Adapting Violence in/from Classic Texts

A two-day online workshop | 24–25 March, 2022


Amy Brown (University of Bern) and Lucy Fleming (New College, Oxford)


Supported by the University of Bern Fund for Promotion of Young Researchers. Attendance is free: if you would have been able to pay a small registration fee, please consider donating to The Sportula microgrants program for marginalised students in Classics (US / Europe).

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Plenary Sessions:

  • Urvashi Chakravarty (University of Toronto), Keynote Speaker
  • Maria Sachiko Cecire (Bard College), Plenary Respondent
  • Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (University of Houston), Author Talk
  • Round Table on violence in adaptations (Usha Vishnuvajjala, Sawyer Kemp, Aimee Hinds Scott, and Marie Emilie Walz)


Jyotika Virdi (2006) described the feminist creator seeking to represent rape in film as caught between a ‘rock and a hard place’’—that is, between the ethical call to represent oppressive reality, and the risk that representing violence may perpetuate harm. Similar concerns underlie the representation—in film, literary retellings, and other forms of adaptation—of racial violence, homophobia and transpohbia, and graphic physical violence, all of which are common in works held in high esteem for their literary and/or cultural value. Violence in these ‘classic’ works thus becomes a flashpoint for social, political, and creative tensions. In response, adaptations may reify violence in these texts, or critique it; they may represent violence in the name of fidelity, or seek to reclaim the text. Both adaptors and scholars must grapple with difficult questions: When is violence in adaptation important or useful? When is it negligent or even harmful? What uses does violence serve when adapting culturally prestigious texts, and how is these texts’ very prestige linked to the violence they contain?  

This two-day, online workshop will bring together specialists in the contemporary adaptation of ‘classic texts’ and adaptation as a premodern cultural practice to consider what concerns shape the reception and re-visioning of violence. We will explore the stakes involved in adaptation, and the uses and abuses of violence in adapting texts of high cultural value.  

We define ‘violence’ broadly, including both physical violence and social oppressions, and are interested in considering adaptation strategies across and in reaction to different axes of power, including but not limited to race, gender, and sexuality. In this workshop we seek to bring together scholars working on adaptations (any period) of ‘high status cultural texts’, where the source texts predate 1865. Those texts religious, mythological, artistic and historical source-texts as well as literary forms, and adaptations may be in widely varying media. These source-texts need not derive from any particular language, region, or literary tradition; rather, we aim to feature studies from a wide range of cultural contexts and time periods, to approach our central questions from many varied perspectives. In asking what it means to (re-)write violence, potential papers could address:  

  • Case studies grappling with the ethics of rewritten violence; 
  • Applying a lens of feminist theory, queer studies, violence studies, trauma studies or other interdisciplinary modes to ‘classic’ texts; 
  • Retellings or adaptations that challenge contemporary/contemporaneous ideas of violence; 
  • Retellings for particular or unusual audiences or readerships;  
  • The canonization of works containing violence;  
  • How adaptations and retellings relate to ‘real-world’ violence; 
  • The act of adaptation as a form of violence; 
  • Rewritings of violence that are radical, liberating, and even empowering acts. 

Workshop Format:

This workshop will be entirely online, with both synchronous and asynchronous participation options possible. Given the nature of global online conferences we anticipate that many participants will alternate between synchronous and asynchronous participation depending on their location, work and/or family commitments, accessibility needs, and other considerations. Some material will be uploaded and professionally captioned in advance; plenary sessions will be recorded, professionally captioned, and uploaded after the fact. Still other sessions will be unrecorded.

Timetable Outline:

Thurs 24 March (Times in CET/ GMT+1)

13.00 – Opening Remarks

14.00 – Plenary Talk, Urvashi Chakravarty

16.45 – Panel 1, “Vulnerable Bodies” (pre-recorded papers, synchronous discussion)

18.15 – Panel 2, “Staging Violence” (synchronous papers and discussion)

20.00 – Author talk, Chitra Banjeree Divakaruni

Friday 25 March

11.00 – Text Exploration Session 1: choice of small-group workshops on a case-study text.

  • Roberta Marangi – Medieval Judith texts (beheading scenes)
  • Shelby Judge and Lena Linne – Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls (focus on Briseis)
  • Hatton, Casper and Ehrenfried – Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam (1613) (offstage violence)

12.45 – Coffee (Europe) / Breakfast (US) breakout chat time.

