Report: Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre in Cork

In mid-November 2015, the Irish Renaissance Seminar met in Marsh’s Library. The seminar theme “Time, Memory, and Commemoration” looked back back to the past but also looked expectantly to the future via an open discussion of plans for the Shakespeare quartercentenary. Many of the proposals which were aired at the meeting bore fruit and have been promoted and cataloged on this blog. My project “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre”, funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations Scheme, was one of the final commemorative events in Irish universities in 2016.

The project’s primary aim was to make a unique contribution to the worldwide celebrations of Shakespeare 400. It sought too to inspire interest in Shakespeare’s lesser-known drama; to deepen our understanding of Shakespeare’s sources and his legacy; and to cultivate networks between scholars, theatre practitioners, and the general public. The project comprised a staged reading of Shakespeare’s critically-neglected late play Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c.1606) held in the Unitarian Church in Cork city, and a symposium and public lecture held in University College Cork.

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The Unitarian Church, Cork city

Although unfamiliar to a general audience, Pericles proved to be ideally suited to performance as a staged reading. Story-telling is central to its dramaturgy and, as its narrator Gower insists, the tale is designed to “glad your ear and please your eyes”. As hoped, the performance introduced a new audience to this little-known Shakespearean romance. Part of this new audience included the cast of community actors – students from UCC Drama and Theatre Studies and the local LittleShoes drama group – as Pericles was unfamiliar to them and indeed most had never performed Shakespeare before. After just two days of rehearsals we were delighted to take to the stage, with our director Sinead Dunphy, to perform for a packed house. The reading had in fact sold out quickly and we even had to secure extra chairs on the night – as the British Council’s Shakespeare 400 programme suggested, it seems that “Shakespeare Lives…in Cork”!

The reading attracted a diverse audience which included the general public, as well as UCC staff and students of all levels. Cork is a designated UNESCO Learning City and both during and after the project, it was evident that the performance inspired an enthusiastic response from the city’s lifelong learners. The production was filmed and is available online here. A scholarly review of the production can be found on Dr Peter Kirwan’s Bardathon blog.

In addition to the IRC New Foundations funding, the project was also supported by UCC’s CACSSS Graduate School, the UCC Information Services Strategic Fund, and UCC’s School of English. This group of supporters were invaluable when it came to organising the symposium/graduate masterclass which explored Pericles, its sources, and critical and performative history, as well as issues relevant to the plot. With papers that addressed a wide range of topics including Old English, Middle English, neo-Latin, Shakespearean drama, gender studies, and Shakespeare on film, the interdisciplinary symposium explored and enhanced our understanding of Shakespeare, his influences, and his place in the literary canon.

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Dr Peter Kirwan speaking at the “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles” symposium in November 2016. 

The keynote public lecture, delivered by Dr Peter Kirwan (University of Nottingham), gave a rare insight into the herculean task of editing Pericles. The symposium concluded with a convivial roundtable on the performance of Pericles, involving the director, actors, and myself as project leader. Full details on the symposium’s schedule can be found here.

Report by Dr Edel Semple.

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Review: Lear by John Scott / Irish Modern Dance Theatre

Review: Lear, choreographed by John Scott and starring Valda Setterfield, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, Trinity College Dublin (22 October)

Guest post by Katherine Hennessey, Visiting Fellow, Moore Institute, NUI Galway

I’ve overdosed on Shakespeare recently, I confess. As a research fellow with the Global Shakespeare programme at the University of Warwick and Queen Mary University of London, during a period that spanned two commemorative years (the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 2014, and the quadricentenary of his death in 2016), I’ve binged. I’ve gorged. If plays, films, re-writings, adaptations, parodies, books, articles, blog postings, and the ‘Shakespeare vs. Dr. Seuss’ epic rap battle were grams of trans fat, then in early 2014 I was Cassius—and now I’m Falstaff. Or Nell.

It started innocently enough, with a production of Two Gents at the RSC in August 2014. For a few months afterwards I continued to function like a normal human being. But then things began to spiral out of control.

