From 18 to 20 July 2016, the University of Glasgow played host to the Society for Renaissance Studies 7th Biennial Conference. The event gathered speakers and participants from a breadth of locations including the United Kingdom, the United States, Poland, Greece, Ireland, Australia and many more. Such diverse representation truly mirrored not only the volume of presentations, but also the dynamic world of Renaissance scholarship. The two panels I chaired provided strong evidence to this quality, as they offered perspectives on early modern theatrical practices (with special attention to Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare), Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, the poetry of Pierre de Ronsard and Agrippa d’Aubigné and the public religious disputations in the 16th-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This, of course, is only a small subset of the conference’s key topics which also included the arts, translation, reformation and national identities.
From my own experience, part of what made this conference so successful was its demonstration of the Renaissance’s continued contemporary life. Though many of the papers dealt with 400 year-old subject matter, the conversation and analysis felt anything but antiquated. Take, for example, one paper given by PhD candidate Laura Swift of the University of Manchester. Her presentation on Ben Jonson’s Queer Bodily Temporalities sought an engagement with Jonson’s work through the lens of modern queer theory, asking how concepts of time and bodies work to define each other in his texts. She continued along this path to compare such a relationship with Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopias of time: how static or fluid is the identity of the body through life? What might these changes signify in the way of identifying and defining bodies? Her application of a 20th-century idea upon a late 16th/early 17th-century English writer supports the persistent relevance of the Renaissance within present day thinking. Likewise, the relationship created between present and past theories suggests that the Renaissance has enduring analytic significance; with each new theory, there might be a new explanation for a centuries old idea. Such a prospect, by which we might over time develop more keys to unlock the past, is surely exciting to anyone interested in the Renaissance, and is one that will continue to provoke efforts to analyse history.
Written by Molly Ziegler, PhD Candidate in Theatre Studie