By Matthew Reisz, Times Higher Education, September 26, 2013
Matthew Reisz talks to academics who have devoted their lives to studying the Bard
In performance, Shakespeare can safely be left to look after himself. His plays deal in primal emotions and obviously have a broad appeal. Tickets for Kenneth Branagh’s recent Macbeth at the Manchester International Festival sold out in less than 10 minutes. All‑male productions, all-female productions, productions in dozens of languages from every corner of the Earth all manage to pull in the crowds, and it seems to be possible to stage some of the plays in just about any setting. So we get King Lear in a children’s playground, Henry V in Iraq or Measure for Measure in Freud’s Vienna, while Romeo and Juliet cries out to be relocated to a sectarian city such as Belfast or Beirut.
Every director and actor inevitably brings something new to a familiar text and interprets it in subtly different ways from their predecessors. Lewd or gay subtexts can be played up or played down. A character such as Shylock may be touching or terrifying, repellent or ridiculous. Petruchio and Katherina’s relationship in The Taming of the Shrew may be portrayed as abusive, slapstick or playfully flirtatious (in an S&M kind of way). And, although we know virtually nothing about the man, Shakespeare’s presence remains as solid in the theatre as in the souvenir shops of Stratford-upon-Avon.
But what about the parallel academic industry of Shakespeare studies?
In 2006, Laurie Maguire, professor of English language and literature at the University of Oxford, produced a curious book, Where There’s a Will There’s a Way, promoting Shakespeare as a “life coach” for the Sex and the City generation. Yet she also notes how many academics think it more impressive to discuss Shakespeare in terms of “epistemology and representation and semiotics and différance and liminality and cultural positions” rather than to talk at all personally about jealousy, love or loss.
Shakespeare is such a vast cultural icon in the English-speaking world that every new school of critical analysis and jargon soon gets applied to him, so we’ve had lots of Christian and Marxist Shakespeares, psychoanalytic, deconstructed and postmodern Shakespeares, and postcolonial and queer Shakespeares. At the same time, more traditional scholars continue to bring to bear Elizabethan or Jacobean social history on the plays, which can run the risk of turning Shakespeare into something antiquarian, requiring prior knowledge of the rhetorical handbooks, property law or theological disputes of his times.
All this raises two big questions. What is the relationship between historicist and “contemporary” approaches? Even more fundamentally, how much is there still left for academics to say about Shakespeare that is new, true and important?
By Stewart Patrick, The National Interest September 25, 2013
Of all the writers in the “realist” canon—from Thucydides and Hobbes to Morgenthau and Mearsheimer—it is Niccolo Machiavelli who retains the greatest capacity to shock. In 1513, banished from his beloved Florence, Machiavelli drafted his masterwork, The Prince. Five centuries later his primer on statecraft remains required if unsettling reading for practitioners and students of politics. Machiavelli’s originality—and the source of his enduring, if notorious, reputation—was his blatant rejection of traditional morality as a guide to political action, and his insistence that statecraft be based on a realistic view of corrupted human nature. Although frequently damned as an amoral cynic—author of “a handbook for gangsters”, in Bertrand Russell’s words—Machiavelli in fact occupies a more complicated ethical terrain. His central claim is that politics has a moral logic of its own, at times requiring actions to preserve the state that might be regarded as reprehensible within polite society. There are times, in other words, when conventional ethics must be set aside for the pragmatic and expedient dictates of (what would later become known as) raison d’etat or “reasons of state”.
What made the Prince so daringly modern,as R.J.B. Walker writes, is that it “undermine[d] the universalistic conventions of his [Machiavelli’s] age, whether this is framed as a distinction between morality and politics” or “between two different but equally ultimate forms of morality.” This was a jarringly secular thesis to advance in the early sixteenth century. To be sure, the Catholic Church had grown vulnerable, with the rise of powerful states competing for power and widespread disgust at Papal corruption. Within four years, Martin Luther would post his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenburg, sparking the Reformation and ultimately the fragmentation of Western Christendom. And yet it is still striking that The Prince contains no mention of natural law or of the place of man in God’s Great Chain of Being, a common point of reference in Renaissance thinking.
British Philospher A.C. Grayling lectures on Atheism, Secularism, Humanism.
Melbourne, Australia, 2010.
British philosopher A.C. Grayling surveys the origins of the ideas of individual liberties and rights that formed the modern West. Produced in collaboration with the University of Manitoba's Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, Professor Grayling speaks before an audience at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. This lecture is the first in a series of upcoming talks called Fragile Freedoms: the Global Struggle for Human Rights.
