Shakespeare's Tongue

Country: France

City: Paris

Abstr. due: 01.10.2012

Dates: 21.03.13 — 23.03.13

Area Of Sciences: Humanities; Cultural science;

Organizers: French Shakespeare Society

Conference fees and accomodation: -


« Shakespeare’s tongue » – Call for papers for the 2013 French Shakespeare Society Congress (SFS)Rationale by Jean-Michel Déprats and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin

The 2013 Conference of the French Shakespeare Society will take place in Paris in March 21-23, 2013.

Enter Shakespeare, painted full of tongues…

Shakespeare’s tongue is and is not « Shakespeare’s tongue » or what the French call « la langue de Shakespeare ». If Shakespeare has largely contributed to the evolution and enrichment of the English tongue, the language that is cultivated in his works seems in many ways to be as far from the English of his time as from the English spoken by our contemporaries. As a foreign language within the English language, both near and distant, dead and living, Shakespeare’s tongue is all the more fertile since it resists comprehension, pronunciation and translation, forbidding any stability of sound and meaning. The great number of Shakespearean dictionaries can in itself suggest that Shakespeare’s tongue is not one but multiple, a theatrical tongue, a living tongue par excellence, which has spoken to us and has been spoken for four centuries, on stages worldwide. It is “of an age” but also “for all time” and if, according to Jonson, the playwright had “small Latin and less Greek”, one can nevertheless say about Shakespeare that « he hath the tongues » (Much Ado About Nothing, 5.1.163).

The Anatomy of the Tongue in Shakespeare’s World

In his treatise Lingua (1525), echoing the story of Aesop’s tongues, Erasmus described the tongue as the best and the worst organ, calling it an “ambivalent organ”, an idea similar to the biblical proverb according to which “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18 : 21). Shakespeare’s plays draw our attention to the materiality of the tongue, which appears as the organ of taste and “gormandizing” (2Henry IV, 5.3.53) but also as an instrument of speech that allows us to “do things with words”, an organ that is “doubly portcullised” (Richard II, 1.3.161) with lips and teeth and whose barriers are often transgressed. To study Shakespeare’s tongue is to explore how Shakespeare represents the tongue in a corpus where the word “tongue” in all its forms appears more than 600 times, according to the Harvard Concordance. « There’s a double tongue ; there’s two tongues » (Much Ado About Nothing, 5.1.165-66) : whether it be caressing or wounding, poisonous or sweet, eloquent or rebellious, feminine or masculine, the tongue that appears in Shakespeare’s world is the subject of numerous comments that are embedded in the biblical and classical culture of the tongue but whose specificities are worthwhile exploring.

Shakespeare as a foreign language

One of the purposes of this congress is to examine the particularities of the Shakespearean idiom and to assess the playwright’s and poet’s part in the shaping and the evolution of the English language. Contributors are invited to consider what makes Shakespeare’s language different from Marlowe’s or Jonson’s and to examine the reasons why “Shakespeare’s tongue” has come to stand for the English language as a whole. Further topics for study might include the evolution of Shakespeare’s language from one play to the other, from one period to the next, as well as the challenges that Shakespeare’s tongue presents for translators. The heteroglossia that emerges from Shakespeare’s “gallimaufry” of words will be another object of focus and the congress will welcome analyses of the presence of foreign languages (French, Latin, Italian, Spanish), of dialects (Irish, Scottish, Welsh), and idiolects such as « Pistolisms », or « Quicklyisms ».

Shakespeare as a living language

A vehicle for poetic expression, the Shakespearean idiom is also a spectacular tongue, designed to be seen, embodied, tasted and voiced out. Both good and evil, amorous and injurious, sweet and bitter, Shakespeare’s words dramatize a war of tongues which achieves its full meaning in performance. Contributors are invited to examine the various features of this war of tongues as well as the good and evil tongues that inhabit Shakespeare’s world. The orality, pronunciation and articulation of Shakespeare’s language will be another area of study.

Adapting the biblical aphorism (James 3 :7-8), one could say that “Shakespeare’s tongue … can no man tame”.

Call for papers

Taming the untamable: those of you who wish to meet this paradoxical challenge can send their proposals to before October 1st, 2012.

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