Report: World Shakespeare Congress

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After a solid week of Shakespeare-related talks and events as part of the World Shakespeare Congress programme, it’s hard to know what to say in summation. So I’ll confine myself to the satisfyingly large but manageable topic of, you guessed it, Shakespeare & Ireland.

It wasn’t hard to find connections between Shakespeare and Ireland in 2016, as abundantly obvious from the #Shakespeare400 programme of events running throughout the year and promoted on this blog. At the Congress, Irish academics were out in force, but the Irish connection didn’t stop there. The country’s first president, Douglas Hyde, was singled out in Gordon McMullan’s opening remarks at the Globe for his contribution to Sir Israel Gollancz’s A Book of Homage to Shakespeare (recently re-issued by Oxford University Press for the 100 year anniversary). McMullan dwelt on issues of translation, citing how Hyde’s contribution in Gaelic was in parts toned down by the translators to be less overtly anti-English.

The following day saw the Irish not simply spoken about, but speaking. Director Caroline Byrne took her place alongside directors from Serbia, Nigeria and the USA for a panel on Global Shakespeare led by Tom Bird on the Globe stage. She spoke eloquently about her desire to commemorate the women of 1916 Dublin who had been ‘airbrushed out of history’, and how that informed her production of The Taming of the Shrew that has just finished its run in the Globe theatre. While Tom Bird asked her and others on the panel whether there was any post-colonial unease engendered by Shakespeare, the answer was a polite but firm ‘No’ from all corners (although Arin Arbus of Theatre for a New Audience did speak of an insecurity with the language among American actors).

 

In terms of Irish academics/academics from Irish institutions, I’m very happy to report that there were more in attendance than any one delegate could see. Shakespeare in Ireland’s own Edel Semple (UCC) led a wonderful seminar on ‘Paratheatrical Entertainments in Shakespeare’s London’ with Donald Hendricks (Kansas State University), which had Tiffany Stern as a respondent. Colleague Andrew King (UCC) was also in illustrious company, appearing on a panel alongside Helen Cooper and Hester Lees-Jeffries. From Trinity there was Ema Vyroubalová as well as her PhD student Shauna O’Brien, while Emer McHugh did NUIG proud (hopefully she will be appearing on the blog again soon with her thoughts on Caroline Byrne’s Taming of the Shrew). Maynooth’s Stephen O’Neill carried the banner of Digital Shakespeare, and Queen’s Belfast had both faculty and post-graduates in attendance, including Mark Thornton Burnett, Mia Hewitt and Matt Williamson. Your current author, Derek Dunne, was pleased to be part of a great seminar on ‘Everyday Shakespeare’, and tried in vain to keep up with congress tweets #WSCongress16 [Forgive me if I’ve left anyone out – will happily amend]

The Congress had its flaws, and a quick look at the dearth of academic tweeters in attendance (perhaps 20 regular tweeters, plus more occasional users and institutional tweets) tells you something about the delegate demographic. This is inevitably linked to the high registration fee, which did not seem to justify itself either in terms of conference swag (SAA 2016 gave every attendee a brand new book), or swanky receptions (Globe coffee breaks did not extend to biscuits). Similarly, the conference programme was by no means state of the art, with neither Table of Contents nor Index (RSA’s app this year clearly pointed the way forward in this respect, but WSC failed to follow the signs). Questions have also been raised about issues of diversity, particularly gender, as eloquently argued by Nora Williams in a recent post on her blog. One thing I cannot complain about is the marginalisation of the Irish, who were centre-stage at various points throughout.

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