Listen to the lecture on Ideas
By Sandra Martin, Globe and Mail, September 7, 2013
From recounting the intricate details and controversies behind the peace treaty that ended the First World War, Margaret MacMillan, the award-winning historian and author of the international bestseller Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, has moved back in time to consider the origins of “the war to end wars.” Her new book, The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, will be out this fall – in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the war next August. Meanwhile, the Toronto-born historian is briefly back in Canada from her post as warden of St. Antony’s College at the University of Oxford.
Besides visiting family and friends, and picking up an honorary degree from Huron College (an affiliate of the University of Western Ontario), she is delivering a lecture next week on “How Wars Start: The Outbreak of the First World War.”
In a wide-ranging conversation with The Globe and Mail, Dr. MacMillan talks about her love of narrative history, her compulsion to bring characters from the past alive through anecdotes, her insistence on sticking to the facts and her very real worry that the tensions in Syria today echo conflicts in the Balkans a century ago – a time when, as Winston Churchill later wrote, the “terrible ifs accumulate[d],” and the world was engulfed in a devastating and total war.
Why are we still haunted by the First World War?
Because we still don’t know what to make of it. We’re still horrified by the loss, by the sense that it may have all been a mistake, by the sheer waste, and by what happened afterward. Nothing much was settled, it helped to brutalize European society, to breed ideologies like fascism and Bolshevism, to prepare the way for the horrors that came in the 1920s and 1930s and the Second World War. It’s also a war that created the modern world. It had its greatest impact on Europe, of course, but it shaped Canada and Australia, helped to speed the rise of the United States to superpower status, and redrew the map of much of the world. It was a watershed that remains one of the greatest historical puzzles.
Review by Richard Davenport-Hines
New Statesman, August 22, 2013
The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution
By Claire Langhamer, Oxford University Press
"I want a fur coat and a villa and a cat": The art and agony of the English marriage
Using details from the huge Mass Observations archive at Sussex University, a new book "The English in Love" charts the changing meaning and reality of marriage since 1945.
Claire Langhamer, a trustee of the Mass Observation Archive at Sussex University and a lecturer there, has written a wise and important book that deserves the attention of policymakers and opinion-formers as well as historians. Relying on the prodigious data on everyday life and feelings collected by Mass Observation researchers since 1937 but also drawing on other sources, she has scrutinised the ways in which the Second World War wrought lasting changes in English expectations of marriage, evaluations of domesticity, quests for individual fulfilment and marital stability. Her focus is on the intimacies of everyday life from the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s but her book has a thunderous resonance for the 21st century. It is the best sort of history, which makes intelligible the problems of our time and gives a subtle lesson in past and present mistakes.
Langhamer presents the 1940s and 1950s as a watershed in emotional intimacy, sexual conduct and gender relations among the English working and middling classes (she writes little about the upper-middle class or higher social altitudes). It was mid-century idealisations of love and new notions about personal fulfilment, rather than a later proliferation of sexual activity, that caused the most far-reaching social changes. She views the 1960s not as the “permissive” decade of journalistic cliché but as “a golden age of romance”, when youth culture was permeated with the peer pressure to marry young. New ideas about matrimony, with their investment in “romantic love”, “sexual satisfaction” and “emotional growth”, invited disillusion and proved to be an unsteady basis for lifelong commitment. “A matrimonial model based upon the transformative power of love carried within it the seeds of its own destruction,” Langhamer argues. “The end-of-century decline of lifelong marriage was rooted in the contradictions, tensions and illogicalities that lay at the heart of midcentury intimacy.”
Change was already under way in the 1930s. “A lot of girls,” the Daily Mirror’s agony aunt warned on St Valentine’s Day in 1938, “think that marriage is going to be sentiment and romance and a perpetual petting party, and that they will live in a state of thrills. They are disgruntled and disappointedwhen they find that marriage is work, responsibility, doing their duty and being taken for granted.” Yet a surprising number of men were romantics who believed in “love at first sight” and had sweet dreams of domestic bliss. People married in haste during the Second World War. They were impelled by “the war and the excitement and the Blitz – feeling you might be gone tomorrow”, as one Mass Observation respondent said. “He was going abroad and I wanted him to know that he’d have someone to come back to,” explained a war bride. For those who had survived hardships and peril, “love and marriage” symbolised postwar hopes for a social order that would be more stable, fair and protective than that of the past. In the late 1940s, private emotional intimacies seemed to promise to bind people together and to change society as much as the National Health Service.
But in the 15 years after the war, national service, rising prosperity, new workplace habits and diversified recreations destabilised the old courtship practices more lastingly than wartime dislocation. “The willingness to marry for love above all else was strongly linked to economic security,” Langhamer reports. Young people’s rising incomes eroded the need for long courtships. Men who had been called up for national service were enabled – if not induced – to marry by the “family allowances” that the state paid to them. A young national serviceman could afford to marry. His wife would live with her parents for the two years that he was conscripted; she would work full-time and her savings, as well as his pay, would enable them to set up home or buy a house once he was released.
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