Sigh. It’s the age-old story: you watch a Romeo and Juliet or two, a Midsummer Night’s Dream, perhaps a Richard II. Gradually you come to learn that the Globe offers £5 groundling tickets… that the BBC archives Shakespeare films on Box of Broadcasts… that there’s a troupe out there doing a history play with an all-female cast, or a gender-reversed Taming of the Shrew, or that Ninagawa is producing Hamlet in Japanese at the Barbican. Before you know it you’ve seen seven Macbeths, six Othellos in four different languages, five different stagings—God help you—of Titus Andronicus. You just can’t help yourself. You see Shakespeare everywhere.

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You begin to cackle defiantly in the face of marathon productions. Spend an entire gloriously sunny Saturday cooped up in the Rose Theatre in Kingston binge-watching Trevor Nunn’s Wars of the Roses? Who wouldn’t?!? Six-plus hours of DruidShakespeare? Bring it, Garry Hynes. BRING. IT.

And then, every so often, you find yourself at a production that’s so balanced, so evocative, so crystalline in its clarity that it rises above the out-of-joint chaos, above the jumbled fragments of memory of the other Shakespeare performances that you’ve seen.

For me, the contemporary dance production of Lear by John Scott and Valda Setterfield, performed at Trinity College Dublin’s black box theatre, was the dramatic equivalent of a glass of ice-cold spring water on a sweltering summer day. (To see an interview with Scott and to see the dancers in action, click here.)

 

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Lear and daughters  (Credit: Patrick Moore)

Credit for this belongs in equal measure to the 82-year-old Setterfield’s grace, command, and fragility in the title role, to the hauntingly expressive ensemble work that Scott choreographed for her and her supporting cast, and—perhaps above all—to their radical re-invention of Shakespeare’s text and characters, and their jettisoning of almost all of his language in favor of their own, both verbal and kinetic. I’ve seen numerous productions of Lear over the past two years, but they’ve all been riffs on a core theme, to which this Lear provided an utterly refreshing contrast.

Setterfield plays the king as a male character, while his daughters are played by a trio of male dancers, Mufutau Yusuf, Ryan O’Neill, and Kevin Coquelard, as Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia respectively (the trio also play the Fool). Lear radically alters its source text, a fact which the set itself advertises from the outset, its back wall covered with sheets of white paper bearing fragments of Shakespeare’s lines: ‘kingdom,’ ‘a poor, bare, forked animal,’ ‘my wits begin to turn,’ ‘down from the waist they are centaurs’. Initial sequences of movement, in which the male dancers pace, then race, across the stage, repeating single but significant words from the text (like ‘Father’, ‘legacy’, ‘condition’, ‘scanted’) suggest a fierce sibling rivalry.

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(Credit: IMDT on Vimeo)

 

The first scene in which extended Shakespearean dialogue is spoken—beginning from Lear’s ‘Give me the map there,’ referring to what looks like a modern residential zoning plan hanging from the rear wall—continues only to Cordelia’s ‘So young, my lord, and true.’ At which point, Coquelard breaks character, or invents a new Cordelia, retorting in a mixture of English and his native French, ‘You want a translation? You are stupid. Silly, stupid Lear. I said already that I love you as is right fit. What more do you want from me?’ As the argument escalates, Coquelard speaks heatedly in franglais, expressing his intention to leave the situation (the argument with Lear? the production of Lear?) and return to his beloved France; he climbs up to a catwalk and storms out a side exit, singing an Edith Piaf tune and strutting in comic defiance.

The production provides abbreviated highlights from Shakespeare’s text, interspersed like the first with increasingly poignant dialogue in contemporary English. Perched on an armchair that doubles as a throne, Setterfield answers a series of telephone calls, of which we hear only her side of the conversation, in character as an elderly father pleading with his child to come visit. ‘It’s been so long since we’ve seen you. We all miss you. The dog misses you.’ The calls involve a series of increasingly urgent requests for help: the local pharmacist has mixed up the elderly mother’s prescriptions; the boiler has broken and water is pouring down the stairs, leaving the father unable to reach the mother’s medication.

