Professor's Corner feeds community need for literary discourse
Gray Scott, Ph.D., talks to the Professor's Corner audience about Hamlet In January at Denton Public Library South Branch.
Even without tests or quizzes looming on the material, participants still bring their A-game to Professor’s Corner.
Texas Woman’s University English professor Stephen Souris, Ph.D., has hosted the monthly speaker series that covers literary topics far and wide since 1999, and he sees no end in sight to the range of possibilities to cover in the future. From Hamlet to Harry Potter, each guest speaker Souris enlists, most of whom are fellow TWU faculty members, brings expertise and enthusiasm to the group discussions at the Denton South Branch Library.
“For me, it’s fun to get out of the ‘ivory tower’ once in a while and talk about literature with people from the community who are passionate about it,” Souris said. “No matter what size the turnout, we have a very smart group of attendees.
“There is a need in this community for literary discourse in public settings, and we’re happy to provide a forum for those who are interested.”
Those who flock to the discussions range in age from high school students to retirees, and span all walks of life, though it’s common for Souris to find a fellow English teacher or two in the room. Despite the high level of discourse, Professor’s Corner offers an inviting space for literature fans of any level, free of pretension and complete with free snacks and drinks.
January’s 90-minute evening session was all about Hamlet, who guest speaker and Souris’ colleague Gray Scott, Ph.D., said gets something of a bum rap by many who have read and interpreted Shakespeare’s longest play. Yet, interested parties shouldn’t shy away from attending if they can’t squeeze in a full five-act revenge tragedy every month – Souris and his guest speakers recommend participants read selected excerpts of longer works when those texts are up for discussion.
Scott’s lecture, provocatively titled “Hamlet: He’s not suicidal and he doesn’t want his mother!” drew 30 participants and centered around the argument that Hamlet is not nearly as indecisive or as crazy as many readers claim. Scott insists all the primaries in Hamlet are engaging in the type of calculated mental warfare following the murder of Hamlet’s father, the king, which requires each to consider the long game rather than immediate action or swift maneuvering.
Hamlet’s mania, perceived or real following his father's death, has not frozen him into useless inaction, Scott argues. In fact Scott suggests Hamlet may have embellished his ‘madness’ as part of a long-term plan that admittedly doesn’t end well for any of the primaries.
Scott contends that the famous ‘To be, or not to be’ soliloquy is not the contemplation of suicide many suggest, but a subtle hint of his meticulous plan for revenge spoken in the presence of some malicious party he knew to be listening behind a curtain or a mirror – a death threat veiled in insanity.
For Scott, it’s not unlike the dialogue- and character-driven drama in television’s Game of Thrones, without all the gore, of course, until Act V.
“Every character is strategizing, calculating outcomes, trying to figure out each other’s motives, and all of that is high risk,” Scott said. “A lot of the dialogue in Game of Thrones is this pre-battle dialogue where there are hints of violent repercussions, and so the conversations are always these loaded character contests.
“I find that enthralling, particularly once you understand the game going on behind the dialogue. Those dialogues, like Hamlet’s, are endlessly fascinating because someone could draw a dagger at any point, but the thrill is in watching them not do it and try to figure out how to outplay each other instead.”
Ashley Bender, Ph.D., another faculty member in TWU’s Department of English, Speech and Foreign Languages, will lead February’s discussion with a lecture titled “My masculine part, the poet in me: Gender in the poetry of Aphra Behn.” The discussion will center on how Behn, the world’s first professional female playwright, challenged prevailing notions of sex and gender in the late 17th Century.
Professor’s Corner meets once a month during Fall and Spring semesters with funding provided for the last three years by Humanities Texas. For more information, like Professor’s Corner on Facebook, or follow @ProfsCorner on Twitter. For a complete schedule of the remaining installments this spring, click here.