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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 fall semester. 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

Seth Williams, Barnard College, Columbia University

12/11/2020 Online Meeting
7:00 PM

Amy Cook, Stony Brook University, SUNY

02/12/2021 Location TBD
7:00 PM

John Kuhn, Binghamton University, SUNY

03/12/2021 Location TBD
7:00 PM

Marjorie Rubright, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

04/09/2021 Location TBD
7:00 PM

Debapriya Sarkar, University of Connecticut, Avery Point

05/14/2021 Location TBD
7:00 PM

Cristina León Alfar, Hunter College, CUNY

Notes: Bernard Beckerman Memorial Lecture