- Shakespearean drama and the afterlife of Shakespeare's work in reception and adaptation
- Literature and culture of the early modern period and the long eighteenth century
- Memory studies and cultural forgetting
- Gender studies
- Ecocriticism, literary and cultural animal studies
Caliban and Shylock Speak — Decolonizing Shakespeare
An International Experiment in Correlating Theatrical Performance, Cultural Work and Civic Discourse in Cooperation with David Peimer (South-African born playwright, director and Professor of Performance studies at Edge Hill University, Liverpool), Robert Gordon (Professor of Drama at Goldsmiths University of London, Director of the Pinter Centre for Performance and Creative Writing) and Zeno Ackermann, Professor of British Cultural Studies at Würzburg University.
Caliban and Shylock Speak – Decolonizing Shakespeare is an international and interdisciplinary project that brings together theatrical performance, civic discourse and academic scholarship. Combining Shakespearean dialogue, South African street theatre and performances at various European sites, the project sets out to evolve, assess and theorize ways of opening up ongoing historical discourses of otherness. In doing so, it deliberates pressing questions of identity and citizenship, especially within the multidirectional frameworks provided by privileged literary and cultural legacies ('Shakespeare'), on the one hand, and site-specific socio-political and mnemonic discourses, on the other.
The project is based on the production of a new playtext – written by theatre scholar, playwright and director David Peimer – which uses and adapts text from The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest in order to foreground and collocate two fascinating Shakespearean 'outsiders': on the one hand Shylock, who has often been constructed as a 'quintessentially' Jewish figure, on the other hand Caliban, the "savage and deformed slave" who has had a long career both as a distorted image of colonized peoples and as a key object of anti-colonialist appropriations or transformations. The play is built on the supposition that in the context of contemporary global migration both figures can be restaged according to a politically productive paradigm of decolonization.
The project will test this proposition both practically and academically, combining a performance tour that covers key memory sites from Europe to Africa with an intellectual frame that reflects on the individual performances from the perspectives of memory studies, performance studies and 'Global Shakespeare'. The material outputs will include an edition of the play-text with pictures from the performance tour and a scholarly volume of essays that will emerge from an international conference.
Shakespeare in Cold War Europe
From 2014-2016, I was member of an international research network "Shakespeare in the Making of Europe", which brought together colleagues from England, the Netherlands, Poland and Germany, in particular with Erica Sheen (University of York), with whom I edited the essay collection Shakespeare in Cold War Europe: Conflict, Commemoration, Celebration (Palgrave, 2016).
For the Shakespeare Anniversary in 2016, we organised a series of events that explored teh legacies of Shakespeare in different epochs and media. It included lectures on translating Shakespeare into German (not only delivered, but veritably performed by Frank Günther, Germany's foremost Shakespeare-translator), a on the role of Shakespeare reception for the history of feminism, on screen-adaptations of Shakespeare-plays, as well as a performance of Heinz Werner Henze's Royal Winter Music, a concert written for classical guitar, which was accompanied by scenic readings from the plays.
Site-responsive performance and the cognitive ecologies of early modern drama
The monograph on which I am currently working explores the relation between the performance of space and the spaces of performance in the early modern period. It proceeds from the insight that spatial knowledge is generated not only through representations of urban space - which a host of 'London plays' around 1600 provided - but also through the complex interactions between spaces and subjectivities, places and practices. It proceeds from the insight that the kind of knowledge of London spaces audiences brought with them to the theatre impacted the theatrical production of space, just as this spatial knowledge shaped the audience's perception of the play performed as well as of the urban spaces outside the theatre. Moreover, it argues that the public play-houses (as well as other theatrical sites) were material environments with practices and spatial concepts of their own that added another layer to the spectators' perception, experience and knowledge of where they were and of who they were. It is this additional layer, 'the raw material' of early modern drama, that I am interested in: the buildings, sites, places, texts, performances, and practices which contributed to the process of making sense of space and subjectivity not only through theatre, but in the theatre. In order to grasp the specific knowledge that was generated through experiencing a performance in the physical environment of a playhouse in early modern London, this study draws on recent work in cultural geography, performance studies, theatre history and historical phenomenology. In particular, the concept of 'site-responsive performance' - a revision of the more familiar term site-specific performance - is introduced to conceptualise the material and mental interaction between space, performance and audience, and the notion of 'cognitive ecologies' to understand that interaction in the cultural and material environment of the theatre.
Shakespeare and Memory
The Drama of Memory in Shakespeare’s History Plays (Cambridge University Press, 2015) examines the dramatic devices the theatre developed to engage with the profound memory crisis that was triggered by the historical developments of early modern print culture, the Reformation and an emergent sense of nationhood. Against the established view — which hold that the theatre was a cultural site that served primarily to salvage memories threatened by traumatic ruptures — it considers also the liberating uses and constitutive functions of forgetting in early modern culture and on the Shakespearean stage. Drawing on recent developments in memory studies, new formalism and performance studies, it develops a vocabulary for analysing Shakespeare’s mnemonic dramaturgy that results in innovative readings of the history plays.
