Shakespeare and the Play of Story (2012-2016)

The “Shakespeare and the Play of Story” research program will develop a new account of the artistic, social, intellectual, and historical dimensions of Shakespearean narrative. The program takes its lead from figures such as philosopher Hannah Arendt, historiographer Hayden White, legal scholar Paul Gewirtz, and Shakespeare himself, thinkers who tell us that the human life-world is fundamentally narrative in character. We remember that Hamlet’s dying wish is that Horatio will, in this harsh world, draw his breath in pain to tell Hamlet’s story. The Prince understands that a well-recounted story of his life will have the best chance of capturing the essential meaning and worth of his personhood.

In light of the narrativity of the human life-world, the “Play of Story” research program asks, to what degree is Shakespeare’s historical durability and cultural mobility an effect of his genius as a creator of memorable stories? To consider Shakespearean narrativity in terms developed by theorists of law, history, and subjectivity is to begin to understand more specifically how his plays mobilize stories in socially, historically, and psychologically formative ways. Important also is that Shakespeare is not only a creator of stories, but also someone who understands how stories are often used in order to naturalize social power and inequality. His ability to stage the narrative character of social domination makes him a force for political advancement as well as one of the most enduring of story-tellers. His plays are also powerfully critical of the drive toward narrativity itself; after all, for all his emphasis on his life as a story, Hamlet’s words and actions do not resolve at all easily into a coherent narrative. In as much as Shakespeare is a thinker about the social force of stories, a critic of narrativity, and an artist of dramatic narrative, he can become both the object of study for and a key conversation partner with modern researchers. What, it must therefore also be asked, can Shakespeare tell researchers in a range of disciplines about the life-shaping and world-making power of stories?

These questions call for answers founded in interdisciplinary collaboration between a group of Shakespeareans (both literary-historical scholars and theatre practitioners) and a number of experts who are concerned about how stories work in the fields of law, history, and philosophy. Previous FQRSC funding has enabled the development of team’s practice of bringing literary scholars, theatre historians, and theatre practitioners into critical dialogue with each other, an innovation that remains unique in Shakespeare studies, where these modes of approach most often work in isolation from each other. The proposed research program builds on that foundation and significantly expands the interdisciplinary character of the team’s scholarship. Important is the cultivation of a working environment where the questions and insights on one side influence and are influenced by the questions and insights on the other. In order to ensure that this interdisciplinary program of exchange is as effective and productive as possible, it will be organized around a number of interrelated research axes, each one featuring a particular line of approach to the broader questions of Shakespeare and narrative, and it will unfold as a sequence of interrelated projects that issue from a common ground of ideas, a sharing of methodologies, and a multidisciplinary body of primary and secondary sources.

The Shakespeare Team’s work has always been interdisciplinary. In order to foster the bridging of literary theory and theatrical practice, the team has recruited Patrick Leroux, playwright, director, and scholar as a regular member, and Paul Hopkins, Artistic Director of Repercussion Theatre, as a collaborating researcher. In addition to this fundamental coupling of literary-historical and theatrical approaches, the team has cultivated strong interests in philosophy and history, as witnessed, for example, by the chapters by Michael Bristol and André Bourassa in Shakespeare and Character or by Bristol’s latest book, Shakespeare and Moral Agency. In order to develop this dimension more concretely, the team has recruited David Davies (Philosophy) and Martin Kreiswirth (Narrative Theory and American Literature) as regular members and Desmond Manderson (Law) and Mark Phillips (History) as collaborators. These researchers will augment the interdisciplinary dimension of the research program, especially by virtue of their expertise in the larger questions about how narrative gives shape and meaning to law, the polity, and the individual subject, and how it organizes the welter of acts and events that make up human life into what we call history. The participation of the new team members will be facilitated by integrating their work with that of other members in individual research projects that are themselves connected to the larger questions of the research program. Their substantial participation in the research program will be facilitated by their participation in (1) the first year foundational work on the program with all the members of the team, which will acquaint them with the core questions and methods and (2) focused workshops with team members and with other, invited experts.

