Conferences & Seminars

A Three-Day Event of Great Academic Merit

Payal Nagpal

The Shakespeare Association organized a UGC-sponsored three-day International Seminar onSubalterns in Shakespeare: A Postcolonial Scrutiny from September 22-24, 2011 at St. Bede’s College, Shimla. The event attracted a large number of reputed and young scholars from India and abroad. Notable among these were Paige Newmark from Australia and Rahul Sapra from Canada. Bhim S. Dahiya, President of the Shakespeare Associaition, gave the key-note address in which he highlighted the vision of Shakespeare as keenly reflecting sympathy and concern for the subalterns. Important papers in the Conference were also presented by well-known Shakespeare scholars and keen analysts such as R.W. Desai, Pankaj K. Singh, Anu Shukla, Girija Sharma, N.G. Mukherjee, Seema Malik, Angshuman Kar, Swati Ganguly, Ram Niwas and Subhajit Sen Gupta, to name a few.

The inaugural session was chaired by R.W.Desai and the address was delivered by Paige Newmark who set the stage for an intensive and thought-provoking debate on the central theme. Newmark showed vital connections between dramatic theory and practice so relevant to the study of Shakespeare, and raised the issue of theatre lending to the practice of performance. He also cautioned the audience about imposition of theory on the plays of Shakespeare.

In the key-note address, Bhim S. Dahiya problematised the ‘subaltern’ by tracing it to Gramsci’s use of the term. He pointed out limitations of later theorists such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak who distorted the idea and turned it into a mere academic exercise. On his part, Dahiya cited the presence of the subalterns and their function in Shakespeare’s plays such as Merchant of Venice, King John,Henry IV and Coriolanus, and questioned later post-colonial approaches that were devoid of historical relevance and meaning.

This was followed by the release of two books on Shakespeare – Shakespeare’s Speculum: Essays on Social Issues and Scholars in Shakespeare: A Postmodern Scrutiny, both publications of the Shakespeare Association. On this occasion, the new number of the Association’s bi-annual journal,The Journal of Drama Studies (July 2011), was also released.

The second session of the morning began with presentation of paper by Anand Prakash. He drew attention to characters such as Falstaff, Quickly and many others in Henry Fourth Part II and Julius Caesar and iterated that these suffer ignominy and marginalization. Swati Ganguly in the next paper dwelt on the Jack Cade rebellion in I Henry VI and focused on the discontent among peasants and artisans coupled with pauperization. Payal Nagpal offered in her paper a view of the subalterns in I andII Henry IV and Macbeth. Her paper had comment on how Falstaff and the witches grapple with the determining forces around them and in the process present an alternative view to the overpowering social structure. Seema Malik presented the flip side of subalternity in The Merchant of Venice and explored the anti-semitic charges against Shakespeare through a careful analysis of Shylock’s character.

Among a good number of notable papers read in the parallel sessions on the first day was the one by Loveleen. She offered important insights into Shakespeare’s comedies from the point of view of the subalterns. The day ended with a cultural ensemble put together by the students of St. Bede’s College with folk dances from various parts of India. The programme earned wide applause.

Day 2 of the Conference began with papers by Paige Newmark and R.W. Desai. Anand Prakash as the chairperson opened the session with remarks on papers of the previous day and a short elaboration of the theme of the subaltern. Paige Newmark’s paper looked at the changing cartographies in Richard II. He looked at how the map was both a signifier of the crown and the area controlled by it as also its fragmentation into different parts that would be parceled out to the new claimants. The emerging contours projected a complex picture. This was a reflection of the socio-historical changes in Elizabethan England.

R.W. Desai’s presentation in this session was on Iago as the aggrieved subaltern, an interesting aspect of the play Othello. He provided details of the salaries paid to petty officials in the play that created general discontent. In Desai’s view, incomes occasioning discontent in Iago as against the high income and low sexuality of Othello were factors difficult to miss.

In the next session, Girija Sharma presented shifting perspectives of Shakespeare’s subalterns in The Merchant of Venice, Othello and The Tempest. She expounded how contrary to the claims of certain critics, Shakespeare was actually sympathetic to the pain of the subalterns which translated into compassion for them. Pankaj K. Singh drew attention to the subaltern characters in Twelfth Nightand looked at Maria not as the ‘mute subaltern’ but an articulate, witty and intelligent gentlewoman waiting on Olivia.