These pleas are later cruelly mocked by Goneril and Regan, who grow increasingly resentful of the burden of responding to their elderly father’s requests. O’Neill at one point provides a litany of increasingly impatient conversations with his elderly parent: ‘Did you lose your glasses again? All the food in your refrigerator is past its expiration date. Are the stairs getting too much for you these days? Have you taken your medication? I’ve heard about a nice retirement home near here. You left the front door open again…’ And at one point his Regan and Yusuf’s Goneril dance menacing circles around a weeping, cowering Lear.

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(Credit: Patrick Moore)

 

Setterfield portrays a ruler whose frailty and advanced age are much more evident than his/her tendency, clearly delineated in Shakespeare’s text, to bully and domineer. This production finesses Lear’s obvious missteps and misjudgments by excising most instances of them, replacing them with the haunting one-sided telephone conversations, and with a contrite Regan’s agonizing communication of a doctor’s death-knell diagnosis: ‘He says you can never come home.’

Coquelard’s Cordelia eventually redeems herself for her earlier outburst by a series of tender gestures of care for Lear towards the conclusion. And like her sisters, she dances circles around her father, but rather in the joyful manner of a child shouting ‘Watch me, Daddy!’, basking in parental attention and affection, heedless of Lear’s increasing concern that she is running too fast and will fall (a reasonable fear, it seemed to me, given Coquelard’s incredibly swift pace around a floor strewn haphazardly with sheets of paper). Eventually she collapses, exhausted, and Setterfield’s Lear faces her beloved daughter’s death with a heartwrenchingly dignified resignation.

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(Credit: Patrick Moore)

Scott and Setterfield link their Lear to the tender spectacle of elderly parents, pining for a visit from their indifferent or otherwise-occupied children, tapping into the deep vein of compassion that animates Shakespeare’s play. One of the most moving aspects of Shakespeare’s Lear, after all, is that after suffering abject loss and despair and the chastisement of Mother Nature, he comes to empathise with the ‘poor naked wretches’ bereft of warmth and shelter in his kingdom, summing up his failings as a ruler with devastating understatement: ‘O, I have ta’en / Too little care of this.’ Scott’s and Setterfield’s portrayal of Lear elicits a deep compassion and concern for the aging, the frail, the lonely, for those whose minds are deteriorating, their memories fading. It prompts us to ask, ‘Have I taken sufficient care of this?’ And the emotional impact of the dancers’ movements and their words will remain with me long after the memories of many other Year of Shakespeare King Lears fade.

 

Guest post – Katherine Hennessey is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Moore Institute at NUI Galway. She co-convened, with Clair Wills and Fintan O’Toole, the Ireland and Shakespeare symposium at Princeton in March 2016 and is the author of Shakespeare on the Arabian Peninsula (Palgrave 2017). From January 2017 she will be an assistant professor in the English department at the American University of Kuwait.

Talk: Can Shakespeare Make You Fall in Love?

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SHAKESPEARE LIVES IN SCIENCE:

CAN SHAKESPEARE MAKE YOU FALL IN LOVE?

In Shakespeare’s world, lovers look forward to marriage as a matter of course, and they neither anticipate its rights nor turn their affections elsewhere. They commonly love at first sight and once for all. Can we love this truly 400 years on? Love in Shakespeare’s characters and in the animal kingdom – how does it happen? What forms does it take?

To celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary, join Dr. Niamh Shaw presenter and scientist for this unique look at the science of passion. A special Science week with Hannah Mankeltow, Shakespearean performance scholar, scientist and poetry slam artist Dr. Sam Illingworth and musician/science communicator, Emer Maguire.

Discover more about Shakespeare’s insights into human nature that still ring true 400 years on, investigate where modern science matches up with the ideas of Elizabethan “natural philosophy”, hear Shakespeare’s text in dramatic readings and get involved in live food/drink experiments and science demonstrations.

