Shakespeare in an Age of Visual Culture (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive. For more past programming from the Center for Shakespeare Studies, please see the article Center for Shakespeare Studies program archive.

This was a Mellon Weekend Seminar held from 1998 to 1999. Visiting faculty included, in order of appearance, Martin J. Irvine, Director of the Communication, Culture, and Technology Program in the Graduate School of Georgetown University; Stephen Orgel, Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of English at Stanford University; Randall Nakayama, Associate Professor of English at San Francisco State University; Lois Potter, Ned B. Allen Professor of English at the University of Delaware; and Claire Farago, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Observers from a variety of vantage points have pronounced the late twentieth century an age of visual culture. This series of four weekend seminars was sponsored by the Center for Shakespeare Studies and supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It addressed the problems of interpretation that are met in the classroom when Shakespeare's texts are filtered through visual media that are defined by their own generic conventions and convey the values of cultural moments very different from Shakespeare's. The sessions proceeded in reverse chronological order. Shakespeare transmitted through electronic media was considered first; then Shakespeare on film and video (with special attention to differences between the two); then visual elements in contemporary stage productions of Shakespeare; and finally, Shakespeare and the printed visual media of his own age. The third session was timed to coincide with a current stage production in Washington, the fourth with Seeing What Shakespeare Means, a Folger exhibition of woodcut illustrations used in the Folger Shakespeare editions. Each session considered the issues from three different perspectives:

  1. a theoretical examination of the medium in question
  2. a survey of available resources for research in that medium, and
  3. a workshop on ways in which the medium can be used to teach Shakespeare's plays.

Director: Bruce R. Smith, Professor of English at Georgetown University, is the author of Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England (1991), Ancient Scripts and Modern Experience on the English Stage, 1500–1600 (1988), and Roasting the Swan of Avon (1994), the catalogue for a Folger Library exhibition. His study on intersections of voice and sound with various forms of printed media in early modern England is forthcoming.