Shakespeare and the Enlightenment -programme, Sept 3

 Below is the programme for our first Shakespeare at the Temple -event. Note that altough the event is nominally free, we wish for a £10 donation that will be used for catering and support for the Temple.

The conference is followed by a performance of The Lovekyn Renaissance Consort:

‘Pretty Ducks’ : The Lovekyn Renaissance Consort perform music from their new album, featuring unusual and familiar songs and ballads from early 17th.-century England – and pictures from Garrick’s Temple and gardens.
Patricia Hammond – Voice;
William Summers – Recorders, Renaissance Flute;
Stephen Carpenter – Lute, Vihuela, Guitar

More at: 






10.00 Welcome: Richard Wilson (Kingston University)

10.15: Paul Kottman (New School, New York): ‘Herder, Hegel and Shakespeare’

11.00: Coffee

11.30: Patricia Gillies (Essex University): ‘Shakespeare and Hobbes’

12.15: John Gillies (Essex University): ‘The Conversational Turn in Shakespeare’

13.00: Lunch (own arrangements: nearby Bell Inn and Stables Restaurant recommended)

14.00: Edward Chaney (Southampton Solent University): ‘Thy pyramids built up with newer might’: Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Obelisks’

14.45: Kate Felus (Historic Landscapes): ‘Garrick’s Temple Garden’

15.30: Tea

16.30: Kiernan Ryan (Royal Holloway) :‘The Empathetic Imagination and the Dream of Equality: Shakespeare’s “Poetical Justice”’

19.30: Concert: Lovekyn Renaissance Consort

Places are limited to 50. Reserve at

How to get to Garrick’s Temple

See also the Facebook event page!


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Exhibition: HamletScenen – Shakespeare Performing Arts at Hamlet’s Castle since 1816, Aug 5-9

King’s College will host an extraordinary exhibition by HamletScenen, the artistic institution at Kronborg Castle (the castle where most of Hamlet takes place) that upholds the Shakespearean theatrical tradition at Helsingør, or Elsinore. The exhibition, curated by our good old friend Anne Sophie Refskou, tells the story of Hamlet at Elsinore as 2016 marks – besides the fourth centennial of Shakespeare’s death – 200 years since the first performance of Hamlet at the castle.

The exhibition runs only from August 5-9,  (Friday to Tuesday) at the Anatomy Museum (Strand Campus), with opening hours of 10am to 8pm.

Don’t miss it!

HamletScenen also hosts the Shakespeare Festival at Kronborg in August with many interesting productions – including our friends from the Flute Theatre performing their brilliant ‘Hamlet, Who’s There?’ (watch/listen to Kelly Hunter discussing the adaptation process). Check out their programme! More at Continue reading

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Arrest, Imprisonment, And Bare Life In A State of Emergency

Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested. (The Trial, Franz Kafka)

I’the last night’s storm I such a fellow saw
Which made me think a man a worm. (King Lear IV. i. 33-4)


Just before 8:00 am on January 17, 2016, four UK Home Office policemen entered my apartment, located in Stratford-upon-Avon, across the street from Trinity Church, where William Shakespeare is buried.

“You are under arrest. You will need to get dressed and pack your bags. Your application for leave to remain in the UK has been denied.”

As I stood in my living-room in my bathrobe, two of the officers patted me down “to make sure that I wasn’t armed.” The other two searched my house to make sure nobody else was home. Then, they asked me to get ready to leave.

Two police officers followed me into my bedroom, past the bookcase that contained the plays of Shakespeare and the criticism that had formed the work for the PhD, which I had been awarded in July of 2015. As I stood in front of those officers in my underwear, putting on my blue-jeans and a collared shirt, I began to realize that I was neither a “temporary resident of the UK”, nor a “citizen of the United States”, but something different: a “bare forked animal”.

When I arrived downstairs, dressed, and packed, the lead officer presented me with the order for my arrest. trial2On the order, titled “NOTICE TO DETAINEE”, he checked a box which stated, “The decision has been reached on the basis of the following: You do not have enough close ties (e.g. family or friends) to make it likely that you will stay in one place.” He underlined the word “family”.

As we prepared to go to the police station, the officers politely waited to make sure that none of my neighbors were entering or exiting my apartment gate, so they wouldn’t see me being arrested. Unfortunately, my neighbors’ living-room windows all face the front gate, a good security measure, but not ideal for privacy. It was a cloudless Sunday morning, so my neighbors were all privy to my forced march to the armored police van, where I was then locked up. I was then transported to Leamington Spa police station, where I was placed in a jail cell for twelve hours and, subsequently shipped to Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre in Lincolnshire.

