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Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography

Conference Schedule

Shakespeare and the Problem of Biography
An NEH Collaborative Research Conference at the Folger Shakespeare Library
3 - 5 April 2014


Photos of this event are now online.


There is no more iconic figure with whom to push forward a fresh critical evaluation of the aims and methods of literary biography than Shakespeare. Within the academy, textual analysis often denies biography any explanatory force, while popular conceptions of Shakespeare look to biography precisely for insight into the works. In the standoff, the genre of literary biography is lost as a subject of serious inquiry. On the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, the Folger Institute Center for Shakespeare Studies will undertake a rigorous investigation of the multiple—and conflicted—roles biography plays in the reception of Shakespeare today. A cadre of influential scholars, many of whom have written biographies of Shakespeare, will focus discussion on such topics as the distinctions between authorship and agency, the interpretations of documentary evidence, the impact of methods of dating texts on an understanding of Shakespeare’s life, the broadened context for that life of a more robust understanding of theatrical activity, and the possibility that biography is itself a form of historical fiction. The conference opens Thursday evening with a session that doubles as Shakespeare’s Birthday Lecture. In his presentation on “Shakespeare, Biography & Anti-Biography,” Brian Cummings will discuss the problem of writing the life of Shakespeare in terms of the documentary history and its haunting sense of missing links.






Thursday, 3 April 2014


6:00 pm

Opening Reception (Great Hall)


7:30 pm  

Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture



Kathleen Lynch, Executive Director of the Folger Institute


Shakespeare, Biography & Anti-Biography
Brian Cummings, Anniversary Professor of English at the University of York






Friday, 4 April 2014


9:00 am  

Convening Remarks

Kathleen Lynch, Executive Director of the Folger Institute


Issues in National and Literary Biography


The Exceptions that Prove the Rule: Shakespeare in the Dictionaries of National Biography

Lawrence Goldman, Professor of History at the University of Oxford and Editor, ODNB


Chair: Barbara Lewalski, William R. Kenan Jr. Research Professor of History and Literature and of English at Harvard University


Roundtable Discussion on Literary Biography


Andrew Hadfield, Professor of English at the University of Sussex


Christopher Hodgkins, Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro


Barbara Lewalski, William R. Kenan Jr. Research Professor of History and Literature and of English at Harvard University



10:45 am 

Coffee Break




11:15 am 

On the History of Biographies of Shakespeare


A Legacy Takes Hold
Jack Lynch, Acting Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at
Rutgers University


Biography and Celebrity Culture
Joseph Roach, Sterling Professor of Theatre and English at Yale University


Chair: Peter Holland, McMeel Family Chair in Shakespeare Studies and Associate Dean for the Arts at the University of Notre Dame




12:45 pm

Lunch (provided in Great Hall)




2:00 pm 

Rethinking the Documentary Evidence


Shakespeare and Son: Fact, Tradition, Speculation
Graham Holderness, Professor of English at the University of Hertfordshire


Anne by Indirection
Lena Cowen Orlin, Professor of English at Georgetown University


Chair: Paul Menzer, Professor of English and Director of the Shakespeare and Performance Graduate Program at Mary Baldwin College



3:30 pm 

Tea (Great Hall)






Saturday, 5 April 2014


9:00 am

Convening Remarks

Owen Williams, Assistant Director for Scholarly Programs, Folger Institute


Biography, Theater, History


Shakespeare: Man of the Theater
Lois Potter, Emerita Ned B. Allen Professor of English at the University of Delaware


What Difference does a Date Make?
Margreta de Grazia, Emerita Sheli Z. and Burton X. Rosenberg Professor of the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania


Chair: Richard McCoy, Distinguished Professor of English at Queens College and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York



10:30 am 

Coffee break




11:00 am 

Who Are We Looking For?


Early Modern English Portraiture
Tarnya Cooper, Curator of Sixteenth Century Collections at the National Portrait Gallery


Believing in Shakespeare / Shakespeare's Beliefs: Religion and the Dilemmas of Drama
Julia Reinhard Lupton, Professor of English and Interim Chair at the
University of California, Irvine


Chair: Andrew Hadfield, Professor of English at the University of Sussex




12:30 pm 

Lunch (provided in Great Hall)




1:30 pm 

What Do We Expect of the Author?


What is the Biographers' Investment in the Biographical Subject?
John Drakakis, Professor of Literature and Languages at the University of Stirling


Secrets and Ciphers: Decoding the Decoders
William H. Sherman, Head of Research at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of York


Chair: Bradin Cormack, Professor of English at Princeton University




3:00 pm 





3:30 pm 

Where Are We Now?


Full Circle: Biography and Literature
Katherine Duncan-Jones, Professor of English at the University of Oxford


Stories about the Dead
Stephen Greenblatt, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University


The Necessity of Biography

David Schalkwyk, Academic Director of Global Shakespeare, Queen Mary University of London and University of Warwick


Chair: Brian Cummings, Anniversary Professor of English at the University of York




4:45 pm 

Closing Reception (Great Hall)





Apply: 13 January 2014 NEW DEADLINE of 14 February 2014 for grants-in-aid to support travel and lodging. A NEH Collaborative Research grant extends funding eligibility to qualified graduate students and faculty from U.S. institutions. Click here for the application form.


Registration: For those not planning to request travel and lodging funding, a registration form is available here. Please note: if you are coming from abroad, you are welcome to pay the registration fee in cash upon your arrival at the Folger. Please contact institute@folger.edu with any other questions.




Any views, findings,conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this conference and this webpage do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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