Global Shakespeares Symposium, a Recap

Global Shakespeares Symposium, a Recap

by Jason Demeter (originally published in The Shakespeare Standard)
Global Shakespeares Symposium was held in January 2014 at George Washington University. Presenters considered the intersections of Shakespearean scholarship and globalization by exploring polyglot, multicultural, and marginalized portrayals of Shakespeare in the global market and international (digital) archives. Jason Demeter, a PhD candidate at George Washington University, offers his summary of the symposium’s proceedings. 
Global Shakespeares Symposium FRIDAY, JANUARY 24, 2014
Opening Remarks by Ayanna Thompson and Alexa Alice Joubin
Methodologies and Media, Part 1 // Chair: Holly Dugan
Amanda Bailey (University of Maryland), “Early Modern Planet Thought”
Bailey’s talk concerned early modern astrological thinking (“planet thought”). She explored how planetary and astrological tropes within Romeo and Juliet articulate “a collective fantasy of global intimacy” that was characteristic of theories of planetary influence operant within the period. She argued that planet thought functioned as “a framework for understanding oneself as a denizen of an emerging world power and as a member of an interconnected cosmic collective.” Bailey offered a particularly interesting thread running throughout the analysis involved putting early modern planet thought in dialogue with contemporary discourses of globalization.
Kendra Leonard (independent scholar), “The Past is a Foreign Country: World Musics Signifying History in/and Elizabethan Drama”
Leonard presented an analysis of the way global musics are used within four films: Twelfth Night (2003, Dir. Tim Supple), Ur-Hamlet (2006), The Virgin Queen (2005, TV miniseries), and Elizabeth: the Golden Age (2007, Dir. Shekhar Kapur). Leonard’s analysis provides four cases in which “the musical traditions, materials, or sounds of British colonies or other so-called exotic locals are used to signify the past and difference in adaptations of early modern dramatic works or biopics set in the Elizabethan period.” Leonard also argued: “Based on a reading of the shared practices of the scores surveyed here, the grittier aspects of life and the dangers of the past are scored by sounds that many modern day western audiences will still find foreign, while the glories of early modern England are broadly signified by the sound of western art music”
Jeff Butcher (GWU), “Comrade Fortinbras and Bourgeois Hamlet: Global Leftist Hamletism”
Butcher gave an overview of Marxist-Leninist appropriations of Hamlet from the American left in the early twentieth century. His argument centered largely on the way that the term “Hamlets” was used within leftist discourse to signify a wavering commitment to the cause among so-called “fellow travelers.”Q and A: was centered on Hamlet/Hamlet’s political signification within the 20th century. His construction as both a “revolutionary skeptic” on one hand, and as a “dithering liberal” on the other.
Methodologies and Media, Part 2 // Chair: Patrick Cook
Alexa Alice Joubin (GWU), “Global Shakespeares as Methodology: World Maps and Archival Silence”
As the title suggests, Joubin argues for global Shakespeares as a methodology. “From a scholarly point of view, the archival silence constitutes productive negative evidence in the archeological and anthropological sense. Archival silence is useful because it compels us to rethink our criteria and frame of reference.” She added, “The absence of a coherent, constructed Shakespeare tradition in a certain place does not mean that there are no local engagements with Shakespeare.” Continuing with the concept of localized global Shakespeare, she continued: “Global Shakespeare, in fact, reveals how intensely local all performances are. The ideological encodings of all performances, including Anglo-American ones, should be studied within, rather than in isolation from, this global context.” Joubin concluded that “the field of global Shakespeares may never have one single theory that all critics agree upon because publications about global Shakespeares emphasize different aspects for different cultural worlds and for different audiences.”
Richard Burt (University of Florida), “’Reading Madness’ in the Archive: Shakespeare’s Contagious Cu(n)t”
Burt’s talk was certainly a highlight of the Symposium, a highly animated performance. He began the talk by announcing that he was in the “post-professional phase of his career.” He then asked the audience to applaud his performance before he delivered his paper – most in attendance obliged. He then proceeded to deliver his paper by reading it from an overhead projector so that the audience might apprehend the numerous linguistic puns throughout. The whole talk was disjointed, digressive, and utterly brilliant. At some point he mimicked doing lines off of the podium, an apparent visual accompaniment to his essay’s pharmacological conceit. A sample: “What if we imagine a Shakespearean impression of the archive? If we grant that when we are reading Shakespeare we are always reading Shakespeare on drugs? That we are contracting a virus that gives us a very high fever, a fever that just doesn’t break?”

Eric Johnson (Folger Library), “Shakespeare’s Digital Global Marketplace”

Most of Johnson’s fascinating analysis involved how various users from around the globe  interacted and searched Open Source Shakespeare. As he stated in his paper abstract: “This data will include web page view counts, as well search datafrom Open Source  Shakespeare (for example, “Most Searched Keywords” and “Most Searched Works”). This data collection will give an idea of which countries are most interested in Shakespeare, relative to the rest of the world. It will also show which countries are underrepresented in the “market,” and thus represent potential growth areas for Shakespearean pedagogy and scholarship. This paper will pay particular attention to why developing countries with large English-speaking populations, particularly India, do not seem to make as much use of Shakespearean resources as might be expected.”

Christy Desmet (University of Georgia), “The Art of Curation: Searching for Global Shakespeares in the Digital Archives”

Desmet contrasted three heavily curated digital archives devoted to global Shakespeares (Bardbox (now defunct), CASP (Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project); and the Global Shakespeares Video & Performance Archive (MIT) with the more anarchic YouTube (described as both a “wild archive” and an “insane collection”).

