetian plays where, it is claimed, characters “curtail or disown knowledge by switching on the gestural power of the discourses stored in practical unconsciousness” (ibid.).  Significantly, and to some extent reductively, it is, for Berger, characters who “switch on” or, perhaps more neutrally, disclose this “gestural power” that is the unconscious of discourse.  Of course, once having identified this mobile category, then discussion, as in its Derridean mode, can go anywhere.  This may not be quite what Berger intends, even though this does free him from certain textual constraints.  The problem still remains, though, of distinguishing between knowledge denied (for whatever reason) to dramatic characters, but made freely available (except, perhaps, in the case of Hermione’s ‘death’ in The Winter’s Tale) to an audience or a reader. Berger’s approach also raises the question of how far it is reasonable or legitimate for interpretation to speculate about the motives of fictional characters? 


Both The Merchant of Venice and Othello have attracted a plethora of explanations about the ‘motives’ of their characters: about what they reveal, what they suppress, or indeed, about what they might repress.  Throughout Berger expresses admiration for the late Janet Adelman’s book, Blood Relations: Christian and Jew in The Merchant of Venice (208), a very complex and condensed account of those theological, social, and political forces that sustained late Sixteenth-century relations between the two unstable categories of ‘Jew’ and ‘Christian.’  In some respects, Berger aims at a complementary suppleness in his approach to the Venetian plays, aiming to explore what he calls “the intralocutory underground of practical unconsciousness” with a view to uncovering “the complicity of Portia and Antonio with Shylock, and of Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia with Iago” (p. 15).


In her book, Adelman locates the difficulty between Jews and Christians in Venice in a complex Christian anxiety that is the result of moving from the religion of the Father to that of the Son, and she traces it through various theological commentaries that point to a deep unconscious affinity between Christian and Jew.  Berger’s version of this emerges in his focus on the ‘merry bond’ in The Merchant of Venice and upon Antonio’s attitude towards what he calls “Shylock’s outlandish terms” (p. 22).  So far, so good.  But things take a curiously novelistic turn when Antonio is accused of meeting the conditions of the bond “with weird alacrity” (ibid.) and that “some threat to his personal being, was what he wanted to elicit and put on display” (p. 23).  Of course, what the link is between Antonio’s initial expression of sadness and his acceptance of the ‘merry bond’ is never made clear.  Indeed, it is not until Act 4, scene 1, that Antonio is prepared to sacrifice himself for Bassanio that we can talk of public display, and by that time – even though the scenario resembles a Christian agony—this is far from what Berger detects in the initial encounter with Shylock as “the embarrassing spectacle of Antonio showing off before Bassanio.”  It is possible, of course, to resist Berger’s speculations here while at the same time agreeing with his conclusion that “Antonio is a problem” (ibid.).


This is a cue for a discussion of that perennial chestnut that Berger calls “Antonio’s Blues”.  The dialogue signifies, to be sure, “more than generic social friction” (p. 25), and Berger’s intuition that his “first impression of Shakespeare’s Venice is of a community of speakers who don’t particularly like or trust each other” (p. 23).  Antonio’s perfunctory dismissal of Salarino and Salanio (he accepts Dover Wilson’s contraction of the ‘three Sallies’ into two) is, he argues, “his way of protecting his privacy in a nosy world where everyone gazes and squints at everyone else and entertains theories about them” (p. 25).  Berger only hints at what Antonio may be protecting here, though one suspects that it supports the familiar claim that it is a ‘love’ that dare not speak its name.  If we were being encouraged to think of Venice as a bourgeois society or as a Chekhovian location, then Berger’s account would be more persuasive than it is.  Venice is a republic and the issue is the vexed question of money: who lends, who borrows, and under what circumstances and with what consequences in a society where ‘strangers’ are supposedly welcomed.  Of course, it is difficult to be certain whether Berger’s translations and paraphrases of dialogue and his speculations about ‘the practical unconsciousness’ of characters is supposed to sit on top of the accretions that generations of critics (and he has read most of them), or whether this critical method represents a significant departure from them.


