Plenary Profiles: Erin Sullivan

We recently saw Dr Erin Sullivan on BBC’s Shakespeare’s Mother: The Secret Life of a Tudor Woman, which is still available to watch on iPlayer.

Sullivan completed her MA at the Shakespeare Institute, where she currently serves as lecturer and fellow, and received her PhD from University College London. Her expertise as a literary scholar and cultural historian includes the history of medicine, particularly psychology and emotion. She contributes to and advises medical-themed journals and arts groups and edits the journal Cultural History.

Always interested in fostering public participation in academia, Sullivan has made advances in integrating media and distance learning into teaching. She also spearheaded ‘A Year of Shakespeare’ in 2012, a project which examined the relationship between Shakespeare and the London Olympics. Yearofshakespeare.com covered more than 80 events across the world, including the World Shakespeare Festival and the Globe to Globe Festival.

Sullivan has written and edited dozens of articles and books, such as A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival, edited with BritGrad plenaries Paul Prescott and Paul Edmondson, and Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year (ed. with Prescott, 2015).

Forthcoming works include The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Early Modern Literature and Culture (ed. with Richard Meek, 2015) and Beyond Melancholy: Sadness and Selfhood in Renaissance England, in which Sullivan delves into intertwining issues of identity, religion, medicine, sadness, and contemporary literary writings.

Sullivan has twice appeared on Melvyn Bragg’s program ‘In Our Time.’ Listen to this fascinating discussion on The Tempest here and to her talk about Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy here.

Speaker Erin Sullivan on BBC Four

Yet another plenary appeared on television last week. Historian Michael Wood consulted Dr Erin Sullivan, a lecturer and fellow with the Shakespeare Institute, for her expertise on BBC Four’s documentary Shakespeare’s Mother: The Secret Life of a Tudor Woman. The program follows William Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden through personal and financial loss during an era of religious upheaval and the rise of a new kind of middle class.

The program is available to watch on BBC iPlayer for three more weeks. Go to 32:13 to hear Dr Sullivan discuss how Mary Arden might have dealt with grief after the deaths of her oldest children. Also check out the episode to see shots of the lovely Stratford-upon-Avon, where the BritGrad Conference will be held.

Speaker Chris Laoutaris on The One Show

Last month, we profiled BritGrad plenary Chris Laoutaris, a lecturer and fellow at the Shakespeare Institute. Last week, he appeared on BBC’s The One Show in a segment about Lady Elizabeth Russell, the subject of his book Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe. Gyles Brandreth interviewed Dr Laoutaris in Playhouse Yard, a location central to the struggle between the “bard and the battle-axe.”

Russell, a strict Puritan, raised a petition against building a theatre in the upscale neighborhood of Blackfriars, London. Early modern NIMBYs who signed the petition included Lord Hunston, William Shakespeare’s patron, and Richard Field, his former publisher and boyhood friend.

Russell succeeded in pushing Shakespeare across the river where he wrote plays for the world-renowned Globe, only to return to Blackfriars after her death. Laoutaris actually suggests Shakespeare’s grudging admiration for his nemesis is evidenced by his creation of the Countess of Rousillon in All’s Well That End’s Well.

Shakespeare and the Countess (Penguin) will be available on paperback on 5 March.


 

This episode aired on 12 February. If still available, Laoutaris’s segment begins at 23:35.

 

Plenary Profiles: Chris Laoutaris

Get to know the fantastic plenaries of BritGrad 2015! Dr Chris Laoutaris, a lecturer and Birmingham Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute, will be featured as the first in a series of brief speaker profiles.

Laoutaris received his undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate from University College London, where he taught and served as Renaissance Literature Course Convenor. He has lectured at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and is currently teaching at the Shakespeare Institute.

He relishes archival adventures and interdisciplinary explorations of early modern literature. His wide range of interests includes poetry (it’s in his blood, having descended from a line of poets), women’s history, translation, and Renaissance studies of anatomy. Other research areas involve early modern superstition and witchcraft, satire, death-ritual, Puritanism, monstrosity, and natural history.

You might have heard of Laoutaris’s book Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle that Gave Birth to the Globe (Penguin 2014), which has received numerous accolades. The Telegraph and Observer listed it as one of the best books of 2014, and it made the shortlist for the Tony Lothian Prize for Biography. The Countess follows the formidable Elizabeth Russell, a lady who successfully opposed the creation of a Blackfriars playhouse in 1596, forcing William Shakespeare to adapt his writing for the Globe Theatre.

