A Retrospect of the Shakespeare and Our Times Conference
Shakespeare changed the world in remarkable ways, and continues his impact even hundreds of years after his death. He has left in his wake an establishment of masterpieces that rank highest in the literary canon. His writings in comedy and tragedy are universally acclaimed and have everlastingly influenced our society.
To celebrate his legacy and honor his works, Old Dominion University hosted Shakespeare 400 Years After: A Public Event, a week-long fair honoring Shakespearean tradition. Artistic exhibitions of dance, music, intuitive film, a magisterial plenary and performances of classics such as “Hamlet,” “Macbeth,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Titus Andronicus,” among other events, were held to remember the late 15th century Elizabethan playwright.
The festivities included a conference on how Shakespeare still affects our modern society. Topics were foreign relations, racism, sex and love. The conference took place in the middle of the festival, which lasted from April 13-20.
To show how Shakespeare is still relevant, an all-star class of accomplished lecturers, professors and doctorates assembled to discuss their theses on modern topics incorporating Shakespearean works. The scholars travelled from all across America as well as from renowned schools in Egypt, Great Britain, China and India.
The conference was split into panels discoursing on topics such as Shakespeare and gender and Shakespeare and early America, for example. Three to four speakers would present their dissertations which were thematically linked, followed by discussion.
The presentations were neither ordinary nor boring. They were linked to contemporary problems and popular culture in pragmatic ways, while remaining academically professional. For instance, Alyssa Wynans from Belmont University in Tennessee discussed how early acceptance of LGBT sexuality is prevalent in Shakespearean works. Wynans demonstrated this through the humorous, creative blogs of today’s Tumblr users.
Whether it was a specific interest such as comical Shakespeare references in modern film or a more serious analysis of Elizabethan racism, the conference had something for everyone. Each scholar provided a different experience with their presentations by incorporating their own anecdotes and personalities within their discussion.
The panels each lasted for an hour and 15 minutes—not too short to be vapid and not too long to be monotonous. Each presenter was allotted 20 minutes, and the final 15 minutes were left for questions and closing remarks.
The goal of the event, as outlined on the website, was to address, “What does Shakespeare mean to us today, and what traces of his thinking can still be seen in our lives?” There was no right or wrong answer to this question. In fact, answers seem to conflict one another, which was part of the conference’s intellectual charm. Much insight and interpretation was offered by the diverse cast. Some views were uniquely personal to the individual, while others coincided with the ideals of society at large.
The conference took literature often considered pristine and prestigious, and brought it to a relatable level, which the average person today can identify. What Shakespeare means to us today largely depends on the character of his readers. For each person, there is different meaning, and the value is inherently intrinsic.
Though the Shakespeare and Our Times Conference has ended, the lasting imprints of its discourse remain. To see what was discussed in the panels, information on the presenters and their topics can be found here.