Usury is, as Berger acknowledges, an important focus in the play, but for him Antonio is caught in what he identifies as “negative usury” that involves him in giving “more than he takes by taking no more than he gives.” (p.28) As Berger correctly observes, this is the structure of Marcel Mauss’s ‘The Gift’, but projected onto Antonio (and possibly Portia) it is transformed into a form of “donation” that makes the Venetians seem even less attractive:  


If usury boils down to taking more than you give, the donor’s discourse is a form of negative or deferred usury: it consists of giving more than you take in a manner that makes it possible for you to end up getting more than you gave. Negative usury as a strategy aims to embarrass the victims of donation by placing them under a moral debt thy can’t easily pay off, much less shake off. (p. 29)  


Nor is the aside that ‘usury’ “in this context is metaphoric: a specific economic practice is extended to a general ethical practice” (p. 29, fn. 4) very much help here.  What seems to be missing from this speculation is a larger historical context that is just as important in shaping Berger’s “practical unconsciousness”, a context that would extend to conventions of male friendship, the plethora of moral issues surrounding the taking of interest, and the location of Venice as a geographical space that aroused contrary political and libidinous feelings among Elizabethan commentators.  As it stands Berger’s “practical unconscious” turns out to involve a particularly devious form of protecting personal privacy.  Again it is the case that the play continually exposes the difference between what seems to be and what is – nowhere more problematically than in Bassanio’s comments about female temptation immediately before making his casket choice in Act 3, scene 2.  We might further enquire what the grounds are for claiming that Bassanio is in any way an ‘embarrased’ victim of Antonio’s donation (p. 29) beyond a psychological speculation concerning the structure of the Maussian ‘gift’.  As a prodigal aristocrat, the ‘Lord’ Bassanio appears to be unembarrassable, even when at the end of the play he is confronted with his broken oath to Portia, and even though the gift of her ring to Bassanio tars her with the same brush as that used to decorate or embellish Antonio’s financial donation (pp. 30-1).  In circumstances like this, a pragmatic psychology threatens to reduce to an innovative pragmatic psychology, what might have developed as an intricate historical enquiry. This may be, what motivates actors, and it may also be what entertains modern audiences, but it falls a little short of elucidating what we try to identify as the text’s discourses, which in the case of The Merchant of Venice are not always that clear or indeed consistent. 


In what Berger takes to be the competition between Antonio and Portia for Bassanio, Portia comes out looking more like the scheming Venetian housewife than the ‘golden fleece’ that Salerio (and Bassanio) takes her for.  Indeed, she ‘embarrasses’ Bassanio and Antonio, and her “O love, dispatch all business and begone” (3.2.320) is interpreted by Berger as “an act of generosity” but in a “skirmish” in which “the gesture of donation trounces that of the self-sacrificial victim” (p. 33).  Berger is entitled to resist the “Platonising” of the description of the friendship between Antonio and Bassanio but he takes her reference to “this Antonio” at 3.4.16 as further evidence that she is “at war with Antonio” – he inflects this deictic phrase with a paraphrase that hovers between a conscious strategy and the practical unconscious: “(Whoever he is)” (pp. 34-5).  There is something odd going on in the play at this point.  We can accept, perhaps with some reservation, Berger’s reading of her dismissal of her “latest good deed” as “a self-conscious gesture of embarrassment uttered as a reflex to her auto-laudatory outburst” (p. 35), but can we forget that the Portia who is speaking at Act 3, scene 4.10-21, is the very same person who two scenes earlier had submitted herself “to be directed, / As from her lord, her governor, her king” (3.2.164-5).  It may indeed be the case that Bassanio’s request for the means to save Antonio follows immediately behind his acquisition of Portia’s riches, and that this might be the cause of some embarrassment on his part.  But just how manipulative is Portia being at this point?  For her Antonio is a mirror image of Bassanio and is therefore someone to whom she feels justified in extending her ‘love’.  If we read this triangular relationship against the grain then a fault-line emerges that opens up the difference between homosocial and heterosexual relationship, and of the kind that Shakespeare explored with greater subtlety, and even greater candour, in the opening scene of The Winter’s Tale.  Berger develops this into what he calls “a battle for competitive donation” (p. 67), a version of René Girard’s ‘mimetic desire,’ that makes for a much darker play altogether.


