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Revisiting Revenge in Ghent

Written by Vanessa Lim |

After a year and a half of online events, I was thrilled to finally to attend an in-person workshop in Ghent. In addition to the usual pre-conference tasks of booking flights and accommodation as well as the inevitable rush to cut an over-length presentation down to size, pandemic-era travel also meant having to check the compatibility of my vaccine certificate across borders, filling out arrival forms within the correct timeframe, and ensuring that I’d packed enough masks for the trip. Preparation was more complex than ever before, but I am very grateful to have received some funding from the Institute to help defray my accommodation costs.

The view from my hotel room

I arrived in Ghent the night before the workshop. Titled ‘Revisiting Revenge’, the event offered participants the opportunity to present and discuss new perspectives on revenge tragedies from the late 16th to the early 18th century. I presented a part of my discussion of Hamlet from my monograph-in-progress, which situates the play’s examination of revenge against classical and Renaissance theories of rhetoric and their associated moral and political dimensions. It was great to present in front of a live audience once again, and I also learnt a lot from the work of other colleagues. Adam Hansen’s ‘Vision and Vengeance in The Changeling’ helped me to see (pun unintended!) Middleton’s play anew, while Anne-Valérie Dulac’s presentation on the ‘fabric of revenge’ in Webster’s Duchess of Malfi was an important reminder to pay attention to the materiality of performance in terms of textiles, costuming, and stage appearance. Caitliín Rankin-McCabe’s ‘Encountering the Spectre’ was also extremely illuminating in its reading of the Ghost in Hamlet and other immaterial forms in early modern literature. My horizons were greatly expanded by presentations outside my immediate field of expertise as well. Highlights include the keynotes by Russ Leo and Helen Watanabe O’Kelly, as well as the research presented by Merel Waeyaert and Marco Prandoni on various aspects of early modern Dutch revenge tragedy. It was also wonderful to be able to chat with colleagues between panels and during breaks—I am not the most social person at conferences, but I’ve certainly missed the spontaneity of such conversations!

The Ghent Altarpiece

The city of Ghent also had much to offer: endless blue skies, beautiful architecture, and excellent food. Quite by accident on my first evening, I discovered a Thai restaurant named Kin Khao while on the search for dinner and had the best pad thai I’d ever tasted. Post-conference on the second day, I also had the immense pleasure of visiting the Ghent altarpiece in St. Bavo’s Cathedral with two fellow presenters. Painted by the van Eyck brothers and completed in 1432, the imposing and gorgeously detailed polyptych was an absolute thrill to see in the flesh. 

St. Bavo’s Cathedral

With a flight and a train to catch, I had to leave before I could fully explore the cathedral and more of Ghent, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an opportunity to revisit the city.