“Strange Habits” / Strange Habitats : Clothes, climes, and the environment in Shakespeare and his contemporaries
Organized by Sophie CHIARI (université Clermont Auvergne, IHRIM) and Anne-Marie MILLER-BLAISE (Institut universitaire de France, université Paris-3 Sorbonne nouvelle, PRISMES)
Taking a cue from the current growth of ecocriticism and of material approaches in Shakespeare studies as well as in global Renaissance studies, this conference seeks to cross and confront those two critical trends by looking at one same object — clothing. Clothing can be explored from a variety of perspectives and calls for cross-disciplinary dialogue between social history, art history, dramatic history, fashion history, literature, sociology, and anthropology. The sheer variety of terms that can be used to designate clothing speaks to the far-reaching implications of dress. The now archaic term “habit,” referring at once to a “garment” or “apparel” and, beyond that, to a person’s outward appearance, was of common usage in the early modern period and was the word Shakespeare favoured in reference to clothing in his plays. While it can designate the dress or attire of a function or profession, it also introduces the notions of characteristic behaviour, natural mode of growth, and habitation (or habitat). The conference will focus on early modern dress such as it is represented on stage and the ways in which dress mediates England’s relation to foreign places and “climes.”
While the relation between dress and gender, disguise and identity-building, and the importance of the numerous sumptuary laws in the shaping of social identity has been largely explored, much less attention has been devoted to the relation between dress and the ecological environments for which dress was devised. Whether worn by the poor, the middling sort, or the nobility, clothes need to be looked at not only in the relation to broad social, cultural, and material contexts, but also in relation to climactic or geographic environments. Because clothes protect the human body and serve as an interface between the body and the environment, dress can be considered as the most immediate locus for the establishment of any sort of ecology, in its etymological sense of a “discourse” or “science” of the oikos, that is of the home, or human habitat. From their production down to the way they are worn, clothes interweave natural materials and artifice, the human body and the social body, the weather conditions and the culture in which they are born and those to which they adapt. They come to materialize and epitomize identity in its various inclinations and inflections. Conversely, they participate in shaping the environments or the landscapes for whose diversity they stand metonymically.
In staging climes through costumes, Shakespeare and his contemporaries invite us to decentre our perspective by, first, looking beyond clothes as an object and clothes as a means of fashioning personal identity and personae (or impersonations) on stage, toward clothes as a privileged space of “eco-logy,” and second, by adopting an anthropological gaze on early modern English dress and culture. It is through a confrontation with foreign dress, that is with the materials of difference, that English identity can be better gauged. Ultimately, this conference aims at exploring how dramatic text and textile enrich each other in the early modern period, and how dress and costume are essential in England’s attempt to define its own cultural identity within a new global space inclusive of many different climes reflected on stage.
We are seeking proposals that inquire into the complex ecology, economy and anthropology of dress, drawing notably on the material history of concrete elements such as pigments, dies, and raw materials (sometimes imported from distant regions and climes) used to make clothing and costumes. We also invite papers with more literary approaches that look at the ways in which dress on stage becomes a means to negotiate the self or same in relation to the other or embodies contemporary understandings of climes and the environment. Proposals may focus on a specific costume or a specific dramatic corpus by Shakespeare or one of his contemporaries. Comparative approaches, drawing on European and global materials and practices, are also encouraged.
The conference will include outreach activities, such as workshops and round-tables open to the general public. We welcome proposals in English from established scholars, doctoral students, curators and other professionals working on or with early modern dress and more contemporary costumes representing that period.
Advisory board :
Anne-Valérie Dulac (Sorbonne Université)
Russell Jackson (University of Birmingham)
Sophie Lemercier-Goddard (Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon)
Robert Lublin (University of Massachusetts Boston)
Chantal Schütz (Ecole Polytechnique)