Scholarly Speaker Series
For the past several years Comparative Drama has sponsored lectures by visiting professors as part of the Western Michigan University Department of English Scholarly Speaker Series. This is one of the ways in which the journal is able to promote scholarly discourse beyond the written page.

The Fall 2012 Comparative Drama speaker was Ania Loomba, the Catherine Bryson Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania where she researches and teaches early modern literature, histories of race and colonialism, postcolonial studies, feminist theory, and contemporary Indian literature and culture.

This talk suggested, via a discussion of Shakespeare's The Tempest,  that  because early seventeenth-century England had imperial aspirations and overseas trade interests beyond its actual capacities, it provides us with an opportunity to understand the processes of globalization in a unique way. This drama offers detailed exploration of the intersections of racial ideologies, colonial impulses, and commercial desires. It demands that we engage simultaneously with the making of capital and empire, but in and through an analysis of ideologies  ignored by world system theorists. In doing so, it also negotiates what appear to be contradictions and confusions between different parts of the world—America, Asia, the Mediterranean and Africa—placeseventually to be yoked together, but which, at this time, seem to inhabit separate spaces prior to the making of a global system.  


The Spring 2011 Comparative Drama sponsored speaker was Stephen Orgel, the Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of Humanities at Stanford, where he teaches Shakespeare and early modern English theater.

In “Open Secrets: Everyday Magic in Early Modern England,” Dr. Orgel discussed Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus  in the context of books of household magic that were circulating when those plays were first staged.

Dr. Orgel earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1959. At Stanford he teaches courses in Shakespeare, Renaissance drama and poetry, and the history of the book. His published research has investigated gender roles in the drama, the English patronage system, Stuart court masques, and Renaissance performance practice, among other subjects. His books include The Illusion of Power (UP of California, 1975), Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare’s England (Cambridge UP, 1996), The Authentic Shakespeare (Routledge, 2002), and Imagining Shakespeare (Palgrave, 2003). General editor of Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture and of the new Pelican Shakespeare series, he has also edited works by Edith Wharton and Anthony Trollope.


The Spring 2010 Comparative Drama sponsored speaker was Amanda Wrigley, Professor of Classics at the Open University.

Professor Wrigley's talk was titled "Politics, Propaganda and the Public Imagination: Ancient Greece on BBC Radio, 1920s-1950s"

Wrigley earned a doctoral degree from Open University. Her research focuses on the public engagement with ancient Greek drama as an educational subject, cultural element and entertainment source. Her published work concentrates primarily on its use in 20th-century Britain.

At the time of her talk, Wrigley was visiting the United States as a Mellon-Sawyer Postdoctoral Fellow in Classics at Northwestern University. In this position, she helped organize and run the yearlong Sawyer Seminar series "Out of Europe: Reception and Revision of Greek Theatre in the United States." Her latest electronic resource, "Classicizing Chicago," is currently in development and will include more than 50 illustrated essays on Chicago's history of cultural engagement with Greek and Roman antiquity. She curated a two-month exhibit on this topic at the Northwestern University Library.


The Fall 2008 Comparative Drama sponsored speaker was Mary Crane, Professor of English and Department Chair at Boston College. A summary of Dr. Crane's lecture is as follows:

Roman World, Egyptian Earth: Cognitive Difference and Empire in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

Critics over the years have found many different ways to read the binary division of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra between the poles of Rome and Egypt.  I approach this division first, as a cognitive one, based in changing theories of the relationship between human perception and scientific truth.   My talk traces some of the epistemological underpinnings, and political implications, of the very different cognitive orientations of the two locations.  Romans in the play name their environment the “world,” and they perceive and understand it primarily in visual terms.  Their “world” is composed largely of hard, opaque, human-fashioned materials and its surface is divided into almost obsessively named cities and nations.   Egyptians, on the other hand, inhabit the “earth,” in which they imagine themselves to be immersed, and which they perceive and understand through all of the senses.  The “earth” is yielding, encompassing, generative, and resistant to human division and mastery.   Egyptian understanding of their relation to the earth is partly based in the Aristotelian system of elements and humors that was, by 1606, at the beginning of the end of its dominance.  Romans, on the other hand, seem to have left behind that system and its porous inter-relationships between subject and nature, replacing it with a subjectivity separated from and overlooking the natural world and imagining itself as able to control it.  These differing systems of thought and perception result in very different versions of nation and empire.  The Roman “world” seems to be reaching toward something like Shankar Raman’s “colonialist space,” and toward the rational subject who can exploit it.  Egyptian earthiness suggests the both the intractability and inscrutability of nature in the face of human will to power.


The Fall 2007 Comparative Drama sponsored speaker was Wendy Wall, Professor of English at Northwestern University. A summary of Dr. Wall's lecture is as follows:

“At Home with Shakespeare”

How did the domestic sphere pervade the fantasy life of early modern people? How did it serve as an intricate part of the representational world of Shakespeare’s plays? This presentation examines the particular way that textiles in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Othello signal contradictions in how domestic work was understood in the period. These plays make strikingly clear that domesticity was a sign of creativity, power, and fantasy, comprising objects and activities whose meanings could not be fully controlled. As they exploit contradictions in household ideology, Shakespearean plays reveal creative tensions in how housework was used to structure—and to negate—communities and relationships.

Our Spring 2004 sponsored speaker, Michael Vanden Heuvel, is a Professor of Theater and Drama at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

His talk, entitled "To Infinity ... and Beyond! Theatre Plays with Science," focused on the recent explosion of plays that address ideas or themes from the sciences. After providing an historical sketch of evolution of science dramas, Vanden Heuvel addressed recent critiques of the genre from such artist-scientists as Carl Djerassi, and argued against allowing theatre artists to be bound to a mimetic relation to scientific ideas. Rather, he suggested, scientists must come to understand the stage as a site of signifying practices, and expect scientific ideas and themes to be estranged and defamiliarized rather than simply repeated with certainty and exactitude.

Vanden Heuvel's work on science and theatre is represented by his many conference presentations on topics ranging from performance and thermodynamics, the uses of information theory in modern American drama, and the uses of scientific theories by the theatrical avant-garde, as well as by articles in New Theatre Quarterly, a special volume of Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses, and in edited collections such as Interrogating America through Theatre and Performance and Contours of the Avant-Garde: Performance and Textuality. He is currently at work on a book tentatively entitled "'Congregations Rich with Entropy': Performance and the Emergence of Complexity."


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