The project will also contribute to the field of narratology. Although Aristotle’s Poetics, with its focus on dramatic tragedy, is the acknowledged precursor of the modern study of narrative, narratology as it has developed over the past forty years has tended to look at narrative fiction (novels and short fiction) rather than drama. Diegesis, how a story is narrated, is generally associated with narrative fiction, and mimesis, the showing of an action, with drama. Film, which, like drama, is considered mimetic, has, unlike drama, developed a set of narratological terms for itself. This is partly because drama has long possessed the authority of Aristotle’s account of dramatic action. The specificity of dramatic plot, however, could benefit from reconsideration in the light of developments in film and narrative fiction. This is particularly the case with Shakespeare, whose drama has been widely adapted for both narrative fiction and film, and which in some instances might be understood to have influenced the handling of narrative details in other media. D. W. Griffith, for example, is widely credited with the development of cross cutting, the alternation of shots between at least two actions in order to establish simultaneity of action. There is, however, Shakespearean precedent for such technique in the short, staccato battle scenes at the end of plays such as Richard III and Henry IV Part 1. The dramatic soliloquy might be considered something of a forerunner to the “first person” narrative of so much modern fiction. Moreover, the characteristic double plot of Renaissance drama was, according to William Empson, a means of blending high and low cultures in a fashion that appeared to violate the decorum of classical drama, but that can also be seen as setting the conditions for the social panorama of much modern narrative. A good deal of the symbolic significance of the Renaissance drama lies in its mobilization of the double plot, but this aspect of Renaissance drama has been underdeveloped since Richard Levin’s book, The Multiple Plot in English Renaissance Drama (1971).

The Shakespeare Team will focus on the specificity of Renaissance dramatic plotting, but it will also test some of the approaches to the analysis of narrative in current scholarship. The strengths of the team, which include theatre history and production, but also the long history of the adaptation of Shakespearean drama for other media, including film and the novel, will make possible a novel approach, grounded in Shakespeare but with a strong basis for the comparison of narrative technique across different media. Narrative analysis will thus intersect with questions of intermediation that are increasingly prominent in literary scholarship.

The overall research program is organized into six interrelated axes and four distinct projects. The core comprises three interconnected axes—(1) Theory and Practice of Theatrical Narrative (core axis), (2) Performance and Performance History Narratives, and (3) Stories in Motion. While these three axes will be given particular attention at different stages of the research program, the researchers for each will overlap, and the three axes will yield a single, collaborative volume to be called Shakespeare and the Play of Story. Each of the three outlier axes—(4) Law and Theatrical Narrative; (5) Theatre, Narrative, History; and (6) Stories of the Self—will occupy different groups of team researchers, will recruit groups of visiting scholars, and will issue in particular deliverables—two special journal-issues and a web-based Shakespeare story archive featuring the voices of scholars, actors, directors, high school teachers, students, and playgoers. Importantly all six of the research axes will inform one another because of significant overlap in personnel and also because of exchanges facilitated by a website that makes available work-in-progress and that provides ample space for comment, critique, and discussion.

Team Members

The membership of the Shakespeare Team draws from three of Montreal’s four universities, the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Carleton University, and Repercussion Theatre. This range of institutional affiliation is complemented by the research interests and specializations each participant brings to the project. The following list provides each team member’s institutional affiliation and primary research axes; it also indicates selected publications and key research contributions to the “Play of Story” program, Important also is the range of the team members in terms of career. There are four younger university professors (Meredith Evans, Mustapha Fahmi, Patrick Leroux, Fiona Ritchie), four mid-career scholars (Joyce Boro, Wes Folkerth, Patrick Neilson, and Myrna Wyatt Selkirk), and seven senior researchers (Michael Bristol, David Davies, Martin Kreiswirth, Desmond Manderson, Mark Phillips, Denis Salter, and Paul Yachnin).

Regular Researchers

Joyce Boro (Département d’études anglaises, Université de Montréal; Axes 1, 3) specialises in medieval and Renaissance literature, with a focus on romance. She is the editor of Lord Berners’s Castell of Love (MRTS 2007) and the author of articles on Lord Berners, translation, the persistence of medieval romance through the Early Modern period, and book history. The interpretive methodology developed in this work is applicable to Shakespeare’s drama, since Shakespeare, like his contemporaries, crafted his works from preexisting literary material, borrowing characters, plots, and motifs from earlier texts. Her contribution to the research program will emphasize Shakespeare’s engagements with the medieval narrative tradition.

