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What concepts of the future might have been available to Shakespeare and his contemporaries?

And how did their ideas about futurity impact our own history and criticism of the period?

In honor of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, and in concert with our own 21st century anxieties about the end of the species, leading historians, literary and theatre critics and performance studies scholars will examine the various modes of imagining time and futurity embedded in the work of Shakespeare and his interlocutors as they moved from forms and practices of prophecy and providence to contemplations of the inevitability of either progress or apocalypse. In doing so, we will illuminate the many modes of historical and planetary consciousness available to early modern denizens that continue to influence our own.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

9:30 am
10:00 am
 Conference Welcome by Kathleen Wilson, HISB Director, Stony Brook University, Co-Convener and Michael A. Bernstein, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Stony Brook University
Introduction by Carla Mazzio, University of Buffalo, SUNY, Co-Convener
10:15 am - 11:15 am 
Keynote presentation by Margreta de Grazia, University of Pennsylvania
11:30 am - 1:00 pm
Literary Futures -- Douglas Pfeifer, Stony Brook University, Chair
Dympna Callaghan, Syracuse University
Jeffrey Masten, Northwestern University
J.K. Barret, The University of Texas at Austin
 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Lunch on your own
 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm 
Lenten Privations, Modern Redemptions -- Alix Cooper, Stony Brook University, Chair
Chris R. Kyle, Syracuse University
Tim Harris, Brown University
Tom Conley, Harvard University
 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm 
Underground Shakespeares -- Amy Cook, Stony Brook University, Chair
Fran Dolan, University of California, Davis
Jessica Rosenberg, University of Miami
Heather James, University of Southern California
 5:15 pm - 6:15 pm 
The Haunted Stage  -- Benedict Robinson, Stony Brook University, Chair
Jean Marsden, University of Connecticut
Jean Howard, Columbia University
 6:15 pm  Reception

Friday, February 24, 2017

Time Event
9:30 am
10:00 am - 11:00 am
Bodies and Alterities in Revolutionary Time -- E.K Tan, Stony Brook University, Chair
Joseph Roach, Yale University
Amy Cook, Stony Brook University
11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Shakespeare is Burning: Future Fear & Planetary Consciousness --
John Lutterbie, Stony Brook University, Chair
Benedict Robinson, Stony Brook University
Amy Graves Monroe, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Drew Daniel, Johns Hopkins University
12:30 pm - 1:00 pm
Concluding Remarks by Kathleen Wilson
1:00 pm
Lunch and departure




Kathleen Wilson, Stony Brook University, Humanities Institute at Stony Brook Director and Co-Convener

Introduction: “Now, Then”

Carla Mazzio, State University of New York, Buffalo and Co-Convener

Keynote: “Shakespeare and Catastrophe”

Margreta De Grazia, University of Pennsylvania

Shakespeareans of late have been preoccupied first with the past (historicism) and then with the present (presentism) – but not much with the future, at least not until now. The belief in an open future has been considered the precondition of modernity. Once the eschatological cap was lifted off time, horizons opened up:the future could be imagined as infinitely extendible, like a line. Is our present sense of finality then a throwback to premodern anticipations of endtime? Are we now in a better position to recognize how the eschaton tends to hover over Shakespearean endings? Catastrophe, after all, is a dramatic term for the ‘shut down’ of a play long before it takes on its present existential charge. This paper will reconsider questions of catastrophe, futurity and endtimes in (and after) Shakespeare. 


“The Future of the Sonnets”

Dympna Callaghan, Syracuse University

The Sonnets are preoccupied with the question of what the future holds: death or immortality, children or sterility, beauty or decay; eternal memory or oblivion. However, the rhythms of the natural world also meant that every death enclosed the seeds of new life. The fundamental question of the Sonnets is whether art has a future; whether it possesses the powers of generation and regeneration inherent in biology and nature.  I will explore these issues in relation to a range of the Sonnets, paying particular attention to Sonnet 126, whose ending is either a sudden death, or an instance of the continuing duration implied by the Renaissance idea of the non finito.

