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Stating that the First Folio “epitomizes the creation of a form of art that resists a critical milieu,” LIU Post Professor of English James Bednarz opened the University’s  “Shakespeare Forever” celebration with a keynote lecture, “Shakespeare, The First Folio, and the Birth of Modern Literature,” on Thursday, March 3 in the Hillwood Lecture Hall, generously funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“It was impossible for Shakespeare’s contemporaries to gauge the full depth and breadth of his modernity,” Bednarz said, “especially insofar as Shakespeare’s drama disrupted established conventions about what good drama should be.”

Bednarz pointed out that while the editors of the First Folio divided Shakespeare’s work into comedies, histories, and tragedies, the categories “have always been fluid,” to the point where Trolius and Cessida has had all three labels in different editions of the First Folio.

Bednarz also noted that while Shakespeare inherited a narrative formula from the types of theatrical production that were popular at the time, he challenged the conventions of his era with “an incredibly wide range of characters and narratives that he lifted and transformed from fiction, history, poetry, and drama.” 

“It was by combining these influences that he systematically widened the field of representation,” Bednarz said. “While literary criticism railed forbid mingling kings and clowns, Shakespeare busily crafted King Lear to do exactly that. At the same time, there is from the start in Shakespeare’s work a deep level of self-conscious scrutiny about literary values and the nature of performance that envisions the stage as a world and the world as a stage.”

Bednarz has served as a member of the advisory committee on Shakespeare for PMLA, the journal of the Modern Language Association of America, and is the recipient of three of LIU’s highest faculty honors: the Trustees’ Award for Excellence in Scholarship, the Abraham Krasnoff Memorial Award for Excellence in Scholarship, and the David Newton Award for Excellence in Teaching. His study Shakespeare and the Poets’ War was selected as an International Book of the Year by The Times Literary Supplement. His recently completed work, Shakespeare and the Truth of Love, examines the political, religious, and literary contexts that shaped Shakespeare’s perspective at the height of his career.

The lecture also included a Shakespeare-themed performance by the LIU Post Chamber singers, and marked the opening of a series of LIU Post campus events commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Bednarz’s lecture was followed by the opening of an exhibit, “Visual Art Inspired by Shakespeare,” featuring work by Dan Christoffel, artist-in-residence at LIU Post. The work is on display in the Hutchins Gallery, located on the lower level of the B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library, through the end of March, along with a facsimile of the First Folio and other books related to Shakespeare from the special collections of the Library.

All “Shakespeare Forever” programs are free and open to the public, and have been made possible through the support of the New York Council for the Humanities, the Dorothy Dayton Sorzano Theatre Library, the McGrath Fund, and generous contributions from partners. For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit the “Shakesepeare Forever” homepage.

Posted 03/08/2016

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