Profane Shakespeare: Perfection, Pollution, and the Truth of Performance

deadline for submissions: 
December 15, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Etudes Episteme

Call for Articles

Special Issue of


“But no perfection is so absolute,

That some impurity doth not pollute”

The Rape of Lucrece



Profane Shakespeare

Perfection, Pollution, and the Truth of Performance


For its 33rd issue (Spring 2018), the online peer-reviewed journal Etudes Epistémè (  seeks articles examining Shakespeare’s treatment of the notions of perfection (or “purity”) and pollution (or “impurity”), understood not only along traditional moral and religious lines, but also, more “profanely”, in aesthetic and hermeneutic terms.


In recent years, much attention has been devoted to the question of Shakespeare’s religious beliefs, leading to a polarization of opinions. Though Shakespeare belonged to a deeply Christian culture and though his language is in part shaped by all-pervasive Christian texts, evidence of Shakespeare’s “true faith” remains necessarily inconclusive. The playwright and poet situates his own truth elsewhere, in his art of poetry and drama, and in the time and act of performance, rather than in any sort of religious canon or eschatological horizon, implying the notions of completion and perfection. If Shakespeare so broadly and keenly “speaks to us” to this day, it is perhaps because of how profane his art is.


This does not mean that Shakespeare does not engage in an (implicit) debate with the religious imagination of his time. His contemporary world and contemporary language are still too intrinsically imbued with the religious for him to step into the neutral ground of the “secular”. He cannot draw the contours of a profane world without using the language of religion and deflecting it to a new purpose. His poetry and his theatre can be read as specifically literary responses, addressing, and, more importantly, displacing, or even “polluting” (in the etymological sense of “desecrating”) the contemporary ethical and religious debate over purity, especially purity of heart – a burning issue at the time – to turn it into an aesthetic, hermeneutic, and possibly anthropological question.


We welcome papers focusing on the different ways in which Shakespeare recounts and stages the failure of purity (or perfection), embracing the impure (or the polluted) as a lively, creative material. This special Shakespeare issue of Etudes Epistémè is open to essays adopting a variety of methodological approaches, whether more materially- or philosophically-oriented. In all cases the issue especially invites proposals that attempt to “re-textualize” Shakespeare by favoring close examination of the text over religious or biographical speculation, to bring out the complex interplay between the notions of perfection, pollution and performance. Suggested topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:


- Shakespeare’s treatment of spots and stains

- Shakespeare’s representations of purity and impurity of heart

- moral and poetic forms of pollution

- hypocrisy and performance

- sexuality and performance

- Shakespeare’s criticism of religious, moral, or political rigorism

- the moral, ontological and metaphysical implications of performance

- uses, misuses and abuses of religious or theological language in Shakespeare

- acts of profanation

- histrionic displacements of the religious

- spaces of mixture and contamination

- parallelisms and oppositions between the stage and the temple

- Shakespeare and hermeneutic or exegetical traditions

- early practices of censorship of the Shakespearean text, especially those revealing any “profane” quality of the Shakespearean corpus

- Christian readings / misreadings of Shakespeare


Detailed abstracts of 600 to 1000 words of proposed articles are to be sent to the editors of the issue, Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise, Karen Britland and Line Cottegnies by December 15th, 2016:, and . Notifications of acceptance: March 31, 2017. Full articles due September 1st, 2017. The articles will then be peer-reviewed before publication in the Spring of 2018.

Études Épistémè is a peer-reviewed, MLA- and DOAJ-listed journal.