Laoutaris has also written Shakespearean Maternities: Crises of Conception in Early Modern England (Edinburgh University Press 2008) and is now working on the Birmingham Fellowship Project Team Shakespeare: The First Folio and the Men who Created the Shakespeare Legacy.

As expected from someone with such diverse expertise, Dr Laoutaris will speak on the fascinating topic of early modern robotics in Shakespeare and Spencer. Prepare for old-school cyborgs!

Day 3: Strange Plays, Here We Come

By all accounts, Day 3 of BritGrad started with an incredible panel by Alex Whiteley and Rebecca Fensome, taking the comparative study of Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes and Despicable Me 1 and 2 to unparalleled heights of academic excellence. I wouldn’t know first-hand, because unfortunately despite the best of intentions I didn’t wake up until 9:05. The mention of these two papers is a testament to how much, despite the ravages of the BritGrad party, I was still hoping to see them.

Just two bros, united by a love of Renaissance dramaturgy

The first plenary of the day saw Anna Marsland and David Rintoul discussing The Roaring Girl and The White Devil, two RSC productions on which they respectively worked as assistant director and actor. Much of the initial question-and-answer section drew attention to the questions of gender surrounding the plays and the Roaring Girls season itself – while Rintoul was surprised to realise that he may have only worked with six female directors over the course of his career (and up to fifty men), Marsland was confident that the theatrical landscape was beginning to change. She spoke about the unbelievable life of the real Moll Cutpurse, who escaped unwanted emigration on a boat to Virginia by swimming back to shore, and responded to comments on the more conventionally-feminine attire of Lisa Dillon’s Moll at the end of the play by emphasising how the character’s costume aesthetic has by this point spread across the whole sweep of the stuffy Victorian society in which Jo Davies had set the production. There was a genuine excitement to her comment that the upcoming White Devil cast featured eight female parts, one of which (Flaminia) has been cross-gendered; a decision which seems increasingly timely in the wake of performers who deconstruct traditional understandings of gender, from Lady Gaga to Conchita Wurst. The play is only just about to go into rehearsal, so it wasn’t only the audience who were keen to discover what effect this would have on the sexual politics of Webster’s tragedy.

The Roaring Girl, temporarily not roaring
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Middleton’s verse is quite hard to remember

Rintoul, meanwhile, displayed all the charm and grace one might expect from TV’s former Mr Darcy. Asked about the particularities of memorising and performing non-Shakespearean verse, he proposed a sustained and remarkably accurate analogy to jazz – from the steady beat underlying Marlowe, to the development of syncopation/less forcefully iambic lines, to the Charlie Parker-style improvisation of the Jacobean era. He also considered the play in relation to the RST run of Henry IV, pointing out parallels in the split between a rule-bound, conservative group of characters and the free play of London street-life, while emphasising the specifically Jacobean focus of The Roaring Girl on contemporary society. Both discussed the production’s relation to last year’s A Mad World, My Masters, and the Swan’s position as a space designed for non-Shakespearean drama: would Middleton sell in the main house. Surely it’s worth finding out?

Sadly it doesn’t seem as if the Swan will be staging Heywood’s Age plays any time soon, so it’ll be a while before we can find out exactly what’s meant in stage terms by the ‘strange fiery-workes’ which accompany the appearance of Medea in The Brazen Age. This was the subject of Callan Davies‘s fascinating paper, exploring the links between strangeness, spectacle, scepticism and intellectual uncertainty in early modern England. What use would a stage direction including the abstract term ‘strange’ be to a stage-hand trying to produce a visual image? asked Davies, before taking us on a tour of Renaissance oddity including ‘Strange News out of Kent’, a phenomenon represented today by this Daily Mirror article about massive rats. Far from mere tawdry shows, then, ocular wonder required intellectual engagement from an audience, and reflected a wider uncertainty over translating the material world into moral terms. Davies linked these occurences of strangeness to Montaigne’s doubts over the stability of perception, and the ethical stability this entailed, as explored in his essay ‘Of Massive Rats’.