For Berger, if we view the ensuing court proceedings through the eyes of the disguised Portia then we “must share her embarrassment” caused “by the husband with whom she has contracted to share life after Happy Ending, and by the professional scapegoat he is attached to” (p. 36). This is to make a soap opera out of a scene that seems to be deliberately constructed to suggest a repetition of the foundational moment of Christianity, and to risk secularising what is probably the most serious moment in the play. Of course that seriousness is never allowed to prevail since the wager that Portia and Nerissa place on Antonio’s freedom will be Bassanio’s (and Gratiano’s) marital fidelity.


All this is not to dispute that there is something very odd going in the Venice and Belmont of this play.  And while we may quibble over some of the particular readings offered by Berger, and speculate about the operations of his own practical unconscious, what cannot be disputed is the inventive manner in which he sets about his task. His account of The Merchant of Venice is eclectic, resourceful, and inventive, unearthing issues that taken collectively make this play even more problematical than critics have found it.


Berger is on surer ground in his account of Othello largely because this play deliberately invites speculation about motive and action much more clearly than in The Merchant of Venice. Here we are invited to evaluate empirical evidence, albeit from a position in which as audience we come to occupy an increasing omniscient position. Berger is correct to observe the play’s “comic backwash lengthening in the wake of The Merchant of Venice” (pp. 87-8), but the claim that “the embarrassing protagonist” that Othello replaces is Bassanio” (p.88) is more questionable.  The link between the two plays raises some interesting questions about what constitutes a Shakespearean ‘source’ beyond what Berger supplies.  Indeed, Shakespeare takes from the earlier play the Lorenzo-Jessica parallel plot and fuses it with the Portia-Morocco episode, steering the action away from its venal emphasis in order to expose another facet of Venice’s treatment of the figure of the ‘stranger’.  Moreover, it is only if we accept Berger’s structure of ‘embarrassment’ in the earlier play, that his claim that, here it is Desdemona who is “the embarrassee” (p. 88) can be made to stick. The book as a whole takes its title from Desdemona’s puzzlement at Othello’s accusatory ‘words’ and seeks to probe what separates them from Othello’s “fury”.  And it is this that prompts further investigation into the ‘practical unconscious’ of Venetian discourse. 


Berger is preoccupied initially with the play’s withholding of information about Cassio’s role in Othello’s courtship of Desdemona (pp. 90-91), and this is one of a number of questions of the withholding of information that emerge in the play.  At this point Girard’s triangulated ‘dance’ of mimetic desire is invoked to explain Othello’s deployment of a go-between, and here the explanation extends beyond the confines of the play; in Act 3, scene 3, “we learn for the first time that the three principals have been choreographed in René Girard’s dance of mimetic desire since before the play began” (p. 91).  There is a danger with this kind of reasoning since it smacks of the “how many children had Lady Macbeth” question.  There is also other information that only emerges, as it were, tangentially, one of the most important being the uncertain role that Brabantio played in Othello’s courtship of his daughter.  We see Brabantio in two ‘states’: in the first he refuses to believe Iago and Roderigo, but once he succumbs to the carefully engineered ‘proof’ we see him ventriloquising the attitude of Iago.  On occasions of this kind, Berger seems to be more fascinated by psychological generalisation – by what he thinks that people generally would do in these situations—than he is by the dramatic context that over-determines the characters’ positions. What happens in Venice could happen, the assumption seems to be, behind the picket fences of middle America and/or in the ingenious plots of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.  But this should not be allowed to denigrate the kinds of questions that Berger asks.  We might be persuaded by the claim that “since Othello is an outsider who lacks confidence, he resorts to a go-between, and he sees in Cassio everything that he himself is not: white, young, handsome, elegant, always at ease among the likes of Desdemona” (p. 91).  Except that this is not what Desdemona says when asked to justify herself, and it is not what Othello thinks until Iago has made him think again about his wife’s fidelity.  Berger invokes the support of Grahame Bradshawe who in Misrepresentations: Shakespeare and the Materialists (1993) observes that the news of Cassio’s role in Othello’s courtship “is news to Iago as well as to spectators and readers” because it forces them “to reconsider, re-evaluate, reinterpret everything that has occurred since the beginning of the play” (My italics). But this is exactly the point, and lest we get too quickly sucked into the racist, misogynistic, patriarchal discourse of Venice, we are given two early demonstrations of the dangers of making up our minds prematurely: the one, as we observe Brabantio’s inadequate empirical investigation, and the deadly conclusion to which it will eventually lead, and the other as we observe the Duke receiving different kinds of information before deciding on a sound naval strategy against an external enemy, the Turks.  To extend the enquiry beyond the play is to risk falling ourselves into the trap that Iago sets for all of the main characters in this drama.  The point also is, surely, that insignificant details, such as Desdemona’s comment to Othello in Iago’s presence about Cassio’s services as go-between, can be turned inside out by a character who has is accused by his wife of his having had “some such squire…That turned your wit the seamy side without” (4.2.147-8). Desdemona is unaware of the semantic ‘play’ of language nor is Othello until ‘honest’ Iago has got to work on him. She is also unaware of the significance of the handkerchief until Othello discloses it to her. 


