CFP: BritGrad 2016!

While we normally post CfPs from all sorts of other universities and conferences, today the BritGrad committee is excited to announce a very special CfP — our own!

We’ve updated our Call for Papers page with the 2016 information (including a downloadable pdf), but you can also find the link right here.

One new thing to note this year: we’ve separated the registration and abstract submission processes, which means that those who wish to present at BritGrad should first submit a 200-word abstract and then register once we’ve gotten back to you. This is for two reasons: one, we’re thrilled (and quite flattered) that BritGrad has grown so popular over the last few years and that so many people want to submit abstracts! But this leads to point number two, which is that we have a limited amount of space and time slots for our conference in which to fit all those many people who want to submit abstracts. However this will give all potential speakers some great experience for any other, future academic conferences to which they will undoubtedly apply. If you have any questions, please get in touch — we’re happy to chat.

Hopefully you’re all as excited as we are for BritGrad 2016.

~ The BritGrad Committee

CFP: Indian Shakespeares on Screen

We’re in the process of electing the new BritGrad committee, but while you’re waiting, why not apply to another conference co-organised by a former BritGrad committee member? Call for Papers below.

Indian Shakespeares on Screen

27-30 April 2016

An interdisciplinary symposium at Asia House, London – 27-29 April


Screenings with Q&A: Vishal Bhardwaj’s trilogy Maqbool, Omkara, Haider

in collaboration with the British Film Institute, London – 29&30 April

Keynote Panel: Scriptwriters in discussion

Abbas Tyrewala (Maqbool, 2004)

Robin Bhatt and Abhishek Chaubey (Omkara, 2006)

Basharat Peer (Haider, 2014)

Indian Shakespeares on stage have garnered the increasing attention of academics both Western and Eastern, yet local and regional screen versions continue to be largely overlooked within the scope of Shakespeare on film. It has been a decade since the publication of India’s Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation and Performance (2005), where Poonam Trivedi observes that despite the seven hundred million speakers of different Indian languages worldwide, Shakespeare’s impact on the theatre and films in these languages has yet to be accorded the critical attention it merits.

In 2014, we hosted a one-day conference in London to discuss the relationship between Shakespeare and Hindi cinema/ Bollywood, the world’s largest cinema industry. In 2016, we seek to widen this discussion to include the relationship between Shakespeare and Indian cinema, bringing together researchers and practitioners to establish the state of current scholarship in this vibrant, underexamined field.

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers (and panels), posters and creative approaches, from scholars of all disciplines including film studies, postcolonial studies, Shakespeare studies and translation studies. These could be on any aspect of Shakespeare and Indian cinema, especially regional cinemas and overlooked aspects of Shakespeare in Bollywood.

Topics could include:

  • prehistories
  • Indian film translations/adaptations/appropriations of Shakespeare’s works
  • practitioners’/directors’/writers’/others’ experiences
  • intertextual adaptations/intermedial crossovers
  • Shakespeare in Indian film festivals
  • documentaries on any aspect of Shakespeare in India/Indian Shakespeares
  • screenplays
  • economics global and local
  • comparisons of Shakespeare in Indian cinema to Shakespearean adaptations in other countries
  • Shakespeare in Indian cinema and regional audience reception
  • Shakespeare and parallel cinema
  • beyond Parsi theatre: Indian Shakespeare cinema and other indigenous performance traditions
  • Shakespeare and South-Asian diaspora films
  • challenges of researching Shakespeare and Indian cinema
  • challenges to and importance of building an archive
  • Shakespeare and socio-political campaigns in Indian cinema
  • gendering Shakespeare in Indian cinema
  • artwork and promotional material: posters, flybills, film trailers, coffee table books, music releases

Abstracts of 300 words and/or panel proposals (plus a 50 word bio) should be sent to by 25 November 2015.

Responses will be made by 20 December 2015. 

*Deadline now extended to 15 December 2015.*

Organised by:

Thea Buckley, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham

Koel Chatterjee, Royal Holloway, University of London

Dr Varsha Panjwani, Boston University (London) and University of York

Dr Preti Taneja, University of Warwick and Queen Mary, University of London

Academic Advisor:

Dr Deana Rankin, Royal Holloway, University of Londoncfpcfp

Saturday, what a day! (Grooving all week with you.)

