UB conference to celebrate the relevance of Shakespeare and Cervantes

Portraits of William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes.

Release Date: October 7, 2016

“They teach us to examine, rather than assume.”
Barbara Bono, associate professor of English
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – A two-day commemoration of William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes examining their works and enduring influence will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 13-14 in the Center for the Arts Screening Room on the University at Buffalo North Campus.

“Object and Adaptation: The Worlds of Shakespeare and Cervantes, Act 3” is the final installment of a three-part conference sponsored by UB’s Humanities Institute that began in March with a discussion of the cultural, historical and literary significance of Shakespeare’s First Folio.

A Shakespeare Jubilee also will take place from 5-7 p.m. on Oct. 13 at the Central Branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square.

The Jubilee, hosted by Andrew Stott, dean of UB’s Honors College and vice provost for undergraduate education, will celebrate the unprecedented “Wedding of the Folios” held Oct. 4, which brought together all eight of Buffalo’s exceedingly rare Shakespeare Folios.

Stott is a theater historian whose forthcoming biography of David Garrick looks at the 18th-century actor and producer who turned Shakespeare into the celebrity of the British Empire.

There will be tours of the Folios and sample performance as part of the Shakespeare Jubilee.

Oct. 13-14’s“Object and Adaptation” has developed as a three-act play under the rubric “Buffalo Bard 2016: 400 Years Since Shakespeare.”

Act 1 was a visit this past spring from Emma Smith, a professor of Shakespeare studies at Hertford College, Oxford, and one of the world’s leading authorities on Shakespeare’s First Folio. Act 2 featured the University of Pennsylvania’s Roger Chartier and Peter Stallybrass, specialists in the history of the book. Act 3 is the combined conference and Jubilee that uncouples Shakespeare and Cervantes from a tradition of identification with their national cultures to look broadly at the striking relevance their works have today.

“There are certain things one needs to know about Shakespeare’s and Cervantes’ historical setting, such as how their works were written and preserved in order to understand the cultural moment in which they were conceived.  That’s the ‘object’ part of the conference,” says Barbara Bono, conference organizer and an associate professor of English at UB. “The ‘adaptation’ part is the enduring tradition – the force, the vector of these works.”

Around the world, 2016 is a tribute year marking the 400th anniversary of the deaths of these two renowned authors, iconic in the tradition of drama and poetry in the case of Shakespeare and narrative in the case of Cervantes.

The conference will feature leading scholars from around the country, including UB’s David Castillo, an expert on the Spanish Baroque, who is director of the Humanities Institute and a professor of Romance languages and literatures.

“There is a lot of generic and chronological range to our speakers,” says Bono. “We’re presenting this for non-specialists. Attendees will be astonished and enthralled by these superb and accessible scholars.”

A complete list of participants is available online. Both the conference and Jubilee are free and open to the public.

The ability of today’s digital technologies to shape perceptions and influence mass audiences is not unlike the cultural context of Shakespeare and Cervantes. That a contemporary thread runs so prominently through the conference schedule is an indication of the relevance of these authors, according to Bono and Castillo.

The early modern period (late 15th- to late 18th-century Europe) had its own “Internet” and both Shakespeare and Cervantes were profoundly aware of their day’s new media, developments that included advancements in empirical science, the mass theater, the emergence of the novel and contemporary fiction, and new perspectives in the arts.

Fueled by the invention of the printing press a century earlier, which disseminated information rapidly and in often inflammatory ways, Shakespeare and Cervantes unmoored the day’s cosmology and religious sensibilities.

They possessed a cultural dynamism that was characteristic of Europe’s early modern period. Like the telescope, their works were among the new instruments of observation that moved humanity from a closed world to an infinite universe by recognizing how the materials of religion, history and culture could alter perception and forward a particular agenda.

“This new self-consciousness that arrived was both thrilling and instrumental, but the downside was that it could be used against others as propaganda,” says Bono.

What was happening then is happening today. The propaganda wars were enabled by the emergence of new media, according to Castillo.

Today, digital technologies are the channels of observation, all of which ferry the same potential as the new media of the early modern period.

“Broadening digital technologies create a ‘reality entitlement,’” says Castillo. “There is a sense that everything is up for grabs. That we can create our own reality.”

Bono quotes Richard III from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part III, to reinforce Castillo’s point:

I can smile, and murder whiles I smile,
And cry 'Content' to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.

“With Cervantes, everything he writes can be described as experimental ways of engaging with the media of his time,” says Castillo. “But his work is also an attempt to construct critical readers or more active spectators who are resistant to manipulation.

“There is no time in history that I can identify where it’s more urgent to develop a sense of critical perspective with regards to cultural consumption,” he adds.

These two authors continue to serve as that clarifying lens.

“They teach us to examine, rather than assume,” says Bono.

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