CFP: Little stars and galloping steeds: Sex in Shakespeare, June 22 (KiSSiT)

Donkey earsLittle Stars and Galloping Steeds:
Sex in Shakespeare

Kingston Shakespeare Seminar in Theory Conference

June 22, 2018, Rose Theatre, London.

10am – 6:30pm.

Call for Papers:

There is a lot of sex in Shakespeare. Some characters have sex, some brag about having it, and some do everything in their power to shun it. Some of the sex is consensual, much of it is rapacious. There is sexuality between men and women, men and men, women and women, people and animals, and people and gods. The very definition of comedy, as a genre, hinges on the sexual act.

Sex is also about political power. It is used to enforce gender, class, and ethnic categories through disavowal, demonisation, and displacement. However, as Jonathan Dollimore observes in Sexual Dissidence, sex can also be a form of dissident knowledge. For deviance is disobedience. As the cross-dressing Rosalind says in As You Like It, “the wiser the waywarder”! Through what Dollimore calls “the perverse dynamic”, the sexual dissident can discover the displaced Other at the very heart of the authority that attempts to disavow it.

For this conference, we are calling for an investigation of the role of sex and sexuality, in its political, figurative, and theatrical sense, in Shakespeare’s plays. Papers could unblushingly peer into Shakespeare’s plays and poems and perform a close-viewing of their sexuality. We welcome papers that set the sexuality in the plays’ historical period as well as papers that read the sexuality as a means to critique our present moment. We welcome papers that read the sexuality through a preferred theoretical lens; Feminism, Psychoanalysis and Queer Theory are good fits, but what about Marxism, Eco-criticism, and, well, the animal turn.

Confirmed Plenary speaker: Jonathan Dollimore and Jerzy Limon


Possible topics:

  • What is the role of sexual desire and pleasure in Shakespeare’s plays and poems?
  • What can be said about Shakespeare’s ambiguity as to whether certain characters actually have sex (Bottom and Titania, for example)?
  • How have directors staged sex in Shakespeare performances?
  • What is the role of sexual refusal in the plays and poems?
  • How is sex weaponised or used in power moves such as rape (Lavinia, Lucrece), or through manipulation (Richard and Anne, Henry V and Katherine)?
  • What is the relationship between sex and court or state power?
  • What is the role of sexual deviance and perversion in the plays and poems?
  • How does the sex act of the bed trick work hermeneutically?
  • How can we read Shakespeare‘s allusions to varies types of sex acts – intercourse, oral sex, anal sex – and different parts of the sex act – wooing, orgasm, post-coitus?
  • What qualities of sex are found in Shakespeare – phallic-centred, female-centered, rapacious, BDSM, polymorphous perverse?
  • What role does sexuality play in the plays’ queer relations, in their rainbow of forms – open, mistaken, ambiguous, closeted, sublimated?
  • What role is sexual allusion playing when it is deployed by Shakespeare in violence – Samson‘s and Gregory‘s opening dialogue in Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth‘s dagger speech (2.1.33-64)?
  • What role do the sexual acts of prostitutes play in the plays?
  • How can incest be read in, say, Pericles and Hamlet?
  • How does it change the reading of a play if it is assumed that certain characters – say, Hamlet and Ophelia, Demetrius and Helena, the poet and the fair youth – have already had sex before the opening of the play/poem?
  • What role does sex play in Classical allusions – Ovid, Homer, Apuleius – in the plays and poems?


Please send paper proposals/abstracts to the conference organisers:
Christian Smith and Paul Hamilton by May 31, 2018.

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About kingstonshakespeareseminar

Kingston Shakespeare is the home of KiSS, and its offshoot KiSSiT. Both explore the world by thinking through Shakespeare.
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