Thursday, March 12, 2009

Shakespeare, Oaths and Vows

Professor John Kerrigan
University of Cambridge

Thursday, 23 April 2009
5.30pm - 6.30pm, followed by a drinks reception
The British Academy, 10 Carlton House Terrace,
London, SW1Y 5AH

Free Admittance

The language-world of early modern England was thick with oaths and vows, ranging from casual profanity in taverns to the solemn undertakings of those marrying or accepting public office. Moralists urged the seriousness of oaths; casuists advised on how to undo them. There were religious, legal and philosophical debates about what it meant to swear and how firmly one should keep a promise. The literature of the time reflects the prevalence of oaths and vows and the arguments about their status. But Shakespeare was exceptional in the density, depth and subtlety with which he explored these issues. His plays and poems are full of oaths and vows doing structural, psychological and verbally minute, inventive work. This lecture will seek to rectify scholarly neglect of the topic, highlighting Shakespeare's awareness of the paradoxes of oath-taking and vowing and their potency in performance. The aim is not just to elucidate a key element of his artistry but to understand more fully his general construction of human experience.

About the speaker
John Kerrigan is University Professor of English 2000 in the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of St John ’s College, and one of the leading critics of English literature. In 1998 he won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism for: Revenge Tragedy: Aeschylus to Armageddon, an ambitious study in comparative literature. His research covers Shakespeare, early modern literature, and modern British and Irish poetry. His latest book is Archipelagic English: Literature, History, and Politics 1603–1707 (2008).

Shakespeare Lecture
In 1910, Mrs Frida Mond requested that an annual lecture be delivered ‘on or about 23 April on some Shakespearean subject, philosophical, historical, or philological, or some problem in English dramatic literature or histrionic art, or some study in literature of the age of Shakespeare’.

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British Academy Lectures are freely open to the general public and everyone is welcome; there is no charge for admission, no tickets will be issued, and seats cannot be reserved. The Lecture Room is opened at 5.00pm, and the first 100 audience members arriving at the Academy will be offered a seat in the Lecture Room; the next 50 people to arrive will be offered a seat in the Overflow Room, which has a video and audio link to the Lecture Room. Lectures are followed by a reception at 6.30pm, to which members of the audience are invited.

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