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Cultural mobility around Shakespeare's Rome

Mapping race and nation through performance

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Published on Wednesday, December 19, 2018


This seminar asks participants to consider the implications of race or nation on stage, on screen, and in installations, happenings, or other performance venues in Shakespeare’s Roman plays and how perceptions of race shift in different venues, at different historical moments, and even from person to person.


ESRA Seminar (European Shakespeare Research Association) Rome 2019


Theatre affords cultural mobility to performers, audience members, and authors. Cultural mobility encompasses figurative transfer and physical movement (literally, metaphor); acculturation, the process of cultural exchange and transformation; liminal space between flexibility and fixedness; and new analysis of a “sense of place” or lineage (Greenblatt 2009). By creating new worlds in real time through spontaneous community-creation, theatre enables potentially new or unworldly racial and national categories. Since "Rome" is for Shakespeare already an imaginary space in the distant past, a mythos rather than a history, the ancient worlds of the Roman plays (Julius Caesar, Antony and CleopatraCoriolanusTitus Andronicus) offer perfect loci for this kind of world-building and to investigate alternative ways of making or unmaking empire. Such imagined spaces can perhaps offer a way out of what seems like a global crisis of resurgent racialisms: nationalism in Europe, caste-prejudice in India, anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, and so on.

This seminar asks participants to consider the implications of race or nation on stage, on screen, and in installations, happenings, or other performance venues in Shakespeare’s Roman plays and how perceptions of race shift in different venues, at different historical moments, and even from person to person. Seminarians could consider, for example, Gregory Doran’s all-black Julius Caesar at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012; the controversies surrounding Rob Melrose’s self-styled "Obama" Julius Caesar in Chicago in 2012 and what Donald Trump, Jr. deemed a "Trump" Julius Caesar at the Public Theatre in New York in 2017; the imbrication of race and nation in Cesare Deve Morire (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, 2012; Bassi 2016); and readings of local productions that investigate how race, nation, and the concept of “Rome” resonate in different “liminal localities,” whether European, Asian, or North American (Matei-Chesnoiu 2009; Valls-Russell and Vienne-Guerrin 2017).


ESRA 2019 will have a special focus on processes of remapping, with consequences for early modern discourses on borders, nations, territories, the world. It will prompt discussions of the place held by such processes in the culture of the period, but it will also foreground the various ways in which they are relevant for current preoccupations and concerns.

As we know, early modern European geography was shattered by a series of disruptive events which resulted not just in a remapping of borders, nations, and world, but had a bearing in problematizing the very notion of space and the place human beings held in a changing order of the universe. Discoveries of new lands and new perimeters, originating from a thirst for knowledge, political ambition, wars, not to mention wars of religion and the reshuffled and transversal geographies designed by faith in post-Reformation Europe, were such as to redefine the sense of belonging, physically as well as mentally, and spiritually.

Questions related to this topic are at the core of Shakespeare’s figurations of multifaceted physical  and mental landscapes. And the geographical turn of the past few decades has made us aware of the wide range of thematic, ideological, and theoretical issues related to it.

Our European contemporary geography, constantly redefined by new walls as well as the trespassing movement of massive flows of migrant human beings, invites us to interrogate anew the heuristic and ethical potential of that turn; it also encourages us to bring to the fore and reassess the pervasiveness and problematics of the experience of exile, displacement and dispossession in Shakespearean drama. Thus the topic should be found engaging and compelling by the ESRA community, now that our geopolitics and sense of belonging are being challenged and readjusted, daily, by the crises of human mobility.

All in all the chosen topic should provide ample scope for epistemological approaches as well as for discovering new proximities with the Souths of the world and between Northern and Mediterranean seas, daily crossed and redesigned by thousands of stories of outcasts and shipwrecks.

The topic should also be useful for discovering new contiguities between  past and present. Ancient Rome, with its expanded geography, looms large on Shakespeare’s imagination. Rome was a world-wide stage on which to project the performances of the Elizabethans’ growing imperial ambitions, in a logic of translatio imperii, or of “cultural mobility” in the terms it is being re-conceptualized nowadays. But Rome was  also a global stage on which to address issues as crucial as centre, periphery, edges, borders, landmarks, elsewheres, otherness, hybridity, cross-cultural encounters and dynamics.

Thus the topic suits productively the variety of Shakespeare’s geographies as well as the chosen Roman venue.

Potential topics to be addressed may include (but are not limited to):

  • Geographies of inclusion and exclusion
  • Centre and peripheries
  • Narratives of migration and exile
  • Cartographies of gender and race
  • Vagrancy and hospitality
  • Walls and border-crossings
  • Europe and global Souths
  • Wilderness, exoticism and liminal places
  • Translation as geography
  • Translating and re-translating Shakespeare
  • Shakespearean migrations across media
  • Conflicting geographies of the soul
  • Geographies of the sacred
  • Explorations and geographies of the self
  • Wars of religions and reconfigured geographies
  • Digital remappings of Shakespeare
  • Mobile Shakespeare across genres
  • Circulating books and translation
  • Universal libraries and local libraries
  • Translatio Imperii and Cultural Mobility
  • World and National Shakespeares
  • Sea-routes and cultural encounters
  • Shipwrecked identities
  • Local Shakespeare in performance in the digital space

Modalités de soumission

Please submit an abstract (200/300 words) and a brief bibliography (100 words)

by January 15th, 2019

to all convenors of the seminar.


  • Shaul Bassi, Associate Professor, Università Ca’Foscari Venezia, Italy < bassi@unive.it >
  • Sujata Iyengar, Professor, University of Georgia, USA < iyengar@uga.edu >
  • Nora Galland, PhD candidate, Université Paul Valéry-Montpellier 3, France < nora.galland@unvi-montp3.fr >

Works Cited

BASSI, Shaul, Shakespeare's Italy and Italy's Shakespeare: Place, "Race," Politics, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

GREENBLATT, Stephen, with Ines G. Zupanov, Reinhard Meyer-Kalkus, Heike Paul, Pál Nyíri, and Friederike Pannewick, Cultural Mobility, Cambridge University Press. 2009.

MATEI-CHESNOIU, Monica, Early Modern Drama and the Eastern European Elsewhere: Representations of Liminal Localities in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, Madison, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009.

TAVIANI, Paolo, and Vittorio Taviani, dirs. Cesare Deve Morire, 2012.

VALLS-RUSSELL, Janice, and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin, “Play Review: Titus Andronicus,” Cahiers Elisabéthains 94.1 (2017): 142–145.


  • Rome, Italian Republic


  • Tuesday, January 15, 2019


  • race, ethnicity, Italy, performance, Shakespeare


  • Nora Galland
    courriel : nora [dot] galland [at] univ-cotedazur [dot] fr

Information source

  • Nora Galland
    courriel : nora [dot] galland [at] univ-cotedazur [dot] fr


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

To cite this announcement

« Cultural mobility around Shakespeare's Rome », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, December 19, 2018, https://calenda.org/526321

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