1993 - Shakespeare in the New Europe (Bankya - Sofia)

The international conference “Shakespeare in the New Europe” took place in Bankya, a small satellite town of Sofia and a spa in the hills to the west of the Bulgarian capital city. Nineteen academics from eight European countries including Britain and also from the USA gathered in these idyllic settings during the week from 28 May to 2 June 1993 to appraise the role of Shakespeare in the transition from the age of the Cold War to the brave new world that was emerging uncertainly over the ruins of the Berlin Wall. After the winter of our discontent, the future looked as promising as ever. The spring was lush, almost emblematically so. But some hundred kilometers west of Bankya, just across the border with crumbling Yugoslavia, the war was already raising its ugly head. It was peaceful and pleasant in our sheltered little nook, but you could not help hearing the rumbling of new tragedies from over there. The moment was as acutely political as they come. And politics could not but imposed itself as a central concern of our Shakespearean deliberations.

The idea of this conference had developed out of the mutually gratifying experience of several years of academic exchanges between the Department of English at Sofia University and the Department of English Literature at Sheffield University, UK, under the auspices of the British Council and with the help of two Bulgarian foundations. The enthusiasm of Professor Michael Hattaway and his many Shakespearean contacts were invaluable in the process of its organisation. Another good colleague and friend from Sheffield University, Derek Roper, was indispensable as coordinator and correspondent. All participants were invited personally. Among these, besides M. Hattaway, were Jonathan Bate, Terence Hawkes, Harriett Hawkins, Robin Headlam Wells, Thomas Healy, Nicholas Potter and Erica Sheen from Britain, Manfred Pfister and Thomas Sorge from Germany, Rafael Portillo and Manuel J. Gómez-Lara from Spain, Marta Gibińska from Poland, Martin Hilský from the Czech Republic, Odette-Irenne Blumenfeld from Romania, Janja Ciglar-Žanić from Croatia, Mark Sokolyansky from Ukraine, Richard Burt and James R. Siemon from the US, and Evgenia Pancheva, Boika Sokolova and Alexander Shurbanov from Bulgaria. Three of the above-listed scholars were unable to be present in person, but their papers were submitted for the proceedings. All contributions had been circulated among the participants beforehand, so the conference sessions were wholly devoted to discussion. Accompanying events were organized in Sofia and around it.

In 1994 a nice looking volume containing all the contributions was published by Sheffield Academic Press: Shakespeare in the New Europe, edited by Michael Hattaway, Boika Sokolova and Derek Roper (ISBN 1-85075-474-8). The contents are structured in the following eight sections: I. The Old Europe: Shakespeare and Cultural Policy; II. Rotten State, Noble Mind? (comprising two studies of the reception of Hamlet); III. Constructing Nations; IV. Subversive Shakespeare, East and West; V. The New Europe 1: Spain to Ukraine; VI. The New Europe 2: Shakespeare in the Balkans; VII. The New Europe 3: Love, Power, Postmodernism; VIII. Producing and Reinventing. This is the concluding statement of the editors’ Introduction: "We felt present in Bankya in 1993 at a conference of history, theory and culture; we shared a commitment to both the reverent and irreverent in the field of Shakespeare studies, to re-reading, re-working and re-producing his texts. Concordia discors fetibus apta est: our discussions, grounded on difference, had engendered an experience that nevertheless seemed to be something of great constancy. There was, however, a world beyond that green world of ours, and we knew that, although some stability had emerged in the new Europe, the new maps are just new texts, the reading of which must remain provisional."

Alexander Shurbanov