Literary Form and Confessional Conflict
I am interested in the ways religious conflict can be understood not only in terms of crisis, violence and escalation but how it can also be seen as a force that productively forms and transforms culture. In the early modern period, conflicts between Reformed positions and the Catholic church as well as between Christianity and other religion played a central role in the formation of national identities, politics, and memory culture. Despite the centrality of confessional conflict, however, it did not always erupt into hostilities over how to symbolize and perform the sacred, nor did it lead to a paralysis of social agency. Rather, people had to arrange themselves somehow with divided loyalties – between the old faith and the new, between religious and secular interests, or between officially sanctioned and privately held beliefs. In particular, I am interested in the role that the representation of confessional conflict played in negotiating such divided loyalties. Can we conceive of these representations as possible sites of de-escalation? Do different discursive, aesthetic, or social contexts inflect or even deflect the demands of religious loyalties? Does dramatic practice in particular allow for a suspension of faith that may not have been possible in theological discourse? And how do textual or dramatic works both reflect on and perform such an erasure, suspension or displacement of confessional tensions? What literary forms were available for expressing and, often at the same time, erasing religious conflict? These questions are explored by the essays in a collection which I co-edited with my colleague Jonathan Baldo (Rochester, NY), entitled Forms of Faith: Literary Form and Religious Conflict in Early Modern England (Manchester University Press, 2017).
Political culture and media culture in the 17th century
A project to which I would like to return in the near future (after having co-edited an essay collection on the topic in 2012) explores the ways in which confessional conflict intersected with the media culture and political culture of the early modern period across Europe. Under the working title Conciliation and Conflict, it focuses on the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and its role in the process of early modern Europeanization. That military conflict over religion involved, to varying degrees, the entire continent from Spain to Sweden, from Britain to Bohemia. While its destructive and divisive force is undeniable, it nevertheless also gave rise to an emergent sense of interconnectedness across Europe. This was achieved through the coverage of events of the war in different media, ranging from oral to written media, from print to performance, from visual to material media. The project’s multi-media approach enables a comparison of the different kinds of media expressing different responses and points of view and catering to different interests and audiences. The perception of difference also fosters a sense of identity, however: the knowledge networks formed through complex transmission systems for political news, national identities and images of the religious other produced a sense of interconnectedness and attempts at conciliation that are the motor of the process of Europeanization still today.
The Feminist Enlightenment across Eighteenth-century Europe
With this project, I am returning to my interests in the history of gender and the relation between the sexes. It will commence with an international conference (5.-7. July 2018) that seeks to explore the ways in which both female and male writers across Europe addressed the question of women's participation in cultural, intellectual, and political life, and the extent to which this debate was - self-consciously or not - part of the project of Enlightenment. While the focus of the conference is on the long eighteenth century, some contributions will also trace the legacy of these writers in the Romantic and Victorian periods. We hope to run a series of conferences on this this topic, which has received increasing attention under the impact of new critical theories and historical insights into the Enlightenment. As one contribution to current research in the feminist enlightenment, I am planning to produce a new translation and historical-critical edition of Mary Astell’s writings - one of the most intelligent and witty defenders of women's rights in the early 18th century.
New Terrains of Consciousness: Globalization, Sensory Environments and Local Cultures of Knowledge
A new research collaboration of the Chair of English Literature with the Department of English at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, funded by the Indian Ministry of Education under the Scheme for the Promotion of Academic Research and Collaboration (SPARC).The project is led jointly by Prof. Dr. Isabel Karremann and Prof. Dr. Zeno Ackermann at JMU Würzburg, and by Prof. Dr. Simi Malhotra and Prof. Dr. Nishat Zaidi at JMI Delhi.
The novelty and fundamental methodology of the proposed project consists in systematically and transnationally combining sensory studies, ecocriticism and globalization studies. Bringing together these vibrant scholarly discourses in a research project that compares cultural practices and cultural legacies of worldmaking in India, the Anglophone 'West' and Germany will enable new insights in all three fields of research. In particular, we proceed from the conviction that a multilateral focus on the cultural production, intellectual reconstruction and historical transformation of sensory environments will offer new perspectives on 'globalization', i.e. on the ongoing –and often asymmetrical –processes of renegotiating the relationships between 'local' and 'global', 'national' and 'transnational', 'traditional' and 'modern' sites of agency. Using the unique transnational framework facilitated by the SPARC Scheme for assessing various everyday routines and intellectual legacies of sensory worldmaking in relation to the processes, discourses and media of globalization, we hope to contribute to a multilogical phenomenology of globalization and thus to ultimately assist in the evolution of a more symmetrical and more productive discourse of globalization. Throughout, the project will be understood as a combined effort in innovative academic research and in concretely productive academic teaching.
The chair for English Literature and Cultural Studies is also a member of the Würzburg Centre for Modern India.