Staging Political Thought (seminar)

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

This was a late-spring 2007 seminar.

This seminar was one of the Center for the History of British Political Thought programs to bring together scholars of literature and intellectual history to examine plays from the Shakespearean corpus in the context of the issues in political thought that were being addressed in England from the late-sixteenth to early-seventeenth centuries. As the history of political thought has characteristically been concerned with the formation and interplay of doctrines, the seminar gave attention to the rather different functions that political vocabularies, languages, and propositions can have when transformed on the stage as topoi, plot mechanisms, role-markers, and allusions, as well as issues put before an audience for debate. The seminar also attended to the difficulties of extrapolating doctrines and ideological commitments from dramatic evidence. Each week concentrated on a contemporary political theme and its manifestations in a small number of plays: counsel and rule; tyranny and misrule; casuistry and principled conduct; citizenship and patriotism. Some attention was also given to the often conspicuous absence of the burning issues of confessional hostility and to the diminishing importance of oath-taking and breaking in Shakespeare’s plays. The plays discussed will cover the range of Shakespeare’s work: Henry V, Julius Caesar, Measure for Measure, The Tempest, Richard III, and King Lear. Visiting faculty included Jean E. Howard (Columbia University) and Peter Lake (Princeton University).

Director: Conal Condren is Scientia Professor Emeritus in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of New South Wales. His publications include The Language of Politics in Seventeenth-Century England (1994) and Satire, Lies, and Politics: The Case of Dr. Arbuthnot (1997). His Argument and Authority in Early Modern England is forthcoming.