It is these discordances within the play that indeed do prompt the sorts of questions that Berger asks, although the range of possible answers serve to exacerbate the mobility of what he calls the ‘practical unconscious’.  There is, to be sure, a very real tension that surrounds “the contrast between silence and openness in the play” (p. 98), but there is also the danger that the notion of conspiracy is carried just a little too far.  For all its curious narrative inconsistencies, indeed, perhaps, in spite of them, each of these events, and the information that they yield is very carefully contextualised.  Already by Act 1, scene 3, Berger is prepared to side with Iago against Othello.  Again it is the case that everything Iago says throughout the play “contains a grain of truth” (p. 106).  The question is: do we seek for the grain of ‘truth’ in everything that those who come into contact with Iago say?  And how do we judge what to include and what to omit?  Berger’s conclusion seems to be that we cannot distinguish because everything assumes a primary importance thereby justifying a series of separate enquiries into behaviour and motive; for example, Othello is as ‘bombastic’ as Iago says he is, and this becomes evidence of his ‘embarrassment’, and much follows from that premature conclusion.  What seems to be missing from this is the way in which insinuated ‘information’ can colour our perception. We need to wait, like the Duke, before making up our minds.


Desdemona is at the heart of Berger’s account of the play, and he characterises her as “’a deserving woman’ confident in the fidelity of her love but confident also in the power of the sexuality she controls” (p. 110).  Critics have for some time tried to square the self-possessed figure of Act 1, scene 3, who sees Othello’s “visage in his mind” (1.3.254) with the figure who exchanges bawdy banter with Iago at Act 2, scene 1.  This difficulty could be further expanded by drawing in the figure at Act 4, scene 3, who, after she has been spurned by Othello asks Emilia if “there be such women do abuse their husbands / In such kind?” (4.3.61-2).  The apparent inconsistence here is odd, but it does resemble Othello’s own acceptance of Iago’s ‘honesty’ while at the same time recognising that the latter’s body language are “tricks of custom” that are available to “a false disloyal knave,” but in “a man that’s just / They’re close denotements, working from the heart, / That passion cannot rule.” (4.3.124-7). The point is, surely, that Othello and Iago are not what they seem, the one by nature and the other by design.  Othello’s empiricism seems to be deficient, in that he sees only one side of his ‘ensign’, whereas Iago can fabricate evidence to sustain particular partisan viewpoint.  If Desdemona and Cassio get drawn into this complex web of deceit it is surely not because they themselves have hidden agendas, but because their open gestures can be manufactured to fit Iago’s narrative. Desdemona is emphatically not a Venetian housewife, though she can acknowledge the type. Consequently, when Othello, under Iago’s tutelage describes her as “that cunning whore of Venice” (4.2.92), it is after she has been forced to defend herself against his ruthless Iago-like deconstruction of particular elements her own discourse. 