Meenakshi F. Paul’s paper on the mad voices of sanity in King Lear and Macbeth discussed the alternative discourse that was not heard by the mainstream observer. She considered how the ‘old order changeth’ as the subalterns speak in a powerful voice. Ram Niwas examined the feminist possibilities presented in The Winter’s Tale, and identified the ways in which the women in the play resisted the hegemonic discourse of its time. Subhajit Sengupta presented the festive practice and the Thesean aesthetic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The afternoon parallel sessions had some highly perceptively analyses on offer. Richa Bajaj’s discussion of the subalterns in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra focused on the dialectical relationship between the subalterns and the state. Ishita Sinha explored the context of the changeling inA Midsummer Night’s Dream. For her, the changeling was the subaltern who had no voice but only a description.

Day 2 wound up significantly with a film on Shakespeare’s Hamlet produced and directed by R.W.Desai. The film was followed by a discussion.

The final day saw a presentation by Rahul Sapra on the film adaptations of Macbeth andOthello—Maqbool and Omkara. This was followed by an interesting presentation by Angshuman Kar on the porter scene in Macbeth. He re-read the scene by pitting the farmer, equivocator and tailor against the socio-political dynamics of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Dr. N.G.Mukherjee explored the rejection of femininity in Macbeth and the women as subalterns in the play. Dr. Raj Kumar in his discussion of The Tempest saw the connections between Caliban in the world of Shakespeare and the dalits in India. Prof. Anu Shukla presented a paper on the porter scene inMacbeth and the way in which it was an articulation of the subaltern group in the play.

In all, more than a hundred papers were presented in the Conference that around 200 college teachers and scholars attended. The points raised in the papers echoed beyond the formal sessions. Participants had come from far off places of the country – Kangra, Kashmir, Bankura, Shantiniketan, Bangalore, Sujanpur and Pune, for instance – to converge on Shimla.

The sessions generated fresh interest in Shakespeare who was viewed as a writer of the ordinary masses, a view not finding favour with the academic elites of the world. Established centres of knowledge across the world may note something different that found emphasis in the Conference.

(Payal Nagpal teached English Literature in Delhi University)

International Conference on Shakespeare 2010: An Event to Remember

Anand Prakash

Shakespeare was analysed and commented upon for three days in an international conference that took place in Chandigarh, India recently. The event was organised by The Shakespeare Association in collaboration with MCM Girls’ College Chandigarh and British Council, India. It had five general sessions on Shakespeare and eight parallel sessions that were specifically devoted to close readings of the Bard’s individual texts. The way interpretive forays unfolded and timely issues cropped up during the event became an example for contemporary scholars and researchers to emulate. The ‘big happening’ (it was described this way by the local press) drew attention for its focused discussions and analyses.

In this International Conference, scholars from England, Australia and Norway, in addition to the ones who travelled from far away cities in India participated. The main aspect of The Shakespeare Association’s conference, second in the technical sense and fourth virtually in the series, was devoted to a lesser known though extremely important area – ‘Scholars in Shakespeare’. The Shakespeare Association had insisted that those characters in Shakespeare’s plays were to be primarily dealt with who thought and reflected, keeping themselves away from what was considered the world of action.

The concept of ‘scholars in Shakespeare’ was aptly defined by Bhim S. Dahiya in his keynote address thus: “All types of characters who are men of knowledge in one field or another, given to reading or writing, showing wit or imagination, would qualify to be called scholars in the broad sense of the term” and that presenting “a variety of poets and philosophers, lovers and lawyers, orators and theoreticians, the plays of Shakespeare invariably proceed through juxtaposition of contraries, such as knowledge and power, and produce law and license”. This laid the net wide for participants to come with new insights into Shakespeare’s projections of character and circumstance in his works.

Under this overall perspective, Stuart Sillars and R. W. Desai presented papers titled ‘Shakespeare and the Ambiguities of Knowledge’ and ‘From Scholasticism to Humanism inLove’s Labour’s Lost, As You Like it, and Hamlet’ respectively in the session following the inaugural event. According to Sillars, the dimension of stage performance brought into focus the world of gestures that linked modern audiences with actors and viewers of Shakespeare’s own time. With no particular text in mind, Sillars moved from one play to another in search of what he called “the larger nature and value of learning.” Desai’s paper was more earth-bound, so to say; in it he offered a close analysis of Love’s Labour’s Lost and brought to bear the play’s argument on conditions present in contemporary India. At the same time, Desai talked about some “extra-terrestrial events that occur in the Romances and in Hamlet [and that] they defy logic and reason.”

