Dr. Dennis Britton
Associate Professor of English, University of New Hampshire
Desiring Othello: Race, Pity, and Petrarchism
Friday, November 15, 2019
In act 1, scene 2 of Othello, we learn that Desdemona’s feelings toward Othello are transformed from fear to love. Brabantio tells the senate that his daughter initially “fear’d to look on” Othello (1.3.98), but Othello’s tale of suffering allows Desdemona to pity him: “She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d, / And I loved her that she did pity them” (1.3.167-68). Pity is thus the conduit that alters how Desdemona and Othello feel about each other. This paper explores Desdemona’s pity and love for Othello, and how and why Othello becomes desirable. I argue that Desdemona’s pity does not foreclose the import of Othello’s blackness on her feelings; in fact, her pity should be read as an expression of an English Petrarchanism that variously racialized male suffering and female pity. Othello becomes desirable to Desdemona—and also perhaps to the audience that, watching a tragedy, is supposed to experience the feelings of pity and fear—only when his blackness is able to be read as a mark of suffering. Othello suggests that the suffering black subject is a pitiful one; the pitiful black subject is a lovable, desirable one.
Dr. Allison Hobgood
Associate Professor, Willamette University
Shakespeare and Crip Sexualities
Tuesday March 5, 2019
“Shakespeare and Crip Sexualities” confronts the longstanding, ableist polarization of sex and disability: when we talk about sex, we don’t talk about disability; when we talk about disability, we don’t talk about sex. What do we discover when we override that impulse to instead think and talk about these topics together? Furthermore, what happens when that nexus is the lens through which we read literature of the English Renaissance? Hobgood’s talk aims for radical recognition of crip sexualities, both current and early modern. Through attention to William Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure, Hobgood will show how contemporary theorizations of crip sex in disability studies might help us reimagine sex and desire as they are represented in Renaissance drama. Her talk meditates on the idea of “normalcy,” conceiving of sex as more than genital acts and as inhering in non-conventional liaisons and seemingly un-erotic cultural objects and customs. “Shakespeare and Crip Sexualities” enables the recovery of new sex histories, attests to the way disability generates sexual possibilities, and offers fresh readings of a drama long deemed one of Shakespeare’s biggest “problem plays.”
In 1996, the manuscript of a 17th century Englishwoman came to light, having been unknown for 350 years. The newly discovered works of Hester Pulter include an unfinished romance and over a hundred heterogeneous poems that delve into numerous topics, including the conjunction of natural philosophy, cosmology, and faith. In her poems, Pulter draws from a “scientific” vocabulary to fantasize about the dissolution and transmutation of human form, the physical world, and the solar system. How do Pulter’s devotional poems offer new perspectives on the liberatory potential of material transformation, conceptions of poetic making, or women’s intellectual production in 17th-century England?
Wendy Wall is Director of the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities, Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, and Professor of English at Northwestern University. She is author of The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (Cornell University Press, 1993); Staging Domesticity: Household Work and English Identity in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge University Press, 2002),; and, most recently, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). Professor Wall has published articles on topics as wide-ranging as editorial theory, gender, poetry, national identity, the history of authorship, food studies, domesticity, theatrical practice, women’s writing, and Jell-O.
Friday, February 10, 2017
This paper examines Jonson’s Cicero as a case study from the 2014 book, Character and the Individual Personality in English Renaissance Drama. This rendition of Cicero illustrates important points about the processes of historical ethopoeia, the recreating of a particular historical person’s speech: the sense in which the particularity of a person follows from that of his or her historical context; the sense in which character can be static and yet still have complexity and individuality; and the sense in which who someone is can show through in public oratory. Jonson’s play Catiline, especially insofar as Cicero’s lines are often direct translations of the overly famous anti-Catiline speeches, has often been panned. But hence we have often overlooked how Jonson drew his Cicero in order to reconstruct, with the utmost accuracy, the character of a particular historical person.
Dr. Sara Trevisan
Brutus’s ‘division of the kingdom’: The genesis, transmission and manipulation of a national myth from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Shakespeare
February 19, 2016
The story of Brutus the Trojan, as it first appeared in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136), is a narrative which continued to fascinate poets, playwrights, and historians well into the seventeenth century. As a foundation myth supplying a prestigious past to a civilization with little known history before the Roman invasion, it took on real political importance. In particular, the narrative concerning the division of the kingdom among Brutus’s three sons—hence the birth of England, Wales, and Scotland—appeared in debates on acts of policy from the Angevin to the Stuart period. First seen as a myth of national origins and territorial differentiation, the ‘division of the kingdom’ was gradually invoked as a justification of England’s insular hegemony, and, from the sixteenth century, as a negative exemplum of the evil consequences of internal partition. This paper explores the way in which the narrative of the ‘division of the kingdom’ was altered and manipulated by literary authors and chroniclers, with a special focus on sixteenth-century and early seventeenth-century poetry and drama.
