Offensive Shakespeare

deadline for submissions: 
May 24, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Monika Smialkowska / Northumbria University and Edmund King / The Open University
contact email: 


"Offensive Shakespeare"

Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne

24 May 2017


Keynote speakers: Prof. Douglas Lanier (University of New Hampshire) and Dr. Peter Kirwan (Nottingham University)

Sponsored by the British Shakespeare Association


‘Outrage as BBC bosses “use Shakespeare to push pro-immigration agenda”’. This was a headline in The Daily Express on 25th April 2016, after the BBC included what has become known as the ‘Immigration Speech’ from Sir Thomas More in a programme celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. From Thomas and Henrietta Bowdler expurgating passages from their Family Shakespeare, through campaigns in the early 20th century to remove The Merchant of Venice from American classrooms, to this recent ‘outrage’, people have been offended by what Shakespeare wrote or by the uses to which others have put him. But what is it that offends us and how do we deal with it? What makes Shakespeare and his appropriations such a sensitive issue? We welcome 200-word abstracts for 20-minute papers that might address the following (or related) topics:


  • Case studies of individuals or groups taking offence at Shakespeare’s texts.
  • Examples of Shakespearean rewritings aimed at addressing ‘offensive’ issues.
  • Shakespearean plays or performances which have been banned, censored, or campaigned against.
  • Debates around removing Shakespeare from educational curricula, or making the study of his work mandatory.
  • Appropriations of Shakespeare by anti-democratic or repressive movements (e.g. ‘Nazi Shakespeare’, ‘racist Shakespeare’).
  • Iconoclastic uses of Shakespeare that ‘offend’ against established orthodoxies.
  • Adaptations of Shakespeare into popular genres or idioms.
  • Means of teaching or tackling plays which include morally, ethically, or politically problematic passages (e.g. The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, The Merchant of Venice).
  • Uses of Shakespeare in propaganda, inflammatory speeches, or heated political debates.
  • Authorship controversies.


Thanks to a generous grant from the BSA, we are able to offer two bursaries of £75 each to assist postgraduate students with the costs of attending the conference. Email the organisers if you would like to apply for one of these.


Please, submit abstracts to Monika Smialkowska ( or Edmund King ( by 15 February 2017.   To register, visit