Dumbledore: more sinister than you think.

The final day of BritGrad began with a panel on tyranny. Nicole Mennell (University of Sussex) gave her paper “‘So barbarous and so beastly’: Animal Imagery, Tyranny and Dehumanisation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Titus Andronicus“. She spoke about characters transforming into literal and metaphorical animals. Tyrants are bestial in their cruelty, but because they possess rationality, they are even worse than beasts. Hunters also become predatory creatures in pursuit of prey. Human victims, as well, can metamorphose, such as Titus‘s Lavinia, who is compared to a doe and suffers several mutilations.

Polly Jeanetta Brown (The Shakespeare Institute) questioned whether Prospero of The Tempest and Dumbledore in Harry Potter were trusted tyrants. The answer was a resounding yes. The “benevolent” Dumbledore fits Plato’s “philosopher king” ideal, a tyrant for the greater good. He also uses cunning to keep the peace in a way that would make Machiavelli proud. Prospero can be seen as a Nietzschean figure, a “good man” who alters others to become more like him.

What happens when you marry Othello and Much Ado About Nothing?

After that discussion of disturbing violence and sinister old men, Marie Ryan, Molly Lambert, and Octavia Finch (all from The Shakespeare Institute) talked about adapting Shakespeare for their Creative Practice course. They discussed their process of selecting plays and conflating characters. The group delegated writing but edited the piece as an ensemble for consistency. Lambert mentioned the struggles with creating effective but washable fake blood. Then the three performed ten minutes of their hour-length play, about a theatre company performing Much Ado About Nothing but living Othello behind the scenes.

Ronan Hatfull (University of Warwick) also presented “‘This Blasted Heath’: A Critical-Creative Exploration of William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett and Cormac McCarthy Through Dystopia”. He showed a video and shared poetry as well as sections from his and his fellow students’ post-apocalyptic play, which drew from Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and Cormac McCarthy.

Spooky, no?

Our final plenary talk featured both Laurie Maguire and Felix Budelman with Oxford University: “Audience Responses to Ambiguity in Othello, The Winter’s Tale, and Two Greek Tragedies”. They used questionnaires to determine the alertness of audiences to ambiguities in theatre. The two found several kinds of audience reactions. For example, Aeschylus’s Libation Bearers revealed what they called The Oleanna Effect, named after David Mamet’s play. Audiences were split on whether one character in a masked production was faking grief. The scene was  ambiguous in a way that provoked disagreements, but audience members generally didn’t perceive that ambiguity, as they were convinced they were right.

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale revealed The Janus Effect, in which the audience appeared to perceive ambiguity regarding whether Leontes had reason to be jealous based on his wife’s behavior. Half of the audience was convinced one way or the other, while the other half genuinely didn’t know or selected multiple answers. Othello involved The Octopus Effect. Rather than focusing on one motive for Iago’s manipulations, members selected multiple compatible statements.

I’m just a natural fool…

The last panel I attended on the last day was a blessedly lighthearted session on clowns. Rebecca Agar (University of Ulster) started by examining “The Use of ‘Low Comedy’ in The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth“. This play, written around 1587, contained popular characters which were not featured in its historical sources. Agar wanted to look beyond the comic relief of the lower class characters to see the potential social commentary in the play’s humor.

Kim Gilchrist’s (Roehampton University) “‘How mad a sight it was to see Dametas’: The Arcadia, Tarlton, and Sidney’s escaping clown” analysed Philip Sidney’s views of clowning as found in the Arcadia. Gilchrist also looked at physical irregularity in clowns as well as Arcadia‘s influence on the play Mucedorus, noting the similarities between the latter’s clown Mouse and the character Dametas. Gilchrist determined that Sidney’s anti-clown views and the interaction between popular and more elitist texts were far more complex than has been accepted.

Finally, Charles Morton (The Shakespeare Institute) concluded the panel with “Your all-licensed fool”: Will Sommers, Robert Armin, and King Lear’s Fool”. He drew connections between Henry VIII’s beloved jester Will Sommers and the Fool in King Lear. Robert Armin, for whom the Fool’s role was likely written, wrote a book “Fool upon Fool”, which included a section on Sommers. Morton also regaled us with obscure and hilarious jokes told by Sommers, the most successful of which (then and now) was a fart joke.

