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Medieval Round Table : "Playing with Doubt"


Date: Monday July 1
Time: 6.00 – 7.30
Venue: Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts, The University of Melbourne
Speaker: Sarah McNamer, Georgetown University

This talk participates in a current of recent work that locates forms of Christian doubt in the so-called 'Age of Faith.'  It does so by approaching the subject from the point of view of affective play, as such play is scripted by literary and dramatic texts. Doubt, I suggest, can and should be considered a 'cognitive feeling' or 'intellectual emotion.' These concepts can open up new ways to explore the contours of unbelief prior to Descartes. They can also open up familiar texts: in this case, The Second Shepherd's Play. The heart of this lecture is an extended reading of this, the most beloved and heavily-anthologized of all Middle English plays. This is not, I argue, a simple, comical play designed to serve the serious ends of faith -- as religious drama is so often assumed to do; rather, it is a daring experiment in "playing with doubt": doubt in the divinity of Christ, in the scheme of redemption, in the right ordering of the universe. A close reading of the literary qualities of the play -- features such as wordplay, soliloquy, generic swerves, dramatic structure, characterization, and competing aesthetic registers -- suggest that it appears to have been designed to generate radical, affectively-produced, existential doubt. This reading of the play invites a reconsideration of its date, its place in the history of emotion, and the borders of the medieval and the modern.

For more information contact Jessica Scott.