Lloyd Davis Memorial Public Lecture 2014:

Shakespeare's Nuts: Early Modern Nuxology and the Edible Contact Zone

  • Wednesday 11th June 2014, 5pm - 6.30pm
  • The Terrace Room, Level 6, Sir Llew Edwards Building (#14)
  • RSVP: Stormy Wehi, s.wehi@uq.edu.au for catering purposes.

Shakespeare’s references to plant-life are often understood through a pointedly localising prism. The gilly-flowers and cow-slips mentioned in A Winter’s Tale and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, are supposed to bespeak his deep intimacy with the Warwickshire countryside of his youth. This lecture turns to another form of plant-life in his plays -- the nut -- and teases out its global valences. The simple nut might be read just as a nugatory snack. But its implications ramify beyond its small size. When Hamlet claims that “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space,” he hints at the capacious world within the seemingly humble nut. Indeed, Shakespeare’s nuts are generally portals to other worlds. When Caliban promises to pick “pignuts” for his new master Stephano in The Tempest, he offers him just one item from a menu of exotic island delicacies that also include “clustering filberts,” or hazelnuts. This lecture uses Shakespeare’s nuts as a point of departure for thinking about what Mary Louise Pratt calls the contact zone, the spaces in which different cultures meet and are transformed. Paying particular attention to the early modern English fascination with the Indian coconut, the lecture also considers a much-neglected poem by a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, written at exactly the same time as The Tempest: the Kristapurana, an 11,000-stanza epic poem in Marathi by the Catholic dissident and Goan immigrant Thomas Stephens. Ostensibly a religious poem about the history of creation, it is also Stephens’s extended homage to the miraculous transformative power of the Indian coconut. In light of Stephens’s coconut, then, we can revisit Stephano’s pignut and see the Marathi poem as a nutty counter-Tempest that reveals the blindspots of Shakespeare’s understanding of the contact zone.

About the presenter

Professor Jonathan Gil Harris has an extensive academic career and broad research interests with main focus currently on Shakespeare and Early English Drama; and India and ‘Indography’: the early modern writing of India and Indians.
He is currently working on a book The First Firangis: How to be Authentically Indian (New Delhi, India: Aleph Books, forthcoming 2014).

Lloyd Davis Memorial Public Lecture 2014