“Marlowe’s Queer Futures: Edward and Richard, the Second”

Jeffrey Masten, Northwestern University

Critical treatments have long seen Shakespeare’s Richard II as the future of Marlowe’s Edward II.  While examining the critical role of Shakespeare as Marlowe’s future, the paper also analyzes queer futurity as imagined in both plays, including the space of queer pleasure, the role of reproductive futurity and coming second/third, and (possibly) grammars of the future: the conditional, the subjunctive, and the promissory.

“The Ethics of Tomorrow: Time, Drama, Contingency”

J.K. Barret, The University of Texas at Austin  

In this paper, I show how Shakespeare manipulates anticipated outcomes to foreground the contingency that fictions produce. Notably, spectacular onstage reversals neither model nor endorse a hope that the future can erase or correct errors made in the past. Instead, Shakespeare experiments with art’s ability to compare a future with alternatives that have been imagined for that future. In reshaping material to occasion meditations on both narrative forms and fiction’s access to alternative outcomes, I argue that Shakespeare offers a vantage on futures remarkable not for their fulfillment of ambition, but for their flexibility.  


“The Future of our Souls: Lenten Regulations in Early Modern England”

Chris R. Kyle, Syracuse University

In 1538, in the midst of the Reformation in England, Henry VIII, now Supreme Head of the Church, decided to intervene in the ecclesiastical calendar and provide new Lenten regulations. This paper will trace the changing nature of Lenten proclamations, privy council orders and local regulations. In doing so it highlights the inability of the state to enforce its will on a reluctant population despite incessant cajoling, the evolving severity of Lenten punishments, failed attempts to devolve authority to the localities and the clash between the remnants of ‘Popish’ rituals of salvation and the new Protestant emphasis on state-sanctioned fast days.

“Politics and Imagining the Future in Stuart Britain”

Tim Harris, Brown University

It used to be argued that the idea of progress is a relatively modern one – that the belief that society could be changed for the better, and this was something people should strive to accomplish, was not really imaginable until the age of the industrial revolution. More recently we have been told that it was in the 1680s that the English first came to imagine, and strive to accomplish, a new and better future. Yet they were imagining the future all the time. And they certainly did not have to wait until the 1680s to discover there might be a modern world out there waiting for them.

“Bougureau and his Bourbon”

Tom Conley, Harvard University

When Maurice Bouguereau published his Théâtre françoys catch-as-catch can, the year was 1594 and the moment the middle of the summer.  The reader for whom the atlas was designed was Henri IV de Navarre, the future Bourbon monarch. Then bivouacking in Tours—where the Théâtre was taking shape— Henri was preparing to mount a campaign to wrest Paris from the control of Catholics.  Then known as a “visuel,” a strategist who made great use of topographical representations, Henri was given a visual sense of what his future nation might be. 


“Early Modern Compost/Compositions”

Fran Dolan, University of California, Davis

As part of an explosion of agricultural experimentation and innovation in seventeenth-century England, many “improvers” turned to composting as both an “ancient practice” and “newly born.” The composting practices they advocated resembled the very particular practices that characterized early modern reading, remembering, and writing. I will draw attention both to the importance of soil amendment in early modern English agriculture and to the ways it generated writing and modeled what writing might be. This talk will consider the compost pile as an archive, a commonplace book, an occasion of writing, and a pungent figure for assembling and ripening the past’s leftovers in the service of some future enrichment.

“Reading Like a Pig: Anticipation and Failure in Early Modern Poetry and Planting”

Jessica Rosenberg, University of Miami

This paper takes a special interest in the surprising place of pigs in the attempts of early modern printed books to account for their own futures: from the “swinish grossenesse” dispelled in the preface to Tottel’s Miscellany (1557) to Isabella Whitney’s warning (1573) that “be chary that thou lettest in no swine,” pigs stand as a limit case to the flexibility and tolerance these poetic collections otherwise advertise to readers.  In particular, I’ll argue, they pose a challenge to an ethic of stewardship based on the premise of holding open the possibility of future growth – a fantasy that shaped early modern formations of textual, agricultural, and political good government.

“Dry Bones: Shakespeare and the Sources of Doubt”

Heather James, University of Southern California

The paper focuses on Shakespearean scenes (in the plays and poetry and their afterlife in the arts) that use the longest-lasting remains of the past (bones and classical antiquity) to speculate on the future as it emerges, in the form of a question, from conceptions of the past. Hamlet’s graveyard and its afterlife will feature prominently in this paper, which may extend our discussion into the later 1800s.


