Conference summary

Text in Venice

The 13th BVSN meeting took place in Venice 14-16 November 2018.

Hosted by the Ca’Foscari University of Venice, with Shaul Bassi and Laura Tosi, the 2018 Bergen-Volda Shakespeare Network conference revolved around the topic of Shakespeare and Seeing. Attendees were invited to consider the way in which Shakespeare and his contemporaries saw the world and their past, as well as how we as readers, audiences and critics see Shakespeare and his world.

In Venice’s late autumnal brilliance, we heard papers on a rich variety of topics. Fernando Cioni opened up procedings with a review and discussion of the various ways in which the city of Venice has been depicted in performances and illustrations to Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. After this, Svenn-Arve Myklebost spoke about congitive science and the visual representation of vertigo in the manga version of King Lear. Finally, Shaul Bassi and Alan del Piccolo presented the tentatively titled Shylock Encylopaedia, which promises to be a different but useful resource for scholars and students of Shakespeare, and especially of Merchant. We shall publish a link to it here when it is ready for public use.

Kent Cartwright opened day two by discussing the role of forgiveness in Shakespearean comedy, as a taster of his very interesting current work on Shakespeare’s comedies. Moving from comedy to death and decay, Helen Cooper spoke of how food for worms can be food for thought, while Farah Karim-Cooper spoke of how death was represented on the Renaissance stage. Both papers looked among much else, to Hamlet.

In the next session, Timothy Saunders spoke of the classical (Virigilan) spectacles with which we can see Prospero, and the spectacles he arranges in The Tempest, while Charles Moseley spoke of rumour and the multitude of connections that stem from this allegorical figure all the way up to our times and its “fake news”.

After lunch, Perry Macpartland investigated the investment into the strange made by audiences who engage with the “art” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finally, Anni Haahr Henriksen explored the private mind and the “occulted” in Hamlet.

On the last day, Christa Jansohn spoke of the wide range of interesting linguistic problems that stem from attempting to translate the title of The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice into German. The last paper, by Anthony Johnson, managed to be a fascinating account and discussion of the Cambridge play Lingua: or the Combat of the Tongue by Thomas Tomkis, while simultaneously referring back to nearly all of the papers that had come before it.

Every paper was followed by stimulating discussions, which – as per tradition – continued into our lunches and dinners. At the very end of the proceedings we discussed the potential venue for the 2019 meeting, more about which in the next blog post.


New articles


A special issue of the Nordic Journal of English Studies on visual poetics opens with two articles by BVSN members. Anthony Johnson has contributed an account of the intricacies of visual theatrical representation in the works of Ben Jonson, with a special focus on their urbane and urban qualities as images of the city. Meanwhile, the undersigned has submitted an article on the underlying esoteric properties of the visual aspects of Shakespeare’s plays, Act 1, Scene 3 of Julius Caesar being a case in point.

We are interested in reporting on new publications by network members. Do feel free to direct our attention to them when they appear. Please, write to


New issue of EMCO

A new issue of EMCO, featuring three articles and three reviews, is now online.

EMCO (Early Modern Culture Online) has gone through many changes lately. In fact, its history is becoming increasingly complex, so I will take this opportunity to untangle some knots.

The current issue is number 4, which in our version of numerical order comes after 5 and 6. The main reason this happened is that two Calls for Papers went out in quick succession, one for a regular issue and one for a special issue on early modern visual-verbal rhetoric. The latter came together fairly quickly and another special issue appeared in quick succession (by the standards of academic publishing). Issue 4, meanwhile, languished in limbo while the journal was moved from servers at the University of Agder to the University of Bergen and a number of other changes took place behind the scenes. We are very happy to have launched the first issue on the new servers and finally to have completed issue number 4.

That being said, we have not in fact completed issue number 4 yet. We need to clarify the terminology. Hitherto, the terms issue and volume have been used interchangeably. Each volume has contained one issue, and there has never been more than one volume/issue per calendar year. From now on, every calendar year is equal to one volume, and each volume may – and should – contain several issues. This means that volume 4 (2018) is still ongoing and that more issues will be published before the end of the year. It also means that we are always on the lookout for more articles and more book reviews. We do not need to have accumulated a certain number of articles and reviews before moving ahead with the production of an issue, and this means we can publish at a quicker rate.

We are also on the lookout for peer reviewers. If you think you could contribute (as author, reader, reviewer), please visit the EMCO pages and register with your name, email address and affiliation. You may also contact the editor via email, if you have questions or need help with the registration process.