My dilemma was richly ironic. Just a few weeks earlier, on December 19, 2015, I had delivered the introductory lecture at the Rose Theatre in Kingston for a conference on “Shakespeare and the state of exception”. In the “state of exception” (also called “the state of emergency”), the law is temporarily suspended ostensibly for the purpose of preserving public safety. As I stated in that lecture, far from being a mere technicality or footnote to legal history, “the state of exception” became the basis for the notorious Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which Hitler used to authorize a twelve year state of emergency in Nazi Germany, starting on March 23, 1933. Over those twelve years, Hitler used article 48 to give his dictatorship a veneer of legal credibility. As Agamben writes, “from a juridical standpoint the entire Third Reich can be considered a state of exception that lasted twelve years” (Agamben, 2005).

What initially began as a “provisional” or “extraordinary” measure has now, in modern democracies, become a “technique of government” that, according to Agamben, “threatens radically to alter . . . the structure and meaning of the traditional distinction between constitutional forms” (Agamben, 2005).

In civics, I had been taught that all people are “endowed by their creator” with “inalienable rights”, but what I learned from my arrest is that the unitary self I imagined is a fiction. Far from being “inalienable”, the rights we associate with “citizenship” (in my case, “citizenship” of the United States and “legal residency” in the UK) are all contingent: dependent upon age, income, mental and physical health, and country of birth. Whenever we stray to the boundary of one of these categories, we are no longer “citizens”, but potentially reduced to being mere animals, subject to the absolute violence of the state.

And this is clearly how David Cameron regards immigrants. On July 30, 2015, when asked by reporters about what was called the “Calais crisis”, the attempt by desperate migrants to cross the channel from Calais to Britain, Cameron referred to “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean . . .”  What rights can a population of insects possibly aspire to? Such a population is only a threat to be exterminated.

I should know. Within minutes, on an ordinary Sunday morning, I became one of the swarm.

At around 5:30 am, after being driven for almost five hours in a prison transport van, I arrived at Morton Hall, one of twelve camps for refugees, deportees, illegal aliens, and foreign criminals, scattered across the UK. Most of my belongings were seized. I was allowed my clothing, my watch, my glasses, and I was given a £5 Nokia cell phone.

My room was about the size of a large closet, but it was private. I had a key — and the door locked automatically when I closed it. It had a cage-like steel mesh on the window. The walls were at least two feet thick with re-enforced concrete. The door had a slit on it, with a wooden cover that could open from the outside. The guards could peer into my cell at any time — and they did so at night, shining a flashlight on me while I slept. My bed was a wooden slab with a 1.5 inch foam mat. bhr_bpo_270116moreton

When I looked out my “window”, I could see reams of barbed wire hung over a series of vast fences. There were one or two trees outside, but they had been stripped of branches so prisoners couldn’t climb them. There was also what looked like a whirlwind of barbed wire on the roof of my cell block.

The order that resulted in my arrest and imprisonment at Morton Hall was, I learned, justified by a provision of the Immigration Act of 2014. Under the previous law, the more auspiciously titled “1999 Immigration and Asylum Act“, it was unlawful to arrest anyone who had “made an application for leave to remain” while they were waiting for a decision. That is logical because when you submit your application, you are required to stay in the country until a decision is made, or else your application will be destroyed.  Under the new Act, a person can be arrested if they “require[] leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom but do[] not have it.” In other words, it is perfectly legal for you to be arrested and imprisoned even if you have submitted an application to remain in the UK and have followed all the rules. More alarming still, the new law combines in one absolute “decision” the rejection of an application and the order to arrest, while, at the same time, removing judicial oversight.

So you will never know your application has been rejected until the police knock on your door.

What, then, is the “state of emergency” that caused parliament to authorize such an extreme measure that converts all foreigners living in the UK, who are required to pay a hefty fee (more than £500) to submit an application to remain in the country, into “bare life”, subject to arrest and imprisonment? And why is it that international students, specifically, have been targeted? It is precisely the de facto “state of emergency” that prompted David Cameron to include the Brexit referendum in his campaign promises when he sought re-election. In 2011, Cameron promised to alleviate the “discomfort and disjointedness” in neighborhoods supposedly caused by immigration by reducing it to “100,000” per year. By 2014, immigration was still above 300,000 per year. 100857841_epa05368892_Nigel-Farage-poster-NEWS-large_trans++qVzuuqpFlyLIwiB6NTmJwfSVWeZ_vEN7c6bHu2jJnT8During 2014, as Cameron was preparing for re-election, he attempted to quell a revolt within his own party by introducing a stern new anti-immigration law and by promising to give the country a referendum that would determine whether or not the UK would exit the EU. Under any objective view, the situation did not approach an “emergency”. It was an attempt by the Conservative government to retain power, which is precisely what Agamben predicts: the “state of exception”, simply put, is no longer “exceptional”. It is a normal “technique” of government. International students are targeted – though they are by no means the only group – simply because they are not protected by affiliation with influential companies, are well-monitored by universities, and so easy to locate. In fact, Theresa May is preparing now to further intensify pressure on international students.

