Podding with Hamlet

Sujata Iyengar, Professor of English, University of Georgia; Co-founder and Co-editor of Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation Director, Mobile Digital Editing Lab

Virtual Zoom Presentation

"Podding with Hamlet" is drawn from a chapter of Iyengar's book "Shakespeare and Adaptation Theory". The chapter as a whole uses Hamlet to investigate the fantasy that, given the right technology, we can access Shakespeare with what techs call “lossless transfer” – in other words, the idea, rife within popular and scientific contexts although scorned by anyone with a smattering of literary history, that Shakespeare is raw information that can be transferred from one medium to another without distortion or loss. Iyengar suggests that this fantasy has survived in part because it’s conceptually congruent with the fundamental “conduit” metaphor identified by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their germinal Metaphors We Live By. Lakoff and Johnson describe the concept underlying this metaphor as “content travels to the experiencer” and “content is contained in the stimulus,” and for everyday uses of this framing metaphor; think of the business-speak that calls for a “pipeline of ideas;” political calls for Joe Manchin to serve as a “bridge” between warring factions in the Senate; or even the Christian hymn attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Make me a channel of your peace.” In this talk she'll briefly demonstrate various media theories by discussing two Hamlet media objects (an NFT artwork and a feature film) before considering how audio Shakespeares such as radio broadcasts work differently when remediated as streaming or on-demand content such as podcasts, especially in the post-internet era and during the time of COVID-19.

Iyengar states, 

Susanne Greenhalgh has suggested that, because of its limitations and, paradoxically, its aural possibilities, radio was “arguably the most adaptive” of mediums because “the listener subjectively creates the Hamlet that she hears” (2011: 134).  I therefore offer a deliberately subjective or experiential account of listening to a digital recording of Sir John Gielgud playing Hamlet in a storied broadcast from 1948 (the so-called “entirety” Hamlet); a later recording (1957) of Gielgud’s Hamlet with the cast of the Old Vic on vinyl LP; some of the Hamlet podcasts popular just before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as Conor Hanratty’s “The Hamlet podcast,” and irreverent comedy programs such as (excuse my language, I’m quoting) “Fuckbois of Literature,” or the more sedate “That Pretentious Book Club," and the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s bilingual digital audio play of Hamlet from 2020. In particular I am interested in three particular aspects of these Hamlet-adjacent audio experiences: 1) the metaphor of the broadcast versus the podcast 2) how these performances understand textual “fidelity” 3) how they remediate or whether they remediate visual aspects of performance, such as costume, gesture, blocking and so forth using only sound, and to what extent the new medium comments upon or critiques its prior medium (the process known as intermediality). In the interests of time, I’ll limit my survey to the representation (or omission) of the play-within-the-play-within-the-play with which Hamlet hopes to "catch the conscience of the King," that is, the dumb-show that introduces the Mousetrap. I conclude that audio-only adaptations can allow us to glimpse some of the ways in which Shakespeare's historical theatre offered multiple access points to speakers of non-English languages and how early modern audiences experienced a play as something one both went to "hear" and to "see." 

This colloquium is Free and Open to the public.

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Sujata Iyengar, PhD, is Professor of English Literature at the University of Georgia, where she has taught since 1998. She is author of Shades of Difference: Mythologies of Skin Color and Race in Early Modern England, Shakespeare's Medical Language, and many articles on Shakespeare, adaptation theory, feminist art, race studies, and theatre history. She is currently working on two books, Shakespeare and Adaptation Theory, under contract to Arden Bloomsbury, and Shakespeare and the Art of the Book, a consideration of Shakespearean artists' books that argues that what she calls "bookness" or capabilities specific to printed or electronic books can make books into critical, aesthetic, and dramatic interventions or adaptations of Shakespeare. Recent publications include "Source/Adaptation" in Shakespeare/Text, ed. Claire M.L. Bourne (Arden Bloomsbury, 2021) and "Race Thinking in Margaret Cavendish's Drama" (Criticism 63.1-2 [2021]).



This colloquium is Free and Open to the public.