Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Students Took to the Stage in a Debate about The Tempest

[By Tori Kerr, GW English major]

With the Republican debates taking up most of media’s attention in the month of November, it seems fitting that GW should have its own debate—only, this one wasn’t political. Students from both Prof. Holly Dugan’s and Prof. Alexa Huang’s Shakespeare classes took to the stage in a debate concerning the protagonist of The Tempest—the topic was: “Resolved that Prospero genuinely pardons his foes and is a model of true forgiveness and reconciliation.” Does he truly forgive his enemies or is it all an act? Four students from each class formed arguments complete with opening statements, rebuttals, and closing remarks.

I entered the event with my own opinion, which was that Prospero was certainly no model for forgiveness. I must admit, however, that the negative team had an advantage in the wording of the prompt: can a debator argue that any person, not only Prospero, is a model of “true” forgiveness? As the negative team pointed out, that would be like arguing that Prospero is Christlike; even on the cross, Jesus pardoned his enemies. It was this tricky word “true” that the negative team utilized in order to formulate their argument.

I knew the debate would get heated among the participants, but I didn’t expect to feel so excited just as an audience member. The argument quickly transformed from animated to passionate and then to fiery. Members of the opposing teams talked over each other, threw out sassy rebuttals and even waved fingers in the air to punctuate their speeches. While this sort of frenzy might not be acceptable for the GW Mock Trial team, state courtrooms, or the Republican preside ntial candidates, it made for a surprisingly exciting debate on The Tempest. I didn’t expect to enjoy the debate as much as I did. The debators’ energy clearly showed that Shakespeare’s plays were not written for only 16th century audiences—his themes are timeless. Revenge and forgiveness are topics for debate that will endure as long as humans (and politcal campaigns) do.

Graduate Teaching Assistant Molly Lewis for Prof. Huang's class was also impressed by both teams' performance. She wrote:

"The impassioned debaters were allowed an opening and an additional statement (both followed by cross examinations by the opposing team), as well as a rebuttal at the end of the debate. These vibrant “back and forth”s elicited strong reactions from their audience members, who eventually had to vote for which debate team they agreed with. In the end, though, many actually abstained from voting, a true testament to how well both debate teams performed."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How to Make a Human, December 1 & 2

Please join us on Thursday December 1 and Friday December 2 for two events centered around critical animal studies.

On Thursday De
cember 1 we will hold a symposium on Karl Steel's important new book How to Make a Human: Animals and Violence in the Middle Ages (Ohio State University Press, 2011). The book is available for $40 in hardcover via Amazon, and $10 for an e-version on CD. If you plan to attend, please try to read the book ahead of time. The symposium features Julian Yates, Peggy McCracken and Tobias Menely, as well as Karl Steel. The event will take place from 4-6 PM (note change of time) in GW's Academic Center, 801 22nd St NW, Rome Hall 771. The symposium is free and open to all who wish to attend. It will be followed by an informal vegetarian dinner. The cost is $15 exclusive of beverages. If you would like to join us for dinner, you must register by Tuesday November 29.

Friday December 2 at noon is the date of our last seminar of the year, on Critical Animal Theory, with all the guests from the previous night's sy
mposium speaking about the field. You do not need to attend the Thursday symposium to participate in the Friday seminar. Some short readings will be distributed ahead of time. Lunch will be served. If you would like to attend, you must reserve a spot and secure the readings by emailing Lowell Duckert (lduckert@gwu.edu) no later than Tuesday November 29. If you RSVP please come: we pay for every lunch reserved, and it is a shame when people hold a spot but do not attend the seminar.

Meet our presenters:

Karl Steel is Assistant Professor of English at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, where he specializes in medieval literature, intellectual history and social practice, and critical animal theory. How to Make a Human joins his impressive list of publications on animals, including an article written for the new collection Shakesqueer (2011) and a thematic issue of the journal postmedieval (co-edited with Peggy McCracken) called "The Animal Turn" (2011).

Peggy McCracken is Professor of French and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. Her areas of expertise include medieval French and Occitan literature, gender and sexuality, and women's studies. Her most recent book is The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero: Blood, Gender, and Medieval Literature (2003). She is currently writing two books: one on Marie de France and the other on animality and embodiment.

Tobias Menely is Assistant Professor of English at
Miami University, focusing on such diverse topics as eighteenth-century and Romantic literature, animal studies, climate and weather, time, and ethics and community. He recently published an article for the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies: "Sovereign Violence and the Figure of the Animal, from Leviathan to Windsor-Forest" (2010). Right now he is finishing his book, The Community of Creatures: Sensibility and the Voice of the Animal.

