1999 - 400 Years of Shakespeare in Europe (Murcia)

From 18-20 November 1999 Murcia University hosted the international conference “Four Centuries of Shakespeare in Europe”, which attracted scholars from 19 different European countries, including the UK and Ireland. With funding from the University itself, the British Council, the Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo and also the Education and Culture Dept of the regional government, the aim of the conference was to check the pulse of studies in Shakespeare both with and without his language. It thus hoped to build on similar initiatives taken at Sofia and Antwerp, but to broaden the focus of such events to cover the three main areas of research in European Shakespeare: scholarship, translation and performance. Ángel-Luis Pujante, Keith Gregor and Clara Clavo formed the local organizing committee, while the conference academic committee was made up of Ángel-Luis Pujante, Balz Engler (Basle, Switzerland), Ton Hoenselaars (Utrecht, Holland), Mick Hattaway (Sheffield, UK), Alexander Shurbanov (Sofia, Bulgaria) and Manfred Draudt (Vienna, Austria). All these scholars, with the exception of Manfred Draudt, had taken part in a meeting held in Murcia the previous year, where the possibility of creating an association which might coordinate research in the field was broached. At the conference Hoenselaars was convenor for the seminar on scholarship and criticism, while Hattaway and Shurbanov chaired the performance and translation seminars, all of which gave specialists from a broad range of European countries, both easy and west, the chance to discuss the impact Shakespeare has had on a panoply of national cultures.

The conference began with a keynote address by Dennis Kennedy (Trinity College, Dublin), the editor of the pioneering book Foreign Shakespeare, whose lecture, called “Shakespeare and Post-War Reconstruction”, gave an illuminating account of the role of plays like Richard II in European reconstruction in the wake of the Second World War. In the second plenary, “Essential Shakespeare”, Balz Engler examined the processes by which cultural space had been made for Shakespeare’s work in 18th and 19th century Europe. The third plenary by Martin Hilsky (Prague, Czech Republic), “Original, Translation and the ‘Third Text’: Shakespeare’s Sonnets in Czech”, gave a translator’s eye-view of how in bilingual editions of the poems such as his own a new and greatly enriched version can often be seen taking shape in the interstices between original and translated texts. These keynote lectures were accompanied by short papers by Keith Gregor (Murcia, Spain) who looked at the emergence of Shakespeare as a character on the 19th century Spanish stage; Boika Sokolova (Sofia, Bulgaria), who considered those aspects of Shakespeare’s work that had had the biggest impact in Europe and had earned him the title of “man of the millennium”; Marta Gibinska (Cracow, Poland), who addressed the political and sociocultural circumstances surrounding Shakespeare’s appropriation for the Polish stage (“Enter Shakespeare: The Context of Early Polish Appropriations”) and Rafael Portillo and Mercedes Salvador (Seville, Spain), who gave a lively account of some twentieth-century productions of Hamlet in Spain. All of the lectures were well attended and provoked intense discussions, some of which spilled over into the different seminars, as well as into the cafés and university corridors were delegates congregated for morning and afternoon coffee.

The afternoon of the 19th was set aside for a business meeting which was designed to explore the possibilities of continuing and somehow coordinating study and research into “European Shakespeare”. Of the many positive things to come out of the meeting was unanimous support for the idea of setting up an informal research network devoted, amongst other things, to pooling information on Shakespeare and which might, at some later stage, apply for full institutional status. For the time being, it was agreed that the participants at the 1998 Murcia meeting (Pujante, Engler, Hoenselaars, Hattaway and Shurbanov) should form a steering committee to consider the feasibility of such an initiative. In this context, it was recommended that, until a pan-European research project could take shape, the various European countries should pursue research into the presence of Shakespeare in their respective cultures with a view to a possible later integration. Indeed, shortly after the conference the proposal of a research project on “Shakespeare in Spain within the framework of European culture”, which had been submitted by Pujante, Gregor and Calvo, was accepted by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture, and is now in its seventh year.

Another proposal, that was warmly received, was that given the interest generated by this and previous conferences at Sofia and Antwerp there should be more regular, ideally two-yearly, events of this kind. With this in mind, Balz Engler generously offered Basle as a possible venue for the next Shakespeare in Europe conference.

On the final day of the conference, a trip was organized to nearby Cartagena to see the remains of the recently discovered Roman theatre.

The plenaries and short papers, as well as a selection of the papers presented in the different seminars, were published in 2003 by the University of Delaware Press in a volume called 400 Years of Shakespeare in Europe, edited by Ángel-Luis Pujante and Ton Hoenselaars.

Keith Gregor, December 2006