Thursday, September 1, 2011

Shakespeare's nine lives

In mid-July, historians, theatre critics and scholars descended on Prague to attend the 9th World Shakespeare Congress, which is held every five years under the auspices of the International Shakespeare Association and the hosts for the year, this time the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague along with the Czech National Theatre.

Seminars focussed on the revival of Shakespeare's plays in film, details from his life, his sonnets and the reception of his work in Asia, as well as presenting scholarship on Shakespeare's life and work. Cultural relations between the Czech lands and England and on the influence of English Renaissance on Czech and world culture also came under the spotlight. There were workshops, theatre performances and excursions as well as a photographic exhibition and outdoor film screenings.

Among the speakers were Charles University Rector Vaclav Hampl, Faculty of Arts Dean Michal Stehlik, Professor Martin Hilsky, translator of Shakespeare's dramas and sonnets and a renowned expert in his work, and Professor of English and American literature Zdenek Stribrny. Many other countries were represented, including Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there?

One of the participants, Professor Graham Holderness of the University of Hertfordshire, has released a new book to coincide with the congress, Nine Lives of William Shakespeare. We know relatively little about Shakespeare's life, and yet it continues to fascinate us. This new biography offers nine possible short “lives” of Shakespeare, each based on specific known facts and traditions supported by a body of critical and biographical work. It takes a fresh look at the facts, the traditions, and the possible relations between his life and the works that life created.

Each chapter of Nine Lives of William Shakespeare is paired with an original work of fiction, exploring that particular life-context, employing a variety of literary and narrative styles. Some employ the form of an imaginary memoir. Some purport to be reconstructed historical documents, and some are best described as fables. In each case, the basic facts of the Shakespeare biography are worked up into a fictional composition that takes the argument of the chapter forward by alternative and overtly speculative methods.

The “nine lives” are presented under intriguing titles:
1. Shakespeare the Writer: Story: “The Shakespeare Code”
2. Shakespeare the Player: Memoir: “Master Shakespeare's Instructions to the Actors”
3. Shakespeare the Businessman: Story: “Best for Winter”
4. Shakespeare in Love: “Husband, I come”: Memoir: “Shakespeare’s Ring: First Circle”
5. Shakespeare in Love: “Fair Friend”: Story: “The Adventure of Shakespeare’s Ring”
6. Shakespeare in Love: “A Female Evil”: Story: “Full Circle”
7. Shakespeare the Butcher Boy: Memoir: “Some further account of the life &c. of Mr William Shakespear”
8. Shakespeare the Catholic: Story: “He dyed a papist”
9. Shakespeare’s Face: Fable: “An Account of a Voyage to Bardolo”

Graham Holderness is the author of numerous books on the bard and his work, including Gender and Power in Shrew-Taming Narratives, 1500-1700 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and Cultural Shakespeare: Essays in the Shakespeare Myth (University of Hertfordshire Press, 2001). At the World Shakespeare Congress, he took part in a seminar on new approaches to Shakespeare biography. He has visited Australia a number of times, first to attend the world Shakespeare congress in Brisbane in 2006. He has since been back to lecture at the universities of Sydney and Queensland. He also undertook an academic review of arts provision at University of Queensland.

Bibliographic data for Nine Lives of William Shakespeare
Nine Lives of William Shakespeare
Authors and contributors
By (author) Graham Holderness
Physical properties
Format: Hardback
Number of pages: 256
Width: 156 mm
Height: 234 mm
College/higher education
ISBN 13: 9781441151858
ISBN 10: 1441151850
Continuum Publishing Corporation
Imprint name
Continuum Publishing Corporation
Publication date
01 September 2011
Publication City/Country
New York/US

The book is available in hardback from The Book Depository -