During my imprisonment at Morton Hall, I was never accused of committing any crime or breaking any rule. kafka26I was neither a “criminal” nor innocent. I was merely one of the “swarm” kept in a prison cell until such time as I could be taken to a secure location near Heathrow Airport under guard, forced to purchase a return ticket home (I already had purchased one six months previously, at a cost of £850), and forcibly placed on an airplane home. Nothing I had done in my previous life, my work for half a decade as a school teacher, my unimpeachable reputation as a resident in the UK, my successful completion of a PhD in Shakespeare Studies at one of the top universities in the country, made any difference.

It was only when more than two hundred members of the academic community and the general public around the world signed a petition uploaded to the Kingston Shakespeare website by my friend and colleague, Timo Uotinen, that my situation began to change. I started to receive phone calls from journalists from The Times Higher Education Supplement and; then Buzzfeed, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, etc. started asking for interviews. After days of silence, the Home Office issued a statement, quoted by the Daily Mail, defending my arrest by citing the 2014 Immigration Act: “The Immigration Act 2014 clearly states that a person who does not have leave to remain in the UK is liable for removal. Enforcement action may be taken to remove these individuals.” Chillingly, they were absolutely right.

When Roger Mullin, the Scottish National Party MP, asked in parliament for a statement about my case from the Home Office, the former secretary of state for justice, Chris Grayling replied: “Students are only ever going to be arrested if they are in the United Kingdom without a visa. We have rules. We may agree or disagree about them, but there is no excuse for anybody to break them.” Grayling was dead wrong. You can follow all the rules, but still be arrested. 

The truth is that the lawless violence of my arrest and imprisonment, my treatment as one of a “swarm”, was enshrined in a law that had the approval of both major parties in parliament. I believed that I was entitled to rights under the law, but I was wrong. I had no rights at all. I was “homo sacer”, bare life, one of the insects that existed merely to consolidate the power of the Cameron administration, so long as that power lasted.

In fact, on the day that the Home Office made the decision to release me, due to the overwhelming pressure from the academy and the international press, it faxed a separate order to my attorney’s office: that order stated that my request for bail (£6000, which my friends had collected on my behalf) had been rejected, that I would have to purchase a new plane ticket, and would be accompanied, according to the usual procedure, by armed guard to Heathrow until I boarded my flight to the US, at a date of the government’s choosing. I was given a document detailing this procedure, and explaining the method I would be required to use to pay (again) for my plane ticket. This second order was clearly issued by an official who wasn’t aware of the publicity of my case, but it demonstrates clearly what would have happened had my colleagues in academia, the public, and the international press not intervened.

After I arrived back in the United States, I was contacted by a generous and talented immigrant rights advocate and a number of well-meaning attorneys regarding the prospect of suing the government. But to sue the government would be fundamentally to misunderstand what happened to me. An assertion of “rights”, which are, in law, abrogated for the “swarm” of innocent people occupying twelve detention camps in the UK right now, does nothing to help those people. By attempting to sue, as a US citizen and a person of mostly Caucasian ancestry, I assert my distinction from those people regarded, right now, by the law as insects. It would be to disavow the common experience of subjection that we shared.

Let me explain. On my first day in prison, I was in such a state of shock that I forgot to eat all day and arrived late to dinner. Two Pakistani prisoners, who served the food that night, were well within their rights – after a long day of work – to deny me dinner. Instead, they opened the locked door to the cafeteria, invited me in, and handed me a full platter of lentil dahl – and even gave me a small scoop of ice-cream. As I sat down in my cell with that food, I wept.

Over my ten days of imprisonment, I heard innumerable stories of unlawful arrest: most powerfully, from a Nigerian man married to a British woman and denied citizenship because she was sterile and could not have a British child. I also witnessed profound and haunting suffering. Day and night, a frail man from Afghanistan wandered the hall of my prison ward, hugging himself and moaning “what do I do?” rene-as-edgar-in-king-lear-1974-rene-auberjonois-11718537-919-632Those words still ring in my mind: now what do I do? The condition of “bare life” that we were reduced to is not something that a lawsuit can redress. It is an open wound whose significance must be read by those who have the compassion to understand it and the will to change the law.

Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, many imagine that the immigration problem has been solved. Indeed, hate crimes and racial abuse have become common, as “citizens” take the law – as they see it – into their own hands, seeking to speed up the exit of foreigners. But the UK will not actually leave the EU until two years after Brexit has been officially initiated by Article 50 – and even that may take years. Now, what was perceived to be a crisis by the Cameron administration may, indeed, become a real crisis, as the promise by the “leave” campaign to “control” immigration confronts the reality of statistics.

What will happen then?

The twelve “detention” camps that are scattered throughout the UK are largely hidden to those who live there. In 1999, when due process existed – at least in name – for foreign residents living in the UK, they might well have served an important purpose. Now, they are a stain on the country, the physical evidence of the despotic “state of emergency” that inheres within the ostensibly democratic UK. And such camps exist not in spite of the public, but because it demands the expulsion of “the swarm”. Whether or not, in a post-Brexit world, the public support for unlawful arrest metastasizes into overt authoritarianism, not only in the UK, but across Europe and the United States (with Trump’s threat to build “a wall” on the Mexican border and order the mass arrest of eleven million undocumented Mexicans), is still an open question. For me, though, and for all those imprisoned now in those twelve camps, it is not just an open question, but an open wound.


I want to take the opportunity here to thank all those who contacted their MP’s on my behalf, signed the Kingston Shakespeare petition, contacted the press, and inquired after my well-being. Also, thank you to my friends who brought me books and attempted (though, sadly, unsuccessfully) to bring me a mattress, who visited me, who consoled me by calling, courageously published articles defending me, and were there to pick me up from Morton Hall when I was released. I am deeply grateful to you all!

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Shakespeare and the Enlightenment – Shakespeare at Garrick’s Temple, Sept 3

Garrick's TempleKingston Shakespeare is proud to announce a collaboration with Garrick’s Temple at Hampton in organising Shakespeare and philosophy events. It was David Garrick’s dream to host Enlightenment luminaries, like Voltaire, at the shrine he built to Shakespeare in 1756.

Unlike regular Kingston Shakespeare events, these events at the Temple will have an admittance donation of £10. All the money will be used for the event catering and to support  the Temple. But the event will be nominally free.

The first event will be on September 3, 2016 and is entitled ‘Shakespeare and the Enlightenment’. Confirmed speakers are  Paul Kottman (New School), Edward Chaney (Southampton Solent), and Kiernan Ryan (Royal Holloway).

Mark your diaries, more information will follow soon. See the event page on Facebook!

If you are wanting to talk or present at this event on Shakespeare and on aspects of the Enlightenment, we welcome suggestions for contributions. Please contact Richard Wilson ( or

See also other events at the Temple.

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Trumping Shakespeare: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and the Rise of the Clown Politician

120915donalttrumpIn a May 26, 2016 Los Angeles Times article, entitled “The theater of Trump: What Shakespeare can teach us about the Donald”, theater critic Charles McNulty undergoes what he calls a “fool’s errand”, a meticulous search in the Bard’s plays to find precedent for Trump’s now-famous political strategy: his use of lies, bigotry, and transparently racist policy proposals to suck up media oxygen and achieve dominance over the American political debate. McNulty’s quest to understand the Trump phenomenon brings him, logically, to the plays in which Shakespeare treats demagogues explicitly: Coriolanus and Julius Caesar. McNulty admits that Shakespeare “may have no equivalent” for the businessman and reality TV star turned presidential candidate, but he focuses on the Bard’s insight into “just how easy it is” for a demagogue “to transform anxious citizens into mobs.” Fair enough. But, it seems to me that McNulty fails to give Shakespeare enough credit for anticipating the mechanism of Trump’s rise and the advent of a new kind of political figure: the “clown politician”.

To understand this, we need to forget the grand figures of Coriolanus, Mark Antony, and Julius Caesar; in fact, we need to depart from the world of politics entirely, and, instead, zero in on the secretive, debased, and repugnant figure of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello. Iago is an “ensign”, a standard-bearer, whose resentment at being passed up for promotion by his Moorish general, Othello, leads him to plot to get his rival, Cassio, fired from his position as lieutenant and to bring about the ruin of his general by persuading him that his wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful to him. Now, this is Trump territory: the stuff of reality TV and tabloid newspapers!