The ever-lovely Institute garden.

The day was almost done. Richard O’Brien gave the closing remarks and presented two Liz Ketterer Memorial Awards for the best abstracts. First place went to Harry Ford (University of Exeter) for his “‘Set down your venerable burden’: piggybacking in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and the medieval outlaw tradition”, and 2nd went to Sam Meekings (Lancaster University) and his “Views from the Beargarden”. After a hearty round of applause for our hardworking BritGrad Chair, we relaxed and chatted in the Institute garden for the closing reception, which involved eating and drinking delicious refreshments.

BritGrad 2015 was filled with funny and fascinating talks from seasoned speakers and students alike. For some, this was their first conference. The papers were uniformly engaging but touched on a wide variety of early modern subjects: gender and sexuality, metre and poetry, playhouse culture–the list goes on.

A big thank you to the BritGrad 2015 committee for working so hard to put this together, to the stunning plenaries who shared with us their remarkable expertise, and to the students, the very reason for this conference’s existence. Until next year! May there be many more BritGrads.


Faces and Places (actually, just one place — The Shakespeare Institute)

These are our “morning on the first day of BritGrad” faces.
Michael Dobson, waiting for his moment.
richard 1
Richard O’Brien in the hall.
panel 1
Before the first panel of the first day!
panel 1 1
Blake Barbiche presenting “O (no) Romeo, Romeo” (as is made obvious by her slideshow).
Book alcove.
waiting 1
Taking a brief moment to chill
The weather was alarmingly cooperative.
susan and tea
We were provided with PLENTY of tea and food.
meals 1
A break in the lovely sun.

(Stay tuned for a summary of the final day of BritGrad…)

Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare

We interrupt our somewhat irregularly scheduled post-BritGrad programming to bring you this message:

Check out this weird and wonderful new take on the complete works of Shakespeare – as told by experimental theatre company Forced Entertainment. 36 plays, 9 days, one meter table top – and a collection on unextraordinary everyday items as stand-ins for characters. ‘Complete Works: Table top Shakespeare’ live streams every day June 25 – July 4 – more info and how to watch here:

Table Top Shakespeare started today!


Friday’s Fabulous Student Panels

“How many falsehoods was Theobald involved in?” Shakespeare asks

Naseem Alotaibi (University of Liverpool) began Friday’s first student panel, Working with Texts. Her paper “Lewis Theobald and Accusations of Plagiarism: A Reconsideration of Shakespeare’s Involvement in Double Falsehood” asserted that scholars have not sufficiently investigated accusations of Lewis Theobald’s plagiarism. Some critics consider Double Falsehood to be the lost Shakespeare play Cardenio. However, Theobald frequently imitated Shakespeare’s writing and was accused of plagiarizing and falsifying multiple plays.

It is no longer politically correct to call the first quarto of Hamlet the “bad quarto”

Scott Shephard (Royal Holloway, University of London) continued the discussion with his presentation “Q1 Hamlet at the National and the Globe Abstract”. Hamlet’s so-called “bad” first quarto, discovered in 1823, has gained some legitimacy in recent years. Since 2000, several theatre companies have used its cuts in performances. Shephard especially focused on Nicholas Hytner’s 2010 production at the National Theatre and Dominic Dromgoole’s 2011 production at the Globe. Both versions received reviews which seemed to have been based more on the performances (mostly positive for the National, less so for the Globe) than for their use of Q1.


Sara Marie Westh (The Shakespeare Institute) passed out hexaflexagons with the words “author,” “intent,” and “character” for her talk “‘Words, words, words’: The Author, his Characters and interpreting Intent”. She noted that we tend to ignore textual instabilities and search for authorial intent, including Shakespeare’s. Westh found this desire to be a natural attempt to connect with and understand another person, but it also distracts from character intentions. There is a difference between author and character, made all the more difficult to discern due to the fluidity of word and thought.

M and Lady M. That dress.