Callan Davies (L) in intense discussion (as far as I can tell from my own position of intellectual uncertainty)

Fans of Heywood should, at this point, be reminded of the Lizz Ketterer Trust Heywood Marathon, which began today at the Shakespeare Institute with the intention of reading and recording all 37 of the plays attributed to him. Regardless of what Heywood’s spectacles ‘meant’ to their original audience, the role of the visual and ephemeral on the Renaissance stage has been consistently ignored by scholars looking for the sources of Shakespeare, argued Kim Gilchrist in a thought-provoking, original speculation about the ‘imbecilic’ works encountered by early modern playgoers. Gilchrist made the case for what has been in the dry transcription of Queen’s Men plays such as The Famous Victories of Henry V, presenting the complex, metatheatrical improvisation of clown-actors like Richard Tarlton as a tradition which has, by its very nature, disappeared from literary history. Nonetheless, the work of this first acting celebrity – known for his playing extempore - must have been assimilated and transformed by Shakespeare, just as much as that of literary forebears such as Marlowe. While the Prologue to Tamburlaine was a direct challenge to the rhyming and jigging of this kind of theatre, its echoes survived even as they could not be written down. Gilchrist’s own acting was able to give us a speculative flavour of what Tarlton and his fellows might have been doing; the mechanical dolphin which Greenblatt suggests might have provided Shakespeare’s introduction to theatrical spectacle sadly remained unreconstructed.

Somewhere, Henry V is feeling threatened

These issues were picked up (dolphin notwithstanding) in the final plenary session of the day, and of BritGrad 2014. Dr Will Sharpe and Dr Peter Kirwan demonstrated considerable powers of off-the-cuff discussion as they introduced us to the theory and practice behind their recent co-authored project on the collaborative plays attributed to Shakespeare. Their volume takes in not only Arden of Faversham, Double Falsehood and Sir Thomas More, in which Shakespeare’s hand has regularly been suspected, but also The London Prodigal and Thomas Lord Cromwell, two plays in which they found no evidence of Shakespeare’s own writing, but historical attributions which made it clear that they were first received in a Shakespearean context, perhaps due to the influence of the King’s Men’s house dramatist on the company’s wider output – collaboration is never just a case of sharing billing. Even the first Folio fudges the issue of collaboration, implying that authorship in the period didn’t mean exactly the same thing as ‘who wrote what’.

Sharpe and Kirwan expressed their hope for the demise of the circular argument that goes: Shakespeare could never have written this; this can’t be by Shakespeare, because it isn’t good enough. They also explained the logic behind presenting the whole of each play, rather than excerpting the potentially Shakespearean passages: not only are many of these collaborative works worth reading in their own right, but the mechanical aspect of stylometrics makes it difficult to declare  with 100% certainty which author wrote a single scene. Given the amount of French in Henry V, most computer systems would confidently assert that Shakespeare had never laid eyes on it. Despite the quality of some of these plays, however, Sharpe wearily noted the tendency of media coverage to focus on the novelty of new Shakespearean attributions, rather than the actual contents of the work – an awareness of which had to underlie the presentation of the book itself, to make it a viable commercial proposition. Kirwan argues that the desire to ‘own it all’ – everything Shakespeare ever wrote – is part of a modern consumerist mentality, but also speculated on the Internet as a factor contributing to a resurgence of interest in anonymity. As questions from the audience made clear, however, the value of the volume lies not least in its making available, in clear, clean and lucid texts, plays which might now be used by actors and theatre companies, extending the relatively narrow scope of the early modern drama which is staged today – and in discussing those works, as Sharpe wryly commented, in ‘essays that people can read.’

And perhaps it’s fitting to conclude with a comment on accessibility, in a conference which we the BritGrad team hope serves as an entry point to conference attendance for a generation of postgraduate students.

‘Books in the running brooks, and good in everything.’ – Delegates, chillin’
Bearded debate
Your humble author
Two teas? Or not two teas.

More photos, courtesy of Ronan Hatfull, can be found at the BritGrad Facebook page. We look forward to seeing you all next year!

Plenary #9 & #10: Ending with a Roar

With just a week left until the initial meet-and-greet, we’re delighted to announce the final pair of speakers for BritGrad 2014. On Saturday June 7th, 10:45-11:45, we will be welcoming Anna Marsland and David Rintoul to discuss The RSC’s Roaring Girls season, in a question-and-answer session chaired by Hannah Hickman and Charlotte Horobin. Hopefully you already have a number of burning questions for these two major players in a programme of productions showing examples of Jacobean drama which put complex, interesting female characters centre-stage – a return to the original remit of the Swan Theatre, to explore the wider Renaissance repertoire – but if you’d like some pointers about our speakers, the following will clue you in…

Anna Marsland (centre) and company working on The Roaring Girl

Anna Marsland is Assistant Director for The Roaring Girl, currently playing at the RSC, and The White Devil, which premieres on 30th July as part of The Roaring Girls Season. She graduated with an MFA in Theatre Directing from Birkbeck College, and was a Resident Trainee Director at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. She was also a finalist for the 2013 JMK Award for Young Directors. Her work as a director includes Twelfth Night at the Victoria Baths, Manchester and What the Butler Saw and Two, both at the ADC Theatre. As an Assistant Director, she has worked on Hope Light and Nowhere at the Underbelly, A Christmas Carol at the Young Vic, Miss Julie at the Royal Exchange Theatre, and Othello at The Rose Theatre, Bankside. Elsewhere in the Renaissance, Anna has also done text work for The Malcontent at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and for Henry VI Parts 1, 2, & 3 at Shakespeare’s Globe.