Though the central action in Othello is domestic, Iago possesses a media mogul’s mastery of what the British press has called “dead-cat” politics: the trick is to “throw a dead cat on the table” in front of reporters, and then dominate the news cycle. Iago describes this method quite explicitly, when he berates his rival, Cassio, for supposedly having the same fault:

A slipper and subtle knave, a finder of occasions that has an eye, can stamp and counterfeit advantages, though true advantage never present itself. (Oth II. i. 235)

What makes Iago and Trump’s strategy especially effective is that both incite racial conflict. In Iago’s case, that conflict is intended to draw attention to the Moorish general’s racial and geographical difference among the prejudiced denizens of Venice, so that he becomes convinced of the perverse notion that his wife is, somehow, suspect because she has chosen to marry a black man. OthelloiagomovieIn Trump’s case, the point is to displace economic anxiety onto issues of race and religion so that white American males are provoked to murderous hatred of the outsider in their midst: Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, etc. In a country of immigrants, such rhetoric amounts to turning the country against itself.

So, Iago whips the Venetian Senator, Brabantio, into a racist apoplexy when, in the middle of the night, he delivers the news that his daughter has eloped with Othello, by characterizing the marriage through pornographic images of miscegenation and bestiality:

. . . you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse. You’ll have your nephews neigh to you. You’ll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans . . . I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs. (Oth I. i. 115-20)

Are you taking notes, Trump?

This language incites Brabantio to burst into the Venetian senate, which is in the midst of a midnight meeting to discuss an impending invasion of its colony of Cypress by the Turks, to publicly accuse Othello of “corrupt”[ing] his daughter with “spells” and “medicines” (Oth I. iii. 66-7). . . “to fall in love with what she feared to look on” (Oth I. iii. 101). oth_desWhen, on the later military campaign in Cypress, Iago seeks to convince Othello of Desdemona’s infidelity, it is Brabantio’s words that Othello will paraphrase (“that perfection so could err / Against all rules of nature” [Oth I. iii. 103-4]) and that Iago will seize upon to persuade the general of his wife’s infidelity.

Like Iago, Trump does not just prey off racial divisions to gain an “advantage”: whether deliberately or not, he is attacking the very soul of the country. If Iago were living in America right now, there is no doubt that he would be awed by Trump’s large-scale political success at what, for Iago, is merely a mechanism for personal revenge.

But such incitement does not fully account for the Trump phenomenon. After all, America has had demagogues before, such as Alabama governor, George Wallace, whose 1964 run for the democratic nomination on a racist platform has drawn comparisons with Trump. What, I would argue, is the truly Shakespearean touch in Trump’s rise is also what causes him to “defy the gravity” of ordinary politics. At a time when cynicism about political leaders is at an all-time high, Trump is a clown-politician.

As Shakespeare critics have long recognized, Iago is not a typical villain. He possesses important features of clowns and fools, which would typically make him more at home in the world of comedy. What distinguishes the genre of comedy, where such a figure would more often reside, is the fact that its characters do not stand on principle. Laughing_FoolIn fact, “principles” such as duty, honor, honesty, valor, and fidelity, in comedy, are parodied and travestied. A fool is disarming precisely because he can speak his mind. As Jaques laments, in As You Like It, wistfully longing to possess a fool’s freedom:

I must have liberty
Withal, as large a charter as the wind,
To blow on whom I please; for so fools have . . .

The wise man’s folly is anatomized
Even by the squandering glances of the fool. (AYL II. vii. 48-50, 57-8)

In part because he has no adherence to any fixed principles, the fool can send them all up. But fools don’t need to stand for anything or adhere to any principles because they generally inhabit a kind of play in which nothing serious is at stake – or, if they appear in tragedies or histories, they are carefully contained. The remarkable exception to this is, of course, Falstaff, whose antics become positively disturbing when Hal puts him in command of a squadron in a war.

If Falstaff becomes disconcerting, Iago is, from the beginning, sinister ­– because he uses the fool’s privilege to undermine all the principles that, despite their flaws, make civilized life possible. And he does so not out of roguish frivolity, but with deliberate murderous intent.

And this is what makes Trump so dangerous. He is a comic figure, out of the “reality television” genre, who, like Falstaff, is not taken seriously, and, who, like Iago, gains credibility among his supporters for being “honest” because he seems to speak the gritty truths that other candidates are afraid to utter. Again and again, Trump’s supporters cite his ability to speak what they “are afraid to say” in public as the single most important reason why they support him.

At the same time, Trump’s gross hyperbole is so ludicrous that it disarms the criticism of journalists, who are used to dealing with politicians who must, at least, act as if they adhere to principles. Trump’s hyperbole also has the additional consequence of allowing his supporters a degree of plausible deniability. When pressed, they frequently express the opinion that they don’t believe that he is serious about implementing many of his most inflammatory proposals, such as the ban of all Muslims from entering America.

