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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Time and Place: Bakhtin and Shakespeare

21st August 2019, 17:30 to 18:30, Alington House, 4 North Bailey, Helen Clifford

In this second talk of the Late Summer Lectures series, Helen Clifford will open up a new perspective on Shakespeare's plays, through the eyes of the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin. Free and open to all, from students and schools to members of the public.

About this Public Lecture

In notes written to revise his 1965 book Rabelais and His World, Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin displays an engagement with theatre and Shakespeare in particular that is unprecedented elsewhere in his work. Usually Bakhtin holds Shakespeare up as a touchstone for literary genius, but goes no further in his analysis. The revision notes, however, show Bakhtin close reading several of the major tragedies, including King Lear, Macbeth, and Othello, and discussing the differences between the early modern stage and dramatic practice contemporary to him.

This lecture will explore Bakhtin’s concept of cosmic topography, wherein every gesture made by an actor on stage is situated within a cosmicised framework encompassing heaven, hell, and the earth in between. This concept ‘places’ the performer onstage, making all action that takes place meaningful within a universal grand scheme. The lecture will begin by situating the Rabelais revision notes in Bakhtin’s critical canon, and situating Bakhtin within the canon of Shakespeare criticism. It will then discuss theatrical practice through time via cosmic topography, with a focus on changes in architecture and audience experience in the early modern theatre and the nineteenth/twentieth century auditorium that was familiar to Bakhtin. It will close by conducting some close-reading of the tragedies mentioned in the notes, looking at topographical imagery, and evaluating Bakhtin’s usefulness to us as critics of Shakespeare now.

The lecture will aim to make Bakhtin’s theoretical approach accessible, and make a case for his worth as a significant twentieth-century voice on Shakespeare, as well as a critic of drama which up until now has been a genre much neglected by Bakhtinian scholars.

About Helen Clifford

Helen Clifford is an AHRC funded PhD student in English at the University of Durham. Her thesis considers Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin’s work on Shakespeare and theatre, using his criticism to construct a new aesthetics of drama to explore Shakespearean performance through time. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Durham and gained an MA from the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute. She has delivered papers at various major interdisciplinary conferences and currently chairs Durham’s Medieval and Early Modern Students’ Association.


Is the lecture suitable for me?

Late Summer Lectures is designed to be open to a wide audience, from university or sixth-form students to members of the public. It aims to convey the latest postgraduate and early career research, so lectures will be rooted in academic ideas and principles; however, lecturers should present these in a clear way. There will be an opportunity to ask questions afterwards or to chat further over refreshments. You can get a sense of what to expect by listening to some of our previous lectures (although most live lectures will also be accompanied by visuals which can help to convey ideas).

Is the venue and lecture accessible?

The Ritson Hall in Alington House is located at the end of a corridor, wide enough for wheelchair access. A lift is available at the end. The organisers or Alington House reception staff will be available to assist. Unfortunately we are not able to provide sign language interpreters for each lecture. If there are any ways in which we could help you to attend the event please contact the organisers at

What are my transport/parking options for getting to and from the event?

Please visit the Alington House website for full details.

Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event?

If the event reaches its limit, priority will be given to those who have reserved a ticket in advance via Eventbrite. We advise that you bring a copy on your phone just in case.

Contact for more information about this event.

Related Links


Research in English At Durham (READ) blog showcasing the the literary research emerging from the Department of English Studies


We host a large number of conferences, lectures and seminars each year, many of them open to the public. Find out more on our Events page.


Many of our public lectures, seminars and conferences are recorded, and can be listened to as podcasts.

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