Next up: Music and Noise! Karen Harker (The Shakespeare Institute) introduced us to David Pountney’s 2001 radical production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth. This innovative adaptation of Verdi’s opera received negative reviews, but Harker elaborated on how the production’s color scheme highlighted the composer’s score. Green slime represented blood and was associated with Macbeth, while red was associated with witchcraft, madness, and Lady Macbeth. The way these colors were used showed the progression of the characters, their relationship, the music, and the presence of the supernatural.

Making some noise in the Maori Troilus and Cressida at Shakespeare’s Globe

Laura Wright’s (Yale University) paper “‘After so many hours, lives, speeches spent…’: making noise and doing nothing in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida” spoke about the copious amount of noise in Troilus and Cressida. The drums, fanfares, and verbose speeches have often annoyed audiences, but their sounds are the “white noise” of the war that hangs over the play. The cacophony jars viewers and suggests that its opposite, harmony, is elsewhere, always out of reach. Characters attempt to outshout one another and are deaf to each other’s meanings. Silence is often connected to tragedy and noise with comedy, and the play uses noise to bizarre and complex effects.

The Ghent Altarpiece and its angrily singing angels.

Jen Waghorn (The Shakespeare Institute) finished the panel with “‘Vaine disports of minstrelsie’: musical crimes and culprits in early modern England”. What exactly were musical crimes? Minstrels were frequently conflated with vagabonds, and musicians could be imprisoned for disturbing the peace, performing in the wrong time and place. Playing inappropriate or libellous songs was also a dangerous enterprise. As religious conservatism increased during the 17th century, musical crimes were increasingly reported and punished. Musical criminals were arrested, fined, physically abused, and, perhaps worst of all, forbidden from playing music ever again.

I will not be back.

The final panel of the day covered Shakespeare and Social Media. Thea Buckley (The Shakespeare Institute) started with “To Be Schwarzenegger, Haider, Cumberbatch or You?: interactive Shakespeare and the evolution of Hamlet as hero(ine)”. Hamlet has become a mythical trope, repeatedly regenerated. He can be found in action films and various variations on his story. Interestingly, Hamlet’s inaction can be countered by Choose Your Own Adventure books and interactive computer games. Buckley also showed clips of the Indian film Haider, an adaptation of Hamlet set in 1995 during the Kashmir conflict.

Pug-let himself (maybe)

Elizabeth Jeffrey’s (The Shakespeare Institute) piece “‘Get thee to a puggery!’: Shakespeare and Pop Culture” looked at several Shakespearean phenomenon: an upcoming production of pugs doing Hamlet and a performance of Romeo and Juliet told in the style of Dr. Seuss. Kevin Broccoli’s Pug-let was sponsored by a Kickstarter campaign and will be live-streamed. The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet and of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are examples of how recent years have seen the influence of the internet as well as increasingly “whimsical” adaptations of Shakespeare’s works.

Brittany LaPole (The Shakespeare Institute) finished the day of panels with her overview “Social Anxiety: The relationship between Social Media and Shakespearean Scholarship”. She observed how experimental productions often utilized the plays Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as we saw in Jeffrey’s talk. LaPole used Such Tweet Sorrow (the story of R&J live-tweeted) and Dream40, a highly interactive, mostly digital rendition of Dream. Occasionally there is an “us vs. them” mentality between those who embrace digital Shakespeare and those who reject it. However, by and large, the internet has produced an array of creative responses to Shakespeare, serving as a playground to fans who wish to respond to Shakespeare in original ways.

The day of textual conundrums, musical controversies, and digital Shakespeare concluded with a party at the pub Keys & Kitchen, complete with food, drinks, music, a garden patio, and cooperative weather.

Friday’s Peachy Plenaries

Dr Chris Laoutaris with Gyles Brandreth on The One Show

The second day of BritGrad again offered several fascinating plenary talks. Dr Chris Laoutaris with The Shakespeare Institute spoke on “Early Modern Robotics in Shakespeare and Spenser”. He discussed posthumanism or “cyborg theory” and wondered how familiar Renaissance audiences were with robots, noting that we now live at a time when the existence of humanlike robots is very possible. Numerous religious sermons at the time referenced automata when discussing false idols and hypocrites (those who go through the motions but are inwardly barren). Laoutaris showed a few clips of early modern robots which were both incredibly advanced and eerie. Renaissance England was a place of wonder and skepticism about the wonderful.