As a figure out of comedy, Trump is exempt from the rules of ordinary political discourse. His ridiculous overstatements, in defiance of political logic, create a bizarre cocoon that prevents him from ever being fully accountable. That cocoon has only begun to rupture in the general election, when Trump has been under immense pressure by donors to become more scripted, like other “normal” candidates. When the clown reads from a teleprompter, it removes his greatest advantage: the freedom to speak his own mind.

The advent of the “clown” as a politically viable figure in contemporary politics, as I indicated before, is a measure of the cynicism of the public. If the political class is already packed with clowns – as was certainly true of the GOP primary – the fool who exposes the folly has an insurmountable advantage.

Far from being an isolated phenomenon in American politics, the “clown politician” has risen to prominence in the UK as well. As the leader of the “leave” campaign in the Brexit referendum, Boris Johnson adapted a more sophisticated version of Trump’s politics. He let Nigel Farage do his race-baiting dirty work, while he played the role of lovable scoundrel, deriding the united opinion of “experts” about the dire economic consequences of Brexit and answering all skepticism with outlandish claims that there would be “no shock” to the economy, but that the UK would enjoy a “£350 million” a week surplus, increasing wages across the country and funding the cash-strapped NHS. As soon as “leave” won the referendum, “Boris” (and Farage, too, it might be added) exited stage left. Since clowns are, by definition, without principle, the notion that “Boris” would undertake the grim work of negotiation to achieve a British exit from the EU should have been ridiculous from the beginning. But, for many, his dramatic disappearance came as a shock.

Pundits in Britain have had recourse to Shakespearean analogies to describe the political back-stabbing of recent weeks, citing Macbeth and Julius Caesar, but what these commentators ignore is the new reality that contemporary politics is not being made by figures out of Shakespearean tragedy or history, but figures out of comedy elevated into circumstances that produce tragic consequences.CLv-5wTWIAE83Dj_750x410

Our politicians today may have Machiavellian motives, but they appear in the guise of clowns who have learned, like Iago, how to use racial divisions and public cynicism about political leaders, fostered by globalization and neoliberalism, to achieve their Machiavellian ends. An economic system that produces massive wealth for the few and has left behind the population it was supposed to benefit has created this new political reality.

Trump and “Boris” are the clowns that reign over it.


Since this article was written, Boris Johnson has been appointed Foreign Secretary by the new UK Prime Minster, Theresa May. The reaction by foreign leaders has been, as we would expect, a combination of dismay and laughter:

Moment US Government spokesman tried hard not to laugh when he heard Boris is our new Foreign Secretary


This is a Thinking Through Shakespeare blog post. Please comment and give the writer feedback.

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Theatrical Thresholds -podcast (KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds)

The opening session of KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds features Jami Rogers and Ildiko Solti within and without the theatre and performance. Dr Rogers discusses casting politics on stage and in cinema focusing on the portrayal of race in the media (from Benedict Cumberbatch to James Earl Jones). Dr Solti, on the other hand, explores how movement on stage engages audiences in two different productions of Measure for Measure.

Jami Rogers (Warwick):’This great role has been diminished’: Critics, race and Shakespearean theatre

In 2004, the Financial Times critic Alastair Macaulay argued that the role of Othello had been “diminished” by the late twentieth century convention of having only black actors play the part. The threshold for Macaulay had been what he perceived to be another poor performance as Othello. Yet since Paul Robeson’s appearance as Othello at the Savoy Theatre in 1930, language has been a major weapon of critics and journalists opposing ethnic minority performers’ appearances in Shakespearean theatre. This paper examines critical responses by arts journalists and critics to these performances, helping to contextualize discriminatory casting patterns in contemporary theatre as part of a larger discourse guided by the media.

Dr. Jami Rogers trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and holds an MA and a PhD from the Shakespeare Institute, the University of Birmingham. Prior to obtaining her PhD Jami spent 10 years working for PBS, the American public service broadcast television network, first at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and then for 8 years at WGBH/Boston working on Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery!, where awards included a Primetime Emmy from the Academy of Arts and Television Sciences. Most recently she was Research Assistant on the AHRC-funded Multicultural Shakespeare project at the University of Warwick, where she was the lead researcher on the British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database. She was Visiting Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton in the Drama Department and has taught at the Universities of Birmingham, Warwick and the British American Drama Academy. Jami has lectured on Shakespeare and American drama at the National Theatre in London and works regularly with director David Thacker at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton.

