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Shakespeare's Globe

Conference Addresses Women in Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Globe logoGlobe Education, part of the Shakespeare's Globe, is hosting a Women in Shakespeare Conference this December that will explore how women encounter and present Shakespeare compared to their male counterparts. The conference makes a great introduction to themes explored in John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and the one-woman show Ellen Terry with Eileen Atkins, both playing at the just-opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

The conference is being presented in honor of Ann Thompson, emeritus professor of King’s College London, who retired earlier this year. Leading international scholars will gather to celebrate professor Thompson’s contribution to Shakespeare scholarship, editing, and feminism. The conference is for students and scholars but is open to all members of the general public who are interested in debates about Shakespeare’s women and feminist readings of Shakespeare.

Curator of the Women’s Wit season, Thompson launches the weekend conference with a presentation of her own celebrated work in the field of Shakespeare and women, featuring an introduction from Professor Neil Taylor, Emeritus Professor, University of Roehampton, at 7 p.m. on Dec. 5.

Following are the abstracts of lectures scheduled for the Women in Shakespeare Conference.

Professor Ann Thompson, "My Accidental Life with Shakespeare: A Sketch"—What is the opposite of an inaugural lecture? This occasion gives me the opportunity to reflect on some forty years of a professional life made possible by the man from Stratford. I have been fortunate to have a career in Shakespeare studies that has been a combination of accidents, coincidences, and luck. Because of the period covered, from 1972 when I got my first job at the University of Liverpool, to 2013 when I retired from my Chair at King’s College London, that career forced me to acquire traditional scholarly skills such as in the editing Shakespeare’s texts, but also to engage with new modes of critical thinking, notably feminism. I will try in this talk to make sense of this and to put it in the wider context of Shakespeare studies today.

Professor Catherine Belsey, "Trouble and Strife in Windsor: The Merry Wives in the War of Words"—Shakespeare generally treats women with respect—from the very young who stand up to their fathers to the elderly who give good advice. Even the villainous women are outstanding: There are no pallid, drooping female figures in Shakespeare. But I want to single out two women who don’t always attract the recognition they deserve. In Windsor, "to speak is to fight," as Jean-François Lyotard puts it, but while most of the other characters treat language as a place of struggle for supremacy, Mistress Page and Mistress Ford pursue a quite different linguistic strategy.

Dr Lucy Munro, "Women Reading Witches"—This paper explores the activities of women as readers and commentators on Macbeth, focusing in particular on their treatment of the witches. In doing so, it argues that women’s activities as Shakespearean critics and performers helped to propel a 19th century reappraisal of the role of these characters, one that still shapes the ways in which they are presented on page and stage.

Professor Kate Chedgzoy, "The Girlhood of Mary Cowden Clarke"—Highly respected as a scholar and popular as a writer in her own time, later mocked by an academy unsympathetic to amateur female scholarship, Mary Cowden Clarke is once more being taken seriously as a formative influence on Victorian perceptions of and responses to Shakespeare. The inclusion of her work in the volume of women’s critical responses to Shakespeare—Women Reading Shakespeare 1660–1900, edited by Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts—made a significant contribution to this revaluation, and it has more recently been consolidated by her inclusion in the pantheon of "Great Shakespeareans," in an essay by Ann Thompson and Gail Marshall. This essay takes as its point of departure Cowden Clarke’s recollections of her childhood in her memoir My Long Life. I argue that her early education, conducted within her family and by Mary Lamb, exemplifies the incorporation of Shakespeare into liberal pedagogic practice and the culture of childhood in the Romantic period, and prepared her for a remarkable Victorian career in which she engaged with Shakespeare as a scholar, actor, and creative writer, and adapted his works for young female readers, continuing a chain of Shakespearean affiliation among women across generations.

Anne Isherwood, "Mary Dunbar and mass-marketing Shakespeare in the 19th century"—My paper will explore Mary Dunbar and her Shakespeare Birthday Book, the subject of my article in the book Women Making Shakespeare.

Professor Virginia Vaughan, "Shakespeare’s Lost Daughters and the Myth of Proserpine—My paper will explore some intertextual relationships between Shakespeare’s allusions to the myth of Ceres and Proserpine in the "romances" and accounts of the myth that circulated widely during the early 17th century, including William Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Vincenzo Cartari’s The Fountaine of Ancient Fiction (1599), and Thomas Heywood’s Troia Britannica (1609) and The Silver Age 1613). I will analyze the ways in which these variant versions of Proserpine’s story are reflected in Shakespeare’s depictions of Marina, Innogen, Perdita, and Miranda.

Dr Clare McManus, "I am number nine: feminist editing, Othello and women’s theatre history"—Since its first performance and publication (c. 1602 and 1622, respectively), Othello has had eight female editors. As the ninth woman to edit Othello, I will draw on my edition of the Quarto and Folio texts of the play to address the process of editing a Shakespearean tragedy through the lens of a changed understanding of early modern women’s performance and theatrical engagement, teasing out some of the implications for feminist editorial practice of engaging with Othello’s representation of femininity in its absence from the playhouse stage.