Finally, I should say something about the looks of the EMCO site. It is based on version 2 of something called Open Journal Systems, a version which by now is outmoded. It does not support so-called responsive web design, which means that it looks odd on very small or very large screens. If all goes to plan, OJS will be updated to version 3 over the summer, affording us the chance to polish up the appearance of the site, making for a prettier surface and a friendlier user experience. Until then, you might want to use the zoom function in your web browser (usually CTRL and the plus/minus keys) when reading the articles.

Conference summary

Cambridge 2017

The 12th annual BVSN conference took place in Cambridge, September 2017. Helen Cooper (Magdalene College) was our gracious host this year.

Many of the 15 delegates met on the evening of September 26th for a pleasant wine reception at Professor Cooper’s rooms at Magdalene. The conference proper began on the morning of Wednesday the 27th, in the swish and modern rooms at Cripps Court.


The theme on this occasion was “Strange Shakespeare”. Even though historians tend to call the period in question the “Early Modern,” thereby implying continuity and commonality with our own times, this label fails to acknowledge the significant differences that exist between then and now. Some of these differences are known, but perhaps difficult to grasp; others are hidden behind seemingly relatable and recognisable forms and words: transhistorical “false friends”. The fact is that when we look more closely at the Jacobethan period and its literature, we often discover that these things are more foreign than we sometimes think.

Delegates were encouraged to see past their long-standing familiarity with the field (which is not to suggest that this would be a new experience for anyone!), and consider what this strangeness might mean for our reception of works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Performance, cultural codes, gender relations, religion, imitation and adaptation, and general epistemology; all of these things are interesting from the point of view of the strange, the different or the downright weird.

Day 1

Stuart Sillars started us off by reviewing the eccentricities of Shakespeare’s language, deftly reminding us of how unusual his images, phrases, allusions and word choices could be, and how patterns of strangeness seem to form throughout the canon.

Second, John Wilhelm Flattun discoursed on the weird and wonderful medieval and renaissance iconography of dragons, including how they were viewed and what they were used for in political rhetoric, as symbols of power and in literature; codes regarding dragons were quite different in the time before Tolkien and Hollywood.

Next, from the point of view of semiotics and body politics, Attila Kiss explored how the fascinating and fecund concept of “demetaphorization” operated on the Shakespearean page and stage, and how surprising turns of literalisation could be used to comment on Reformation as well as Revenge. Turning what appears to be a figure of speech into a literal statement is a rug-pulling exercise with great potential for palpable discomfort.

Continuing with a focus on the body, Zita Turi spoke on the role of anatomy books (and anatomy illustration) in Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books. Her paper looked at how the body might be a site for metaphysical truth in the Renaissance, and at how this quest for truth through dissection is reflected in Greenaway’s film.

After lunch, Ruth Morse provided a fascinating account of how Victor Hugo and his family became embroiled in table tapping during the Spiritualism craze of the late 19th century, communing with the spirits of famous authors. Apparently, the most active spirit was that of William Shakespeare, who had many nice things to say about Hugo’s own talents – something he expressed through so-called automatic writing.

Siri Vevle explored how the strangeness of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is amplified and equipped with new layers in William Blake’s verbal-visual reconfigurations in Jerusalem, reading through the new theoretical concept of exegenesis. The Dream functioned as a conduit to a Druidic past in which Blake was very interested.

Day 2

On Thursday morning, Svenn-Arve Myklebost presented comparative close readings of esoteric imagery in Julius Caesar (the play) and the presence of Julius Caesar (the man and legend) in esoteric imagery, emblems and so forth, arguing that an insight into esotericism might provide extended insights into Shakespeare’s figurative language and political analyses.

Perry McPartland investigated the unusual ways in which Shakespeare treats of art in The Winter’s Tale, with an especial focus on the statue of Hermione, arguing that Shakespeare employed aesthetic strategies which would have created spaces of potentiality that diverge from what is possible or thinkable within contemporary art production.

Anthony Johnson’s paper addressed how Shakespeare’s Cymbeline invokes “the words ‘strange’ and ‘strangely’ more frequently than any other work in the Shakespearean oeuvre,” drawing attention towards its own peculiarity. Johnson argued that Lutheran conceptions of alchemy are key to understanding some of the play’s imagery.

Up until this point, the sessions had been named “Strange Arts” I-IV. Next on the agenda was “Strange Comedy”.

Goran Stanivukovic discussed how The Comedy of Errors achieves “strangeness” through stylistic and plot-related patterning, utilising confusion on many levels in order to challenge the audience’s (missing) expectations. The paper also explored how strangeness operates on the affective level, for the play’s original audiences as well as today.

