The Columbia University Shakespeare Seminar's next meeting will be May 11th. Abdulhamit Arvas (Vassar College) will discuss "How To Do Things with Indian Boys: Sex and Race on the Shakespearean Stage."
The event will be held in Faculty House, 64 Morningside Drive. As usual, social hour will be from 5-6, dinner 6-7, and the talk 7-8:30. The cost for dinner, payable by check only, is $30. When you RSVP please indicate whether or not you plan to come to dinner .
The Indian boy is invisible in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: he does not have a name, any lines to speak, or any stage directions in neither Quarto nor Folio editions. He nevertheless appeared on stage as early as 1692 in The Fairy Queene; he became a fixture on the 19th century stage, and in the 20th century he made various appearances either as a little boy, or a girl, a puppet, an African-American youth, or an orientalized teen. He has also been visible in mediating psychoanalytical, feminist, queer, and postcolonial agendas in recent scholarly explorations. This talk revisits the Indian boy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the early modern context of the global maritime economy of the abduction and conversion of boys. I emphasize the aesthetic, corporeal and erotic deployments of these boys to suggest that the circulation of these boys casts them as subjects of servitude and conversion, as well as objects of desire in the cultural imaginary that informs cross-cultural encounters. The boy, both a captive and eroticized beloved, embodies the tensions between the literary eroticism and the violent history of abductions, conversions and enslavements. Within this context of the trafficking of boys -- in a period before orientalism, when European boys were also objects of exchange and interracial, cross-generational homoerotic desire -- both the Indianness and the boyhood of the Indian boy matter. Thus, tracing Shakespeare’s culturally and erotically marked boy in various forms of characterization from early modern to postmodern productions, I ask: What story does the absent presence of the Indian boy on Shakespeare’s stage narrate? What sexual and racial histories does the Indian boy’s (in)visibility perform?