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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Research Seminar - Dr. Corey McEleney

“Devils in the Details: Midsummer Madness in Victorian Bedlam”

Shakespeare,” says a character in James Joyce’s Ulysses, “is the
happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their
balance.” Why have Shakespeare’s poems and plays become
magnets for madness, attracting obsessive readers and inspiring
excessive readings? What forms does this madness take? And,
above all, what can these eccentric engagements with
Shakespeare teach us about the irrationality inherent in the act
of reading itself? This talk will explore these questions by
focusing on the Victorian painter Richard Dadd. A promising
artist trained at the Royal Academy of Arts, Dadd was
institutionalized in the Bethlem Royal Hospital (Bedlam) after
murdering his father. While confined in Bedlam, Dadd
produced a couple of highly detailed paintings inspired by A
Midsummer Night’s Dream. I contrast the disorienting form of
these works with the Midsummer paintings he produced prior
to his institutionalization in order to show how Dadd’s
commitment to microscopic detail not only exhibits the
profound links between madness and the detail but also, in the
process, defamiliarizes Shakespeare’s play in ways that
anticipate 20th-century interpretations of its darker and more
discordant aspects.

Corey McEleney is an Associate Professor of English and
Film Studies at Fordham University. He is the author of
Futile Pleasures: Early Modern Literature and the Limits of
Utility (Fordham, 2017), and his essays can be found in ELH,
GLQ, differences, as well as in the collections New Formalisms
and Literary Theory (Palgrave 2013) and The Age of Thomas
Nashe (Ashgate 2013). He is currently working on a new book
project tentatively titled The Art of Overanalyzing