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This seminar explores issues of interest to the current Shakespeare scholarship. Principal topics include the relation of play-script to performance, the implications of recent changes in textual study, the relevance of texts to the social and political world in which they were produced, and the impact of contemporary theory on Shakespeare criticism. A Bernard Beckerman Memorial Lecture is presented annually in honor of the seminar’s founder.

Professor David Hershinow

Professor Laura Kolb

Bernadette Myers

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

09/13/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Ghosts, Holes, Rips and Scrapes: Rethinking the "False Folio"
Zachary Lesser, University of Pennsylvania


This talk concerns a famous case in the history of Shakespearean authorship: the so-called “Pavier Quartos” of 1619, or the “False Folio” as it is sometimes known. I will discuss new bibliographic findings from my study of more than 300 copies of them, which suggest that our traditional narratives about ‘the earliest collection of Shakespeare’s plays’ need to be seriously revised. Shakespeare in 1619 was not quite who we have thought him to be.

Notes: Bernard Beckerman Memorial Lecture
10/11/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Hearing Cues in Shakespeare: Instrumental Music and Sound Effects
Jennifer Linhart Wood, Folger Shakespeare Library


While it has been a critical commonplace to observe that every single one of Shakespeare’s plays features music and sound effects, less discussed is the pragmatic question of how off-stage musicians and other performers knew at what points in the plays these integral sounds should sound. This presentation will survey a variety of cues to off-stage, back-stage, and above-stage musicians and other performers responsible for sound effects like bells, clock chimes, knocking, and thunder in several of Shakespeare’s later works, including Macbeth, Henry VIII, and the so-called romances (The Tempest, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and Pericles). I argue that these cues were embedded in the dialogue of the play-texts in both the First Folio and in the Pericles quarto; because it was unlikely that musicians had access to a play-script during a performance, the use of aurally discernible cues allowed musicians and others off, behind, and/or above the stage to hear when the time was appropriate for their particular musical or sonic entrance. Embedded linguistic and sonic devices used to cue instrumental music and sound effects include an audibly discernible change in the meter of the spoken verse, the use of rhyming couplets, and the repetition of particular words.

11/08/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Happy Hamlet
Richard Strier, University of Chicago


Hamlet is, of course, "the melancholy Dane," and his play is, of course, one of the world's great tragedies. But there is a way in which emphasis on the first of these (supposed) facts can be seen to diminish some of the force of the second. Hamlet is not the most painful of the "great" or "mature" Shakespearean tragedies, but it can be seen as the saddest of them. Part of this sadness springs from the fact that Hamlet did nothing to initiate the tragic situation in which he finds himself. But what intensifies this sadness, I will argue, is the sense the play gives us that there was an alternative life for Hamlet. I will argue that Hamlet was not melancholic by nature; that he was happy in the period before the events that form the plot begin; and that there was every reason to suppose that such happiness would continue. My view entails seeing the people that Hamlet was involved with, especially those in his own generation, in a basically positive light as well, so that his implied past interactions with them (along with some of his present ones) seem positive, and the destruction of all of them profoundly sad.

12/13/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM

Leslie Dunn, Vassar College

02/14/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM

Lowell Duckert, University of Delaware

03/13/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM

John Kuhn, Binghamton University, SUNY

04/10/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM

Debapriya Sarkar, University of Connecticut, Avery Point

05/08/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM

Marjorie Rubright, University of Massachusetts, Amherst