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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 Lauren Robertson

Professor Debapriya Sarkar

Shanelle Kim

Meeting Schedule

09/09/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University
7:00 PM
Falstaff and Wisdom Literature.
Lars Engle, The University of Tulsa


Falstaff quotes the bible more than any other Shakespearean character. His relation to Judeo-Christian wisdom literature -- specifically, to the biblical wisdom books Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and the apocryphal Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus -- presents an evaluation problem for readers. He uses biblical wisdom richly, sometimes uniquely, and it is used of him.

The second scene of 1 Henry IV introduces Falstaff and Prince Hal and closes with Hal's "I know you all" soliloquy. It seems designed to offer reflective audiences an instruction manual on how they might assemble the elements of the Henriad to make the dramatic machine function according to plan. This paper maps how the citations of wisdom literature in that scene -- some of them apparently unnoticed hitherto by commentators on Shakespeare and the bible -- support and disrupt those instructions. It also touches on larger questions: is Falstaff wise? What does wisdom literature do to merit its name?

10/14/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University / Zoom
7:00 PM
"The Taste of Fears”: Horror and Disgust in Macbeth.
Jesse Lander, University of Notre Dame


Macbeth is not unlike a mashup of two horror subgenres: supernatural horror and the slasher film. This continuity has been obscured by the mainline of Shakespearean criticism, which has generally overlooked elements of what has been deemed sensationalism, on the one hand, and superstition on the other. Instead of looking past the play’s seemingly exploitative deployment of violence and the supernatural, I argue that Macbeth elicits feelings of horror and disgust in order to engage its audience in a searching treatment of human vulnerability, a vulnerability that is both physical, a matter of frail bodies, and intellectual, a question of unreliable perception. My attention to horror and disgust, informed by recent work on the history of emotions, contributes to a revised understanding of the place of the supernatural on the Tudor-Stuart stage. Under the influence of Weber, the supernatural has usually been addressed primarily in terms of disenchantment, which invariably turns on questions of belief and disbelief. I argue instead that the staging of the supernatural is, in the first instance, an occasion for visceral, embodied responses and that while these responses provoke reflection, the conclusions reached are unpredictable.

11/11/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University / Zoom
7:00 PM
Matthieu Chapman, SUNY New Paltz

12/09/2022 Faculty House, Columbia University / Zoom
7:00 PM
Allison Deutermann, Baruch College