Julian Yates is Associate Professor of English at the University of Delaware. His areas of expertise are medieval and Renaissance British literature, literary theory, material culture studies, and ecocriticism. His latest book is Error, Misuse, Failure: Object Lessons from the English Renaissance (2003), and he has published extensively on all things post/human: for instance, "Counting Sheep: Dolly does Utopia (again) (2004) and "It's (for) you; or, the tele-t/r/opical post-human" (2010).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Korean Tempest a Success

Co-sponsored by the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, the Korean Embassy, and other units at GW, and co-organized by new GW English professor Alexa Huang and colleagues in History, EALL, and Anthropology the Korean Tempest event was a huge success this weekend, with over 100 people from the community and GW in the audience. The renowned Korean director and playwright of over 60 original plays Mr. OH Tae-suk visited GW and spoke at the colloquium on Saturday, November 5, to shed light on his methods of artistic creation and his vision for The Tempest. The filmed version of the performance in Edinburgh was screened in the Elliott School of International Affairs on Friday, November 4. Oh's Tempest won the prestigious Herald Angel Award at the Edinburgh International Festival this year (August 2011).

Oh's Tempest (Mokwha Repertory Company) opened with a bang with a storm scene that transported Shakespeare's The Tempest to 5th century Korea. Prospero's book of magic transformed into a multi-colored magical fan which he handed over to the audience at the end of the play. Caliban became a two-headed monster (played by two talented actors in one robe) who is sawn apart. Oh adopts a remarkably light, fun approach to a play that has routinely been politicized in postcolonial discourses and to the volatile political situation in the two Koreas today.

Video highlights are now available online with English subtitles:

The editor of Shakespeare Quarterly and Folger Shakespeare Library research division director Dr. David Schalwkyk gave brilliant opening remarks, and GW English professor Alexa Huang introduced the film on Friday. She gave a talk on global Shakespeare on Saturday.

Students who attended the event were impressed by the deep baritone drums and turbulent music. They wrote: "The stage bursts forth with color and white robed dancers elegantly gesticulating with beautiful white pieces of cloth." The audience, they said, was treated to "a jarring visual portrait of the stormy opening scene." They were fond of the Caliban as two-headed monster (or Siamese twin) "consisting of a normal-sized man and his 'little brother,' a figure of diminutive stature. By giving Caliban two heads, Oh Tae-suk gives added depth to the character that can now converse with itself and have two separate personalities. In Shakespeare’s original play Caliban maintains several child-like features and has been molded by Prospero’s teachings as a child. Oh maintains the child-like aspects of Caliban within the smaller Siamese twin, often referred to as “Little Brother.”


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Film Screening and Roundtable: Anonymous

Graduate students in English and students in Alexa Huang's and Holly Dugan's Shakespeare classes were treated to a pre-release screening of Roland Emmerich's controversial new film "Anonymous" on Tuesday, October 25 by Sony Pictures at the Regal Theatre Gallery Place in downtown DC. "Set in the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England," the film--with Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi in the prologue--proposes that the Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere was the author of Shakespeare's plays. Along the way, the film dramatizes "cloak-and-dagger political intrigue, illicit romances in the Royal Court, and the schemes of greedy nobles hungry for the power of the throne were exposed in the most unlikely of places: the London stage."

Following the event, a roundtable was organized by Prof Huang on November 3 to combat the propaganda machine set in action by the film. In attendance were graduate and undergraduate students in English, Professor Jonathan Hsy, Alexa Huang, and Holly Dugan. Among the topics discussed were the social expectations and resistance of "geniuses," Hollywood's penchant for "conspiracy" and scandals, and--most importantly--how to set historical facts straight.

"Anonymous" calls to mind such films as MiloŇ° Forman and Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. But there is one thing even undergraduates and non-specialist audiences do not buy. The film presented a very unconvincing picture of literary production. In the whole of early modern England, no one other than the Earl could write good poetry, and "Shakespeare," Jonson, and Marlowe stumbled over one another to beg (or threaten as the case may be) de Vere for an uninterrupted supply of manuscripts (which acts peculiarly as drugs). The film also misled the audience to assume that no other companies or performance venues mattered in Shakespeare's time.

The good thing that can come from "Anonymous" is that it can lead people to the real tour-de-force that is James Shapiro's fine book Contested Will (http://www.amazon.com/Contested-Will-Who-Wrote-Shakespeare/dp/1416541624), Records of Early English Drama (http://www.reed.utoronto.ca/), Early Modern London Theatres online (http://www.emlot.kcl.ac.uk/), and other vetted sources for further study.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Debating The Tempest 11/10

Debate on The Tempest: 6 pm, 11/10 (Thursday) in Funger 210

Topic: Resolved that Prospero genuinely pardons his foes and is a model of true forgiveness and reconciliation.

Debate teams from Alexa Huang's and Holly Dugan's Shakespeare classes.

Merchant of Venice Conversation 11/14

From Jenna Weissman Joselit, GW Judaic Studies:

In conjunction with The Merchant of Venice production and class that I'm team-teaching with Leslie Jacobson in TRDA, the law school will be holding a conversation next Monday, November 14th, at 3 p.m. in the Burns Faculty Conference Center (B505) of the law school, between Dean Paul Schiff Berman and Barry Edelstein of New York's Public Theater on the legal implications of the play. The conversation will be moderated by The New Republic's legal affairs editor and GW law professor, Jeffrey Rosen. It promises to be quite a lively occasion.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Korean Tempest @ GW 11/4


Adapted and Directed by Oh Tae Suk

Film of an Award-winning Korean Performance with English Subtitles

4-6 pm, Friday Nov. 4, 2011

Harry Harding Auditorium, Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E St, NW