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Shakespeare and the Art of Lying, Oct. 3-7, 2009, IIAS Simla, India
full name / name of organization:
Shakespeare Society of India and Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla
SHAKESPEARE & THE ART OF LYING
IIAS, SIMLA & THE SHAKESPEARE SOCIETY OF INDIA
What notions of falsehood, and, axiomatically, of truth, emerge from a reading of Shakespeare’s works? Does Shakespeare subscribe to the concept of absolute truth, or of truth being contingent, relative? Hamlet claims, “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” while Polonius declares that he “will find/ Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed/ Within the centre.” However, are we to take these statements at face value or enquire into their context and the nature of the person who speaks the lines? Does Shakespeare address the poststructuralist problem of language not being a mirror to reality or to truth? Is falsehood, degrees and variations of it, all we are to be content with? After all, Shakespeare himself confesses, in Sonnet 110, “I have looked on truth/Askance and strangely.”
The five-day workshop to be held at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, from October 3 to October 7, 2009, will explore the many facets of lies, deception, truth and half-truth that feature so prominently in the sonnets and the poems (“When my love swears that she is made of truth,/ I do believe her, though I know she lies,”) in the history and Roman plays, in the comedies, in the tragedies where falsehood has dire consequences, in the problem plays where distinctions are often blurred, and in the romances where, ostensibly, falsehood is defeated and truth is vindicated. Some attention should also be paid to the fact that there is an art to make falsehood resemble truth. One may recall that Othello claims that Iago is a “fellow…of exceeding honesty” after Iago insinuates against Desdemona’s fidelity. Shakespeare is past master of the art of lying, he compares his art to that of the dyer, and he is also aware of the serious repercussions of this nimbleness in colouring the truth on the art-nature debate that raged in the Renaissance. Are truth and its representation inextricable, or does the artistic representation of truth become in itself an art of lying?
The organisers look forward to receiving papers not necessarily confined to an examination of Shakespeare’s works alone, but also to classical, Biblical and Renaissance notions of falsehood and truth. More, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Bacon, Bruno and other thinkers of the age may have influenced Shakespeare’s notions of lying and verity. Too, the workshop will entertain papers on Shakespeare criticism and on stage and screen versions which focus on the representation of falsehood and truth and how contemporary political ideologies may colour the reinvention of Shakespeare’s works.
The aim of the workshop, to be held over an extended period of time, unlike that of a seminar, is not so much to arrive at firm conclusions but to raise questions that are exploratory in nature, to have an in-depth discussion of the variety and seriousness of Shakespeare’s thoughts on this issue and, in the process, to rethink a concern that can never be out of date.