In the second session of the day, Swati Ganguly and S. L. Paul read their papers. These interpreted subtle areas of culture and were marked by wide reading. Both papers also generated discussion.

The third part of the programme belonged to parallel sessions, five in number, in which19 young as well as senior scholars presented their papers. Among them, arguments of Mridula Sharma, Hema Dahiya, Monika Sethi and Bindu Sharma earned praise for the sharp points they raised concerning various discourses in Shakespeare. Interaction between paper readers and the audience broadened the scope of discussion still further.

In the next day’s parallel sessions, again five, young scholars such as Payal Nagpal, Pratibha, Parneet Jaggi and Anupama Vohra left a distinct mark on the listeners by problematising characters and the values they stood for. Overall, one could see in these parallel sessions a great deal of critical questioning. If one achievement of the conference had to be named, it was the engagement of these women’s scholars in parallel sessions that in fact spoke of Shakespeare’s true relevance in our times.

R. S. White’s paper on the following day was outstanding on two counts. Titled ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’: Shakespeare’s Scholars as Postmodernists’, the paper brought out “the world of education” that projected language in terms of a communicative venture. At the same time, the argument dwelt on what White called “humanist educational precepts.” This latter went well with Lisa Hopkins’ thesis (in ‘Prospero v Faustus’) that Tempest comes across as play that has a linkage with the past and the future even as it is strongly rooted in the present. The argument of both papers was historicist and it earned deep appreciation. Likewise, Anand Prakash argued (in ‘Scholars These and More: A View of John of Gaunt, Corin, Arragon, Kate’) that Shakespeare’s “minor” characters “are in fact elucidatory symbols of specific human stances,” and that without their inputs, society of the period would lose out on cultural health and well-being. Senior English academics Anu Shukla, Girija Sharma, S. P. S. Dahiya, Prashant Sinha and S. Sengupta presented papers marked by wide reading. They offered fresh insights into a domain that had remained largely untouched so far.

The conference was attended by more than a hundred scholars and intersected dimensions of theme, drama as performance, early modern aesthetic of rationality as well as antagonistic perspectives. In all, close to forty papers were presented.

The Shakespeare Association also made a significant entry in publication by releasing two books on this occasion: 1) Bhim S. Dahiya’s Shakespeare: A New Biography; and 2) the volume of essays The Critic Shakespeare edited by Anand Prakash. The conference also saw the release of Special Number on Shakespeare of the Journal of Drama Studies that The Shakespeare Association brings out on a regular basis.

The event was widely covered by the press and the message of Shakespeare as a voice of sanity and positive outlook in our troubled times reached all corners of the subcontinent (Kolkata, Hyderabad, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh) through its participants who carried with them memories of debate, interaction and collective endeavour, not to mention the warm hospitality that the staff of MCM College, Chandigarh provided. The team of college organisers led by Manju Singh, Mridula Sharma and Harpreet Gill did an excellent job running the event smoothly from start to finish. Enthusiastic response of young scholars, mostly women, as earnest learners and teachers simultaneously was particularly noticeable.

International Seminar on “Shakespeare as Critic: Literary, Social, Political,” 8-10 October, M.D. University Rohtak, India

