In Conversation: Professor Goran Stanivukovic

In October 2020 Professor Goran Stanikuvoic (SMU) took up the Plumer Visting Fellowship in Early Modern English Literature at St Annes College. Before lockdown, we* spoke about his fellowship research project, queer early modern studies, and exploring Oxford, over a coffee in the Weston Library cafe.

What research projects are you working on while you’re here?

My fellowship research project is ‘Shakespeare Before Shakespeare: Early Style-Making’. I am hoping to balance the work done on late style and on the late plays. The book on which I am working is concerned with the plays written before 1594, that watershed moment in Shakespeare’s career when he transitions from being a freelancer, to the status of a professional playwright and a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men company. I am thinking about Shakespeare before he became the Shakespeare of the professional theatre; the Shakespeare of highly experimental, energetic, innovative, and daring plays. This is the very lyrical, humanist phase of Shakespeare’s writing, and the plays are very literary. His classical, especially rhetorical, education translates into those earliest plays – The Two Gentleman of Verona, The Comedy of Errors, Titus Andronicus. These are plays which are full of obstacles for study, because about a half of them are collaborative, and their chronology is uncertain. How does that affect a study of personal style; how does it encourage rethinking what personal style is? Was style even considered personal in collaborative drama? These obstacles are the reason to study those plays.

Last week, I read an article in The London Review of Books by the art historian T.J.Clark  about the working relationship and artistic interaction between Cézanne and Pissarro, two major French painters of the late 19th century. Clark makes the point that instead of ‘early style’ we should use ‘first style’ to refer to Cézanne’s style as an ‘amalgam’ of styles drawn from several painters, including Pissarro. Cézanne borrowed different techniques from different painters and absorbed them into his art. Both ideas, ‘first style’ and an ‘amalgam’ style, appeal to me, because they capture something of Shakespeare’s early styles. Clark says Pissarro was influenced in differing ways, by different painters of the time. Shakespeare’s ‘first style’ was an eclectic and layered product of influence. In the case of Shakespeare, the term ‘first style’ also takes us out of thinking of ‘early’ as suggesting ‘young’ or implying undeveloped or immature. But ‘early’ Shakespeare was not young when he was first alluded to in London in 1592. He was already 28 or 28 and thus five or six years older than some of his contemporaries and competitors when they were in the ‘early’ stage of their careers. It would be difficult to speak about young Shakespeare, because he wasn’t.

My work on early Shakespeare is also part of a turn to new formalist criticism, which focuses on form as a producer of meaning. This is the post-new-historicist moment for early modernists at work now. When you look back, you see that new historicists did not explore language itself as a materialist practice and condition of cultural and literary formation. They were interested in language paradigmatically, as a cultural allegory or metaphor for texts and events. I think that the new formalist movement gives us an opportunity to go back to what new historicists distracted us from--the study of literary language as a material practice—and re-evaluate the language of Shakespearean drama.  

You’ve recently edited the collection Queer Shakespeare: Shakespeare and Desire. What do you think is next for early modern queer studies, or where would you like to see it going?

I certainly want to see early modern queer studies open-up in scope and methods, and become more interdisciplinary, and bring together art, material culture, cross-cultural contacts; and to become more comparative and intersect English with other early modern literatures. I also think that could be done employing new formalism. It should be more creative and even bolder in the ways early modern queerness is written about in criticism.  

Do you have any advice for graduate students or early career researchers?

My advice is read broadly, read widely, and across genres and periods. Don’t be afraid to make unexpected leaps between texts and writers, and even periods; between genres and modes of imaginative expression. <as demonstrated by ‘the first’!’> I think this is an exciting moment to work in early modern studies, not least because the field has been immensely enriched by the latest generation of scholars and new scholars, from whom I learn a lot at conferences, in contacts, conversation, and communication.

Have you acquired any new Oxford favoured spots? What are your new haunts?

I go for a run in the University Parks. I have just discovered if you cross the arched bridge, the gravel path suddenly turns into a mud path, and you can run a long way past cow fields—which after a day in the library, working under a mask, is more liberating than I ever thought.  

I have discovered a couple of good cafes, like the Vaults, and a few in the North Parade St, two or three streets away from St Anne’s college. And of course, the essential Weston Library Café – the place where all meetings happen.

Who would you invite to your fantasy dinner party? (Obviously, questions of households and social distancing don’t count with the undead.)

I would definitely invite Christopher Marlowe, Philip Sidney, Fulke Greville, and John Webster. < That sounds like a good evening>. I have yet to learn more about the life of Greville, which is why he’s there. If you wonder, why not Shakespeare, it is because he may well be a likely topic of the evening; besides everyone wants him at a party.

I also wonder if he would be one of those people who would sit and observe people?

You’re spot on. When I was a postgraduate research student at the Shakespeare Institute, the critic and biographer, Rosalind Miles, gave an evening talk for the Shakespeare Club, held at the Institute, which I still remember. She speculated: if you’re in a pub and the three of them are there – Ben Jonson, Marlowe, and Shakespeare--Marlowe would be bragging about his conquests, Ben Jonson would be there pronouncing about his plays and Shakespeare would be at the end of the bar, pen in hand, quietly writing it all down; noting down these temperaments and behaviours.

*Interviewed by Leah Veronese, Early Modern Literature DPhil Candidate, Balliol College.