SAA 2017: Shakespearean Distortions of Early Modern Drama

distortions seminarCurtis Perry and I are co-organizing a seminar for SAA 2017 in Atlanta, GA. We’ve shared the bulletin blurb (left) widely, but I thought I’d post our full proposal here for interested parties. We anticipate excellent papers and lively conversation.

Shakespearean Distortions of Early Modern Drama

Shakespeare of course holds a central place the study of early modern drama: Shakespeare studies as a field shapes our conferences and our journals, our course titles and the texts we teach in them. This seminar examines ways that the profound and longstanding influence of Shakespeare-insofar as it has helped shape our field’s received wisdom and canons of taste-has also obscured aspects of our understanding of Tudor-Stuart drama. In this seminar we invite scholars to think afresh about how the concerns of the Shakespeare industry may have shaped or distorted our received wisdom.

For example, the mere dates of Shakespeare’s career have contributed to an implicit periodization within our field: we often characterize pre-Shakespearean drama as primitive, and post-Shakespearean drama as decadent or belated. The resulting micro-periodization, organized around the career of one playwright, obscures other temporal frameworks and continuities offered by genre, playing companies, or audience. Similarly, Shakespeare’s privileged association with modern subjectivity has been an anchor for the macro-periodization implicit in the term early modern. And Shakespearean character is the yardstick against which we measure characterization in other’s plays, which may mean that we misunderstand other modes of characterization. Shakespeare’s presumed ability to speak for his entire culture has shaped the ways we think about theater’s role in relation to other kinds of discourse and practice, and residual ideas about his genius remain central to the preservation and operation in our field of the author function.

Ironically, if we focus on Shakespeare to the exclusion of other playwrights, and if that fogs our perception of the broader early modern dramatic field, then we must also at times be seeing Shakespeare himself through a distorted lens. This seminar therefore invites the following: papers that deal with aspects of early modern drama that have been occluded by our field’s focus on Shakespeare; papers that reconsider Shakespeare and his works anew by embedding them more fully in a broader dramatic culture; or papers that address head-on ways that assumptions and arguments from Shakespeare studies have created partial or misleading perspectives on our broader field.

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