The Dean Hotel, Dublin, Friday 18 November @ 7pm. Cost €5

Market House, Monaghan, Saturday 19 November @ 7pm. Free Entry

(Free refreshments served)

More info: www.britishcouncil.ie/events

“Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” – reading and symposium in University College Cork 14th-15th November

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and commemorations have been taking place around the world to mark the occasion. University College Cork will make a unique contribution to this commemorative programme through the “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” project. Funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme, the project comprises a public staged reading of Shakespeare’s Pericles (c.1606) and a symposium exploring this critically-neglected play. Notably, as far as records can determine, the play reading will be only the second ever performance of Pericles in Ireland and the first in Munster.

Led by Dr Edel Semple, Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies in UCC’s School of English, the project involves actors from UCC’s Drama and Theatre Studies and the LittleShoes Productions drama group, as well as scholars from UCC, the UK and USA. The play reading is directed by Sinéad Dunphy, a UCC graduate and Festival Manager of the Cork International Choral Festival.

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The staged reading is a free but ticketed event and takes place on Monday 14th at 6pm in the Unitarian Church, Princes Street, Cork. The symposium exploring the play’s sources and critical and performance history, will take place on Tuesday 15th November in UCC, and will conclude with a special public lecture by Dr. Peter Kirwan (University of Nottingham).

Overall “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” will explore and enhance our understanding of Shakespeare’s drama, his sources, the world he lived in, and his legacy; introduce his late drama to new audiences; and will make a distinctive contribution to the year-long global celebrations of Shakespeare’s life and work in 2016. For further info, please see the School of English website and social media (@EnglishUCC), and for queries contact Dr Edel Semple (email e.semple@ucc.ie).

The “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” project is funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme, with additional support from UCC’s CACSSS Graduate School, the UCC Information Services Strategic Fund, and the School of English, University College Cork. The project is also part of the British Council’s Shakespeare Lives programme for 2016.

Tickets for staged reading of Pericles on Eventbrite here.

A detailed schedule for the symposium / graduate masterclass is available from UCC CACSSS Graduate School here (see event listed for 14-15th Nov.)

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The 1609 quarto of Pericles

Review: Hamlet, Mill Productions

Hamlet, the Mill Theatre, Dundrum, dir. Geoff O’Keeffe

Review by Kaitlyn Culliton and Ema Vyroubalova (Trinity College Dublin)

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The Mill Theatre’s in-house company presents this energetic fast-paced Hamlet, which this academic year replaced King Lear as the Shakespeare fare on the Leaving Certificate in English. The energy of the production directed by Geoff O’Keeffe is driven in particular by the youthful Hamlet (Shane O’Regan), who infuses his performance of the demanding part with a rebellious teenage spirit. Regan’s performance is also highly physical. Unlike many other Hamlets, he brings in a surprisingly “athletic” take on the role, as he constantly moves, sometimes even runs and leaps, around the set. He also engages physically with the other characters, even where Shakespeare’s script does not explicitly require it.

What comes across as Hamlet’s aggressive rapport towards many of the other protagonists is, however, offset by his relationship with Horatio (Stephen O’Leary). The chemistry between the two characters, which suggests a deep and intimate (though not overtly sexual) bond, seems to function as a pillar supporting much of the production’s tragic heft. This Hamlet appears to trust Horatio fully and that trust is reciprocated with unrelenting loyalty even as Hamlet’s psyche starts to deteriorate under the extreme circumstances.

The tragic force generated by this relationship contrasts sharply with the comedic Polonius (Damien Devaney), who in this production comes across as a thoroughly clownish figure. He integrates both verbal and physical humor into his performance, which readily registers both with the other characters and with the actual audience. For instance, his repeated appearances on stage prompt ever-increasing levels of annoyance in Claudius (Neill Flemming). Polonius’s presence on stage indeed becomes something akin to a running joke, eventually eliciting laughter almost automatically by virtue of promise of further amusement. Even his murder is executed in a farcical spirit with other characters and the audience almost breathing a sigh of relief as he is dispatched.

