"Who Owns Shakespeare?" roundtable accepted for MLA 2022
27 May 2021 at 8:53 pm #1027259
I encourage you all to share in this admittedly very annoying space (curse you, “Gateway 504 Error”!) any Shax-related MLA sessions for 2022 in which you’re involved. I’m starting us off — the roundtable I proposed for the LLC, “Who Owns Shakespeare?” has been accepted and I link below to the abstracts for the panelists’ “lightning presentations” and the questions we hope to discuss.This topic was also posted in: CLCS Renaissance and Early Modern.30 May 2021 at 11:47 am #1027270
I don’t know what it means, in general, for literary studies–or scholars–if Shakespeare can be “deprioritized,” sold at market by an institution of higher education. Which is to say that Mills College’s decision may not have wide applicability. As I am sure we all know, many– most?–women’s colleges became co-ed around 1970, as many elite private institutions integrated and as women opted to study at institutions from which they had been excluded. Some women’s colleges did not; Mills did not; and I assume, though I may be wrong, that its financial situation has been shaky for a long time. Several decades later, selling the Folio may have been one of its better options to keep the doors open for its current students. Do we know who bought that Folio?30 May 2021 at 7:10 pm #1027271
The message DID come through here, Sharon, despite the “Gateway 504 Error” you emailed me about (I always get one of those when I try to upload anything or do anything on this site, but I think/hope “they” are working on it).
Speaking as myself here and not as Secretary —
I don’t know the details of the Mills College Folio…but the larger issue is what subjects institutions feel that we “need” to teach (cf. the recent kerfuffle about getting rid of Classics at Howard University). Shax has always had a somewhat protected status, no? But now many of us are finding that our colleagues, depts., and institutions are ready — in some cases eager — no longer to support what we (no longer) call “the Renaissance,” no matter how globally we frame our topic, no matter whether or not we work on early mod critical race/gender/queer/disability studies or whether we pursue antiquarian-style old historicism or whether we teach adaptations and film or frame our courses as writing-intensive or whatever. For example: when I got to UGA twenty-three years ago, there were TEN early modernists on the faculty in English; next year, with a colleague on leave, I will be the only one. We have no permanent faculty in 18thc. British. Early Brit Lit has gone from being something in which the institution invested to being, as Marshelle says in her abstract, “deprioritized”; the Folio’s a metaphor for the larger issue — something that institutions used to value and consider integral to a liberal arts education is no longer seen as necessary. (I’ll also add that it’s entirely possible that this reframing is correct…though I would never/could never make such an argument when I myself am very invested in being “a Shakespearean.” Rather, I think we are living in a forced, bad-faith environment of scarcity. There is plenty of work and even plenty of money; it’s just not distributed ethically – or efficiently, for that matter.)
What are Shakespeareans doing to demonstrate our value to the institution and to the culture at large, or do we as a group feel that this cultural shift is necessary (are we “canceling” Shakespeare? 😉 )
Whereas years ago Ivo Kamps could write Shakespeare Left and Right about how Shax was deployed to support BOTH right- and left-wing political movements, often somewhat speciously, are we now in a situation where both left- and right-wing are united in finding Shax un-necessary?
Have we talked ourselves and reframed ourselves and reindigenized ourselves and globalized ourselves and adapted/appropriated ourselves into nonexistence?
Those are the sorts of issues I imagine/hope Marshelle’s contribution will bring out in the in-person roundtable with the audience!31 May 2021 at 12:21 pm #1027272
Sujata, thank you for these crucial and forthright questions! Here are my answers or comments, since I know I won’t be at MLA. 🙂
Re: “the Folio’s a metaphor for the larger issue — something that institutions used to value and consider integral to a liberal arts education is no longer seen as necessary.” Yes, and didn’t John Guillory make this argument in 1996, in Cultural Cap? We have been slow to recognize the significance of our colleague’s argument.
Re: “What are Shakespeareans doing to demonstrate our value to the institution and to the culture at large, or do we as a group feel that this cultural shift is necessary (are we “canceling” Shakespeare? 😉 ).” I think we are doing very little to demonstrate our value to our institutions and the public for several reasons, e.g., an inability to organize, but mainly I think, because yes, a lot of us as a group–in particular elites in the profession–have for decades believed this cultural shift was necessary even if it resulted in canceling or de-prioritizing Shakespeare, although as we know those who plumped for those changes–eliminating requirements–publicly insisted such moves would not affect enrollments. (Or as you suggest, Sujata, the sizes of faculty. Like UGA’s, Alabama’s faculty in early lit has shrunk. Down to one Medievalist and without the Strode Program, the Early Modernists would be too. (See my “Who Did Kill Shakespeare;?” in Shax and the 99%.) We de-prioritized Shakespeare and ourselves, or perhaps more accurately our graduate students. For the greater good! cf your comment, “I’ll also add that it’s entirely possible that this reframing is correct…though I would never/could never make such an argument when I myself am very invested in being ‘a Shakespearean’.”
Re: “Whereas years ago Ivo Kamps could write Shakespeare Left and Right about how Shax was deployed to support BOTH right- and left-wing political movements, often somewhat speciously, are we now in a situation where both left- and right-wing are united in finding Shax un-necessary?” Yes, I think we are now in that situation, and I make this suggestion (including an assessment of those turbulent times in the profession during the late 1980s and early 1990s that resulted in Shakespeare Left and Right) in my forthcoming “Sea Changes: Civil Unrest in Shakespeare Studies and Beyond” in a volume edited by Mark Bayer and Joe Navitsky, Shakespeare and Civil Unrest in Britain and the United States.
Re: “Have we talked ourselves and reframed ourselves and reindigenized ourselves and globalized ourselves and adapted/appropriated ourselves into nonexistence?” Yes, or darn close to it.
But here are additional questions: what happens once the high schools follow our lead and no longer teach Shax? Can Shakespeare survive if the work is not taught in secondary and tertiary educational institutions? Would this in fact be Public Shakespeare, or rather the Public’s Shakespeare? Oh and one more, why are we still producing PhDs in early literature?
Thank you, Sujata, you are moving the conversation and asking us to be honest with ourselves! Not many of us do that.
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