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Falling in Love, with Quarantine
  • Wednesday, April 17, 2024 (All day)


This year’s speaker will be Kathryn Schwarz


Romantic comedies engage in notorious exclusions. This is apparent in the fact that the statement ‘Antonio is left out’ describes two Shakespearean plays; it is apparent in the fact that Alan Sinfield tries to break the pattern by proposing five distinct versions of the ménage à trois. These comedies also engage in notorious inclusions, as when Cesario splits into Viola and Sebastian, or when Duke Vincentio proposes to Isabella, or when the god Hymen drops in to ensure everyone is paired. Much good work has counted the costs of coupling and severing. Here I want to take a step back, and pose a very basic question: what is the difference between inclusion and exclusion? I don’t mean to imply that there is no difference, but rather to consider whether it operates where and as we are invited to think. In working this through, I take up the conceit of passion as disease to trace the omnipresence of quarantine. And I posit that the issue is not whether one succumbs to contagion, but what kind of quarantine results. At the heart of this inquiry is the question of what it means to play across the registers of social and corporeal death. How might the promise to defend against one form of death foster the infliction of another? What modes of death are disguised or disowned, what modes are embraced, and who holds the powers to distinguish and dispose? I center Twelfth Night here because it is saturated with lethal excess, to such an extent that the introduction to the Arden edition dedicates a substantial section to “disease, contagion, and death.” When a comedy so openly declares its preoccupations with plague and prison, betrayal and revenge, the relationship between mortal bodies and socialized desire compels our attention again and again. My own present version of ‘again’ pursues the ruthless social sense of quarantine, and the chancy, eccentric attachments that might, barely and briefly, elude its grasp.

Dr. Kathryn Schwarz is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair of English at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of What You Will: Gender, Contract, and Shakespearean Social Space (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), and Tough Love: Amazon Encounters in the English Renaissance (Duke University Press, 2000), which was awarded the Roland H. Bainton Book Prize for Literature in 2001. With Holly Crocker, she co-edited “Premodern Flesh,” a special issue of postmedieval (2013). Her research has been supported by fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Huntington Library, the Newberry Library, and Vanderbilt’s Research Scholar Grant Program and Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. She has served on the editorial board of Shakespeare Quarterly, the program committee of the Shakespeare Association of America, and executive committees of the Modern Language Association and the Folger Institute. She is currently working on a book titled Dying Social Subjects: Community and Mortality in the English Renaissance.


The Phyllis Rackin Lecture
The Phyllis Rackin lecture was established to honor Phyllis Rackin, Professor Emerita of English at the University of Pennsylvania and her groundbreaking work in the fields of both feminist scholarship and Early Modern studies. A former President of the Shakespeare Association of America, she has published numerous scholarly articles on Shakespeare and related subjects in anthologies and in such journals as PMLA, Shakespeare Quarterly, and Shakespeare-Jahrbuch. She has also published four books on Shakespeare: Shakespeare's Tragedies; Stages of History: Shakespeare's English Chronicles; and Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories, which she wrote in collaboration with Professor Jean Howard of Columbia University; and Shakespeare and Women. Her awards include an ACLS fellowship and a Lindback award for distinguished teaching.

This annual lecture is made possible thanks to the generous support of the English Department's Premodern Studies Seminar and the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies.