CALL FOR PAPERS: Shakespeare’s Unsung Heroes and Heroines

Shakespeare Seminar at the Annual Conference of the German Shakespeare Society

Berlin, 23-26 April 2015

Without Paulina and Antigonus there would be no reunion, however tainted, between Leontes and Hermione, and there would be no union of Perdita and Florizel in The Winter’s Tale. In a sense, then, Paulina and Antigonus are the unsung heroine and hero of the play. Undoubtedly, Antigonus’ exit pursued by a bear is not typical of a tragic hero. Taking Antigonus melodramatic exit as an example, Sir Walter Raleigh, then Professor of English Literature at Oxford, famously complained in 1907 that Shakespeare disposed of his minor characters “in the most unprincipled and reckless fashion.”

In this seminar we would like to explore heroic qualities in Shakespeare’s ‘minor’ characters, and thus equally revisit preconceived notions about the status of these minor characters as well as traditional concepts of the (tragic) hero. What did Shakespeare’s contemporaries make, for example, of Enobarbus deserting Antony and then dying of grief when confronted with Antony’s generosity and Octavius’ cynicism? Was Enobarbus a tragic hero in the eyes of contemporary audiences of Antony and Cleopatra? Do we see him as a tragic hero? What about the minor female characters? Are Ophelia and Lady Anne, for instance, the tragic heroines of Hamlet and Richard III? Considering heroic qualities in Shakespeare’s minor characters can help bring into focus changing attitudes to heroism and hero worship. At the same time, this perspective also allows for probing into more fundamental dramatic and literary conventions: how ‘minor’ are minor characters in Shakespeare’s plays? Does poetic justice only appertain to the great? Which concepts of heroism can we use to take account of marginal characters in the comedies and romances? Which role do categories such as gender and race play in our / the early modern conception of what is ‘heroic’? Which methods (genre theory, network theory, New Historicism) are productive tools to analyse Shakespeare’s minor characters? How have theatrical and filmic adaptations dealt with Shakespeare’s unsung heroes and heroines?

Our seminar plans to address these and related questions with a panel of six papers during the annual conference of the German Shakespeare Association, Shakespeare-Tage (23-26 April 2015 in Berlin), which will focus on “Shakespeare’s Heroes and Heroines.” As critical input for the discussion and provocation for debate, panellists are invited to give short statements on the basis of pre-circulated papers presenting concrete case studies, concise examples and strong views on the topic. Please send your proposals (abstracts of 300 words) and all further questions by 30 November 2014 to the seminar convenors:

Felix Sprang, Humboldt University, Berlin:
Christina Wald, University of Konstanz:

See also: