THIS POST IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF DAILY CONFERENCE RE-CAPS WRITTEN BY EARLY CAREER SCHOLARS ATTENDING THIS YEAR'S CONFERENCE.
By Matt Carter
Settle thy studies, Faustus, and begin / To sound the depth of that thou wilt profess
The day started with a groggy breakfast but ended with Kirk Melnikoff’s august opening address in the Schlosskirche—the very place where Luther “published” his 95 theses. The Eighth International Conference of The Marlowe Society of America kicked off today in high fashion, and, much like the decorative bosses on the historic church’s vaulting, each scholar’s unique perspective added flavor to our first-day endeavors.
Tuesday offered two concurrent panel sessions, plus the official welcome address. Having to choose which panel to attend is always difficult at large conferences, and I chose “Marlowe and Shakespeare” and “Tamburlaine Before Marlowe: Authorship, Reading, & The Book.” What follows responds primarily to these two panels, but rest assured, during a late-evening reception at the Lutherhaus Refektorium, scholars who attended the other two sessions had nothing but praise for the work of their colleagues.
During the “Marlowe and Shakespeare” panel, Gillian Woods’ presentation, entitled “‘Enter to the battle’: On- and Offstage Combat in Marlowe and Shakespeare” raised provocative questions about the effect that staging (versus not staging) battle scenes has on our interpretation of the plays in question. By comparing moments of combat in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays with those in Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV, Woods provided compelling insight into the demands of performance spaces, audience reception of large armies, and the connections between how each play depicts violence and its plot.
Meanwhile, Tom Rutter offered a fascinating comparison between Romeo & Juliet and Doctor Faustus. Imagining kissing as a kind of transaction that drains or enriches life, Rutter made an persuasive case for Romeo’s insistence that Juliet’s kisses breathe new life to him as a parallel for Helen of Troy’s soul-stealing kisses. The cross-textual comparison was a lively test case for the possibilities inherent in Marlowe-Shakespeare comparative studies.
The panel “Tamburlaine Before Marlowe” featured talks from Sarah Wall-Randell, Claire M.L. Bourne, and Tara L. Lyons. Each paper in this panel was generative in its own right, but this panel was exceptional in my years of conference attendance in the way that the papers complemented one another to paint a larger picture. In their own ways, these scholars each destabilized our attempts to limit the definition of a text, from Lyons’ musings on the division (or, perhaps, the not-division) of The Troublesome Reign of King John to Wall-Randell’s observations on the indeterminacy of which prop would have replaced the Qu’ran in Tamburlaine. When Bourne reminded us that the oft-maligned act of “mending” books has, in fact, helped preserve many of them, the comment easily applies to all three papers. The presenters in this panel each, in their own way, reminded us what we do as scholars is an act of “mending,” that the indeterminacy of the text-as-object is what enlivens our scholarship, and that uncertainty gives life to our work.
As scholars ply the sleepy streets of Wittenberg, I expect the rest of the conference to be just as productive as today was. In a city with a history of proving the world-changing power of words, we students of the text honor those who tread these stones before us.
Dr. Matt Carter is a lecturer in the English Department at The University of North Carolina Greensboro.