Three days, October 8, 9 and 10 were important in the educational calendar of Maharishi Dayanand University (MDU), Rohtak where the First International Conference on “Shakespeare as Critic in His Time and Ours: Literary, Social and Political” organised by the University’s Department of English and Foreign Languages in collaboration with The Shakespeare Association was held. The event was attended by a wide spectrum of scholars from different parts of the world, namely UK, Australia and Japan apart from India, which had representation from states such as Andhra Pradesh, Arunanchal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Gujrat, J&K, Karnataka, MP, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Orissa, Punjab, UP and Uttarakhand, in addition to almost every city and town in Haryana. The number of participants exceeded the 200 mark and delegates who read papers were more than 75. Bhim S Dahiya gave the keynote address. Scholars of eminence who presented papers in the main sessions included Kate McLusky, Lisa Hopkins, RS White and Philip Zitowitz from outside India and RW Desai, Prashant Sinha, Anu Shukla, Shalini Sikka, Ram Niwas, GK Das and Anand Prakash from India. A notable presence was of Ram Pal from J &K. Among those who spoke in the parallel sessions, Monika Sethi, Umed Singh, Ashima Ranjan Parhi, Hema Dahiya and Pankaj Sharma impressed with their understanding of the works of the bard. The occasion also happened to be the inaugural programme of ‘The Shakespeare Association’ constituted early this year with its headquarter in Kurukshetra, Haryana. The Association has plans to make Shakespeare accessible to wider readership in India and promote the cause of drama studies in India and abroad. ‘Shakespeare as a critic’ being the theme of the conference, much light was shed on this great writer’s role as an artist of social criticism and humanist vision during his time. All along his career, Shakespeare stood in opposition to the irrational prejudices and faith-centered practices of his day. No wonder, he enjoyed great appreciation and support from his contemporaries. But, the future gave him the kind of approval, love and admiration no other writer in the world has ever received. In India, too, particularly during the National Movement, Shakespeare became a carrier of enlightened thought and positive values and his works were translated in a large number of Indian languages. In his keynote address, Bhim S Dahiya noted the presence of historical perspective in Shakespeare under which the issues of Elizabethan England were examined with utmost objectivity and courage. Kate McLusky underscored changing responses to Shakespeare in the last four centuries and the contemporary issue of the market taking over all that is valuable in our surroundings. How do we interpret this problem and what has to be our priority in literature? She posed this question and expected the assembled scholars to ponder over it. Lisa Hopkins took up the aspect of spirituality and religion in Shakespeare who worked out an assertion of the former while giving serious consideration to the difficulties that religion in its institutional form put forth. RW Desai, on the other hand went deep into the text of ‘Hamlet’ to assess worth of the play within the play. RS White investigated Shakespeare’s approach to the question of taming ‘shrews’ who challenged domination by males over the period since Shakespeare. His essay contained important information about the question in different plays and films, particularly those that manipulated characters and situations in Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ to meet pressures of a different age and day. Most of the papers by Indian scholars analysed Shakespeare’s individual plays and identified in them areas that were closer to the issues faced by India’s ordinary masses: women, the underprivileged, communities and ethnic groups. Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ was a reference of many papers. It was realised, however, that attempts by western scholars to grasp Shakespeare were marked by aesthetic bias whereas Indian scholars linked Shakespeare’s works to particular circumstances impinging upon the psyche of the third world. This distinct division was noticeable throughout the conference. Delegates remained ever curious to know and understand life in Haryana. One opportunity came their way in the form of the cultural evening that the University’s English Department organised on October 9 near the Faculty House. The high point of this programme was the staging of Shakespeare’s famous play ‘Macbeth’. This well-directed dramatic venture proved that the youth in MDU had tremendous talent as well as vigour. Another important part of the cultural evening related to Haryana’s folk dances and songs that the students presented. The three-day conference organised by MDU in which the teaching faculty of the English Department led by SPS Dahiya and Asha Kadyan as also RP Hooda, VC, were deeply involved was a great success. Together they were able to set an example that other universities could emulate.

Text courtesy: SPK Plus, The Times of India

400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

On the national level, a one-day seminar to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s sonnets, published in 1609, was organized in February 2010 at Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra. The main speakers included R.W. Desai, Bhim S. Dahiya, Anand Prakash, and Hema Dahiya. Dr. K.K. Rishi recited the Urdu translation of 3 sonnets of Shakespeare, with the recitation in original English by Hema Dahiya.

201st Birth Anniversary of Henry Derozio

In May 2010, to commemorate the 201st Birth Anniversary of Henry Derozio, the first Indian English poet and the first Shakespeare teacher at Hindu College, Calcutta, a two-day seminar was organized on ‘The Bengal Renaissance and The Indian English Writing’ in collaboration with D.A.V. College for Girls in Yamuna Nagar. The main speakers included Gautam Chakarvarti, R.W. Desai, Bhim S. Dahiya, Anand Prakash, Seema Malik, Tajinder Kaur, Rajul Bhargav, Dr. R.K. Rishi recited in Urdu translations, with English version recited by Hema Dahiya, three poems of Henry Derozio

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