Q and A: There was some discussion of the pharmacological and pathological metaphors that several of the papers deployed in reference to the archive. An unknown questioner made the observations that, as humanists, it was our role to “capture how incomprehensible things are.” There was a great deal of enthusiastic agreement.   
Performing Global Shakespeares // Chair: Jeffrey Cohen 

Sujata Iyengar (University of Georgia), “Beds and Handkerchiefs: Moving Objects in International Othellos”

Iyengar’s talk consisted primarily of an analysis of three filmic adaptations of OthelloKaliyattam (1997), a South Indian art film;Omkara (2006), a North Indian “Bollywood” movie, and Iago, an Italian teen adaptation. Most interesting was her methodological approach to the investigation of these global adaptations; because Iyengar purposely watched each film without subtitles (despite the fact that they were in languages she did not understand), she felt that she was able to pay close attention to the ways specific objects (particularly Desdemona’s famous handkerchief and the couple’s marriage bed) exert agency within their respective narratives. Drawing heavily on Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, she looked at the way objects served within each of films as agentive actors capable of influencing a contingent network comprised of both human and nonhuman elements. Much of her talk also engaged with Bennett’s notion of “distributive blame” in which causality is seen to exist not as a matter of individual agency but rather as a broadly-distributed set of circumstances spread throughout a network, all of which contribute to a particular action or event.

Tom Cartelli (Muhlenberg College), “‘High-Tech Shakespeare in a Mediatized Globe”

Cartelli analyzed Ivo van Hove’s The Roman Tragedies, a sustained, single-set production of CoriolanusJulius Caesar, andAntony and Cleopatra. He concentrated on the highly mediatized, experimental nature of the production, in which audience members were permitted to sit on stage in front of a host of video monitors and encouraged to engage with social media as the narrative unfolded around them. Cartelli explained, “The Roman Tragedies may also demonstrate the extent to which serious theatrical practice has become colonized by the entertainment industry, the marriage of global media, political and economic elites, and celebrity culture.” While Cartelli praised much about the production, so too did he express misgivings regarding the way that theatre is made to occupy the role of “society’s secretary,” simply recording the social problems that surround us. Cartelli concluded, “Instead of intervening in some decisive way in the corporate mediatized dominance of political culture, this production merely represents it, in the process effectively serving as its enabler.”

Adele Seeff (University of Maryland), “Race, Post-Race, Shakespeare, and South Africa”

Seeff’s analysis considered two South African versions of Macbeth: the mini-series Entabeni and Death of a Queen. Seeff argued, “The broadcaster’s mandate in South African, like the African storyteller, is to educate and inform….Shakespeare is decidedly neither Africa’s contemporary nor Africa’s kinsman, but in these renditions, Shakespeare’s play is refashioned as relevant and accessible to a temporally and geographically distant location through a process of cultural translation and the adoption of a particular poetics that allows the text to speak ideologically yet again. These programs speak in several directions at once. They call attention to South Africa’s recent past, the advent of democracy, and they offer a utopian vision of equality, the eradication of race as a category, and the establishment of a rainbow nation. But they also remind the careful viewer in dystopic ways that old inequalities persist.”

Julie Taymor’s Shakespeare in the Global Marketplace // Chair: Ayanna Thompson

 Ayanna Thompson in conversation with Julie Taymor and Harry Lennix

This was clearly the highlight of the Symposium, and there was a ton of interesting stuff throughout the conversation. The panelists ended up talking for at least two hours and taking a ton of questions from the audience, who were generally very receptive.
In terms of its broad structure, the conversation moved from Titus to The Tempest to Midsummer Night’s Dream. Since Taymor had directed both Titus and The Tempest on stage before directing them as films, she discussed how she negotiated the transfer between mediums while still adhering to the spirit of her earlier stage version. She noted that she would not want to direct Shakespeare on film without first working it up as a stage production. The talk began also with a discussion of marketing and how difficult it is to get major studios to back Shakespeare on film.
Unsurprisingly, Taymor said that studios view Shakespeare as unprofitable and that it is therefore important to have big-name actors attached to the project. Nevertheless, she also expressed interest in creating some type of filmic release of her recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while also being apprehensive about its marketability. Taymor stated: “I want it to be in a movie theatre, but I don’t want it to be in competition and running alongside normal movies because I think it will fail.” At some point, Taymor even mentioned she had an idea for a film version of The Taming of the Shrew (!).

She noted that contemporary violence in America (Columbine shootings, Menendez brothers) was a significant impetus behindTitus. She said that she knew then that the    play’s time had come. Taymor remarked on Sir Anthony Hopkins’ commitment to the  role of Titus: “Titus takes a toll on actors; it just requires so much.” Hopkins was concerned about the scene where Aaron cuts off his hand, Taymor recalled Hopkins saying, “If I do it more than once, I’ll have a heart attack.” (They were able to get the    shot in a single take.) On the overall violence within this revenge tragedy, Taymor defends her choices: “I basically put on film or on stage what Shakespeare did. There’s no more than twelve acts of violence….It’s the kind of violence. It’s the psychological violence that has a lot to do with the female, the violence to the female.”

Taymor recounted a conversation she had with Djimon Hounsou (Cailiban in her Tempest) regarding his comfort with Helen Mirren as Prospera: “I said ‘How do you feel about Prospera being a mid-60s English white lady? Um…how does that…how…how will you play this part with that?’ He said, ‘Well, in my country [Benin], all the women have the power, and in my country the only sorcerers who have the power are the women, and so, for me, I believe in that completely.’”


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