SAA 2012 seminar description

(If you’re a seminar member looking for the papers, you can find them here.)

As some of you might have seen in the most recent Shakespeare Association of America Bulletin, Pascale Aebischer and I are directing a seminar on non-Shakespearean Drama and Performance. Both of us have a strong interest in shifting away from early modern performance studies’ dominant interest in Shakespeare to thinking about performance in relationship to drama by other early modern and modern playwrights. Since the Bulletin text is so necessarily brief, we thought it might be helpful to share our longer seminar proposal so that folks interested in participating can get a sense of the questions that are driving our seminar.

If you’re looking for an SAA seminar to participate in next year and you’re interested in these questions, please consider ours. We’d be happy to see position papers alongside seminar papers; review essays surveying the field might also be helpful contributions. Mostly, we are eager to have a conversation about what is at stake in defining performance studies beyond the terrain of Shakespeare and welcome anyone interested in that discussion. More information about SAA, membership, and the conference is at their website.

A quick aside on the seminar title: Pascale and I struggled to come up with a title and phrasing to use that conveyed our interest in moving beyond Shakespeare without defining those other playwrights and plays in terms of Shakespeare. “Non-Shakespearean”, alas, does just that, but it is really the only shorthand available. “Shakespeare’s contemporaries” runs into the same problem—defining everything in terms of Shakespeare—while introducing an emphasis on contemporaneity that excludes too much of interest. With some reluctance, then, we stuck with describing our interest as lying in the non-Shakespearean, hoping that recognizing the inadequacy of the phrase might open up avenues for moving through the challenges of this field. A further aside: when I went looking for some image to illustrate this post (all blogs should be beeyooteefull as well as stimulating), I couldn’t find something that worked to my satisfaction? Choosing one non-Shakespearean playwright just seemed to privilege that writer over others; replacing Shakespeare with Middleton or Jonson isn’t really adequate for our conversation. Instead, I took the Droeshout portrait and erased his face. In addition to being satisfying, it gives us a blank canvas on which to try new approaches.

Non-Shakespearean Drama and Performance: critical implications

Seminar Leaders: Sarah Werner (Folger Shakespeare Library) and Pascale Aebischer (Exeter, UK)

Brief description:
Shakespeare’s contemporaries have begun to compete with him for dominance in theaters, films, editions, and the study of Renaissance drama. This seminar explores how studying non-Shakespearean productions affects Renaissance performance studies, cultural studies, and editorial practices. What impact do such performances have on our understanding of Renaissance dramaturgies—including Shakespeare’s? Papers are also welcome that consider issues of methodology and terminology that arise in these studies. The aim is to explore new critical directions beyond a focus solely on Shakespeare.

Further description:
This proposal arises out of recent responses to the expansion of the canon of Renaissance drama in present-day performance. The methodologies and approaches established in Shakespearean performance studies do not unproblematically map onto the study of performances of plays by other early modern dramatists. The upsurge in performances of these plays and the performance traditions that are emerging prompt the need for a reassessment of our critical approaches to the performance of Renaissance drama. This involves a re-situation of Shakespearean performance in the context of performances of plays by his contemporaries, of present-day drama and of ‘the Renaissance period’ in plays and films. Books by Roberta Barker (2007) and Kim Solga (2009) and essay collections by Sarah Werner (2010), Greg Colón Semenza (2010), Mark Thornton Burnett and Adrian Streete (forthcoming, 2011) and Kathryn Prince and Pascale Aebischer (forthcoming, 2011-12) are beginning to explore the changing landscape of Renaissance drama in performance and to reassess performance studies and cultural studies methodologies in the light of this. Our objective is to take stock of these critical developments and explore new directions in performance studies that reach out beyond Shakespeare, giving us a fuller understanding of the impact of present-day performance on the study of Renaissance drama.

Our seminar reaches out to graduate students, junior and senior scholars, inviting them to join us in reflecting on the impact of performance and of thinking in terms of performance on their critical practices, whether in the fields of performance studies and cultural studies or as editors and readers of Renaissance drama. Specifically, we will ask contributors to address the following questions:

  • How does the study of performances of plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries, precursors and successors impact on our understanding of Renaissance drama and dramaturgies?
  • Conversely, how does the study of plays by Renaissance dramatists other than Shakespeare change our understanding of what performance is and how it works?
  • What methodological and terminological issues arise from a focus on Shakespeare’s contemporaries in performance?
  • How does embedding Shakespeare’s plays in a wider dramatic context (Renaissance and present-day) contribute to our understanding of the role of Renaissance drama in present-day performance?
  • How can awareness of actual or potential performance impact on editorial and reading practices?

Academic biographies of seminar leaders:
Sarah Werner is Undergraduate Program Director at the Folger Shakespeare Library and Associate Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly. She is the editor of New Directions in Renaissance Drama and Performance Studies (2010) and author of Shakespeare and Feminist Performance: Ideology on Stage (2001). She is currently guest editing a special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly on Shakespeare and performance and is textual editor of The Taming of the Shrew for the 3rd edition of the Norton Shakespeare. She has been a member of SAA since 1994, and has been to every conference since then except for the 1996 world conference. She has directed two SAA seminars, “Editing Performance Decisions / Performing Editorial Decisions” (1998) and “The State of Performance Criticism: Where Are We Today and Where Are We Headed” (2001); co-directed one workshop, “Editing for Performance” (2004); and has been an invited respondent for seminars in 2007 and 2009. She was also a presenter at a paper session on performance practices in 1995.

Pascale Aebischer is Senior Lecturer in Renaissance Studies at the University of Exeter, UK. She is co-editor, with Kathryn Prince, of Performing Early Modern Drama Today (CUP, 2011-12) and is guest editing an issue of Shakespeare Bulletin dedicated to films of plays by Marlowe, Jonson, Middleton, Webster and Ford (Winter 2011). She is also writing a book, Beyond Shakespeare: Screening Early Modern Drama, which reflects on the often tense relationship between the Shakespeare industry and independent film adaptations of early modern drama. Pascale Aebischer is the co-editor of Remaking Shakespeare (2003) and author of Shakespeare’s Violated Bodies (2004) and Jacobean Drama (2010). In 2010, she was an invited speaker in Francesca T. Royster’s SAA seminar on ‘Shakespeare’s Female Icons’. With Roberta Barker and Kathryn Prince, she is co-chairing a session on ‘Counter-Shakespeares’ at the World Shakespeare Congress in Prague in 2011.