Michael Bristol (English, McGill; Axes 1, 3, 6) works with complex theoretical issues and with popular culture. His work is primarily concerned with situating Shakespeare in the social contexts of production and reception. He has written three book-length studies of Shakespeare’s theatre: Carnival and TheatreShakespeare’s America/America’s Shakespeare; and Big Time Shakespeare. His work for the research program will have a dual focus. He will theorize Shakespeare’s frequent deployment of nested stories, or stories embedded with other stories. He will also come to the topic from the perspective of what he calls “vernacular criticism,” investigating how non-specialist readers of Shakespeare mediate their experience of his works through recourse to their own personal stories.

David Davies (Philosophy, McGill; Axes 1, 2, 6), among other publications, has written major books on the philosophy of aesthetics and performance, including Philosophy of the Performing Arts (Oxford: Blackwell, 2011), Aesthetics and Literature (London: Continuum, 2007), and Art as Performance (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004). He has worked on narrative, character, and philosophy in the films of Terrence Malick; he edited a book on Malick’s The Thin Red Line for Routledge. He will contribute generally to the development of a theoretically complex account of Shakespearean narrativity and directly to the discussion and resulting publication concerning a Shakespearean narratological philosophy of the subject.

Meredith Evans’s (English, Concordia; Axes 1, 4) recent article in Shakespeare Quarterly focuses on Shakespeare’s 2 Henry IV and on the impossibility of embodying linguistic energy or arresting its unpredictable, political effects. It shows how such linguistic energy challenges executive power and subjects it to juridical constraints. Her current Shakespeare research examines how various systems of signification—including the legalese of Henry V and the allegorical figures of Rape, Revenge and Murder in Titus Andronicus—are mobilized as critiques of the institutions or ideals from which they derive. Her contribution to the program will focus on Shakespeare’s deployment of narrative structures culled from early modern legal practice.

Mustapha Fahmi (English, Département des arts et lettres, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi; Axes 1, 2, 6), the author of several publications on Shakespeare, is particularly interested in the question of agency and the way it is linked to notions of self-interpretation and the capacity to evaluate goods. His most recent work, “Quoting the Enemy: Character, Self-Interpretation, and the Question of Perspective in Shakespeare” (in Shakespeare and Moral Agency), examines the implications of Shakespeare’s perspectivism. In the “Shakespeare and the Play of Story” program, he intends to further his reflection on Shakespeare’s manipulation of perspective, particularly the way the dramatist changes the stories he inherits from his sources to suit his dramatic vision, and the consequences of that manipulation on the reader or spectator’s evaluative response to fictional characters and events.

Wes Folkerth’s (English, McGill; Axes 1, 2, 3) first book is The Sound of Shakespeare(Routledge 2002). He has also published on acoustic experience in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare and the Beatles, the Elizabethan poet Richard Barnfield, and the figure of Pietro Aretino in Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller. He contributed the section on Shakespeare in popular music for Shakespeares After Shakespeare: An Encyclopedia of the Bard in Mass Media and Popular. His research for “Shakespeare and the Play of Story” will focus on how Shakespeare’s characters tell stories with specific intentions in mind. He will pay special attention to characters’ renditions of stories—which parts they choose to relate, which they choose to leave unrelated, and how these changes inflect their intentions. His work will also focus on cinematic productions of Shakespeare’s works, specifically how the film medium conveys Shakespeare’s sense of story.

Martin Kreiswirth (English, McGill, Axes 1, 5), founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism (1986-95) at the University of Western Ontario, has research interests in narrative theory, literary theory, William Faulkner, critical intellectual history, and historical fiction. His books include The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, 2nd ed. (2004; Electronic Edition, 2005); Constructive Criticism: The Human Sciences in the Age of Theory (1995); and Theory Between the Disciplines: Authority/Vision/Politics (1995). He has also published two major essays on narrative in the Human Sciences (see Bibliography). His expertise in narratology and ongoing research interests in narrative and history will deepen the program’s account of Shakespearean narrative on the literary theoretical side and will broaden the work on history and narrative.