Dr Andy Kesson

Another former BritGrad chair, Dr Andy Kesson from the University of Roehampton, talked about the importance of studying playhouses directly before Shakespeare, a time when early modern theatre culture was forming. He lauded archival work by Martin Wiggins and Tiffany Stern which reimagined theatrical history and said that scholarship should “inconvenience perceived narratives”. Kesson discussed several quotes about early modern theatre, including the famous statement in Robert Greene’s ‘Groats-worth of Wit’ (1592). The reference to Shakespeare and his “tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide” quotes 3 Henry VI and was most likely written by Henry ChettleKesson argued that the quote suggests that early Shakespeare was associated with violent plays. From the bloody histories (Richard III, Edward III, and the Henry VI trilogy), to Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare featured a surprising number of war narratives. Even his comedies (The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona) were quite violent and sometimes misogynistic.

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, at Shakespeare’s Globe, with actor Mark Rylance, Mayor Francois Decoster, and Dr Remy Cordonnier looking at a recently confirmed Folio which will be exhibited at the Globe in 2016.

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, Head of Higher Education and Research at Shakespeare’s Globe, gave the final plenary talk of the day, “The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage”. She discussed her research and observations about theatrical gestures in the Renaissance. A wide variety of influences shaped gestures, including acting skill, costumes, and lighting conditions. How did large, outdoor spaces affect hand movements in comparison to intimate, candle-lit theatres? We assume outdoor performances at the Globe were grand and over-the-top, but Karim-Cooper noted that stillness on an outdoor stage can be both powerful and highly visible. She also gave insight into different kinds of “gestural annotations,” including iconic and instinctive movements, depending on what the passion, play, or performer needed to convey.

Day 2 of BritGrad 2015 was another success. Thanks again to the plenaries who shared their repositories of knowledge with us!


Thursday’s Student Panels

Thursday featured several splendid plenaries, but BritGrad is mainly an opportunity for students to give and hear student papers. I was only able to attend one panel at a time, so here is just a sampling of brilliant panels on the first day of BritGrad 2015.


I was required to attend the panel on Screen Adaptations, and I’m glad I did. I presented my paper “Korol Lir: When the Political Becomes Metaphysical”, a piece on Grigori Kozintsev’s powerful 1971 adaptation of King Lear. ThisLear is both socially and spiritually astute, grim but less pessimistic than many interpretations.

Hayley O’Malley’s (University of Michigan) presentation “Child Solicitor: Innocence and Interpersonal Ignorance in Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus” examined what she called a “network of boyhood” in the 2011 film. She found the absence of children and young people, especially in the protest scenes, to be as telling as the silent presence of several children. A dead Volscian boy spurs Aufidius’s revenge against Coriolanus, a boy on horseback serves as a kind of soliloquy for the protagonist, and silence gives both mini-Martius and his mother Virgilia effective voices.

Blake Barbiche (The Shakespeare Institute) analyzed why Carlo Carlei’s 2013 film Romeo and Juliet was a commercial and critical failure in her essay “‘O [No] Romeo, Romeo’: Shakespearean Film Adaptation Gone Amiss”. She found it to be incohesive and unoriginal. Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame heavily altered the script, and the gorgeous visuals borrowed from Baz Luhrmann’s and Franco Zeffirelli’s versions of the play. Editing often muddled characterizations, and the whole piece lacked humor and “youthful energy”. Barbiche concluded that clarification of Shakespeare’s text was often preferable to drastic simplification.

The second panel I attended, Choices and Interpretations, began with Fiona Dunne’s (University of Southampton) “The Complexity of an Evil Choice in Macbeth.” Dunne used complexity science to analyze Macbeth. Complexity science is an expanding field that studies multiple actions and can be used to track epidemics or measure sustainability. Dunne believed it overlaps with the arts in the way it examines what we don’t know, making a case for literary text being a complex system. Initial conditions are extremely important, and the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This playworld can be divided into performance, production/edition, and text/context.