Cassio is an even trickier case because his courtier-like behaviour can be interpreted both ways.  Also, his mysterious liaison with the suggestively named Bianca does little to stabilise our perception of him. The intricate web that Berger weaves – and he is able to find ample critical evidence to support his arguments – raises the question of how far his own interpretation is dependent upon the perspective that Iago persistently insinuates.  For example, can we say objectively that “the politesse of erotic insinuation remains the active core of all Cassio’s graduated performances”? (p. 111).  Perhaps we should remember that Desdemona is no Isabella confronted with a duplicitous Angelo, nor does she give Othello substantial cause to think that she might be.  Both hers and Cassio’s gestures are persistently judged by onstage and offstage audiences, and there is a discrepancy between what one interpretation fabricates, and what the other knows.  If we, or readers, take our cue from Iago then we become complicit in the fate of Desdemona.  Berger is right, in the case of Cassio to suggest that what may from one perspective be a flirtation with Emilia at 2.1.97-99 is part of a general strategy whereby “he busily extends his manners downward” (p. 111).  But surely, in the presence of Iago almost every character is persuaded to “extend” their “manners downwards” none more so than Emilia herself in Act 5, scene 1, when she puts her finger exactly on what it is that over-determines female subjectivity: “Then let them use us well: else let them know, / The ills we do, their ills instruct us so” (5.1.101-2).  This process of shaping response permeates the play, and cannot, it seems to me, be replaced by some autonomous motivation the search for whose origins can be undertaken relatively independently from the dramatic complex structure that imposes certain parameters upon meaning.  The Gordian knot that Berger expertly, and tantalisingly weaves intertwines the motivation for the actor’s realisation in performance (and perhaps ‘reading’ as species of performance) of the character’s motivations, with the textual web of significations that point to an historical ‘practical unconscious’ that envelops and over-determines their artificial behaviour.  The two do not always coincide.


Berger’s treatment of Desdemona offers an insight into drift of his speculations.  He asserts that after her admission of the apparent misplacement of her handkerchief Desdemona’s “heated exchange with Othello displays an interest in keeping him angry, but angry on her terms, not his.” Even more, he suggests that Desdemona harps on Cassio in this exchange almost purposely, as part of a domestic quarrel that “has everything to do with gender – with the struggle of will between her and Othello – and nothing to do with sex.” 


Berger suggests further that her behaviour, or as he puts it, “her strategy is consistent with and reinforces her refusal to acknowledge Othello’s jealousy” (p. 160).  This is not unreasonable, but what follows makes of Desdemona’s approach a demonstration of wilful stupidity in that “the refusal is self-blinding.  It accompanies behaviour that seems, even more perversely, to arouse and intensify the jealousy she refuses to acknowledge, the jealousy that gives her vantage, if not to exclaim on Othello, then to dramatise her injured merit” (pp. 160-1).  Since Berger’s initial concern was with discourse, then what this reveals is the gap between Othello’s appropriation of Iago’s reductively masculine view of Venetian women, and Desdemona’s innocent, and not unreasonable insistence that Othello rectify his decision in relation to Cassio.  What Desdemona does not know at this point (but we do) is what has happened to make her husband think that she has been unfaithful.  Of course, Desdemona is concerned to justify her innocence, but that surely is the extent of her own “self-justification”. She certainly does, as Berger indicates, refuse to “acknowledge the jealousy” but she couples it, we are told, “with her persistence in rubbing the salt of Cassio into its wound” (p. 161).  Berger brings two separate observations into a causal relation with each other and the linear connection implies that Desdemona is guilty of something. There are plenty of instances in Shakespeare where characters talk past each other, and where the issue is competing meanings.  Few have such tragic consequences as in Othello. But Berger suggests that there is a further depth beneath discourse (something perhaps not too dissimilar from the Lacanian ‘real’) that haunts this play.  If the kaleidoscope is shaken in one direction then it reveals a Kristevan pattern, if in another direction, then a Girardian triangulation of mimetic desire, if from another, then it is how all couples behave in fraught domestic situations. Berger’s reading is so democratic in this respect that the reader can take his/her pick, and this is part of the appeal of this book.