Kent Cartwright looked at the easily-missed ways in which Shakespearean comedies would use stage props and objects to “manifest” desires, wishes and ideas held by a play’s characters. One case of this is the letter to Malvolio in Twelfth Night, which is also an example of how “manifestations” operate on ironic or even satiric levels. It manifests Malvolio’s desires and is an ironic reversal (because it is a prank) at the same time.


Day 2 of the symposium was concluded with an informative guided tour of the Pepys library on the Magdalene College grounds.

Day 3

The final day of the conference was devoted to spiritual, religious and philosophical strangeness in the Renaissance.

First, Raphael Lyne investigated the strange and inconsistent moral philosophies of Shakespeare’s long poem “The Rape of Lucrece”. Lyne’s reading was based on a theory of attention – or attentive reading – and he argued that the amount of detail in the poem plays tricks with the reader’s ability to absorb its subtleties.

Next, Sean Geddes looked at the epistemological strangeness of Montaigne’s Apologie in John Florio’s 1603 translation, and took into consideration Shakespeare’s use of Montaigne in the equally strange, late play The Tempest. In this way, Geddes sought to extend our understanding of the nature of Shakespeare’s imitative strategies.

After the break, Charles Moseley asked us to consider what it must have been like to watch or read a Shakespeare play from within the religious framework of the Renaissance, more specifically a Calvinist ideology. Moseley reminds us that even though we do not know much about Shakespeare’s religious preferences, “99,9 % of his audience shared a Christian world view, as naturally as breathing.” Attempting to see the plays from inside world view makes for a strange experience indeed.

Finally, Helen Cooper discoursed on the Golden Legend, exploring to what extent Shakespeare may have been acquainted with its “Catholic Wonder Tales.” Looking for traces of it in the canon opened up new perspectives on Shakespeare’s art as well as the role remnants of Catholic tradition may have played in the Jacobethan era.

The conference ended with a very pleasant meal at the wonderful The Punter, near Magdalene.


Site update

BVSN Site Launch

Even though this website has been public for many weeks, it has remained something of a secret, but – although it is still a work in progress – I think the time has come for it to officially “open”.

What, then, is the BVSN, and what is the purpose of this web site?

Well, at least one of the purposes of the site is to address the first question. Exploring these pages you will find a description of the Bergen-Volda Shakespeare Network, an account of its history and a listing of some of the central themes addressed in our conferences and publications by network members. Moreover, you will find a list of said members (more about which in a moment) and an archive that contains information about our previous conferences and other network activities. The archive is still under development; I might call on members with better mnemonic faculties than my own to help me fill in some of the missing information. I think it is important that records exist, even if they will be mere outlines in some cases.

The members list is a work in progress and will likely remain so as long as this network exists. It is in the nature of such an enterprise that the personnel will change and evolve – that some people will appear as members even though they haven’t been involved in our meetings for a long time, while others who are more active have yet to be added. There are also people with whom I have been in touch but who have yet to make an appearance at one of our meetings. The exact point at which one is included as a member is bound to be uncertain. Even the word “member” itself is somewhat moot when we are talking about a network and not – say – a research group.

At the moment, many names of past and present conference participants are still missing. I have included only a small sampling of BVSN-related information about each person, because I know from experience that updating tens of biographies is too time consuming. Instead, I have tried to add links to personal web pages from which more detailed information can be obtained.

Please take a moment to look at the members list and do get in touch if there is anything amiss. In some cases, information will be missing because I haven’t gotten round to adding it yet, but if in doubt, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Or, hesitate a little bit (you are in doubt after all), and then get in touch.

I am also working on expanding the mailing list for the BVSN, which should reflect the members list on this page as far as that is possible.

Finally, there is this blog that you are reading now, whose purposes are legion.

First, its main purpose is to publish information about forthcoming network activities, especially conferences. (Watch this space for more information about the next meeting.)

Second, this is also where reports and summaries of our conferences and other activities will appear, beginning with an account of the meeting in Cambridge last year (coming soon).

Third, I would like to use the blog to direct attention towards publications, conferences, projects and seminars produced or overseen by network members. If you are about to publish or arrange something, or if you know about something else going on that you think will be of interest to the BVSN, drop me a line or send me a “press release,” and I will publish it here.

Fourth, this blog can also be an outlet for commentary, information and scholarship in and of itself. If you have a text that you would like to make public, or which already appears on a different blog, it can be shared here, as long as it is deemed relevant for the BVSN readership. If you want to get access to publish directly on this blog, please get in touch to receive a username and a password.

You can subscribe to receive updates from this blog, which is recommended. I don’t think the updates will be so frequent that they’ll become a nuisance.

That’s it for this update. Please spread the word about the website to members ancient and prospective and keep an eye out for posts about the previous conference as well as the next one.