Polonius’s death is nonetheless deeply mourned by Ophelia (Clara Harte), whose descent into mental instability is clinched by it, after she has already suffered through abuse and dismissals at the hands of both her father and Hamlet. Yet even as she descends into the inevitable madness, she delivers her lines with a clarity paired with purposeful action: for example, the passage about flowers (often played as an indicator of her lack of sanity) is here delivered as a haunting lament for her absent father complemented by use of actual flowers. Gertrude (Claire O’Donovan) also brings into her character a sense of intricately developed psychology. Her scenes with Hamlet in the closet are disturbingly poignant as an unmistakable Oedipal dynamic unfolds between the mother and son.

The austerity of Gerard Bourke’s set contrasts with the colorful characters. The minimalist concrete backdrop sometimes doubles as a makeshift screen for special digital effects (by Declan Brennan) that are projected onto it. The whole play opens with Hamlet standing under a digital deluge of water, suggestive of the themes of cleansing and much needed renewal. The Ghost of Hamlet’s father haunts these bare grey surfaces in his blue digitally-projected form and it is interesting to note that he is played by the same actor as Claudius. This of course opens the production up to many fascinating interpretations for both general audiences and secondary students studying the play formally this year!

–Kaitlyn Culliton and Ema Vyroubalova (Trinity College Dublin)

Mill Productions will be staging Romeo and Juliet at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum in February and March 2017.

Report – Launch of Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick, and “Early modern Ireland” lecture

 

Shakespeare 400 has kept myself and many Irish Shakespeareans busy these past ten months. With many stage productions, screenings, conferences, public lectures, festivals, and workshops to organise, participate in, and attend, both here and abroad, these wonderful events can seem like a burden and the associated demands on one’s personal finances, time etc. present a substantial challenge. (If Shakespeare is sat merrily in a pantheon of literary gods somewhere, I hope he appreciates all the fuss! And while I’m at it, I hope that Jonson, Beaumont, and Cervantes, who have their own anniversaries this year, are giving him a right ribbing!)

Thus, it was a joy to find that the recent launch of the Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick, offered an array of pleasures for the weary early modernist. The launch took place on one of October’s prettiest autumn evenings in the inviting surrounds of the Glucksman Library’s Reading Room. Against the backdrop of the green surrounds of the University of Limerick campus, the audience were warmly welcomed by Dr. Richard Kirwan, the chair of CEMS, and his colleagues. Dr. Kirwan paid tribute to the Irish Research Council for their support of CEMS (via a New Foundations grant) and to his scholarly and administrative collaborators across the disciplines in Mary Immaculate and UL who were instrumental in establishing the new Centre.

The importance and value of collaboration and networking seemed to be something of a theme for the evening, as Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer (TCD) touched on this subject many times during her lecture on “Ireland in the Early Modern World”. The author of several influential monographs, including Making Ireland English: The Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century (2012) and Ireland from Independence to Occupation, 1641-1660 (2002), Prof. Ohlmeyer presented the audience with many insights into the seventeenth century and into her approaches to and aspirations for early modern research in Ireland.

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Prof. Ohlmeyer and Dr. Kirwan in the Glucksman Library, UL  (Photo credit: Alan Place)

Prof. Ohlmeyer, who has been recently appointed as Chair of the Irish Research Council, highlighted how collaboration can enrich our studies, enabling us to broaden our knowledge and share it with a national and global community. The lecture and post-Q&A discussions reminded me too of the value of encouragement to and role models for emerging scholars; sometimes only senior scholars can take on new initiatives and create opportunities in our fields and the importance of their leading by example cannot be underestimated. Prof. Ohlmeyer continued to urge the audience to apply for funding for research projects and to take advantage of the excellent resources which Irish research has already produced. Should we need inspiration, the fruits of such successful bids were in evidence before us – the foundation of the Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick and the digitisation of the 1641 Depositions (a project funded by the IRC, AHRC, and TCD), which Prof. Ohlmeyer discussed during her talk. Prof. Ohlmeyer stressed too the significance of the Bolton Collection; not only do its treasures make Limerick a desirable place to conduct research on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Collection can help us to reconstruct and understand Ireland’s place in the early modern world.

