Shakespeare Inside-out: depth / surface / meaning

10th Anniversary : 5th Biennial British Shakespeare Association Conference
24-26 February, 2012 Lancaster University

Shakespeare Inside-out: depth / surface / meaning

Shakespeare’s texts produce meaning by turning insides out. We are drawn into the plays and poems from the outside through surfaces: books, screens, words, objects, costumes, the surfaces of actors' faces and bodies, retellings or adaptations, teaching spaces and theatres, and via our experiences of immediate effects like music, laughter, tears, movement. The texts, meanwhile, turn deep human questions, emotions, subjectivities outwards by projecting them as words and performance. This conference will ask how the relationship between surface and depth operates in Shakespeare's work. How does it function in different types of performance practice from live theatre to film? In the traces of the past that have come down to us? And in our practices as teachers and critics? The conference will explore 'the deep value of surfaces’ (Shusterman), the dynamic relationship between surface and depth across a range of practices: reading, watching, editing, teaching, performing. While postmodernism's defining feature is supposedly 'the emergence of a new kind of flatness' (Fredric Jameson), early modern constructions of inwardness, or 'depth', have been the subject of some brilliant work on emotion, the body, subjectivity and psychological character. We will investigate how multi-layered surfaces offer different ways to get inside Shakespeare's texts, to access cognitive, emotional and psychological depth. We will consider how, alternatively, spectacular and brilliant surfaces may block such routes, emptying out texts / bodies / performances and reflecting only those who watch or produce them in different ways. Contemporary culture and economic recession arguably frustrate our pedagogical preferences for 'deep' rather than 'surface' learning. Proposals for panels, papers, workshops or presentations on any aspect of the topic are welcomed from across the membership of the BSA by 1 October 2011 (

Questions we might address include:

· How are emotions represented, invoked and experienced in and through Shakespeare’s texts?

· How do superficial artefacts used in performance or printing such as costume and props, illustrations, type, decorations, act as 'talismans' for different kinds of engagement with Shakespeare?

· How do rituals and ceremonies in Shakespeare work as superficial orderings of emotion and violence?

· Do Shakespeare's texts offer 'deeper' rewritings of source texts or do the inter-textual relationships themselves deserve more in-depth study than they have received to date?

· How do adaptations or retellings of Shakespeare act as gateways to and from the texts?

· Does music in Shakespearean performances add depth or is it the 'icing on the cake'?

· How much deeper can we dig behind the fairly sparse documentation of early modern theatre practices – playing and watching?

· Does learning about Shakespeare happen on an immediately-measurable level or at more intangible cognitive, affective and spiritual levels or both at once?

· Is it possible (or even desirable) to quantify what goes on as the result of a performance, a film, a teaching session