Emma Smith

Emma Smith teaches at Hertford College, Oxford. Her piece in this issue is adapted from her 2022 Northcliffe Lecture at UCL.

Not at Home: Shipwrecked in Illyria

Emma Smith, 16 February 2023

Viola and Sebastian are escaping the trauma of their past lives in other texts. They are forced migrants from narratives they have abandoned, with only the clothes on their back, to be accepted into other fictional worlds, given new names and reset on different fictional paths. We could figure migration and its traumatic dislocations as the relationship between texts rather than between countries: a more politicised, more agonised, way of conceptualising intertextuality. Textual migration, like its human counterpart, defamiliarises the idea of the text as home. To think of Shakespeare’s plays as safe havens for displaced textual agents from different traditions is to understate the underlying violence of the dislocations they display. But to say that the passage of these ideas is fraught and troubled, rather than apolitical, raises one of the abiding problems in Shakespeare studies: the instrumentalisation of real-world pain for a greedy project of relevance.

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