Newcastle Early Modern Forum

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Early Modern Play Readings, Winter 2015

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

Wednesday 21st October

The Knight of the Burning Pestle

Wednesday 16th December

All welcome, wine and snacks provided. Get in touch if you would like to read a part!


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MYTH, GENDER, ALLUSION: An Early Modern Symposium

Newcastle Early Modern Forum, Wednesday 13th May 2015, 6pm. Newcastle University School of English, Percy Building 1.19.


3 papers will discuss allusive presences and absences in early modern texts, and the reception of early modern texts in twentieth-century culture, bringing together new research in mythography, film studies and the medical humanities.

First, Abigail Richards will discuss the Homeric associations and gendered significance of the plant ‘moly’ in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century discourses. Sharihan Al-Akhras’s paper will turn to Middle Eastern mythology, and its impact on depictions of female characters in Milton’s Paradise Lost; finally, Inma Sánchez-Garcia will talk about the fleeting presence of Shakespeare in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.

The discussion will be accompanied by refreshments.


Abigail Richards (Durham): ‘Moly’ in Early Modern Writing.

This paper will focus on the significance of the plant “moly” in late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century humanist discourse. I will discuss its appearance in Homer’s Odyssey as the pharmakon used by Odysseus to defeat Circe, and the relation of this myth to the gendered, spiritual attributes that the plant possessed for a Christianised Renaissance. Moly features as a figure for the virtues of temperance and chastity in the works of writers such as Ascham and Golding, and as a “counterpoison” to a feminised Roman Catholic Church in Tuke. For Du Bartas, importantly, it signified the biblical tree of life. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, and into the seventeenth, however, the moral status of moly becomes somewhat less straightforward. In the work of writers such as Lyly and Dickenson the plant is deployed as a figure of ambiguity, a phenomenon, I argue that Homer’s text supports and which was corroborated by Platonic notions of the doubleness of the pharmakon itself. During the late medieval and early modern periods furthermore, the incorporation of moly into Christian narratives of spiritual Genesis saw the plant share discursive space with the mandrake, which was known also as Circaia or “Circe’s herb” and thus deeply implicated in the same Homeric myth in which moly is rooted. The associations of the mandrake not only with witchcraft but with the Biblical tree of knowledge would seem to place it in direct opposition to moly. As I will argue, however, the relationship between the two plants in the Renaissance in fact proves dialectical, with fascinating consequence for ideas of female agency and empowered sexuality that the Genesis myth of origin would seem to suppress.

Sharihan Al-Akhras (Durham): “[…] Riding through the Air she comes / Lur’d with the smell of infant blood”: John Milton and the Middle-Eastern Demonic in Paradise Lost.

This paper aims to investigate the possible incorporation of Middle-Eastern myth and imagery in Paradise lost, namely in the representation of the female characters Eve and Sin. The Middle-Eastern presence will be examined through the possible allusion to Lilith, the first woman created according to the Jewish tradition. The demonization of Lilith, due to her rebellious nature, and her monstrous state will be compared to the description of Sin in the Miltonic lines. Moreover, Lilith’s Arabic equivalent, the Ghoul(a) الغولة, who engaged the minds of European and Middle-Eastern scholars alike, will also be discussed in relation to the Middle-Eastern narrative of the myth. In this paper, I will represent the haunting characteristics of this Middle-Eastern female monster, such as luring innocent travellers of the night and drinking infants’ blood, and relate her to Milton’s Sin, and in specific instances, Eve. Eventually, this endeavour aims to contribute to scholarly discussions of Middle-Eastern imagery in Early Modern literary texts.

Inma Sánchez-Garcia (Northumbria): Nothing, and Be Silent: Shakespeare in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona.

In Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966), a self-conscious film much concerned with signifying practices, Shakespeare makes a fleeting cameo appearance in the shape of a book: the wilfully mute actress, Elizabeth, reads silently a collected edition of Macbeth, King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra while Alma, her nurse, accuses Elizabeth of treachery, airing her views about the artist’s role in society. In this scene, art, identity and authenticity are raised and problematised through a mise-en-scène in which the stark chromatic interplay of blacks and whites foregrounds the presence of a large sunhat, of a pair of sunglasses and of Shakespeare’s book. The hat and the glasses conceal the face and thus the identity of the two characters, which draws the viewer’s attention to the clash between appearance and reality while questioning authenticity. What is the significance of Shakespeare here? Can such a passing visual reference to the playwright be relevant to the whole film? Might ‘nothing’, the only word uttered by the actress, work as a citation of King Lear? This paper aims to address these questions, and, in the light of poststructuralist theories about meaning, language and identity, argue for King Lear as a text against which this Swedish film can be fruitfully read.

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‘Reading Medieval Texts in the Renaissance’

Medieval and Early Modern Research Forum

You are warmly invited to this symposium will take place on Wednesday 15 April, in Percy Building Room 1.19, starting at 5pm.  Professor John Thompson (Queen’s University Belfast) will be speaking on ‘Medieval Textual Afterlives’ and Alexandra da Costa (Cambridge) on ‘Selling Forbidden Books’.  The forum is open to all and is followed by drinks.

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‘Imitatio or Cut and Paste?’

Prof. Mike Pincombe (Newcastle University)

Wednesday 10th December, 5pm, Percy Building G.10

We always tell our students that the Renaissance schoolboy learnt imitation as an essential trick of the trade. Maybe he did. But I wonder if he forgot it again just as quickly as our own students forget what we teach them about post-structuralism. A few passages from a poem written in 1559 by Thomas Drant will show where real imitation is taking place, and where Drant is just using the sort of cut and paste techniques we would associate with plagiarism more than with imitation. The main point though is to get us thinking about the actual pervasiveness of imitation in English Renaissance literature. (Not much, in my view.)


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Autumn 2014 Events

Tuesday 11th November, 5pm

Newcastle University, Percy Building, Lecture Room G.05

Dr Paul Frazer, Northumbria University

‘Mobility and Identity in Early Modern English Drama’

Dr Harriet Archer, Newcastle University

‘Sartorial Fashion and Poetic Invention in 1570s England’

Wednesday 10th December, 5pm

Newcastle University, Percy Building, Lecture Room G.10

Professor Mike Pincombe, Newcastle University

‘When imitation goes wrong: Thomas Drant’s epitaph on Frances Grey (ob. 21 November 1559)’

All are welcome — wine, soft drinks and snacks will be provided.

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EMF Thursday 20th March

We very much hope you’ll be able to join us for the final Early Modern Forum of the term, at 6pm on Thursday 20th March, Percy 1.19.

Paul Frazer (Northumbria University) will give a paper on ‘Religious Routes of Romeo and Juliet: Persecution and the Popular Imagination in Shakespeare and his Sources’.

Wine and snacks will be provided – all are very welcome. Come and help us celebrate a successful inaugural term of events!