Hay Festival 2023

The Birmingham speaker series at the Hay Festival

The Hay Festival will take place from Thursday 25 May to Sunday 4 June 2023.

The Festival brings together life-changing writers, fabulous stars of stage and screen, pioneers of science and technology, and future world leaders, for a party of ideas and stories.

The University of Birmingham’s College of Arts and Law are a Hay Festival sponsor. Our three speakers at this years Festival are details below, with links to register for their talks. 

All children deserve a safer future: returning the “Cubs of ISIS” to the UK

Dr Katherine E. Brown, Department of Theology and ReligionDr Katherine Brown, Theology and Religion

Child terrorists do not exist. Despite the exaggerations regarding the so-called “cubs of ISIS”; children are not terrorists. Questioning whether the distinction between victim and perpetrator is always useful or valid, I argue when we look at the cases of children raised in terrorist environments, it is always harmful and misplaced, and ultimately always damaging to the most vulnerable. That is why I am in favour of the repatriation, reintegration and rehabilitation of all children currently trapped in Iraq and Syria. 

We see children returning from conflict zones as both dangerous and in danger. Focusing on this paradox makes it impossible for the people working most directly with returning children – such as police officers, social workers, and probation teams – to apply consistent and coherent strategies. The tension cannot be resolved by ‘more security’ or by ignoring their possible radicalisation. However, removing this false distinction of perpetrator and victim, allows us to centre children’s needs and wellbeing. No longer “child terrorists” they – and we - can begin to create secure and safe futures – for them and wider society.

Sunday May 28 at 5.30pm

Register here to attend. 

Shakespeare’s Book 

Chris LaoutarisDr Chris Laoutaris, Shakespeare Institute

2023 marks the 400-year anniversary of the publication of Mr William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, known today simply as the First Folio, and arguably the most influential secular book of all time. When it hit the bookstalls in 1623, nearly eight years after the dramatist’s death, it was a landmark in the history of printing; a breakthrough innovation. It was the first book in folio (a costly and large-volume format normally reserved for works of historiographical, national or religious importance) devoted solely to commercial plays. This was unheard of during a period when play-writing was not considered a prestigious occupation worthy of such an opulent commodity. Despite this, at the time of its release the First Folio was the most expensive single volume of plays ever sold, elevating the status of popular theatre in the process. But how did a luxury product, then beyond the reach of most ordinary people, turn Shakespeare into a global brand, a household name? 

It is difficult to imagine a world without The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale, and Macbeth, but these are just some of the plays which were only preserved thanks to the astounding labour of love which was the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Between its covers were preserved eighteen previously unpublished dramatic works, and significantly revised versions of close to a dozen more, which may never have survived without the efforts of those who backed, financed, curated and crafted what is one of the most important conservation projects in history. In addition, the First Folio gathered together in one place the most that had, until then, ever been said about the playwright. It represents the birth of Shakespeare biography. 

Since then the First Folio has had an incalculable impact on language, education, publishing, the theatre, tourism and a host of other industries. Its lasting influence on English national heritage, as well as its circulation across cultures, nationalities, and media, makes the First Folio the world’s most significant secular publishing event. Without it Shakespeare would not have acquired the towering international stature he now enjoys across the arts, the pedagogical arena, and popular culture. 

But who put this volume together and why? How did they shape the dramatist’s posthumous identity through the transmission of his legacy? Delivered in this major anniversary year, this lecture will reveal the answers, charting how the makers of the First Folio made ‘Shakespeare’ as we know him today. 

Thursday June 1 at 2.30pm

Register here to attend.

‘Indolent Luxuriousness’: Oscar Wilde’s Queer Laziness

Photograph of Dr Rebecca MitchellDr Rebecca Mitchell, English Literature

When a reviewer chided Oscar Wilde for being ‘indefatigable in [his] public appreciation of [his] own work’, Wilde doubled down: ‘I have no doubt that in saying this he means to pay me a compliment, but he really overrates my capacity, as well as my inclination for work. I must frankly confess that, by nature and by choice, I am extremely indolent’. Such claims helped perpetuate the view that his wit was spontaneous and his writing unstudied, for better or for worse: when he was convicted of ‘acts of gross indecency’ and sentenced to two years’ hard labour, some commentators felt it was a needed correction to the ‘indolent luxuriousness’ that led to his homosexuality and underproductive writerly output. 

Yet like many aspects of Wilde’s wide-ranging career, his public ease was the result of studious—if carefully concealed—labour. Manuscript evidence shows that he worked tirelessly at his craft, filling notebooks with drafts and carefully revising his bon mots, with even some epigrams being worked over repeatedly. This talk draws on over a decade of archival research to show the extensive reading and drafting that underscored Wilde’s apparently effortless works. 

Saturday May 27 at 11.30am

Register here to attend.