Annual Congress of the French Shakespeare Society “Shakespeare Across the Disciplines”
Annual Congress of the French Shakespeare Society
“Shakespeare Across the Disciplines”
March 11-13, 2021
Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe, Cité Internationale, Paris 14e
Harold Bloom once hyperbolically claimed that Shakespeare had invented the human (The Invention of the Human, 1999). Yet it would seem that it is, rather, the human that invented Shakespeare, each era reinventing its own Shakespeare: each critic, biographer, or author claiming to reveal through the poet the concerns of his or her time, if not his or her own. Because he is thought to be universal, Shakespeare is seen to hold up a mirror to each and every individual, better, to humanity at large and to each and every field of human knowledge. Shakespeare gives these fields of knowledge flesh and substance. He makes them shimmer and glow, and tinges them with a sense of prophetism. In one of his lectures, Emmanuel Levinas went as far as to claim, “It sometimes seems to me that all philosophy is just a meditation on Shakespeare” (Le Temps et l’autre, 1947, p. 60), as if philosophy had to reach out beyond its own scope to find more depth.
In the nineteenth century, Thomas Carlyle used Shakespeare's works as a pretext for a political discussion of imperialism in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History (1841). Before him, the Romantics’ reception of Shakespeare, especially in Germany, had paved the way for a philosophical perspective on his drama, for Schiller as well as for Hegel. Ever since, Shakespeare has constantly been summoned in any debate on aesthetics: attempting to define classicism in his Causeries du lundi (1850), Sainte-Beuve cited the English poet—along with Dante—as the “primitive authority,” while for the French Romantics he was the poet of human passions. For Victor Hugo, Shakespeare became, on the contrary, the driving force of the battle fought in favour of the sublime and the grotesque against French classicism. With Freud, then Lacan, Shakespeare also became ideal material for psychoanalysis. To this day, American lawyers use his plays as handbooks in rhetoric. Scholars have gone so far as to focus on Shakespeare's importance in shaping aspects of American law, studying not only his place in law school curricula, but also in Supreme Court rulings, as if his works could actually affect the contents and scope of law, as a discipline and a practice. For others, Shakespeare instructs us in theology, music, or martial arts... Today, PhDs in history or philosophy based on Shakespeare are being carried out in France, as if the works of this poet, more than any other, could authorize these fields in a special way.
Shakespeare is now the most widely performed playwright in France—much more than Molière. These stagings come with claims: what director would hazard bringing him back to the stage with the simple aim of entertaining an audience, or testifying to a historical dramatic reality that today’s spectators care little about? On stage as well as in academic circles, Shakespeare is political, Shakespeare is psychological, Shakespeare is psychoanalytical, Shakespeare is aesthetic, Shakespeare is pedagogical. When Peter Brook adapted Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hatfor the stage, he compared Shakespeare's work to neurology, because it allows, he said, “to reveal the invisible.” Such views on stage direction are in fact deeply linked to the question of the disciplines for they can be understood in terms of legitimation: what discourse is it politically and socially acceptable to hold about Shakespeare and his works as a director or as a scholar?
Shakespeare’s works give us freedom of thought: they can be re-written, revised, or re-imagined. Within each discipline it seems that Shakespeare is appropriated, precisely because he gives those who promote his works free rein in relation to pre-existing theoretical discourses, and that he can be used as the foundation of new methodologies or approaches. For the 2021 Congress of the Société Française Shakespeare, we would like to envisage Shakespeare according to that self-same spirit of emancipation, looking at his work as exceeding the confines of a strict historicist and literary discourse which tends to present itself as the keeper of a sacred shrine. Our aim, however, is not to turn Shakespeare into a mere pretext for engaging in a conversation across the fields. Shakespeare is more than a common ground or a shared subject. We want to think of him as an open object of study and, more importantly yet, as opening modes of thinking. We would like to investigate the fundamental malleability of “Shakespeare” as an object, and the possibility of appropriating this object in the context of a reflection on the disciplines. What does Shakespeare allow us to do within our disciplines and what benefit do they derive from this Shakespearean investigation and appropriation?
The annual congress of the Société Française Shakespeare is the ideal place for such a questioning. We would like the congress to be the occasion for a dialogue between all of these “Shakespearean” disciplines: science, political science, history, philosophy, law, theatre studies, film studies, choreography, musicology, visual culture...as well as new, transdisciplinary fields of research, such as gender studies or other studies. Can the humanities and social sciences think with and through Shakespeare?
Finally, by bringing together different traditions of literary criticism, we would also like to try and reconsider the literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, through a variety of critical approaches: comparative studies, literary studies and the history of literature, English-language studies, German-language studies, Hispanic studies...as they are practised in France, in Britain, or elsewhere. Are they also affected and influenced by this malleable object called “Shakespeare”?
Please send your paper proposal (paper title, keywords and a ten-line abstract) by 1 September 2020, together with a short bio-bibliographical note, to the following address [email@example.com].
Answers will be given on 30 September 2020.
Papers will be 20 minutes long.
Organizing Committee: Board of the Société Française Shakespeare
Gilles Bertheau (Université de Tours)
Line Cottegnies (Sorbonne Université)
Pascale Drouet (Université de Poitiers)
Louise Fang (École Polytechnique)
Dominique Goy-Blanquet (Université de Picardie)
Claire Guéron (Université de Bourgogne)
Ronan Ludot-Vlasak (Université de Lille)
François Laroque (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Anne-Marie Miller-Blaise (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Mickaël Popelard (Université de Caen Basse-Normandie)
Catherine Treihlou-Balaudé (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Emma Smith (Hertford College, University of Oxford)
Christine Sukic (Université de Reims Champagne-Ardenne)
Gisèle Venet (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)