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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Event Archive

‘Bodying Forth Things Unknown: Limits Lost and Limits Regained in Shakespeare’

10th February 2015, 17:30, Learning Centre, Palace Green Library, Professor Andy Mousley, De Montfort University

followed by a drinks reception at the Cafe, Palace Green Library.

This event is part of the IMEMS Limits of the Human seminar series for 2014/15. Please note that places are limited and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. To book click here 

Abstract: In I Henry IV a repentant Falstaff momentarily reflects on the error of his ways, by thinking of somewhere else that he could or should be: ‘An I have not forgotten what the inside of a church is made of, I am a peppercorn, a brewer’s horse ... Company, villainous company, hath been the spoil of me’. Falstaff is no longer present in the ‘now’ of the tavern. His immediate plea for a song - ‘Come, sing me a bawdy song, make me merry’ – is a plea to be returned to the environment which he has made his home. It is a plea, as well, to return to the unreflective life.

We enjoy Falstaff because he represents what might be called the ‘spontaneous human’, the human as it exists, or seems to, pre-reflectively. And we enjoy Falstaff, also, because the naturalism he embodies is something we might feel that we are continually in danger of losing. Certainly in Shakespeare’s plays, the ‘spontaneous human’ is routinely threatened by Shakespeare’s numerous thinkers (including Falstaff the thinker). Consciously reflecting selves are also an attribute of the human condition, one which paradoxically enables us to question and wonder what that condition is. Reflective consciousness inserts a gap between ourselves and the spontaneous embrace of the human. This gap can be liberating because it frees us from the determinism of the natural. It can also be the cause of angst: who am I? What am I? What is it to be human? is it even human not to want to be human?

Shakespeare’s plays are places where humanity’s grounding values, characteristics and limits are vividly embodied, only for them to be put to the test, lost, ‘lost-and-re-found’ and sometimes lost again. This makes their conclusive recovery as difficult as it is needful.

Andy Mousley is Professor of Critical Theory and Renaissance Literature at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. He is the author of Literature and the Human: Criticism, Theory, Practice (2013), Re-Humanising Shakespeare (2007) and Renaissance Drama and Contemporary Literary Theory (2000), and co-author with Martin Halliwell of Critical Humanisms (2003). He is the editor of John Donne: New Casebooks (1999) and Towards a New Literary Humanism (2011), and has published articles on humanism, literary humanism and posthumanism in the journals Textual Practice, Shakespeare, and postmedieval. He is the series co-editor of Edinburgh Critical Guides to Literature. He is currently working on a second edition of Re-Humanising Shakespeare, an essay on T. S. Eliot and an essay on the human and posthuman in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.


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