David Rintoul
David Rintoul

David Rintoul is currently playing Sir Alex Wengrave in The Roaring Girl, and Monticelso in The White Devil as part of The Roaring Girls Season. He will later be part of the company for The Witch of Edmonton alongside Eileen Atkins. David studied at Edinburgh University and trained at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and has since worked extensively on stage and screen, with a career taking in productions at The National Theatre and the Theatre Royal, Bath, not to mention Dirty Dancing. His previous RSC appearances include, among others, The Taming of the Shrew (also staring Lisa Dillon), Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, and Edward III. In television he was notably Doctor Finlay in the television series of the same name, and in 1980 played the role of Mr Darcy in the BBC television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Anna and David complete this year’s BritGrad programme – we hope you’re as excited to meet them as we are, and as we are to meet you. By now you should have received an email about abstracts and hats – keep your eyes peeled on this very blog (peeled to? peeled at?) for further information to follow.

Plenary #8: My Kingdom for a BritGrad ticket!

Delegates to BritGrad 2014 are welcome to make use of the Institute’s parking facilities, but since the discovery two years ago of the body of King Richard III under a Leicester car-park, I’m personally hesitant about leaving my car anywhere in case a controversial historical personage reimagined by Shakespeare is waiting underneath my wheels. Are we going to find Macbeth in an underpass in Leith? Sir John Oldcastle in the coach park of a craft-brewery visitors’ centre? Or Hamlet in the nearest lay-by to a Jutland peat bog?

Our eight plenary speaker may not be able to confirm or deny these speculations, but he is well-positioned to discuss the archaelogical excavation which actually happened. We are honoured to be hosting Richard Buckley, Director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services and leader of the team of experts who uncovered Richard III’s remains in 2012, as a plenary speaker at BritGrad 2014. Richard’s plenary talk, entitled ‘Richard III Dig’, will take place in the Shakespeare Institute Hall on 5 June, Thursday, at 15.30.

Buckley
Richards Buckley (L) and Plantagenet (R)

Richard Buckley has worked on major archaeological projects, such as the investigation of Leicester Castle Hall and John of Gaunt’s Cellar (1986), the Shires excavation (1988-89) and the Causeway Lane excavation (1991), and has also authored a number of books on the subject, such as Leicester Town Defences (with J. Lucas, 1987), Leicester Castle Hall (with N.W. Alcock, 1987) Roman and Medieval Occupation in Causeway Lane, Leicester (with A. Connor 1999). In 2014 he was honoured by ULAS as the Archaeologist of the Year.

The discovery of Richard III’s remains incited renewed interest in the last Plantagenet King, not to mention a fresh contention between the noble houses of York and Leicester over where the bones should be reinterred. The physical facts of the skeleton with its visible scoliosis have also led to a reconsideration of Shakespeare’s most charismatic villain in light of the much-discussed ‘Tudor myth’. Richard Buckley’s plenary session will offer an insight into the excitement, anxiety, intellectual thrill and sense of history being remade which accompanied one the most famous archaeological quests in recent English history.

Plenary #6 & #7: DOUBLE BILL!

The plenaries I’m announcing today are two men who give collaboration a good name, and are occasionally asked to discuss it in the Brazilian national press. They will be giving a collaborative talk about Shakespeare’s collaborative plays, and you’d be singularly foolish to miss it.

PeteKirwan-e1359533672597

will sharpe collab

 

Sharp by name as well as by nature, Dr Will Sharpe is a Visiting Lecturer at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. He is currently editing the New Oxford Shakespeare editions of Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing and Henry VIII. He contributed reviews to A Year of Shakespeare, a book-length compendium covering all of the plays performed as part of the World Shakespeare Festival in 2012. He has also taught at the University of Warwick and Nottingham Trent University, and completed postdoctoral work on the Cambridge edition of The Complete Works of Ben Jonson at the University of Leeds. Will is a Chief Associate Editor of the RSC Shakespeare individual volumes series, for which he co-edited Cymbeline with Jonathan Bate, and one of the General Editors of Digital Renaissance Editions.   He is also a founder member of a charity in memory of Dr Lizz Ketterer, the Lizz Ketterer Trust, which provides a scholarship offering a student from the Shakespeare at Winedale programme of the University of Texas—Lizz’s home state—the chance to follow in her footsteps and attend the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Summer School, held at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. Money is raised for the Trust by Ketterer’s Men, a theatre company for which Will is an enthusiastic actor and director.