Ildiko Solti:  Crossing the line: full light 3D space as a means of provoking the audience into action in Measure for Measure

The symmetry and balance suggested by the title, Measure for Measure, sits oddly with a play that crosses the line in so many ways – generically (as a problem play), structurally (by muddling up the purpose of the main action as set in motion by the Duke), and emotionally/ethically (none of its characters are above the occasional unsavoury demeanour). Any of these features would frustrate audience expectations and behaviour, but their dominance appears to suggest that such frustration of ‘normal’ beahviour may actually be the purpose of the play. But why antagonise your audience in such a blatant way, or indeed why produce a play in which there is no feature that does not require some, or a lot of, ironing out?

I suggest that the original conditions of production in the full light arena, casting the audience as the streetwise filth of Vienna, makes ‘crossing the line’ their basic function morally, formally (through their leading light, Lucio) and even existentially (as bystanders, they are implicated in a series of ethically compromising situations that are aesthetic as well as (in complete light) fundamentally social. Looking at Act 2 Scene 2 in detail, I will contrast key points in the action as they are realised in a full light amphitheatre and on a proscenium stage, showing how the spatial structure of the visible arena is used to engineer this intensely bizarre engagement which cajoles the audience to tackle, and even relish wrestling with, some quite uncomfortable and impossible-to-solve existential/philosophical problems.

Ildiko Solti is an actor-director, researcher and teacher. She trained in Dramatic Arts at Macalester College, St Paul, MN, USA. Having returned to Hungary, she obtained her MA at Eotvos Lorand University, and was Artistic Director of an English language theatre company, The Phoenix, in Budapest. In 1999 she moved to London where she has been teaching and conducting research and experiment in performance, focusing on Elizabethan/Jacobean working theatre reconstructions through the method of research through practice in performance (PaR). She holds a PhD from Middlesex University.

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Kate Aughterson:‘I will tell you the beginning….’: Dramaturgy and Politics in Shakespeare’s Opening Scenes -podcast (KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds)

In the first plenary of KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds was given by Kate Aughterson with a paper entitled “‘I will tell you the beginning….’: Dramaturgy and Politics in Shakespeare’s Opening Scenes”. She explores the whole Shakespearean corpus looking at the beginnings of plays throughout his career contrasting them to contemporaries like Jonson, Webster, Middleton, Fletcher and Beaumont. The talk is chaired by Timo Uotinen and is followed by questions from the audience.

Dr Kate Aughterson is currently Academic Programme Leader for Literature, Media and Screen at Brighton University. She is the author of Renaissance Woman (1995), The English Renaissance: An Anthology of Documents (1998), John Webster: The Tragedies (2001) Aphra Behn: The Comedies (2003), and most recently Shakespeare: The Late Plays (2013) as well as articles on Bacon, Middleton, Behn and Marston. She has a forthcoming chapter on Behn’s adaptations of Middleton and Marston plays in the restoration in Aphra Behn: The Seventeenth-Century Contexts(Ashgate, 2017); one on seventeenth-century women poets’ use of the child-birth topoi; one on Shakespeare’s soliloquies in the late plays (for CUP) and is part of a collaborative enterprise of feminist scholars led by Professor Elaine Hobby who will be editing the complete works of Aphra Behn for Cambridge University Press. Kate will be editing Behn’s The Lucky Chance, andThe Revenge, should modern computational methods definitively identify it as Behn’s work. She taught art history at the City and Guilds of London Art school, and English literature at the University of Central England before moving to Brighton. Her interests focus on seventeenth-century drama, notably with regard to gender and literature, sexuality and literature, performance culture. Furthermore, she co-organised the Shakespeare and Education conference on April 29-30.

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Richard Wilson: “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” -podcast (KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds)

The second plenary of KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds was given by our own Richard Wilson. With a talk entitled “Come Unto These Yellow Sands: Shakespeare’s Other Heading”, he explores The Tempest setting it in dialogue with the horrors of the current migrant crisis, the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and the thresholds of Europe. The introduction (by Timo Uotinen) and questions bookend the talk in the recordings below.

