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Sanctuary Seminar Series

November - December 2015

Professor Marina Warner

These special seminars, offered by Professor Marina Warner, are open to students on MA Renaissance Studies, MA Medieval Literature and Culture, and to MPhil/Phd students working in the period 1500-1680 in the School of Arts at Birkbeck. If you are uncertain whether you are eligible, or to make a case for attending, please contact Sue Wiseman.

There are twelve places available (we will run a waiting list if necessary). If you are successful in gaining a place you will be given access to the seminar materials on Moodle. Please note that students are expected do the reading and attend each class unless specific circumstances intervene.

The seminars will take place on the dates specified below, between 6 and 7.30pm, in the Keynes Library (room 114, 43 Gordon Square).

To register for these seminars as an MPhil, Phd or MA student, as specified above, please contact Euan Griffith by Friday 30 October.

Sanctuary Seminars: Draft / Indicative Outline

1: Tuesday 24 November Sanctuary: The Quest for Shelter

2: Tuesday 1 December Safe Harbour in Carthage: Dido

3: Tuesday 8 December Losing Walsingham: Mary

The concept of sanctuary ranges from a specific holy space, such as a temple or shrine, to a place of safety or refuge, both physical and metaphorical; it  set apart by certain processes from ordinary locales and sites of activity, and its special ‘sacrosanct’ status depends on consensus to continue. It includes ideas of asylum, stronghold, home, and inner sanctum or private territory. The medieval law of sanctuary offered a refuge to fugitives in certain churches, whatever the reason for their flight, and a popular sign still says, ‘To you this may be a shed. But to me it’s a sanctuary.’ Sanctuary develops through shared notions about the rights of others and the obligations of hospitality, and therefore contributes to defining the claims of nation and home; these contradictory elements have been formed historically by a complex mesh of taboos, laws, customs and values that still reverberate today, in times when the numbers of refugees, from war, famine, and other dangers are perceived with growing hostility.

The three seminars will explore the meaning of sanctuary and the ways different forms of sanctuary are established.

  • How do places become holy, beyond the consecrated sites of religious worship?
  • What are the laws of hospitality and shelter and how have they changed?

This introductory talk will be followed by two case histories, from narratives were circulating in the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries.

The second seminar will focus on the story of Dido and Aeneas and the founding of Rome, as told in Virgil’s Aeneid, dramatized by Christopher Marlowe and translated by John Dryden: Dido founds Carthage in Africa after fleeing Phoenicia, and then offers Aeneas a place of safety in Carthage, but he leaves her for his greater destiny in Italy.

The third seminar will look at the destruction of the most popular shrine in England, Walsingham, and at the reverberations of iconoclasm in Shakespeare, especially in the long poems, Venus & Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece and in the play, The Winter’s Tale.

Holy sites and their histories reveal the decisive interplay between ideas about self and world, purity and impurity; works of literature and art are vitally involved in these processes of consecration and desecration and, through the vicissitudes in the lives of mythic and dramatic protagonists, the reader/audience can trace the contours of a larger picture about changing common values and the bonds between individuals and society.

Background reading

* Excerpts will be copied or page numbers to be given.

* Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 2, Mythical Thought, trans. Ralph Manheim (New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1965)

* Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, translated by Steven F. Rendall. Berkeley, Calif.; London: University of California Press, c1984.

Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, trans. by Rachel Bowlby (Stanford:Stanford University Press, 2000).

Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: University of Columbia Press, 1991.

Karl Shoemaker,  Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages, 400-1500. New York: Fordham University Press, 2011

Seminar 2

Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. John Dryden, Books II, III, IV and VI.

Burden, Michael, A Woman Scorn’d: Responses to the Dido myth. Faber, l998

Christopher Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Henry Purcell/Nahum Tate, Dido & Aeneas, opera.

Seminar 3

William Shakespeare, Venus & Adonis; The Rape of Lucrece: The Winter's Tale

* Ted Hughes, The Goddess of Complete Being, 1993.

Dominic Janes and Gary Waller, eds. Walsingham in literature and culture from the Middle Ages to modernity, Ashgate. 2010:

Introduction: ‘Walsingham, landscape, sexuality, and cultural memory’, by Dominic Janes and Gary Waller.

Part I Landscape and the Sacred: “Walsingham's local genius: Norfolk's 'newe Nazareth'”, by Stella A. Singer and ‘The Return of the Sacred Virgin: memory, loss, and restoration in Shakespeare's later plays’, by Susan Dunn-Hensley.

Walsingham Richeldis 950:Pilgrimage and History  Proceedings of the Richeldis 950 Historical Conference (Walsingham, 2011):

Edmund Matyjaszek, ‘Walsingham in Ballad, Poetry, and Prose’. pp. 47-80.

John Morrill, ‘In the Wracks of Walsingham: Dissolution and its Consequences’, pp. 97-112.

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580. Yale Univ. Press, l992: ‘On “sacred” and “secular” time?’ pp. 46-52.

Secondary Background Reading

Mourid Barghouti, I Was Born There; I Was Born Here, trans. Humphrey Davies, Bloomsbury, 2012.

Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar, Place (Art Works), Thames & Hudson, 2005

Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection Durham North Carolina: Duke UP, l993

Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, rev ed. Oxford UP, 2013