Jessica Chiba (Royal Holloway, University of London) discussed ontology and Shakespeare in “To be or not to be–what is the question?” The most famous line in Hamlet captures the imagination of so many partly because it is an ontological mystery. What is being? Characters throughout Shakespeare’s works declare they are what they are, or they are not what they are. What makes these characters believe this? In comparison to his contemporaries, Shakespeare was quite unusual in the way he focused on questions about existence and being.

Caroline Heaton’s (Sheffield Hallam University) paper “Casting, cutting, and costume: reflections on reviewing Shakespeare in performance” followed her journey of pursuing an MA by reviewing RSC productions for a 40,000 word thesis. She is still in the process of compiling and editing reviews; cutting them down is one of the most difficult parts. Heaton went over what a production might include: text, design, concept, context, actors, and audience. For each production, she wondered what most critics missed what most people discussed. Also, was there a way to remain objective? Perhaps the most difficult question she asked was how to make her reviews relevant to others.

The final panel of the day was Tragic Appropriations. Saksham Sharda (University of Kent) spoke about “The Accidental Racialization of Caste in Bollywood’s Appropriation of Othello. He criticized the film Omkara for merging caste and race, a conflation he considered a foreign imposition. In this version, Othello was of a low caste, but he also had darker skin than other characters. Sharda also touched on whether Shakespeare was truly universal or simply imperial, noting how it replaced the Bible as a means of colonialism.

Mette Sjolin’s (Lund University) “Appropriating trends: Shakespeare’s tragedies in modern drama” covered several modern adaptations of King Lear, Romeo and JulietOthello, Macbeth, and Hamlet. She noticed a distinct feminist trend. Pieces about Lear often looked at the sisters and their absent mother, focusing mostly on what happened before the play. Romeo and Juliet adaptations were frequently romantic comedies, asking what might have happened. Othello prompted artists to wonder, did it have to happen? Macbeth adaptations turned to history, asking what really happened, and Hamlet posed a conundrum as to whether “it” really happened at all, causing adapters to question and reimagine the play.

Eilís Smyth (The Shakespeare Institute) concluded the panel and the day with her paper “Naming Lady Macbeth: Searching for Scotland in the ‘Scottish Play'”. In spite of appropriating Scottish history, Macbeth is classified as a tragedy rather than history. This incredibly famous “Scottish play” is written by an English writer based on Holinshed’s Chronicles, which are filled with anti-Scottish bias. Queen Gruoch is dehumanized to the point of being the nameless Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth was likely not such a bad ruler. Little research has been done on Shakespeare in Scotland, and perhaps bardolatry has blinded critics to this unique case of cultural disenfranchisement by Shakespeare.

BritGrad 2015 witnessed a marvelous first day of plenaries and panels on adaptation, philosophy, and more. Thankfully, the scintillating conversations carried on throughout the entire conference.

Until next time!


BritGrad 2015: Thursday’s Delightful Plenaries

Richard O’Brien, our hero

This past weekend was a fabulous blur of dynamic plenaries, informative panels, and lovely weather. Shakespeare Institute Director Michael Dobson gave the opening remarks with his usual wit, expressing wry confidence in the lineup and emphasizing his lack of involvement in this student-run conference. BritGrad Chair Richard O’Brien did accept responsibility for the proceedings and welcomed everyone to the first day of BritGrad.

Shakespeare Institute Director, Professor, and glittering wit Michael Dobson

The Shakespeare Institute’s Dr Erin Sullivan spoke first on ‘Shakespeare, Sadness, and the History of Emotions.’ A former BritGrad Chair, Sullivan shared memories and reflected on the number of lasting academic relationships she made at the conference. She went on to discuss the history of emotions, an inherently interdisciplinary field which has faced challenges over the years due to its perceived subjectivity. From Roland Barthes to historian Barbara Rosenwein, scholars have posed theories about how to study the history of emotions.

Plenary Dr Erin Sullivan on the Renaissance blues

Sullivan’s particular interest lies in Renaissance sadness in its manifold forms. There was an ambiguity about sadness; for example, sadness over the world’s sins could be salutary, while other kinds of melancholy could be unhealthy and even dangerous. She used Antonio from The Merchant of Venice as an example of a character whose identity seems intertwined with melancholy and noted that she was drawn to Shakespearean characters whose emotions differed from the norm.

