The Spirit of Enthusiastic Scholarship

This post was contributed by Natalie Fong, an alumna of Birkbeck’s MA Victorian Studies.

As I approached the familiar light glowing from the corner beacon that is 30 Russell Square to attend the Shakespeare and the Senses seminar of Birkbeck’s Arts Week 2013, I felt distinctly nostalgic. It’s nearly 10 years since I first started classes there for the MA in Victorian Studies (2004-2006). I remember the very first meeting in that very building, a room of people of all ages and walks of life, regarding each other excitedly but also nervously – what was to come? Who would complete the challenge of working and studying? I look back at the two years that I studied at Birkbeck with great fondness, as wonderful evenings in 30 Russell Square and Malet Street engaged in lively intellectual debate with clever and witty people with whom I remain firm friends.

Jessica Barrett has already written a comprehensive review of the Shakespeare and the Senses seminar, so I will merely add reflections as an alumna.

It was great to hear three equally engaging, connected yet distinct, papers on the senses (or lack thereof) in Shakespeare’s works:

  • Simon Smith detailing the use of sound in plays (music, clapping, references to music in Shakespeare’s plays), but also the effects of sounds from the theatre on their neighbours
  • Gillian Woods’ expounding of “seeing is believing” through an analysis of The Winter’s Tale, sight and morality (the fears that the theatre’s deception of sight leads to temptation)
  • Derek Dunne’s fascinating deconstruction of the deprivation of the senses in Titus Andronicus – how literal deprivation is also symbolic deprivation (e.g. the silencing of tongues equating to, as well as resulting from, the Roman court’s suppression of free speech)

It was a great privilege to once again be part of the Birkbeck experience, to spend an evening in the presence of inspiring intellectuals (here I pay brief homage to the late, great Dr Sally Ledger, who encouraged me to be a better student and, later, to channel her passion through my own teaching). Bouncing thoughts around during discussion time with people of different ages and cultures, appreciating how pooling our understandings of the talks opened up further intriguing possibilities for study, reminded me again of the fun times my friends and I used to have at twilight tutorials.

It is that we alumni hope Birkbeck can sustain, despite the current climate. Arts Week captured the best that Birkbeck has to offer those who want to receive a quality education while they work. Hopefully the success of Arts Week (judging by the blog posts) will speak clearly to the powers that be of the importance of championing part-time higher education.

As the great Bard himself wrote in The Winter’s Tale: “It is required that you do awake your faith.” Seeing really is believing!

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