THE STATE OF THE FIELD; SHAKESPEARE CONFERENCE
JÁGÓNAK VII. – Szeged, 17-19. October 2019.
Mrs Shakespeare’s Historical, Fictional and Metacritical Personae
‘What do we know about Shakespeare’s wife?’ ‘How do we know about her?’ and ‘Why do we want to know about her?’ are interdependent questions. The life of Mrs Shakespeare requires assessing the sources which have been chosen to re/construct events and understanding the reasons why she arouses the interest of scholars, creative writers and readers. As a biographical subject she has been studied from various perspectives of literary criticism and represented in a variety of literary genres.
Firstly, intergeneric and intertextual dynamics will be identified in documents, poems and plays. Secondly, three biographies, one by a literary scholar and two by creative writers, will be examined to understand new forms of remediation. Historical sources and fictional material are components of a wide spectrum of methods and practices through which a predominantly unknown life comes to be known. The ways in which a biographer – scholar or creative writer – would like a life to be known engenders complex dynamics and expectations resonating between biographers and readers.
HECUBA’S TEARS: Shakespeare and the Art of Acting – then and now
The Hecuba scene in Hamlet focalizes intriguing problems related to the art of acting, both in Shakespeare’s and in our time. The metamorphosis of the actor into another human being on stage involves a kind of ‘meshed’ thinking both on part of the actor and that of the audience. Shakespeare himself was a theatre person to the core; therefore, what happens on stage and in the auditorium during this scene proves intriguing in historical and more general theatrical contexts as well, informing us of the workings of theatre then and now. Polonius and Hamlet/Burbage’s praise of the “broken voice” and tears in another actor’s eye reflects on the actors’ method, centuries before Konstantin Stanislavski or Lee Strasberg summarized the basics of “psychophysical approach” and “method acting”, emphasizing the interrelation of body and mind in training and performance. Much scholarly ink has been spent on the dilemma whether we can call acting in Shakespeare’s time Stanislavskian or not, with no consensus so far. This paper will revisit these questions in Shakespeare’s and his contemporaries’ works, as well as in modern thinking on the art of acting, in the light of recent theoretical approaches of the ‘cognitive approach’ and the ‘spectatorial turn’. Although I will briefly comment on theoretical issues, the main scope of the paper is theatre as practical business.
Romeo and Juliet: Pilgrims and Paradise in the Hortus Conclusus
Two images strike an audience of Romeo and Juliet: ‘pilgrims’ and ‘palmers’ in the symmetrical sonnet with which Romeo and Juliet begin their dialogue, and the beauty of the walled garden, the hortus conclusus where they celebrate their love. Neither of these images is in Arthur Brooke’s Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562). The sources of one of the most beautifully constructed scenes in Shakespeare lie in the ‘Song of Solomon’, well known to readers of the Geneva Bible as an image of the church, the bride of Christ and the ‘Book of Revelation’. Romeo is defined by Dante in La Vita Nuova (1295) as a pilgrim to Rome; pellegrini (he says) go to Santiago, and palmieri to Palestine:. There is more than meets the eye (and its homophones in Romeo and Juliet) in this play, which is as much about faith in what we cannot see, as it is about love. The obsessive concern with the number fourteen, highlighted by Shakespeare in Juliet’s age (fourteen days short of her fourteenth birthday) and the unique use of the sonnet form should alert us to the allegorical elements in the play.