Shakespeare’s Language (symposium)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

Lynne Magnusson
Spring 2015 Symposium

If the Muses themselves spoke English, they would speak with “Shakespeare’s fine-filed phrase,” Francis Meres commented in 1598, suggesting that Shakespeare’s linguistic art tapped the emerging potential of the English language and extended its resources. Sponsored by the Folger Institute Center for Shakespeare Studies as part of its triennial anniversary programming, this symposium gathered several dozen scholars with relevant research and teaching interests to explore Shakespeare’s still resonant language. With the help of invited session leaders, participants considered reinvigorated contexts and new tools for its illumination and assessment. Four hundred years on, linguistic change is itself an important context, and the symposium addressed not only variation in early modern English but also the effects of subsequent language change, changing perceptions of English, and translation on Shakespeare’s verbal art and its reception. Revisiting Renaissance education in the arts of language, symposium participants asked how new perspectives on the everyday theatricality of the Latin schoolroom or its grammatical and rhetorical culture might inflect understanding of Shakespeare’s language. Turning to current-day tools, the symposium looked at how discourse analysis has developed beyond speech-act theory, whether reading Shakespeare’s performative utterance as passionate action, cognitive processing, or dialogic negotiation. With computer-assisted analysis of texts and large corpora rapidly transforming language study, the symposium also created opportunities to try out some relevant tools for digital text-analysis.

Organizer: Lynne Magnusson is Professor of English at the University of Toronto. She is currently working on a book on The Transformation of the English Letter, 1500-1620, a second book on ways to rethink Shakespeare’s language historically, and an edition of William Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Speakers: Sylvia Adamson (The University of Sheffield), Amy Cook (Stony Brook University), Hugh Craig (The University of Newcastle, Australia), Mary Crane (Boston College), Jeff Dolven (Princeton University), Lynn Enterline (Vanderbilt University), Brett Hirsch (The University of Western Australia), Jonathan Hope (University of Strathclyde), Alysia Kolentsis (St. Jerome’s University and the University of Waterloo), Jenny C. Mann (Cornell University), Russ McDonald (University of London), Martin Mueller (Northwestern University), Terttu Nevalainen (University of Helsinki), David Schalkwyk (Queen Mary, University of London, and University of Warwick), Daniel A. Shore (Georgetown University), Stefan Sinclair (McGill University), Michael Witmore (Folger Shakespeare Library)