While there are plenty of grounds for disagreement with aspects of Berger’s suggestive linking of The Merchant of Venice and Othello, he goes out of his way to engage in collegial discussion. There is also much to agree with, and that provides a balance that is clearly designed to stimulate further thought.  Berger is a free spirit who speaks as he finds, is prepared to reveal his own eclectic critical predilections and who does not appear to mind if his readers turn his theory of the ‘practical unconscious’ back upon him.  But what shines from every page in this detailed and complicated argument is the passionate and enthusiastic desire to debate, a rare phenomenon in an academic world that is in danger of forsaking its pursuit of knowledge for a drab and vulgar professionalism. This is a book that anybody interested in these two puzzling yet thoroughly engrossing plays absolutely needs to read. Its delightful irritations, provocations, cajolements, and its traversals of the minute detail of the criticism that these plays have attracted over the last half-century cannot but excite the reader or the spectator, and there is also much food for thought for the actor. 




Shakespeare Theatre Company, 2016-2017 Season

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.056   Saturday, 20 February 2016


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

Date:         Saturday, February 20, 2016

Subject:    Shakespeare Theatre Company, 2016-2017 Season



Free For All

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Ethan McSweeny 


We kick off the season with the beloved annual Washington tradition, Free For All, bringing back Ethan McSweeny’s spectacular production of The Tempest. In Shakespeare’s final play, the powerful magician Prospero, attended upon by his daughter, a magical sprite, and a villainous prisoner, leads a group of shipwrecked survivors from vengeance to reconciliation. Trickery and magic, romance and revenge set the stage for Shakespeare’s crowning masterpiece.




By William Shakespeare
Directed by Alan Paul 


The most famous love story in the world and one of Shakespeare’s early poetic masterworks, Romeo and Juliet follows two star-crossed lovers from love at first sight to eternal life hereafter. Caught tragically between two feuding families, alike in dignity and in enmity, Shakespeare’s immortal young lovers try to fashion a new world amid the violence of the old, but cataclysmic choices and tragic twists propel them toward a final confrontation with fate.




By Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon
Based on the 1911 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Directed by David Armstrong

A co-production with The 5th Avenue Theatre, in a future season, to be announced


When 10 year-old Mary Lennox loses her parents, she travels to England to stay with Archibald Craven, her morose uncle. Terrified of every nook and cranny of the haunted Craven Manor, Mary seeks refuge in her late aunt’s mysterious walled garden, where she discovers amazing secrets. The Tony® and Drama Desk Award-winning musical based on the beloved children’s book, The Secret Garden, is a story of hardship turned into hope, of beauty discovered in unlikely places, the power of the child’s imagination, and the wisdom that accompanies growing up. 

Musicals at the Shakespeare Theatre Company are made possible by the Beech Street Foundation.




By Mike Bartlett
Directed by David Muse
Produced in association with American Conservatory Theater and Seattle Repertory Theatre 


The Queen is dead. After a lifetime of waiting, Prince Charles ascends the throne with Camilla by his side. As William, Kate, and Harry look on, Charles prepares for the future of power that lies before him… but how to rule? In the wake of sensational Broadway and West End runs, this regional theatre debut of King Charles III, written primarily in Shakespearean blank and rhymed verse, explores the people underneath the crowns, the unwritten rules of Britain’s democracy, and the conscience of its most famous family.




An adaptation created by Elevator Repair Service
Based on the novel “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
Directed by John Collins
The Select (The Sun Also Rises) was initially produced by Elevator Repair Service and New York Theatre Workshop. 