Richard Wilson is Sir Peter Hall Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kingston University, London, and author of Worldly Shakespeare: The Theatre of Our Good Will (2015); Free Will: Art and power on Shakespeare’s stage (2013); Shakespeare in French Theory: King of Shadows (2007); Secret Shakespeare: Essays on theatre, religion and resistance (2004); and Will Power: Studies in Shakespearean authority (1993). He has also edited many books on Renaissance culture, including Shakespeare and Continental Philosophy (2014); Shakespeare’s Book (2008); Theatre and Religion (2003); Region, Religion and Patronage (2003); Christopher Marlowe (1999); and New Historicism and Renaissance Drama (1992). Previously Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University, he was until 2005 Professor of Renaissance Studies at Lancaster University. He has been Visiting Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, and Visiting Professor of the Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III). In 2011-12 he was Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Sorbonne (Paris IV). He gave the 2001 British Academy Shakespeare Lecture, and he was 2006 Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe. His forthcoming book is a study of Shakespeare and totalitarianism: Modern Friends: Shakespeare and Our Contemporaries.    

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Philosophical Thresholds -podcast (KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds)

The second panel of KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds featured philosophical papers from Christian Smith, Sophie Battell and Jessica Chiba. Watch / listen to Christian Smith’s talk on a psychoanalytical reading of Coriolanus and Jessica Chiba discussing being and not-being in Shakespeare. Check it below!

Christian Smith (Warwick): Bestriding the Threshold of the Self and the Other in Coriolanus and The Merchant of Venice.

Abstract: The encounter between the self and the other as understood through Jean Laplanche’s psychoanalytic theory set in the Hegelian dialectic will be explored using three instances of the word threshold in Shakespeare. Two instances occur in Coriolanus – between Virgilia and Martius and between Aufidius and Martius – and one occurs in The Merchant of Venice – between Antonio and Shylock. The circulation of libido across the threshold, and its distortion into the death-drive and the drive for the accumulation of profit will be explored in these scenes. The role of the threshold as the site for the implantation of enigmatic signifiers or the violent intromission of trauma will be explored for its role in the distortion of libido into death-drive and profit-drive. This is a preliminary experiment (for me) in thinking through Laplanchian psychoanalysis as theory in conversation with Marxism and set in the dialectic.

Bio: Christian Smith is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. His doctoral research looked at the influence that Shakespeare had on Marx, Freud and the Frankfurt School Critical Theorists. In his postdoctoral work, he is investigating the possibility that the ground through this influence traveled may have been the historical development of the dialectic.

Jessica Chiba (Royal Holloway): Between Being and Not-Being

Abstract: Where does life end, and death begin? Where does being end? What does ‘being’ mean anyway? What does it mean to be nothing?

When Hamlet asks, ‘To be, or not to be’, he tries to imagine himself in a state of hypothetical annihilation. When Anthony botches his suicide in Anthony and Cleopatra, he is forced to recognise that though he can attempt to take himself to the threshold between life and death, it is not necessarily in his power to cross it. When Richard II says ‘whe’er I be / Nor I nor any man that but man is / With nothing shall be please till he be eased / With being nothing’, he conceives a state of existence as nothing which is not the same as non-being.

But being and non-being are not limited to life and death. Characters in plays have a sort of being that is not identical to the being of the actor, just as fictional characters have a sort of being that is not physical. This paper will examine the threshold between being and non-being in Shakespeare’s works by scrutinising the liminal moments between life and death, between play and audience, and between fiction and non-fiction.

Bio: Jessica Chiba is a PhD Candidate supervised by Professor Kiernan Ryan and Professor Andrew Bowie at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is currently researching Shakespeare and ontology (the study of being). Her secondary interest is in Japanese translations of Shakespeare.

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Kelly Hunter: “‘Hamlet, Who’s There’ – Creating a New Production for the Modern World” -podcast (KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds)

The final session of KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds features Kelly Hunter discussing her adaptation of Hamlet entitled Hamlet, Who’s There? and the process behind it.

Kelly Hunter is a highly accomplished actress on stage, film, TV and radio, having been directed by Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn and acted in several RSC, National Theatre and BBC productions. She has been nominated for an Olivier award (1993, Best Actress in a Musical, Lola in Trevor Nunn’s The Blue Angel) and received the 1996 TMA Best Actress Award, for playing Rosalind in As You Like It, directed by Stephen Unwin as well as a 1997 Sony Gold Best Actress Award, for Transit of Venus, directed by Alison Hindle for BBC Wales Radio 3. More recently, she has focused on directing with several productions of Shakespeare in the US and UK, and most recently directing her own adaptation of Hamlet (Hamlet, Who’s There?) currently touring internationally (Colchester, Romania, London, Germany, Denmark). She is the Artistic Director of the Flute Theatre and has created and taught a distinctive methodology, The Hunter Heartbeat Method, which uses Shakespeare to release the communicative blocks within children with Autism—which is being researched in Ohio State University. She has also recently authored two books, Shakespeare’s Heartbeat (2014) and Cracking Shakespeare (2015).

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