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Worshipping at the Altar of the Bard | posted May 11, 2016

Polaris Podcasts: a JNR special by State of the Theory

[1] Welcome to the first in a series of posts showcasing podcasts which will, we hope, be of interest to our readers. State of the Theory is a podcast about power, politics and popular culture by Dr Anindya Raychaudhuri and Dr Hannah Fitzpatrick at the University of St Andrews. In each episode Anindya and Hannah discuss a topical news story or trend in pop culture in light of critical theory. Recent episodes have focused on fascism, sexualities, free speech, the Panama Papers, Hillsborough 1989, and Walter Benjamin.

[2] State of the Theory‘s latest episode, ‘Worshipping at the Altar of the Bard’, was generously made with a JNR/Polaris audience in mind. You can listen here:

– and you can join a discussion about the episode by posting questions and comments below, and by tweeting at the journal (@JNRJournal) and at Anindya (@DrAnindyaR) and Hannah (@DrHFitz).

[3] Many early modernists object to representations of Shakespeare’s life and works that elide a myriad of messy issues. Offering something in the way of an aspirin to those who had little choice but to RSVP ‘yes’ to the party of the last four centuries, ‘Worshipping at the Altar of the Bard’ takes up the politics of the commemoration of Shakespeare in 2016, on the 400th anniversary of his death. Anindya and Hannah discuss conflicting representations of Shakespeare as distinctively British and universally human, morally instructive and morally relativistic. We hope you will weigh in on these points with arguments of your own and with any thoughts that have been niggling in response to the 400th anniversary commemorations.

[4] Anindya and Hannah give a particularly interesting reading of the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012. The well-known Shakespearean actor Sir Kenneth Brannagh played the leading engineer of the industrial revolution, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, reading Shakespeare. Rather than celebrate ‘Great Britain’ with the ‘scepter’d isle’ speech from Richard II, the ceremony’s director, the film maker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), selected Caliban’s ‘the isle is full of noises’ speech from The Tempest. This throws up a range of issues in light of postcolonial readings of The Tempest and of Caliban’s subjugation. As Anindya says, the character of Brunel is here celebrating an industrial Britain which has benefited from a repressive empire, using the words of Shakespeare’s Caliban, who arguably has not.

[5] All this is not to deny the power of Shakespeare’s language, but following Foucault, where there is power there is resistance. And as many of our readers are acutely aware, resisting Renaissance narratives is often a profitable thing to do, at least intellectually.

[6] Listen, let us know what you think, and feel free to continue the discussion about the themes raised in this JNR/Polaris special. As State of the Theory focuses primarily on critical theory, it would also be interesting to know if listeners have any particular thoughts on the role of theory in early modern studies. If in some respects we are now ostensibly ‘post-theory’ – following the more explicit work of poststructuralism in drawing our attention to the production of cultural norms which we seemingly deviate from, even as we live by them – is it worth revisiting theory? Or not? What is some of the work being done in this respect that readers would recommend?

[7] If you make or listen to a podcast that you think we should feature as part of ‘Polaris podcasts’ please let us know at northernrenaissance@gmail.com.

Zoë Sutherland

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