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Shame and Honour in Messina: Much Ado About Nothing and The Culture of Courtesy

Beatrice 500x250

Beatrice by W.H.Mote - Image from The Heroines of Shakespeare. Engraved under the direction of Mr. Charles Heath, New York, J. Wiley, 1849.

Date: Thursday 21 November 2013
Time: 4.30pm
Venue: Room 106, John Medley Building, The University of Melbourne
Enquiries: Jessica Scott, 03 8344 5152, jessica.scott@unimelb.edu.au

All welcome.

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Presenter: Indira Ghose is Professor of English Literature at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. She is a Partner Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. Her book on Shakespeare and Laughter: A Cultural History appeared with Manchester University Press in 2008. She is currently working on a project on Renaissance courtesy literature and the theatre.

Abstract: The parallels between the world of Much Ado About Nothing and the world of Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier, the book that virtually launched the culture of civility that swept Renaissance Europe, are striking. Both set a premium on the arts of self-presentation; both emphasize the importance of theatricality in social interaction. However, what is also of crucial importance is to monitor emotions. In the key scene of the play, the Church Scene, a range of characters are engaged in reading the outward appearance of Hero, the slandered hero- ine, for signs of shame and inward remorse. I argue that the courtiers in the play seem to have mis-read Castiglione. Castiglione’s concept of courtesy draws on Ciceronian ideas of decorum, which are based on Aristotle’s definition of emotions as cog- nitive behaviour. This implied that emotions were amenable to a regime of habituation - a notion that Bourdieu was to adopt in his own definiton of habitus. For Castiglione, as for Aristotle and Cicero, social performance did not merely reflect one’s feelings: it was decisive in shaping one’s emotions.