A stage littered with liquor bottles and café chairs seamlessly transforms itself from the bistros of Paris to the banks of the Irati River; a long bar table roars to life and charges a champion matador; an out-of-control dance party takes off during a night of nonstop revelry. As the story winds its way through France and Spain and lands in Pamplona where bullfighting and the fiesta rage in the streets, Hemingway’s narrator carries the heavy burdens of a war injury and his inability to have the woman he loves—a woman whose amorous escapades he follows with bemused but painful fatalism. 


The Select (The Sun Also Rises) is a co-production of Elevator Repair Service and New York Theatre Workshop. It was commissioned by the Ringling International Arts Festival, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL, in association with the Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, NY; the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival with funding from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative; ArtsEmerson: The World On Stage, Boston, MA; and Festival Theaterformen Hannover/Braunschweig.




By William Shakespeare
Directed by Liesl Tommy 


“The Scottish Play,” Shakespeare’s exploration of murderous ambition, fiendish equivocation, and a love of terrifying intimacy. In a world beset by civil war and invasion, Macbeth and his scheming lady start a series of murders, plunging us into the darkest night of the soul. Storms rage, fires burn, and night blankets the earth in this tale of sound and fury, accompanied by Shakespeare’s richest poetry.




By Thomas Middleton
Directed by Michael Kahn 


What if Romeo and Juliet had lived? Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean thriller, a characteristically spiky, sexy response to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, begins with a newly married couple, eloped from Venice, arriving in Florence. When horny young husband Leantio is forced to take a job, his equally passionate bride, Bianca, makes the mistake of listening to her mother-in-law and finds herself abducted and attacked by the Duke of Florence. Needless to say, the plot twists and turns, and murder and forbidden desires ensue.




Shakespeare in Australia

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.055   Saturday, 20 February 2016


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

Date:         February 17, 2016 at 11:01:13 PM EST

Subject:    Shakespeare in Australia


Shakespeare TwentyScore: An Information Hub for Shakespeare in Australasia


The Shakespeare 400 commemorations taking place around the world this year have largely skipped Australia. However, a few dedicated souls are making sure that there are some events to keep the die-hards happy, and there will be a handful of public lectures, rehearsed readings and symposia dotted throughout the the year, along with the usual collection of full-scale productions.


To help things along, Shakespeare TwentyScore is here to both make it easy to find out about any events in Australasia taking place to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and to offer support to anyone wishing to set up an event of their own. This site will continue to be updated throughout 2016, beyond the 23 April anniversary itself. We are also including events taking place in New Zealand, though they don’t really need my help, they are doing great (big, admiring wave to Auckland’s Pop-Up Globe!).


The site offers listings of theatre productions and pubic events, but also links and resource lists. Downloadable activity templates for schools, clubs and libraries will be added bit by bit. This will include material suitable for in-class work as well as ideas and frameworks for events for both children and adults. So please check back often to see what’s new, and go ahead and ask us for anything that would be useful to you. 


You can find the website at and follow us on Twitter at @Shakes20Score, and we also have a Facebook page.


We welcome suggestions and material of all kinds. Please send anything you would like to see included to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Best regards,

Anna Kamaralli




CFP: This Rough Magic

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.053  Wednesday, 17 February 2016


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

Date:         February 16, 2016 at 11:23:32 AM EST

Subject:    CFP: This Rough Magic


This Rough Magic - Teaching Medieval and Renaissance Literature


This Rough Magic ( is a journal dedicated to the art of teaching Medieval and Renaissance Literature. 


We are seeking academic, teachable articles that focus on, but are not limited to, the following categories:


•Genre Issues
•Narrative Structure
•Philosophy and Rhetoric


We also seek short essays that encourage faculty to try overlooked, non-traditional texts inside the classroom and book reviews.


Submission deadline for our upcoming Summer issue is currently May 1, 2016. Veteran faculty and graduate students are encouraged to submit.


For more information, please visit our website:


Information regarding this Rough Magic's editorial board may be found here:


Michael Boecherer

Associate Professor of English

Chair, Humanities Department

Suffolk County Community College, Riverhead




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