Professor Neil Taylor, "To be acknowledged, madam, is o’erpaid"—This paper is an exploration of the contribution made by women to the production of scholarly editions of Shakespeare. Before the 20th century, this was an almost exclusively male preserve. The paper traces the subsequent history of women’s participation in the production of such editions, looks at editorial practice in acknowledging women’s participation, and tries to measure the extent to which anything has really changed in the last hundred years.

Dr John Lavagnino, "Bernice Kliman's Enfolded Hamlet"—The Enfolded Hamlet was an original and productive initiative in digital scholarly editing, though rarely mentioned in surveys of digital editorial work. Kliman made unusual choices on issues of scope and selection, often going against the conventional wisdom of 1990s scholarly editing; her edition succeeded while many more orthodox projects failed.

Professor Lois Potter, "Tragic Muses: Helena Faucit and Victorian fictions of the Actress"—Helena Faucit attempted to redefine the image of the actress for Victorian England, an age when some people still refused to attend the theatre. I shall be looking at her career, and her Shakespeare criticism, in the light of the depiction of women as actors in the works of, among others, Charlotte Brontë and Geraldine Jewsbury.

Professor Russ McDonald, "Peggy of Anjou"—This lecture considers a vital moment in 20th century theater history: Peggy Ashcroft’s performance as Margaret of Anjou in Peter Hall and John Barton’s Wars of the Roses (1963). The first consideration is administrative: the vital contribution that Ashcroft’s participation made to the legitimization of the fledgling Royal Shakespeare Company. The second half scrutinizes a segment of her performance, the scene from 3 Henry VI in which she and Clifford stab the Duke of York, the episode known as The Molehill Scene. The recent availability of the BBC film, both in the RSC archives and on YouTube, offers an opportunity to examine Ashcroft’s Margaret in detail and to observe some qualities that make the characterization so exceptional.

Professor Elizabeth Schafer, “The Taming of Mariam; unsilencing Elizabeth Cary”—In The Tragedy of Mariam, Fair Queen of Jewry, Elizabeth Cary creates a vivid theatrical world where women repeatedly contest, struggle with, and scheme against the rule of Herod the Great. The play’s titular heroine, Mariam, is censored for speaking out in public, behaving indecorously, and refusing to do as her husband desires. Finally, this royal shrew is silenced and tamed by death. But Cary’s play, and its heroine, continues to be "tamed," and its author silenced, by the ongoing marginalization of the play—often by those who profess to value its achievement—as a "closet" drama, that is, one not intended for performance. This session will explore how attending to the dramaturgy of Mariam indicates that the play was intended for, and inflected by, performance.

Professor Lena Orlin, "Women Making in Shakespeare’s Stratford"—Between 1597 and 1601, Elizabeth Quiney’s husband Richard was often in London on Stratford-upon-Avon business. He sought subsidy relief for the town. In a surviving cache of letters, Richard’s correspondents reported to him about affairs back home. They praised Elizabeth, but not for being chaste, silent, and obedient. She was a grocer, a vintner, a mercer, a malt-maker, and a property manager. She supervised apprentices, took in boarders, hosted civic events, and managed the family’s cash flow. Eight of her 11 children survived to adulthood, among them the son Thomas who was to marry Shakespeare’s daughter Judith. The most unusual aspect of Elizabeth Quiney’s life is probably how fully documented it was. Her business activities may trace the parameters of many women’s careers in early modern England.

Professor Judith Buchanan, "Not Sycorax"—Sycorax has, we are told, died long before the dramatic action of The Tempest begins. She is invoked by Caliban to legitimize his claim on the island, and by Prospero both as a distasteful memory about the island’s dishonorable past and as the mechanism for keeping Ariel in grateful servitude. The potency of her symbolic presence, however, far exceeds such references. So persuaded was he of her significance that Ted Hughes even suggested that in the real operations of the Shakespeare play, the news that Sycorax is dead acts as "little more than a figure of speech." Since, in Hughes' assertion, Sycorax is "everywhere," reports of her death can seem, if not exaggerated, then at least circumscribed in relevance. In order to weigh her significance specifically in performance, in this paper I consider the quality and character of Sycorax's absence, and of her implied (and sometimes configured) presence, across a range of recent theatre, film, and operatic productions.

Professor Jean Howard, "Interrupting the Lucrece Effect? Rape Stories on the Early Modern Stage."—This paper considers the political consequences of how rape is dramatically rendered on the early modern stage. While the act is rarely represented directly, I consider the consequences of that fact, and then examine how rape is reported and by whom, and how its aftermath is portrayed. My focus will be on Titus Andronicus and various stage renditions of the aftermath of rape in that play and especially on Thomas Heywood's unusual representation in Rape of Lucrece: A True Roman Tragedy.

Professor Suzanne Gossett, “Women in Shakespeare: Where have we been, where are we going”—A consideration of changes—personal, professional, institutional and intellectual—in the world of Shakespeare studies in the years since Ann Thompson’s article,“Feminist Theory and the Editing of Shakespeare.”

Professor Kathleen McKluskie, "Beyond the Patriarchal Bard"—This paper will consider the breaks and continuities in the social and academic worlds in which women write about, study, and teach Shakespeare.

August 22, 2013

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