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Global Shakespeare Summer School in Venice, Italy

I recently launched a Shakespeare summer school in collaboration with colleagues from Italy, Germany, and the UK. The title of the program is “Global Shakespeare: Othello’s Venice in the World” and it will take place at Venice International University starting in 2020. Collaborators include Rocco Coronato (University of Padua, Italy), Tobias Döring (Friedrich Maximilian University, Germany), Elena Pellone (Venice Shakespeare Company, Italy), and David Schalkwyk (Queen Mary University, UK). Here's a description of the summer school drawn from our initial proposal

The aim of “Global Shakespeare: Othello’s Venice in the World” is to gather an international cohort of graduate students for a week-long, multi-faceted exploration of one of the most timely topics in the interdisciplinary humanities: Shakespeare’s global contexts and futures. In order to provide focus and coherence, we take the play Othello, set in multicultural Venice, as our case study throughout the summer school. In what follows, we will describe the topic, structure, and pedagogy of the summer school and conclude with some comments on how this project serves the larger mission of VIU.

“Shakespeare” is now a global vernacular—a resonant language available throughout the world as a form of self-expression and enquiry. Written at a time of incipient globalisation, Othello both represents and challenges the fraught dynamics of international cultural contact. By offering troubling insights into the development of the discourse of race, and by coupling that discourse to an unstable conflict between Christianity and Islam, the play speaks powerfully to our own world of religious, ethnic, and national antagonism.

“Global Shakespeare” invites students to imagine alternatives to this increasingly fractured world. Using Shakespeare’s poetry and dramaturgy as a resource, it asks participants to consider how connections can be made across languages, religions, and nation states. The school’s multi-disciplined approach will involve students in literary analysis, politics, and theatrical performance by focusing on the intersection of (1) Shakespeare’s England and its growing interest in global connections; (2) Venice as a Renaissance site of global interaction; and (3) a twentieth-century world increasing riven, especially in the Mediterranean and its adjoining regions, by racial and religious antagonisms.

Each day will begin with a lecture from a different disciplinary standpoint, which will be followed by a two-hour seminar discussion. Afternoons will be spent in the workshop where the ideas explored in the morning will be tested through embodied theatrical experimentation. These workshops will be with actors from the Venice Shakespeare Company. Notions abstracted on the page will take concrete form by getting participants “on their feet.” They will use the rich variability of Shakespeare’s language to try out, person to person, ideas about race and power, religion and intolerance, and humanity. Casting will be multi-lingual and race- and gender-blind in order to put maximum pressure on cultural expectations.

The course will culminate in a performance of Othello by the professional actors from the Venice Shakespeare Company for students and members of the public on the island of San Servolo, followed by further performances in locations in Venice, allowing the impact of the work to reach out into the wider community.

By the end of the summer school, we expect students to have gained three things:

(1) A clear historical sense of the way Shakespeare’s works are imbricated in a global world of commerce, ideas, and performance, both in Shakespeare’s time and our own.

(2) A nuanced theoretical understanding of globalism and cosmopolitanism, and especially of the unique ways in which Shakespeare’s writing and dramaturgy contribute to a long tradition of thought on these topics.

(3) An appreciation for the way performance constitutes not only a creative practice, but also a form of applied and embodied critical thought, one especially useful for exploring the meanings and implications of a “global Shakespeare.”

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