Professor Oram Chosen to Give Engel Lecture
Kyle Kaplan '15 Arts Editor
On Tuesday, Feb. 11, Smith professor William Oram gave the 56th annual Katherine Asher Engel Lecture in Seelye Hall. Established in 1958, this lecture is granted to a Smith faculty member who has made a significant contribution to his or her field. Oram’s lecture, “The Price of Kingship in Shakespeare’s ‘Henriad,’” focused on how Shakespeare portrayed his titular Henry V as, in Oram’s words, “a man who is constantly concerned with how others see him – with his ‘image.’”
Oram is the Helen Means Professor of English; he has taught at Smith since 1971. His interest in Shakespeare’s treatment of the English monarchy began when he taught a course on the problem of legitimacy in Renaissance kingship with Professor Howard Nenner, Smith’s Roe/Straut Professor in the Humanities.
When asked how Shakespeare addressed the problem of legitimacy differently than others writing about the subject, Oram explained, “King Richard II, who was a bad but legitimate king, was deposed by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. Shakespeare shows Henry and the kings that come after him all claiming legitimacy – that is, claiming that they not only have the power to rule, but the legal right to rule.” He continued, “Many playwrights wrote about English history in the 1590s and 1600s. But there are no Renaissance plays that I know of that have the same feel for the complexities of rule in English history.”
Oram hopes that those who attended his lecture will want to see – or at least read – the four plays that comprise the “Henriad”, the last of which is “Henry V.” All four parts of the “Henriad” – “Richard II,” “Henry IV,” which is divided into two parts, and “Henry V” – are available on DVD in Neilson Library. All are part of the recent BBC production “The Hollow Crown,” which, Oram says, “will give pleasure to anyone who watches it, whether or not she thinks of herself as a Shakespearian.”
In addition to teaching classes on Renaissance literature, Oram also teaches classes on science fiction and utopia. He is currently teaching a class on the first installation of the “Henriad,” “Richard II,” as well as working on other major projects. “I mostly write about the Renaissance poet Edmund Spenser, and for some time I’ve been working on his treatment of pleasure and the body,” Oram explained. “That’s led me to think about pleasure as a number of other writers, including John Milton and Sir Philip Sidney, also treat it.”
Rachel Miller ’14 said, “Oram’s enthusiam for and knowledge of Shakespeare practically can’t be contained. He paints an incredibly vivid picture of Shakespeare’s world and stage, which he can recreate perfectly in the listener’s mind just through the sheer amount of details and knowledge he possesses.” Oram is an important researcher on the subject of the “Henriad,” and his lecture was followed by many questions from the audience.