Patrick Leroux (English and Études françaises, Concordia; Axes 1, 2, 3, 6) founded the Interdisciplinary Working Group on Cirque du Soleil Academic Research in the winter of 2010. He is a member of the Hexagram Institute for Research-Creation in Media Arts and Technologies and Université de Montréal’s Centre de recherche interuniversitaires en littérature et culture québécoises. During the 1990s he founded Ottawa’s Théâtre la Catapulte, and worked as a producer, director, designer, and playwright. Over thirty of his plays, radio plays, and scripts have been staged or broadcast since the early nineties. His most recent plays in both French and English include Tom Pouce, version fin de siècle (Le Nordir, 2006), Ludwig & Mae (Talonbooks, 2009), Se taire (Prise de parole, 2010) and the forthcoming Dialogues fantasques pour causeurs éperdus (Prise de parole, 2012). In addition to invited talks at Royal Holloway/University of London, Duke University, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others, his scholarship has appeared in Canadian Theatre ReviewL’Annuaire théâtral,Cahiers de théâtre JEUÉtudes théâtralesalt.theatreQuébec StudiesSpirale,International Journal of Arts Management, and Voix et images. As his main contribution to the project, he will direct a version of Cymbeline, drawing upon texts by Shakespeare, Boccacio, Shaw, Sondheim, Leroux, and other playwrights. The production will be part of McGill’s regular theatre season and will make use of the technological and media resources from Concordia’s Hexagram Institute.

Patrick Neilson (Drama and Theatre Program, English Department, McGill; Axes 1, 2, 3) is a practicing theatre artist, with a focus on set and lighting design. As a specialist in theatre design and stagecraft, he will contribute to the analysis of questions relating to stage construction, costumes, scenery, and lighting, as well as the expressive dimensions of stage properties. He will study Shakespeare’s use of the visual as a story-telling tool and focus on how scenic elements embedded in the texts add narrative and emotional complexity to the plays in performance. He will also address how the narrative powers of these visual elements are affected by artistic interpretation, as well as the question of whether there remain in Shakespeare’s works some kinds of embedded visual elements that are not susceptible to the whims of fashion.

Kevin Pask (English Department, Concordia; Axes 1, 3) is the author of The Emergence of the English Author: Scripting the Life of the Poet in Early Modern England and is completing a second book project, entitled The Fairy Way of Writing, which examines Shakespeare’s representation of fairies and supernatural beings as well as the significance of Shakespeare’s example for the history of fantasy in English literature. His research for the “Play of Story” program will focus on Shakespeare’s use of folk tale materials in his plots, including folk tale motifs that ultimately go back to Indo-European sources.

Fiona Ritchie (Drama and Theatre Program, English Department, McGill; Axes 1, 2, 3) has published articles on women and Shakespeare in the eighteenth century and is currently at work on a study of the part played by women (as actresses, playgoers and critics) in the canonization of Shakespeare in the Enlightenment. She is also co-editing a major collection of essays on eighteenth-century Shakespeare.  As a specialist in Restoration and eighteenth-century Shakespeare, particularly stage practice, she will bring to the research program detailed knowledge of the ways in which Shakespeare’s stories were adapted to suit dramatic, cultural, and aesthetic trends. She is also interested in eighteenth-century Shakespeare biography, especially in apocryphal anecdotes about Shakespeare’s life. Another area of interest is theatre history as story. She intends to explore how story, narrative and anecdote allowed certain performers to establish their reputations as Shakespearean actors.

Denis Salter (Drama and Theatre Program, English Department, McGill; Axes 1, 2) works on theatre history, dramaturgy, and theatre criticism. For the “Play of Story” program, he will examine actors’ and actresses’ Shakespearean study-books, together with fully worked out promptbooks, Henry Irving’s and Ellen Terry’s among them, in order to map their textual journeys. He is interested not only in the notes they made about stage business and about the passages they intended to cut in performance, but also in their notes as exercises in scholarly exegesis. Irving and Terry’s adaptations were ways of reconfiguring Shakespeare’s narratives to make “new stories” from Shakespeare as source, just as Shakespeare made “new stories” from the stories he drew on and remixed for his particular purposes.

