The relationship between Shakespeare and the Jews is a rich and multifaceted one with an extensive history dating back to the Elizabethan era. Attitudes to Jews in Shakespeare’s England comprise a complex topic with religious, racial, and cultural components that has been explored in detail in James Shapiro’s seminal 1996 work Shakespeare and the Jews. Jewish elements within Shakespeare’s work extend far beyond the infamous and well-studied figure of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, and the history of critical and interpretative approaches to such elements is extremely variegated, including shifting perceptions of Shylock on the page and stage over the centuries, different ways of addressing Jewish themes within the plays in writing and performance, and the various representations of Jews and Judaism in translations of Shakespeare into other languages, both in Europe and globally.
Likewise, Shakespeare’s reception among the Jews has a dynamic history of its own, including translation, performance, and criticism. Jewish engagement with Shakespeare is traceable to the early decades of the Jewish Enlightenment in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when Hebrew authors in Central Europe first began looking to Shakespeare as a literary role model and candidate for translation. The 1870s saw the first Hebrew translations of complete plays with Isaac Salkinson’s ground-breaking versions of Othello and Romeo and Juliet, which paved the way for the eventual emergence of a more extensive body of Hebrew translations in early twentieth-century Palestine and New York. These in turn led to the proliferation of later Hebrew translations ranging from the mid-twentieth century work of prominent poets such as Natan Alterman, Leah Goldberg, and Avraham Shlonsky to more recent versions by e.g. Avraham Oz, Dan Almagor, Dan Miron, Shimon Sandbank, and Dori Parnes. Shakespeare was also translated into other Jewish languages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, chiefly Yiddish but additionally Judeo-Spanish and occasionally other languages such as Judeo-Persian. Shakespeare has occupied a similarly prominent position on the Jewish stage: his plays have been a key feature of the Hebrew theatre from its beginnings in the early twentieth century until the present day, and have likewise been a staple element of the Yiddish stage in North America (as examined in Joel Berkowitz’ important 2002 monograph Shakespeare on the American Yiddish Stage), Europe, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere, as well as the inspiration for adaptations such as Jacob Gordin’s 1898 Mirele Efros (‘The Jewish Queen Lear’), which was the basis for the popular 1939 film of the same name. Jewish Shakespeare criticism spans more than two centuries, beginning with early nineteenth-century Jewish Enlightenment writings and extending to recent Israeli scholarly work, the latter reflected in Avraham Oz’s landmark 1998 edited volume Strands Afar Remote.
Shakespeare and the Jews aims to celebrate this rich legacy by addressing the historical perspectives and current key narratives surrounding it. The conference will be interdisciplinary and will explore issues relating to Shakespeare and the Jews from numerous perspectives, including those of literary criticism, translation studies, history, drama, and cultural studies. The conference aims to bring together a diverse range of researchers and to serve as a unique and fruitful platform for discussion and exchange on Shakespeare and the Jews between established scholars and early career researchers, as well as to help shape the future research agenda on the topic. The conference will include a keynote address by Professor Avraham Oz (University of Haifa) and will coincide with a UCL student-staff performance of Isaac Salkinson’s Ram and Jael, the first Hebrew translation of Romeo and Juliet (Vienna, 1878), which conference participants will be invited to attend.
Proposals are invited for papers of approximately 20 minutes on themes including (but not limited to) the following:
- Attitudes to Jews and Judaism in Elizabethan and Jacobean England
- Jewish themes and elements in Shakespeare’s plays
- Biblical motifs and elements in Shakespeare’s plays
- Representations of, and changing historical attitudes to, the figure of Shylock
- The Jewish reception of Shakespeare
- Shakespeare and antisemitism
- The representation of Jews in global Shakespeare translations
- The reception of Shakespeare in Israel
- Teaching Shakespeare in Israel
- Historical and contemporary Hebrew translations and adaptations of Shakespeare
- Translations and adaptations of Shakespeare into Yiddish, Judeo-Spanish, and other Jewish languages
- Shakespeare on the Hebrew and Yiddish stages
- Post-Holocaust interpretations of Shakespeare
- Jewish themes in Shakespearean performances and film adaptations
- Shakespeare in Yiddish and Israeli cinema
- Jewish and Israeli contributions to Shakespeare criticism
The conference committee will be able to offer a small number of bursaries to assist with travel and accommodation costs for PhD students.
Please submit abstracts (300 words) together with a brief CV (and, for PhD students, indication of whether you would like to be considered for a bursary) by 15 September 2016 to Lily Kahn (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Adriana X. Jacobs (University of Oxford), Lily Kahn (UCL), Aneta Mancewicz (Kingston University), Márta Minier (University of South Wales), Christopher Stamatakis (UCL), and Ada Rapoport-Albert (UCL)