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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 Caralyn Bialo

Professor David Hershinow

Bernadette Myers

All seminars will meet over Zoom for the 2020-2021 academic year. Meeting links provided upon RSVP. Meeting dates and times are subject to change. 

Meeting Schedule

09/11/2020 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Counterfactual Richard III
Marissa Nicosia, Pennsylvania State University, Abington


Counterfactual narratives offer a messy counterpoint to orderly histories. Chronicle plays are grounded in known history, but in this talk about William Shakespeare’s Richard III I argue that counterfactual futures and pretender characters allow playwrights to also envision what might have been. Although Henry VI foretells the Tudor succession with an ironclad sense of destiny, Shakespeare’s Richard III imagines, briefly, what a triumphant Yorkist rule might be. At the beginning of the play, Richard is a part of the Yorkist line of succession – a potential claimant to the throne – who proceeds to jump his place in line. While Richard III was crowned and anointed with the sacred balm like any other king, I show that Shakespeare’s play treats Richard – and the House of York – as counterfactual narratives to the Tudor Myth. Richard’s kingship is rendered as a false, counterfeit rule and the Yorkist line as an aberration, an alternative timeline, in contrast to the Tudor’s inevitable rise. Richard may hold the throne, but his illegitimate usurpation leads to his erasure. Although Richard III is ultimately conservative and reestablishes the status quo of monarchical succession, its dramatic impact resides in entertaining alternative lines of succession that briefly or potentially might have structured the nation’s future.

10/09/2020 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Mud, Blood, and the Naturalization of Carp in All’s Well That Ends Well
Rob Wakeman, Mount Saint Mary College


At the end of All’s Well That Ends Well, when a befouled Parolles enters the stage “muddied in Fortune’s mood and smell,” Lavache supposes he “has fallen into the unclean fishpond of [Fortune’s] displeasure” (5.2.4-19). In this paper, I show that Parolles’ fishiness is linked to the play’s naturalization of the social order. No fish is more routinely marked as a stranger to English waters than carp. Since their introduction in the fifteenth century, fishing manuals and cookery books described the common carp as a fish “not long known in England” but one that “is now naturalized.” Although carp were praised for their fecundity, they were scorned for their muddy flavor. How, then, did they establish themselves, as Izaak Walton puts it, as the “Queen of Rivers, a stately, good, and very subtle fish”? Through a comparison of the play’s attention to mud, blood, and carp with seventeenth-century recipes, I argue that the story of carp in England parallels Parolles’ promise that his “instruction shall serve to naturalize” Helena (1.1.194). The purgative methods that exorcised mud from the bloodstream demonstrate the paradoxical corruption of the body through its purification.

11/13/2020 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Shakespeare's Disgraceful Hands
Seth Williams, Barnard College, Columbia University


This talk argues that women in Love's Labour's Lost, Romeo and Juliet, and The Winter's Tale exercise forms of devotional authority that are explicitly choreographic in nature. It does so by exploring the rhetorical slippage between grace in its corporeal and spiritual senses in sixteenth-century dance manuals, for example in Fabritio Caroso's theorization of the "touch of grace" that accompanies "taking hands" to dance, and in the credit he gives to the divine motions of God, the "eternal Mover." But while such manuals blurred distinctions between spirit and matter, they also have material histories of their own. By studying widespread printing errors that threw into confusion a key moment—taking hands to dance—this talk suggests that how hands first touched often determined whether a choreography proceeded with grace or in disgrace. It then exa

12/11/2020 Online Meeting
7:00 PM
Shakespearean Futures: Casting the Bodies of Tomorrow on Shakespeare's Stages Today
Amy Cook, Stony Brook University, SUNY


An actor walks on stage to play Lear, or Beatrice or Henry and we immediately begin making judgments about the story to come based on the actor selected. We may wonder to what extent the actor’s race or gender or body type will be relevant (and in what way), but we see it. In productions of Shakespeare today, directors are using the bodies of the actors to tell us how we are to understand this old story now. Directors can use casting to reflect or mirror the world we live in or the director can cast a body counter to our expectations in such a way that we are invited to challenge our categories for ruler, lover, villain. I will examine the casting and staging of key contemporary productions of Shakespeare to argue that through these counter castings we can see the future we are grappling with, a future that’s paradoxically hyper-attentive to the body while destabilizing the categories of race/ethnicity, gender, and even the idea of the self. These productions of Shakespeare are using casting to tell the future.

02/12/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM

John Kuhn, Binghamton University, SUNY

03/12/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM

Marjorie Rubright, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

04/09/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM

Debapriya Sarkar, University of Connecticut, Avery Point

05/14/2021 Online Meeting
7:00 PM

Cristina León Alfar, Hunter College, CUNY

Notes: Bernard Beckerman Memorial Lecture