Plenary Ben Naylor, breaking it down

Ben Naylor with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was the second plenary of the day. He emphasized the importance of fostering a relationship between academics and theatre and directed an interactive analysis of Hamlet, act 1, scene 1, from a performance perspective. This close reading involved questioning what every line could tell audience members who were completely unfamiliar with the play. The scene is full of what Stephen Greenblatt called “strategic opacity.” Even the first lines, “Who’s there?” and “Nay answer me,” create immediate conflict and keep the audience at the edge of their seats.

Naylor pointed out the significance of Italian (Bernardo) and Roman (Marcellus) names, Wittenberg and its chief association with Protestantism, and possible stage directions found in the text. Shakespeare expertly alters the mood throughout the scene, particularly when Horatio and company sit down to hear a story about the ghost. Seeing actors sit, the audience begins to relax and let their guards down. The ghost suddenly interrupts story time and the audience’s complacency. This back and forth analysis between Naylor and his students normally goes on for four hours, which, based on his talk, surely fly by.

Paul² and Sylvester James Jr, Mayor of Kansas City

Our final plenaries Dr Paul Edmondson with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Dr Paul Prescott with the University of Warwick discussed their project Shakespeare on the Road. Prescott was fascinated with the number of Shakespeare festivals in the United States which made very little if any profit, performing Shakespeare on the cheap tickets or for free. He and Edmondson celebrated the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth by visiting 14 of these 200 or so festivals and seeing 44 performances and 22 plays, beginning and ending with The Winter’s Tale. They also conducted 150 interviews.

This massive, illuminating, and exhausting trip from coast to coast included a foray into Stratford, Canada, as well as the Harlem Shakespeare Festival, the Amerindian Shakespeare Initiative, and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, which required the cast to set up and take down sets for every performance. The Pauls found that the American festivals tended to be conscientious about diverse casting. This decision was not to be confused with “non-traditional casting,” a term which bothered some due to its suggestion that actors of colour hadn’t been involved with Shakespeare in the past.

After a wonderful day of plenaries and panels (stay tuned for more information about student papers), delegates had the option to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello, featuring Hugh Quarshie as Othello and Lucian Msamati as the company’s first black Iago.

Thank you for joining us for Day 1 of BritGrad 2015! More summaries are coming soon.

Brudermord and an Award!

Yesterday, we completed DAY ONE of BritGrad’s 2015 conference. A write-up of Thursday’s events will appear soon. For now, I’d like to summarize what happened on Wednesday:

As you know, Professor Tiffany Stern from Oxford University gave a talk on Wednesday afternoon about the play Der Bestrafte Brudermord (Fratricide Punished) a German adaptation of Hamlet from the 18th century. She discussed her journey into the world of early modern puppetry, noting that plays in Shakespeare’s day were often adapted into puppet shows. For example, Julius Caesar‘s stabbing scene could be turned into humorous, cartoon-like violence. Many of these shows were mishmashes of characters, plays, and settings.

Commedia dell’Arte thrived in England’s puppet performances. Due to the high level of improvisation, puppeteers had leeway to push the limits of censorship. We know that English theatre traveled abroad, and sometimes companies with dwindling numbers of employees conflated people and puppet shows or converted entirely to puppetry. Stern decided that, though she had known Fratricide Punished as a play for actors, evidence supports the possibility that it was also a puppet show. Its stage directions and cast, including extra violence and unnecessary characters, suggests puppet shenanigans.

Her talk was followed by a fantastic, high-octane, hilarious production of Der Bestrafte Brudermord by Hidden Room Theatre and a talk-back with its performers. They discussed how they composed the music, crafted the puppets, and collaborated on comedic bits and more emotional moments. Because it worked so well, director Beth Burns was quite convinced that the play was designed to be a puppet show.

After that, we walked across the street to The Windmill to catch up with attendees at the pub!

I’d also like to announce that last year’s BritGrad won the Second Annual Bardie Award for Best Conference of the Year. The Shakespeare Standard called it “a brilliant opportunity and friendly atmosphere for postgraduate and early career researchers to discuss Shakespeare and early modern theater.” Read more about the award here. Congratulations BritGrad 2014, and here’s to BritGrad 2015!