14.00 – Round table, featuring Usha Vishnuvajjala, Sawyer Kemp, Aimee Hinds Scott, and Marie Emilie Walz

16.30 – Text Exploration Session 2: choice of small-group workshops on a case-study text.

  • Rebecca Steinberger and Kendra Preston Leonard – Kendra Preston Leonard’s The Silence of the Girls (discussion with the author)
  • Vighnesh Hampapura – Haider (film adaptation of Hamlet by Vishal Bharadwaj)
  • Mary Boyle – The Nibelungenlied (Gunther and Brünhild’s wedding night)

18.30—Panel 3, “Violence and the Body Politic” (pre-recorded papers, synchronous discussion)

20.00 – Closing Plenary, Maria Sachiko Cecire

21.00 – Closing remarks

Accessibility Constraints / Concerns:

The UNIBE ‘Promotion Fund’ is able to cover asynchronous captions for the plenary sessions and up to nine pre-recorded papers – professional live-captioning is far beyond our capacity. However, given the practicalities of running global events online, if you’re unable to participate in the live sessions for any reason you will not be alone. Our aim is to make some to most of the conference available to the greatest number of people, within our tech and budget limits.

Some access options we forsee and how we’re addressing them:

  • Inability to attend whole days, work or caring responsibilities: some material will be available before, and some after, the event, for you to stagger your participation.
  • Time zone clashes: we do hope to run at least one of the synchronous panel discussions in the morning CET-time, which is evening for Asia and Australia. For New Zealand / eastern Oceania the European evening plenaries may be accessible if one is a morning person.
    • The schedule for plenaries is fixed, but there’s some flexibility in the other sessions. We’re asking for time zones in the proposal portal, so we can optimise the draft schedule, and then we’ll check again after acceptances in case of specific schedule clashes. Panels will probably be grouped by time zone, rather than period or topic – which should make for a lively interdisciplinary conversation!
  • Can’t attend a specific synchronous panel: we’re looking into having moderators take ‘questions on notice’ for pre-recorded papers, and ideally then making a written version of the response available. If you want to share your work but already know you won’t be able to attend the synchronous panel Q&A, propose a pre-recorded paper and note your constraints in the freeform accessibility field at the bottom and we’ll look into alternative feedback methods.
  • Lack of social / networking options: as above, we’re looking into some kind of discussion forum, which would operate for a week or so before and a week or so after the conference. In addition, a couple of optional ‘bring your breakfast/lunch/coffee’ breakout social sessions are planned, for the time-zone overlap of early morning in the US and lunch in Europe.
  • Difficulties with audio-visual formats: the captioning service also provides transcriptions. We’re also like to offer at least one of the ‘text exploration’ sessions as chat-only – if that’s something you could present at, please do! Alternatively, if you are proposing a pre-recorded 20 minute paper but the live discussion section will pose a problem, let us know what your constraints are and we’ll try to figure something out.
  • English isn’t your primary scholarly language: We hope asynchronous material with captions will help there, and we will make optional auto-captions available during synchronous sessions (not perfect, but Amy at least finds them helpful for accessing French). If you’re not accustomed to presenting in English, we’d still love to have you participate – pick the format that seems most accessible to you, and let us know if there’s something we and/or the session moderator can do to support you or put you at ease.
    • Regarding both of the above, professional transcription, unlike auto-caption, can work around a wide ranger of accents than auto-captions can. Pre-recording presenters will be able to help the transcriptionists by sending through a list of key critical terms and/or features of their local English idiom (Amy, for instance, is an incorrigible user of Australianisms).

Content notes / warnings:

Please take as a blanket warning that the conference will – in fact is intended to – deal with material that might be distressing on a number of axes. We will ask presenters to give brief descriptions for programming purposes of the type of violence addressed in their paper, and hope that asynchronous participation will allow people with major triggers to stagger their exposure and/or avoid particular topics. However, due to the comparative goals of the conference (not to mention the interactions between different forms of violence), we can’t guarantee that the live discussions won’t bring up types or topics of violence not addressed in the original presentation.

Conduct and respect:

We expect all participants to behave with respect towards one another and towards the texts and questions asked. A list of common expectations will be shared with participants ahead of the workshop.