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Shakespeare and fear

Shakespeare et la peur

Congrès 2017 de la Société Française Shakespeare

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Published on Thursday, March 24, 2016


En ces temps de violences économiques, d’angoisses écologiques, de migrations forcées, de guerres et de terrorismes, il apparaît pertinent d’examiner les manières dont les scènes élisabéthaine et jacobéenne ont thématisé et utilisé la peur, et de réfléchir aux résonances qu’elles continuent de susciter aujourd’hui. On citera à cet égard le livre de Robert Appelbaum, qui n’hésite pas à nommer « terrorisme » la violence qui a secoué la société anglaise de la première modernité, du massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy aux complots et aux révoltes populaires. Le rapport entre Shakespeare et la peur passe notamment par les réappropriations des pièces dans le contexte des crises que nous traversons aujourd’hui. Comment se sert-on ou s’est-on appuyé sur Shakespeare pour conjurer la peur, ou pour déconstruire les mécanismes de la terreur, tant celle de la dictature que celle des attentats aveugles.


2017 conference of the French Shakespeare Society, 12-14 January 2017, Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe, Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris


In an era fraught with economic violence, environmental anxiety, forced migrations, war and terrorism, it seems particularly relevant to examine the ways in which the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage made use of fear and to consider how these fears continue to reverberate in the present. Such connections are clearly envisaged by Robert Appelbaum, who applies the word “terrorism” to the violence that shook Early Modern Europe, including the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and countless plots and popular uprisings.  The re-appropriation of Shakespeare’s plays in the context of the crises we are experiencing is a case in point. How has Shakespeare been used  to fend off fear, or deconstruct the workings of terror, dictatorship or armed intimidation — from Ernst Lubitsch’s To be or not to be to Shakespeare productions recently performed in Syria?
Fear is present in one form or another in almost all of the dramatic works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. From the ridiculous apprehension of being made a cuckold to the dread felt by Macbeth when confronted to Banquo’s ghost, from the mechanicals’ worry that the “lion” might frighten the ladies to the terror on which Richard III’s tyranny relies, all degrees of fear are to be found in Shakespeare, as well as in Marlowe, Middleton or Webster. Be it in tragedies attempting to instil sacred terror or in comedies making fun of the staging of terrifying events, in historical plays critiquing the Machiavellian uses of political terror or in the new-fangled Jacobean taste for spectacular stage shows, fear is pervasive on the Shakespearean stage, reflecting individual emotions such as  “the dread of something after death” mentioned by Hamlet, as much as the ever-present social apprehension of the plague or foreign invasions. Shakespeare, for one, distinguishes fear (which occurs over 800 occurrences in the canon) from dread (50 occurrences) or fright, which is often to be found in ironic contexts, with an underlying suggestion that the events in question are not really worth the fretting they cause.
The notion of fear in connection with Shakespeare goes well beyond the modalities specific to the Early Modern English stage: the fact that the Bard’s works have been canonised and become compulsory reading  at school and university has generated a fear of Shakespeare, while the arrival of his plays on the continental stages in the 18th century spawned trepidation among audiences and authors alike: there is certainly a form of fear in Voltaire’s loathing of, as much as in the Romantic playwrights’ desire to emulate, the master. This lasting dread is epitomized today under the alliterative heading of “no fear Shakespeare” and in the various attempts to domesticate the intricacies of Elizabethan writing with the help of reading companions, modernized editions, etc. The fear of Shakespeare can also become a fear for Shakespeare, in view of the endless probes and conspiracy plots around his identity that has arisen since the end of the 19th century.

Main themes

We look forward to bringing together historians, literary scholars and theatre practitioners, as well as specialists in drama, cultural studies, psychoanalysis, sociology and anthropology to offer contributions on topics including (but not limited to):
  •  Theories of/about fear in Early Modern England;
  •  The different degrees of fear in Early Modern England;
  •  Symptoms of fear on the Early Modern stage (body language, vocal language, masks, costumes, makeup, etc.) / a phenomenology of fear;
  •  What and who is feared on the Shakespearean stage? (terrifying portents, threats, exemplary sentences, horrible and horrifying shows, mutilations and murders, ghosts, supernatural interventions, etc);
  •  How and why is fear elicited in audience members? (staging tricks, noises, smoke, visions, etc.);
  •  The fear of Shakespeare / “No fear Shakespeare”;
  •  Fear for Shakespeare;
  •  Updating Shakespeare in the context of war, terror or terrorism;
  •  Invoking Shakespeare to allay fear.

Submission guidelines

Please send an abstract (maximum 500 words) and a short biography (maximum 200 words)

by 25 may 2016


Scientific committee

  •  Yan Brailowsky (Université Paris Ouest, Société Française Shakespeare)
  •  Mark Burnett (Queen’s University, Belfast)
  •  Jean-Michel Déprats (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense)
  •  Pascale Drouet (Université de Poitiers)
  •  Dominique Goy-Blanquet (Université de Picardie)
  •  Sarah Hatchuel (Université du Havre, Société Française Shakespeare)
  •  Pierre Kapitaniak (Université Paris VIII)
  •  Harry Keyishian (Fairleigh Dickinson University)
  •  Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (ENS Lyon)
  •  Ronan Ludot-Vlasak (Université de Lille III)
  •  Chantal Schütz (École Polytechnique, Société Française Shakespeare)
  •  Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin (IRCL / Université Paul-Valéry – Montpellier III, Société Française Shakespeare). 
For more information: 


  • Fondation Deutsch de la Meurthe, Cité internationale universitaire de Paris
    Paris, France (75)


  • Wednesday, May 25, 2016


  • Shakespeare, peur, terrorisme, théâtre


  • Yan Brailowsky
    courriel : covid [at] yanb [dot] eu

Information source

  • Yan Brailowsky
    courriel : covid [at] yanb [dot] eu


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

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« Shakespeare and fear », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, March 24, 2016,

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