Approaches to Shakespeare Criticism (RSA Boston 2016)

full name / name of organization: 
Colin Macdonald (CUNY Grad Center) and Michael Plunkett (CUNY Grad Center)

Approaches to Shakespeare Criticism

a panel proposal for the RSA 2016 conference in Boston, 31 March-2 April

In a 2007 essay, "Troilus and Cressida: The Perils of Presentism" (Presentist Shakespeares, ed. Grady and Hawkes, 164–83), Kiernan Ryan challenges the dominant historicist methodology of current Shakespeare studies, lamenting "the endless studies bent on shackling Shakespeare to everything from maps and money to cooking and cosmetics," or rehashing the same topical links (the Gunpowder Plot, Essex's Irish campaign), an approach that sacrifices "textual analysis to the analysis of surrogate discourses" and undertakes "cultural study of the plays from a skewed perspective, which privileges their point of origin over the process of reception." On the other hand, Ryan also warns against the pitfalls of an unanchored presentism, critics' "narcissistic urge to turn resistance into resemblance: to crush Shakespeare's text a little to make it bow to them," which obscures a genuine dialogue between present critic and past work; rather, "by respecting the stubborn otherness of Shakespeare's plays … presentist criticism opens itself to being questioned by them, to having its own horizon transformed by unexpected insights into the present and the past."

We welcome papers that
- directly engage questions of methodology and historicism/presentism
- challenge or build on Ryan's argument, considering the continued prevalence of "new materialist" readings and the emergence of its performance corollary of original practices and original pronunciation
- undertake readings of plays from a (broadly defined) presentist, "reparative," or (new) formalist perspective
- examine creative appropriations of Shakespeare plays (especially "erotic," in Susan Sontag's sense, rather than interpretive, responses)

Please send a 150-word abstract and short CV by June 7th to Colin Macdonald ( and Michael Plunkett (