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Fake News and Censorship in Maria de Zayas’ Short Stories
Speaker: Benjamin Griffiths (University of Birmingham), 

The concepts of ‘fake news’ and ‘censorship’ are intertwined intimately, as the proliferation of the former implies the expansion of the latter. Whilst fake news as understood in its modern sense is being propelled by contemporary technologies such as the Internet, it is not the first example of the use of a mass medium to censor. The printing press enabled texts to be mass-produced on an unprecedented scale, and language played a central role in the creation of censorship. In Spain, this development, combined with the pervasive powers of the Inquisition, created a historically unique environment in which what we now might understand as ‘fake news’ could spread.

As well as post-publication Inquisitorial censorship of the ‘intratextual’ elements of printed material, texts in early modern Spain were subject to a pre-publication approval process in which several ‘extratextual’ elements were necessary. The exemplary short fiction (ESF) genre is particularly interesting in the way it ‘flies the flag’ of its exemplariness through laudatory language, and how censorship operated was not always obvious: it has been claimed that María de Zayas’ short stories were censored by the Inquisition, fitting with the academic narrative that her authorial voice was silenced over generations. This paper, however, will argue against the existence of this Inquisitorial censorship and for a less statist, more nuanced view of censorship of her works based on the nature of individual variants introduced by printer-booksellers, thereby disproving the academic ‘fake news’ promoted online.

"Open your ears […] when loud Rumour speaks?" (Henry IV, Part 2): Shakespeare’s ‘true wrongs’ and ‘false reports’
Speaker: Harvey Wiltshire (Royal Holloway University of London)

Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, with news of Henry’s victory at the Battle of Shrewsbury spreading across England. Henry has divided his forces to smother the remaining embers of rebellion in his realm, but ‘false reports’ quickly start to ‘run before’ the truth of his victory, with rumours that his son, Prince Hal, has been killed and that the King himself has been forced to ‘stoop his anointed head as low as death’. The play begins with an assertion of total unreality, stressing the dangers that truth contends with in the confusion of war and civil division, and the hope that reality will eventually triumph. 

But Shakespeare’s history plays are full of ‘false reports’ as he fabricates and hallucinates imagined scenes of history in the gaps he creates in the chronicle histories he embellishes. In this paper, I will explore how and why in content and composition, Shakespeare never seems to let the truth get in the way of a good story.  

Benjamin Griffiths (University of Birmingham) is a second-year PhD student at the University of Birmingham funded by the Sir Henry Thomas Scholarship. He is working on Golden Age exemplary short fiction (ESF), particularly Miguel de Cervantes’ Novelas ejemplares, and later Spanish-language ESF (editions from 1613-1799). His PhD project attempts to go beyond the traditional focus in Cervantine studies of reconstructing the ‘original’ text by focusing on the ‘final authorial intention’ in order to consider the editorial history as a whole, in a line of thinking advocated by renowned textual scholar Jerome McGann.

Harvey Wiltshire is a Teaching Fellow in Early Modern Literature, Shakespeare, and Inclusive Pedagogy at Royal Holloway University of London. He is currently working on a book about blood in Shakespeare, has published on Shakespeare's poetry and the history of trauma, Kingship in Richard III, tear imagery in the poetry of John Donne, and has forthcoming work on the Elizabethan Succession Crisis, and metaphors of circulation in Shakespearean drama.

Seminar Programme

25 May 2023
Wars, Whoppers and Carrots:  Fake News and its Opposite in the Early Modern Period

1 June 2023
Fake News and Censorship in Maria de Zayas’ Short Stories
"Open your ears […] when loud Rumour speaks?" (Henry IV, Part 2): Shakespeare’s ‘true wrongs’ and ‘false reports’

8 June 2023
Fake News from the Bubonic Plague to the “Lado Obscuro das Vacinas”
Fighting Against Disinformation: The Linguistic Features of Spanish Pseudo-Media
F for Fake News 

All are welcome to attend this free seminar, which will be held online via Zoom at 16:00 BST. You will need to register in advance to receive the online joining link. Please click on the Book Now button at the top of the page to register.