The Bard has gone behind bars 400 years after his death -- and the results have been published in a ground-breaking book by University of Queensland academic Associate Professor Rob Pensalfini.
Prison Shakespeare: For These Deep Shames and Great Indignities is being launched at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, today (Monday, January 25) as part of the second global Shakespeare in Prisons Network (SPN) Conference.
Dr Pensalfini (pictured), the Director of Australia’s first Shakespeare Prison Project tracked Prison Shakespeare programs from the 1980s to the present day with a critical look at outcomes and facilitators' claims.
Dr Pensalfini said many programs around the world existed in isolation, and all-encompassing research was difficult.
“Previous studies of Shakespeare studies in prison have been largely descriptive and ad hoc,” he said.
“There are numerous case studies of varying lengths, and even when the programs have been addressed as a phenomenon beyond these case studies, ‘Prison Shakespeare’ has often been treated as a largely homogenous practice.”
Dr Pensalfini said one of the biggest hurdles facilitators of Prison Shakespeare programs faced was social acceptance rather than academic recognition.
“It is assumed that Shakespeare and prisoners are a misfit,” he said.
“Some people express surprise, even disbelief, that prisoners can perform Shakespeare.
“Some ask why prisoners deserve or should get to do Shakespeare, but it can be shown that these programs serve to promote the development of empathy and communication skills that are crucial to social integration.”
The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble's, Shakespeare Prison Project (SPP) was run at Borallon Correctional Centre about 50km west of Brisbane in 2006 and expanded to the South Queensland Correctional Centre near Gatton in 2011.
A SQCC internal evaluation in 2014 showed SPP participants overall were involved in 24 per cent fewer incidents and their involvement in violence-related incidents fell 57 per cent.
Dr Pensalfini said although the sample size was small and the results could be attributed to a number of activities available to prisoners, but the broader argument remained the same.
“Such ‘evidence’ is really beside the point,” he said.
“The question is whether there is value in having such programs available and the evidence clearly demonstrates that to be the case.”
Prison Shakespeare blends academic research and personal experience in forming a narrative around the eclectic history of almost 20 prison arts programs globally.
The SPN Conference brings together facilitators of prison arts projects from around the world.
Prison Shakespeare explores cross-cultural and cross-national differences in Prison Shakespeare programs, particularly the differences between the Australian and North American prison systems, necessitating different approaches for facilitators.
“The book blends academic research and personal experience in forming a narrative around the eclectic history of almost 20 prison arts programs and asks two questions – why Shakespeare, and why prisoners?” Dr Pensalfini said.
The SPN Conference brings together facilitators of prison arts projects from around the world and is being held at the University of Notre Dame, from January 25-30.
Contact: Dr Rob Pensalfini, email@example.com , +61 433648101; Daniel Seed, firstname.lastname@example.org, +61 412379118