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Prof. Ohlmeyer (TCD, IRC) speaking in the Glucksman Library, UL

Prof. Ohlmeyer’s wide-ranging, illustrated talk on the position of early modern Ireland and its global connections combined a ‘big picture’ approach with fascinating detail. The audience learned of the exotic items found in a washpit in Rathfarnham Castle in 2014. This treasure trove of objects, including shoes, buttons, jewellery, and jars of cosmetics, demonstrated that the Loftus family were fashion conscious and on top of the latest trends. The Castle’s inhabitants were also consumers of luxuries from far flung lands; the pit contained evidence of tea, coffee, and sugar from the West Indies, and dozens of pipes were found, the tobacco likely sourced from South America. A Spanish coin made of silver mined in Peru was also found in the pit.

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Rathfarnham Castle hoard  (Photo credit: Alva McGowan/IrishArchaeology.ie)

Prof. Ohlmeyer discussed Ireland’s maritime connections, including pineapples arriving in to Ireland in the 1660s and the voyages of Irish sailors to Asia and the Americas. Questioning what did it mean to be ‘Irish’ in the seventeenth century, Prof. Ohlmeyer examined the complex identities of social groups such as Irish Catholics, the Old English, and New English. Prof. Ohlmeyer closed her talk by examining the impact on Ireland of the European global empires in the Atlantic and Eastern worlds. The political, social, and economic effects on Ireland were both large and small. For instance, the audience was much amused to hear of Bailey, an inhabitant of Hacketstown, Co. Carlow, who irately complained to the authorities of the loss of his spices and who suspected that the local insurgents who had stole his cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon were using them to flavour their morning droughts!

The launch of the Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick, concluded with a convivial gathering and looked forward to the next such gathering in Limerick for the Irish Renaissance Seminar in November.

Report by Dr Edel Semple, UCC.

Public lecture: “Shakespeare’s First Act” by Prof. Goran Stanivukovic at UCC, 18th Oct.

University College Cork’s School of English is delighted to host a special guest lecture by Prof. Goran Stanivukovic (Saint Mary’s University, Canada) on the topic of “Shakespeare’s First Act: literature, theatre, and the earliest years”. The lecture takes place on Tuesday 18th October, 6pm, in the beautiful surroundings of the Council Room on the Quad, University College Cork. All are welcome to attend.

 

The lecture will focus on Shakespeare’s ‘earliest’ Elizabethan years in London and will explore the theatrical, literary, and artistic conditions that shaped the critical perceptions of Shakespeare’s early works. Prof. Stanivukovic will seek to challenge the view of ‘earliest Shakespeare’ as a ‘young’ writer struggling to find his voice and as bound by rhetorical cliches, and will argue that Shakespeare produced some of the most avant-garde drama and innovative poetry of the late 1590s at just this ‘earliest’ stage of his creative life. Prof. Stanivukovic will further question how we think about what ‘young’, or ‘early’, and what these mean in our modern critical assessment of a literary career. The lecture forms part of the British Council’s “Shakespeare Lives” programme and is one of a series of events held in UCC to celebrate Shakespeare 400 this year.

 

Prof. Stanivukovic is Professor of English at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada. He is a distinguished scholar of English Renaissance literature and Cultural Studies, with research interests in Shakespeare and drama of his contemporaries, prose romance, queer theory, masculinity, neo-classicism of the Renaissance, and the Renaissance Mediterranean. He has edited Remapping the Mediterranean World in Early Modern English Writings (Palgrave, 2007), Ovid and the Renaissance Body (University of Toronto Press, 2001), and with Constance C. Relihan, Prose Fiction and Early Modern Sexualities in England, 1570-1640 (Palgrave, 2003). His most recent monograph is Knights in Arms: Prose Romance, Masculinity, and Eastern Mediterranean Trade (University of Toronto Press, 2015).

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