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Dubrovnik summed up

The fifth Bergen Shakespeare and Drama Network symposium, entitled "Shakespeare: Whose Contemporary?" was held in Dubrovnik, Croatia in October.

Over the course of three days, eleven speakers presented papers centred around the question of whose contemporary Shakespeare is or was, summed up thus in the symposium invitation:

"What does it mean to write about Shakespeare now? Who are the audiences—beyond ourselves—for whom we wish to write about Shakespeare? What does ‘Shakespeare’ now mean, in Europe, Britain, North America, Asia and beyond? Can there be writing about Shakespeare after, or without, theory, or after and outside historicism? And, most insistent of all: whose contemporary is Shakespeare in the 21st century?"

These questions were approached from sometimes surprising angles which provided interesting answers as well as some challenging new questions. After Professor Sillars' inspiring introduction, Catherine Belsey questioned quite insistently why we write about Shakespeare at all; what our purpose is, as critics and as academics, and what we can do in our approaches and our way of thinking about reading and presenting Shakespeare that prevents us from ending up as mere archivists or "stamp collectors".

During the remainder of the conference, and despite the fact that most of us were unprepared for such profound interrogation, we went some ways toward responding to Professor Belsey's challenge, coming at the central questions from a number of angles, including mapping and challenging the utility of modern digital Shakespeare tools, exploring the presence of Shakespeare as a means of self-myth-building in Yeats's poetry, gauging the way in which Shakespeare was or was not a contemporary (spiritually, artistically) of Marlowe, drawing parallels between the emblem tradition that may have inspired Shakespeare and modern manga and comic book configurations of the same author, investigating the presence of Shakespeare as a cultural identity marker in apartheid South Africa, addressing the unique nature of modern, Hungarian performances of Shakespeare, mapping the Victorian stage tradition of music, text and gender in performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream, reading faces in Shakespeare's plays asking whether facial expressions can mean to us what they meant to the early moderns, and finally, Professor Kent Cartwright concluded the conference with a talk that, in its insistence on the profound and joyous importance of reading, thinking, teaching and writing about Shakespeare, gave us some hope yet that our endeavours can be fruitful, useful and of great significance, despite his not being coy about the challenges we face in times when reading anything longer than a tweet has become an act of anachronistic heroism.

The symposium was symbolically concluded with a reception and an official dinner, during which we were joined by a representative of our hosts, the excellent IUC (Inter University Centre). Last year, the fourth BSDN symposium was held in Montpellier, France. Serendipitously, the newly established online journal EMCO was looking for papers for its first issue while the CNRS (our hosts in Montpellier) were looking for a place to publish last year's symposium proceedings. The two came together and the reception in Dubrovnik this year thus became the site and occasion for the launch of the first issue of EMCO, aka Early Modern Culture Online. (Click on the link to get access to the first edition featuring last year's BSDN proceedings. You may want to scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the image there).

All in all it was a successful and inspiring event held in the very same city that hosted the first BSDN symposium in 2005 and we hope that it will remain a regularly occurring event in years to come.