Hidden in Plain Sight: Genuine Scholarship at the MLA

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

image by The British Library

In the days before Wayne Gretzky brought elegance to hockey, a running joke about the sport was, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.”

Something like this might be said of the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA), where thousands of English professors from around the world gather to hear and see the latest academic exotica.  Yet and still, among all the “studies” and “deconstruction,” some genuine scholarship can be found there and knowledge attained.

For example, when I saw that the MLA was presenting a panel entitled, “Shakespeare’s Climatology,” I went expecting to hear yet more diatribes about global warming. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself actually attending a series of lectures about Shakespeare.

The “climatology” examined referred to Shakespeare’s use of weather as a dramatic device.  For instance, there is “a sea of unpredictability that unfurls offstage” in Hamlet, Jane Hwang Degenhardt of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst pointed out. Similarly, “In Richard III, weather serves as a political metaphor,” Piers Brown of Kenyon College pointed out.

We also learned that when Henry VI was first performed, real swords and shields were used. “Early theater was shaped by debates over how audiences should hear the play,” Allison Deutermann of Baruch College at the City University of New York, said.