Shakespeare by Design: Ornament, Affordance, Soundsacpe
Special Session proposed for 2013 MLA
“Still Deceived by Ornament”
Russ McDonald, Goldsmiths, University of London
“Romeo’s Glove: Probing Shakespearean Affordances”
Julia Lupton, UC Irvine
“Shakespeare’s Landscape Futures: Soundscapes and Acoustic Ecologies in The Tempest”
CJ Gordon, UC Irvine
Joseph Campana, Rice University
If they accept our proposal, here’s what we’ll do:
Toasters, books, jackets, book jackets, public plazas, green cars, plastic straws, the Nike logo, your blog, as well as Birnam Wood, Romeo’s gloves, Lear’s luggage, and Prospero’s sound system: all of these are the product of design. This panel proposes to bring together Shakespeare and design. The panel will consider the relationship between Shakespearean style and visual and other patterning in the Tudor period, while also putting those features into dialogue with contemporary design concepts and practices, especially those that concern the disposition of environments in their mediated and spectacular as well as ecological and phenomenological dimensions. Our aim is to start a conversation about the many relationships that obtain between Shakespeare and design, including textile and clothing design, landscape architecture, built environments, and scenography. The sequence of essays builds from more historical to more speculative considerations in order to assemble a commons shared by Renaissance and modern design.
The first paper, “Still Deceived by Ornament,” by Russ McDonald, professor of English at Goldsmiths, University of London, takes up the conjunction of Shakespeare and design from an historical and contextual perspective. Professor McDonald has written extensively on Shakespearean style, for example, in his influential monograph, Shakespeare’s Late Style (Cambridge: 2006). McDonald will address a vital set of counter-currents in Elizabethan culture: on the one hand, the increasing devotion to ornament and form in Tudor design, particularly architecture, clothing, and interior decoration; and, on the other, the emerging doubt about that phenomenon that begins to surface in literary texts at the turn of the century, especially in Shakespearean tragedy and poetry but also in Bacon and the Jacobeans dramatists. Analysis of this ambiguous cultural strain will employ the context of early modern visual design to address such diverse works as Love’s Labour’s Lost, Lyly’s plays and Euphues, Nashe’s Unfortunate Traveller, the Jonsonian masque, and Shakespeare’s 1609 Sonnets.
The second paper is by Julia Reinhard Lupton, professor of English at UC Irvine and the author of several books on Shakespeare as well as co-author of two trade books on design. In “Romeo’s Glove: Shakespearean Affordances,” Lupton turns to affordance theory in order to understand the interplay between things, actions, and settings in Shakespearean drama. In design theory, “affordances” refer to the uses of a particular object and the way in which those uses are communicated by size, shape, texture, orientation, or other indicators of accommodation to action. Standing beneath Juliet’s balcony, Romeo ends a cosmic flight of comparisons by imagining himself as the glove on Juliet hand. Romeo’s glove is sumptuary marker of the most delicate gradations in status and the spontaneous carrier of bawdy intentions, nocturnal emissions, and flights of seeing feelingly. The glove signals to us how the balcony scene as a whole – one of the most famous scenes in the entire Shakespare canon — plays the vertical layers of the stage (plateau, gallery, canopy, open sky) as a menu of action and expression possibilities. In her paper, Lupton will examine the poetic and spatial affordances of Romeo’s glove in order to test the relevance of affordance theory for readings of Shakespeare that are both theatrical and literary.
The third paper is by CJ Gordon, “Shakespeare’s Landscape Futures: Soundscapes and Acoustic Ecologies in The Tempest” looks at sound design for theatrical, cognitive, and political understandings of space. The field of acoustic ecology unpacks the dense weave of relations between humans and their environment, according to the premise that all landscapes are also soundscapes. But if the environment produces noise, sound reciprocally creates and defines spaces, weaving people together with one another and their environment through an acoustic fabric spun by the shared exposure to sound. As befits the play that boasts Shakespeare’s most fully realized soundtrack, The Tempest explores both the transformative and empowering dimensions of the soundscape while probing its darker, exploitative, abusive potentials. Sound is crucial to the diegetic space created by Prospero (and Shakespeare) in The Tempest, to the extent that the desolate domains of Prospero’s island of exile are shaped into inhabitable scenes of creepy domiciles, pastoral romance, and even grudging hospitality through the transformative magic of soundscape, the connective tissue of a minimalist built environment.
This trio of papers demonstrates a range of scenes and senses in which “Shakespeare” and “Design” can be brought together in order to produce new readings of the plays. This panel aims to mark out new traffic patterns among Shakespeare’s dramatic poetry, Renaissance design practice, and contemporary spatial dispositions and experiments. Shakespeare’s plays and poems, we are suggesting, engage in a kind of design thinking, both through their participation in and resistances to pattern and ornament, and in their topological and expressive mapping of space in images whose import would only be actualized in much later instances of design practice. Links among cognition, affordances, domesticity, decorative style, and environmental complexity are growing themes in Shakespeare studies today, but drawing them together under the umbrella of design conceived as one of the most inclusive and far-reaching artistic and industrial practices of modernity is, we believe, a new venture, one whose possibilities we would like to test here.
Julia Lupton is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author or co-author of four books on Shakespeare, most recently Thinking with Shakespeare: Essays on Politics and Life (Chicago, 2011). She is the co-author (with her sister Ellen Lupton) of two trade books on design. Her new book project is on Shakespeare and design,with a special emphasis on affordance theory and soft architecture. She has spoken frequently at the MLA, for both division meetings and special sessions, over the past twenty-five years. She is active in the MLA and is currently a member of the Delegate Assembly.
Russ McDonald is former president of the Shakespeare Association of America and the author of many books and articles on Shakespeare. He is currently a professor of English at Goldsmith’s College in London. His book Shakespeare’s Late Style studies linguistic style with a close attention to the affective and thematic consequences of formal patterning. He is extending this work now to style in visual culture.
CJ Gordon is an advanced graduate student in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. C.J. Gordon is the author of “Bread God, Blood God: Wonderhosts and Early Encounters with Secularization,” an article on disenchantment and bleeding eucharists. She has won fellowships from the Social Science Research Council and the Belgian American Educational Foundation. C.J. is currently completing a dissertation entitled “Shakespeare’s Landscape Futures: Design and Renaissance Conjectural Terrains.” She is the co-author with Julia Lupton of “Shakespeare by Design: A Flight of Concepts,” forthcoming in a special issue of English Studies on Shakespeare and Theory.
Joseph Campana is an assistant professor of English at Rice University and editor of Studies in English Literature. His first academic book, The Pain of Reformation: Spenser, Vulnerability, and the Ethics of Masculinity, has just been published by Fordham UP, 2012. He has written many essays on Renaissance literature, sexuality, and sovereignty, and he is also the author of two books of poetry.
Commenting is closed for this article.