Myrna Wyatt Selkirk (Drama and Theatre Program, English Department, McGill; Axes 1, 2) has been an assistant director at the Neptune Theatre (Halifax) and the Shaw Festival (Ontario). At McGill she has directed numerous full-scale productions, including Michel Tremblay’s Bonjour, là, Bonjour, Shakespeare’s Twelfth NightThe Castle by Howard Barker, and Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa. She brings to the team her extensive experience and expertise as a director, an acting teacher, and a specialist on mask and movement based approaches to dramatic texts. For the “Play of Story” program, she will lead theatrical workshops that bring team members together with student actors to pursue the ramifications of Shakespeare’s story-telling in performance settings.

Paul Yachnin’s (English, McGill; Axes 1, 2, 4, 5) monographs and co-edited collections include Stage-Wrights; The Culture of Playgoing in Early Modern EnglandShakespeare and the Cultures of PerformanceShakespeare and the Eighteenth CenturyShakespeare and Character: Theory, History, Performance, and Theatrical Persons; and Making Publics in Early Modern Europe: People, Things, Forms of Knowledge. He is also an editor of The Works of Thomas Middleton, and has co-edited Richard II and The Tempest. His principal work-in-progress is a book, A World Coming Out: Making Theatrical Publics in Shakespeare’s England. His contribution to the “Shakespeare and the Play of Story” program will focus on how animal-to-human conversion narratives raise questions about human nature, how theatrical narrative foregrounds the operations of judgment (this includes ongoing work with Desmond Manderson), and how Shakespeare’s story of England dramatized in the History plays develops a critical historiography.

Collaborating Researchers

Paul Hopkins  (Artistic Director, Repercussion Theatre, Montreal; Axes, 1, 2, 6) began his career acting with Montreal theatre companies, including the Saidye Bronfman Centre, Geordie Productions, and Repercussion Theatre. His work with Repercussion Theatre and on classical stages in Atlantic Canada led to two seasons at Ontario’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which prepared him to assume the role of Artistic Director of Repercussion Theatre in 2007. On television, Hopkins is best known for his portrayal of the sexually active gay gardener Michael “Mouse” Tolliver in Armistead Maupin’s More and Further Tales of the City series for Showtime, which garnered six Emmy and five Gemini nominations. He has also been a regular on Montreal film and television shoots, playing Karl on Vampire High and appearing in the series “The Hunger,” and Steve Galuccio’s film, Mambo Italiano. He brings to the research program his experience as an actor and director and his interest in how theatre tells stories, how theatrical narrative creates character and a sense of community in the audience, and how actors and directors use story as an instrument of their own creative work.

Desmond Manderson (Law, McGill; Axes 1, 3, 4) researches and publishes on law and the humanities, including aesthetics, torts, drug policy and history, ethics, and legal education. His major works include From Mr Sin to Mr Big: A History of Australian Drug Laws (1993), Courting Death: The Law of Mortality (1999), Songs Without Music: Aesthetic Dimensions of Law and Justice (2000), Proximity, Levinas, and the Soul of Law (2006), and Essays on Levinas and Law: A Mosaic (2009). His current work includes research into the relationship of ethics to law in Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida; and the Shakespeare Moot Project, a radical interdisciplinary project on law and interpretation developed in conjunction with Paul Yachnin. His contributions to the research program will include work on narrative and law in visual culture, which will connect in with research by Patrick Neilson and Mark Phillips, and also work with Yachnin on story, law, theatre, and the cultivation of judgment.

Mark Salber Phillips (History, Carleton University; Axes 1, 5) is an intellectual historian interested in questions of historical representation. His books include Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740-1820 (Princeton, 2000),Questions of Tradition (Toronto, 2004), Bringing the Distant Near: Distance and Historical Representation (Yale, forthcoming), and a number of earlier studies of the historical and political thought of the Italian Renaissance. He has been the recipient of a number of honours, including visiting professorships at the University of Chicago and King’s College, London, as well as fellowships from King’s College, Cambridge; the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; the Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies; and the Yale Center for British Art. In summer 2011, he taught a master class at Yale on history painting. His expertise in the narrative character of history will deepen the program’s account of Shakespeare’s historiography, and his ongoing work on story, history and visual culture will intersect with work by Patrick Neilson and Desmond Manderson.



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