Sara Trevisan is Solmsen Fellow 2015-16 at the Institute for Research in the Humanities and will be Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick from May 2016, for three years. She earned a PhD in English Literature at the University of Padua, in Italy, and has held fellowships at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and the University of Warwick, as well as a lectureship at Brunel University London. She has published on early modern literature and culture in journals such as Renaissance Quarterly, Renaissance Studies and The Seventeenth Century. She is particularly interested in the intersections between court and popular literature with intellectual history, geography, cartography, iconography, the history of the book, and theories of nationhood. She is currently writing a book on the politics of royal genealogy in early modern literature, drama, and popular culture.
Dr. James Bromley (Miami University)
“City Powdering: Materiality, Pedagogy, and Sexuality in Thomas Middleton’s Michaelmas Term“
Thursday, April 16th
In my talk, I will examine the representation of the epistemological and material construction of urban sexuality in Thomas Middleton’s Michaelmas Term, what the play refers to as the “city powdering.” In the play, cloth facilitates otherwise impossible relations between men, and the cloth trade is depicted as involved in the circulation of sexual knowledge. Most readers of the play would find it an unlikely candidate for a utopian reading, given that its negative depiction of the cloth trade has been explained as a product of anxieties about the risk of abuse and victimization in commercial, social, and sexual relations in early modern London. I suggest instead that the play exposes how such anxieties circulating in the period inhibit the development of London as a space that could offer material and epistemological support for queer practices of selfhood, comportment, pleasure, and relationality. In its glimpses of a queer sexual culture that has utopian affordances without being pastoral, Michaelmas Term, I hope to suggest, can provoke us to query tacit assumptions that underwrite responses to the intersection of materiality, pedagogy, and sexuality.
Dr. Julia Reinhard Lupton (UC-Irvine)
“Affording Pleasure: Little Things in Romeo and Juliet“
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Gloves, crowbars, torches, marzipan, and soft goods are among the things that afford pleasure in Romeo and Juliet. Reading Shakespeare’s most famous lovers as environmental artists and apartment therapists, Lupton explores the scenographic cues, haptic imagination, and affective bursts that invite readers and theater makers to conjure a world out of words, objects, movements, gestures, and theatrical space. In the process of inventorying Romeo and Juliet, this talk tests the resources of affordance theory (developed by designers out of the environmental psychology of James J. Gibson) for literary study.
Dr. Joanna Picciotto (UC-Berkeley)
“They Speak in Their Silence”: Implicit Faith and the Religious Life of Animals”
November 6, 2014
This paper will explore some of the paradoxes of agency associated with the doctrine of implicit faith. Although reformers identified it with the destruction of Christian liberty, in post-Reformation England the concept elicited some surprisingly complex meditations on the relation between agency and passivity in all assent. A brief survey of these will provide the context for an analysis of Godfrey Goodman’s argument, in The Creatures Praysing God (1622), that implicit faith is the foundation of the religious life of animals. Focusing on the treatise’s strategic oscillation between the objective and subjective senses of key verbs like “confess” and “discover,” I will explore Goodman’s construction of animals as not only exemplars of obedience but perfect liturgical subjects—a construction that has persisted in various forms into the modern age (e.g. in Kierkegaard’s “The Lily of the Field and the Bird under Heaven” and David Abram’s Becoming Animal).
Dr. David Landreth (UC-Berkeley)
“Shakespearean Anachronism: The Matter of Money in King John‘s Anti-History”
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
This paper considers the strange resistance to historiographic and generic shaping manifested by Shakespeare’s unlovable chronicle play King John, and construes that resistance as a specifically material condition. The perversity of matter to “all direction, purpose, course, intent” is epitomized in the play by the monetary personification “Commodity,” and is formulated through a hostile encounter with the corpuscular, contingent ontology of Epicurus. I’ll situate this materialist analysis in the context of sixteenth-century proto-economic thought, and I will seek to open it out to more abstract questions of the chthonic pressure of matter against temporal structures of causality and sequence.