Panel 4: Secular Shakespeares

The last decade has seen a return to religion in early modern studies. A previous generation of scholarship had sublimated questions of theology and religious identification in favor of the cultural studies “holy trinity” of race, class, and gender. However New Historicist criticism began to embrace and understand Renaissance texts through the lens of Reformation theological disputation and the religious environment in which individual texts were created. Shakespeare, the most towering figure of English Renaissance writing is no exception. As a case in point Stephen Greenblatt’s popular biography of the author Will in the World spends ample time investigating the evidence for possible recusant sensibilities in that most English of writers. This panel invites papers that return to a more secular understanding of Shakespeare. How much of Shakespeare’s continued popularity is precisely because he largely avoids antiquated doctrinal concerns that occupied other playwrights? In what ways does Shakespeare both negotiate and negate the perilous dichotomy between Catholic and Protestant? How is the metaphysic engaged in his drama and verse materialistic, Epicurean, or even atheistic? Does Shakespeare mock religion, exult it, or largely ignore it? What can critics make of his avoidance of writing a biblical play while still mining English translations of scripture for rhetorical and thematic tropes? Is there any way in which it is fair to say that Shakespeare is the first of the moderns, the primogeniture of the secular human? The panel would also be considered in proposals that consider the opposite possibility, that even with a seeming lack of interest in theological disputation, how does Shakespeare inevitably seem to embrace particular theological positions? And perhaps more widely, how do we conceptualize secularism as a construct, category, and discourse in the early modern period? Is it possible to speak of any text as “secular,” or do even the most profane of works reflect and suggest some sort of theological commitment? Is secularism even possible in representation, literature, or culture? And how does Shakespeare enter into these particular questions? Special attention will be paid to abstracts which look at productions or interpretations of Shakespeare in the modern world, and the ways in which religion is side-stepped or embraced.

Please send 300-400 word abstracts by August 1st 2013 to Ed Simon of Lehigh University at [->]. This panel is planned for Shakespeare 450 commemorating the 450th anniversary of the author’s birth by the Société française Shakespeare and to be held in Paris 21-27 April 2014.