“Shakespeare’s Ghosts: Adaptation and  Reconfiguration in the Eighteenth Century”

Jean Marsden, University of Connecticut

 “Shakespeare’s Ghosts” considers some of the origins of the afterlife we now celebrate but also our fear of the cultural death of Shakespeare.  Specifically, it examines one emblem of our need for a past and future Shakespeare: the fascination with Double Falsehood, an obscure play by eighteenth-century playwright and scholar, Lewis Theobald. Without reading backward from Theobald’s play to Cardenio this paper uses Double Falsehood as a means of exploring the theory and practice of adaptation in the eighteenth century and for considering the stakes for us in creating and preserving fragments of a perhaps fictive past Shakespeare.

“Bond Writes Shakespeare's Futures: Bingo Revisited”

Jean Howard, Columbia University

This essay argues that Edward Bond, looking back at a powerful literary predecessor in his play on the aging Shakespeare, locates Shakespeare's relationship to the future in terms of familial lineage, literary afterlife, and the teleology of capitalism.  I will look at how Bond's own historical situation leads him to read the past, and especially the Shakespearean moment, in a particular way even as his investment in writing about Shakespeare, and rewriting him (Lear), reveals the contradictions of Bond's own position. 



“The Fire Next Time: Ira Aldridge, Shakespearean Warrior”

Joseph Roach, Yale University

Aldridge, the pioneering African-American actor, performed the roles of Othello and Aaron the Moor along with Behn-Southerne's Oroonoko as African-descended warriors at the precise historical moment that the threat of slave revolts peaked as a specter haunting the circum-Atlantic world. This paper will explore Aldridge's dramatic engagement with slavery and Abolition in launching his career as the first native-born American actor to become an international celebrity. 

“Casting Forward: Using Shakespeare to Reimagine the Future”

Amy Cook, Stony Brook University

How do we rehearse change? What does it take to come to see a woman as president?  When Janet McTeer entered the Delacourt Theatre as Petruchio, the bachelor hoping to “wive it wealthily in Padua” even if it means taming a shrew, the audience had to listen with different interpretive protocols. In Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female productions of Shakespeare, the characters remain the same gender even if the actors are clearly a different sex. Casting in Shakespeare functions affectively and cognitively to reimagine who can be what.


“Fearing the Future”

Benedict Robinson, Stony Brook University

According to virtually every ancient and medieval system of the passions, one of our primary modes of orientation to the future is fear. Fear was evolving, and, with it, the modes of our apprehension of futurity. This talk will investigate changing early modern cultures of fear in two ways: first, by using digital humanities methods to model large-scale patterns of language use, tracing a cultural and conceptual history of fear written into the language itself; second, by arguing that Shakespeare’s tragedies anticipate the phenomenology of objectless fear by shifting received accounts of the place of fear in tragic pathos.

“A Time for Cuckolds: On Risk & Uncertainty in Rabelais, Machiavelli and Shakespeare”

Amy Graves Monroe, University at Buffalo, SUNY

Our understanding of cuckoldry as a crisis of masculinity tells only half the story of early modern male social anxiety. In Rabelais’ Tiers livre, Machiavelli’s La Mandragola and Shakespeare’s Othello and The Winter’s Tale and Othello, cuckoldry also serves as a platform to explore foreboding. The threat of infidelity stages the worry surrounding an imminent event or an uncertain outcome, and thus translates the subject position that apprehends the future. Shakespeare’s plays of jealousy and suspicion are a philosophical consideration of pathological and desperate strategies to manage the existential fragility that comes with risk.

“Earth Dies Burning: Futurity and the Unfinished in Timon of Athens”

Drew Daniel, Johns Hopkins University

This talk tries to think two contrary temporal modes-- finitude and unfinishedness-- and to bring them into relation as way of inflecting the future anew.  Epitomized in Timon's watery grave and a world that "wears as it grows", finitude defines both personal and planetary scales of mortality, stacking ever more decisive endings upon endings.  Against closure, we find the textual state of unfinishedness in which Shakespeare and Middleton's collaborative play languishes, defining the text as an untrustworthy problem, but also as an open space for revision and potentiality and reworking that challenges the resources of readers and audiences alike.