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Young Shakespeare: Call for papers for the 2015 French Shakespeare Society annual conference (SFS)

19-21 March 2015

Notes de la rédaction

Rationale by Dominique Goy-Blanquet and François Laroque

The 2015 Annual Conference of the French Shakespeare Society will take place in Paris in March 19-21, 2015.

Young Shakespeare

Owing to a facetious calendar, the fortieth anniversary of the Société Française Shakespeare will be lodged between two world celebrations in honour of the poet who has become the most frequently performed playwright on the French stage. Quite a young institution, compared with the time-honoured Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft whose 150 years of existence were celebrated in Weimar in 2014, the SFS takes the opportunity of this festive chain of events to set the commemoration issues to school.

Let us begin with Shakespeare’s own youth. The period labelled, for lack of illuminating documents, “the dark years” or “the lost years” (1582-1590) has given rise to fanciful tales or highly speculative theories. Unless new elements emerge, our priority in 2015 will be to revisit those years when Shakespeare wrote his first plays, for a relatively young Tudor theatre, and his two narrative poems. If Titus Andronicus and The Taming of the Shrew take up the tradition of Senecan revenge tragedies or rewrite earlier versions like the anonymous Taming of A Shrew designed for the Queen’s Men, other works like The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labours Lost, the first Henriad and Richard III may well be considered matrixes for the great themes of Shakespeare’s mature years. In these early works, the young playwright shows tremendous nerve in confronting seniors who must despise the upstart crow and plagiarist stigmatized in Greene’s onslaught. The challenger, not yet thirty when he takes the stage by storm, represents a clear break with a generation who watch with a jaundiced eye the daring inventions and triumphant hits of this rising star.

With this in mind, one may ask what exactly was innovative, revolutionary even, in these youthful productions, and what might be learnt from them by today’s young audiences, scholars, performers and readers. Should a comedy like A Midsummer Night’s Dream be classified as “youthful”? Can the impertinent wit displayed in Love’s Labours Lost still break some of our political or erotic taboos? Does Richard III hold in its seeds the forthcoming tragedies? Is Henry VI a suitable springboard for young conquering energies?

The themes subsumed under the title “Young Shakespeare” lead to the more general question whether the budding playwright can constitute a worthwhile example of youthful talent through his dramatic stage entrance, upsetting of set practices, questioning of traditional authorities, values and established order, conquering of a central position in the midst of a more learned and experienced generation of writers. How far can today’s young actors, directors, academics in literature and history, find inspiration for their own works in the “Young Shakespeare” experience?

A precedent is provided by the young generation of artists and writers, two centuries ago, led by Hugo, Musset, Gautier, Dumas, Vigny, Delacroix et Berlioz who identified themselves as “Romantics”, or synonymously as “men who admire Shakespeare and are not afraid to say so”: a momentous performance of Hamlet at the Odéon in September 1827 by Kemble’s company of actors started a passion for the English poet, and a rebellion against classical standards, that produced an incomparable list of masterpieces.

What types of products and productions aimed at young people today draw their titles, characters or elements of plots from Shakespeare? Cartoons, mangas, musicals? The Animated Tales commissioned in 1992 by BBC Wales to the Russian Christmas Films Studio, twelve half-hour episodes each dedicated to a play, with scripts by Leon Garfield? Other form of “popular” entertainment? Did films like Romeo + Juliet, Shakespeare in Love or Joss Whedon’s recent Much Ado about Nothing, through their success with young audiences, play a pioneering role in this regard?

Whatever the answers, one should stress the fact that Shakespeare, far from being reserved to a learned elite, is first and foremost a popular author addressing all publics, juveniles especially, and yet not mask the rich complexity of his works. Because his idiom and his world are now in part lost to us, a welcome move would be to give the plays a larger part in the teaching programs of grammar schools, as is already the practice in some drama classes, and make sure that instead of slipping unnoticed into the ranks of old classics, this allegedly difficult writer keeps entire the stamina and originality of his power to inspire, as an author who calls for constant reassessement of supposedly set values.

It will be the aim of this conference to study and highlight this rejuvenating aspect of the Shakespeare heritage, a resolute stance for more than lessons of youth, a “trust in youth” challenge.

Call for papers

Please send your proposals to before November 10, 2014.

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