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Report from the Living and Dying Well in the Early Modern World Conference

The BSA is proud to have sponsored the Living and Dying Well in the Early Modern World conference at the University of Exeter on 15th and 16th June 2017. The following report is by Bailey Sincox, a PhD student at Harvard University.

A postgraduate conference on death in the time of Shakespeare may not be everyone’s idea of a good time. But for the fifty-five postgraduate students who gathered at the University of Exeter last week, it was not only a highly enjoyable two days – it was also an invaluable opportunity to share ideas with fellow emerging scholars.

The keynotes from Drs Lucy Munro (King’s College London) and Amy Louise Erickson (University of Cambridge) set the tone: Dr Munro spoke about death’s paper trail (wills, indentures, etc.) in the life and work of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. Dr Erickson uncovered the story of Esther Sleepe, mother of the author Fanny Burney, who supported her family through her profitable fan-making business. These talks explored the ways that an early modern person’s life, labor, and legacy in death were shaped by their gender, religion, and culture; these themes provided the framework for discussion in and around the postgraduate presentations that followed.

Panel topics ranged from the “real” practice of the ars moriendi to staged representations of death, from the funerary monuments of closeted Catholics to the pastoral elegies that commemorated public heroes. Stand-out presenters on death in drama included Rachel Fennell (University of Durham), who discussed the “undead heroine” in The Winter’s Tale, Pericles, and Cymbeline, Harry R. McCarthy (University of Exeter) whose practice-based research recreated boy actors’ staging of “dragging by the hair,” and Mel Harrison (King’s College, London) who argued that femininity and disability are intertwined in plays like Titus Andronicus and Taming of the Shrew.

Engaged, illuminating dialogue characterized our panel sessions, coffee breaks, and conference dinner. Though born of a conference on death, the relationships and intellectual work begun at Exeter this past week will undoubtedly live on – much to the benefit of our scholarly futures.

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