Shakespeare-Tage 2011 in Weimar

Shakespeare’s Shipwrecks: Theatres of Maritime Adventure

The 2011 spring conference of the German Shakespeare Society, organised in association with the European Shakespeare Research Association (ESRA), will take place 28 April – 1 May 2011 in Weimar (Germany).

Shakespearean theatre and drama show a world of maritime experience. Born from an early modern culture of wide-ranging sea adventures, vibrant with the great excitements of con­temporary voyaging, reaching out into the worlds of Mediterranean and transatlantic sea­faring, Shakespeare’s works engage with oceanic spaces as a natural sphere of promise, peril, and temptation. As land-bound creatures, humans generally venture out across the sea in clear defiance of their given place. This is why, according to Lucretius and other ancient thinkers, voyaging is a form of transgression, a primary act of cultural invention which seeks to go beyond the limits imposed on us by Providence so as to venture towards self-determin­ation. Shipwreck is part of this wager, a necessary figure of the risks incurred through all such efforts to shape and forge the future. Between a providential view of catastrophe and the devastations of unaccountable contingencies, Shakespeare’s work pursues a course that steers his characters across spaces of elementary risk which they may never escape.

‘European Shakespeare’ promotes an approach to this phenomenon which comple­ments the critical per­spective from the Stratford side of the Channel with a Continental one. It thus has the sea inscribed in its very definition: as the most obvious and the most basic boundary between Britain and abroad, the sea inevitably crops up when it comes to distinguishing things British from other things, from things elsewhere. In such binary distinctions, the sea tends to be no more than a blank space, the nonentity between two geographical entities. But this radically understates its significance in the cultural and political imagination. According to the song, it is, after all, specifically the waves Britannia is sup­posed to rule. And it was the waves that fought England’s most important battle in Shake­speare’s lifetime: the battle against the Spanish Armada, which secured the geopolitical insularity that was to define the British position vis-à-vis continental Europe for centuries to come. Having explored the cultural landscapes of Europe at previous conferences of the European Shakespeare Research Association, we now turn to the Continent’s rich and varied seascapes. Shakespeare’s works do not regard the sea as an amorphous collective singular, but as a plural of very different maritime spaces and topoi – from the old mare nos­trum, the Mediterranean, to the Channel and the Irish Sea, to the Western ocean beyond the Pillars of Hercules. The sea is quite obviously a prime medium and a major challenge for the go-betweens who brought about cultural exchange in Renaissance Europe. But the maritime focus is also pertinent when it comes to the later sea-changes that Shakespeare has undergone and is undergoing through various modes of appropriation, translation, and stage production.

s.a. Artikel von Hubert Spiegel in der FAZ vom 10. Mai 2011: "Sich waffnend gegen eine See von Plagen"