Dr Peter Kirwan will be joining Will at BritGrad for a discussion of their contributions to the recent publication, William Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays. Kirwan is Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama in the School of English at Nottingham University. His publications include articles on Shakespearean authorship, book history, performance history and new writing based on Shakespeare, and he is currently working on a monograph entitled Shakespeare and the Idea of Apocrypha and an essay collection, Shakespeare and the Digital World (Cambridge, 2014), co-edited with Dr. Christie Carson (Royal Holloway), reflecting on the effects of the digital revolution on Shakespeare Studies. Since 2013, he has been collaborating with the British Library and Dr Jo Robinson (Nottingham) on a collaborative doctoral award entitled ‘Provincial Shakespeare Performance’, culminating in an exhibition in 2016 at the British Library. He also runs a blog, The Bardathon, dedicated to reviews of Early Modern Drama within the UK.

Plenary #4: Professor Tony Howard

Today on the blog it’s my honour to hand over to Charles Morton to introduce our fourth plenary speaker. BritGrad’s illustrious co-chair describes his former tutor, besides his remarkable academic achievements, as ‘one of the nicest people you are ever likely to meet’.

Professor Tony Howard opening an exhibition on Paul Robeson and Shakespeare

Professor Tony Howard has been at the forefront of much groundbreaking work on Shakespeare. As a mainstay of his alma mater, the University of Warwick, since its foundation, he has been a key factor in it becoming one of the leading English departments in the country. He also holds an MA from the University of Toronto. Howard’s work has often shone a much-needed and important light on neglected areas of Shakespeare studies, such as his 2007 work Women as Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation in Theatre, Film and Fiction (Cambridge) which includes studies of the shifting relationship of Shakespeare, culture and gender in many societies and ideological situations – from nineteenth-century Britain, America and France to Weimar Germany, Stalinist Russia, and Eastern Europe during the fall of Communism.

Last summer, he conducted a series of lectures at Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank offering a wonderful insight into the cinematic histories of some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. He has translated many major works of Polish drama and poetry by writers such as Tadeusz Rozewicz, Maria Pawlikowska and Ewa Lipska.

His collaboration with playwright Howard Brenton on  A Short Sharp Shock  (Royal Court/Stratford East) provided a prescient insight into the politics of Britain in the 1980s. His other theatre work, the drama-documentary ‘I Have Done the State Some Service': Robeson, Othello and the FBI links to his current work as Principal Investigator for Multicultural Shakespeare, a major AHRC-funded project to record the contribution of Black and Asian artists to the development of Shakespearean performance in the UK and it is this project that he will be addressing at this year’s BritGrad conference. Sign up now for your chance to see this important work in progress.

Two more plenary speakers, or, ‘What should we call these speaking things?’

To discover the identity of the first of the two plenary speakers we’re announcing today, we invite you to turn to your copy of Venus and Adonis, lines 383-6 (Oxford edition). He also features in Henry VI Part II, grazing in Cheapside, and as part of a duo in Titus Andronicus, haling a ‘vengeful wagon’. Whether or not he will reprise any of these activities in Stratford-upon-Avon remains to be seen, but it’s our pleasure to welcome ‘the prince of Palfreys’, as Henry V would have it, to this year’s BritGrad conference.

‘His neigh is like the bidding of a monarch and his countenance enforces homage.’ (Henry V)

Professor Simon Palfrey is the author of Doing Shakespeare (Arden, 2011) and Shakespeare in Parts (Oxford, 2007) in collaboration with Tiffany Stern, and a Fellow in English at Brasenose College, Oxford. Drawing on the philosophy of Leibniz and the close reading of William Empson, his approach to Shakespeare’s texts is capable both of exploring the proliferating tensions and potential within a single word or a single cue-space, and of relating that multiplicity of meaning to the physical choices of the actor. He grew up in Tasmania and is currently working on a series of playlets adapting Spenser’s Faerie Queen for the setting of pre-colonial Van Diemen’s Land. His presentation at the BritGrad conference, ‘Shakespeare on the Edge’, will explore the possibilities raised by Edgar/Poor Tom in King Lear. 

Perhaps surprisingly, the adjective ‘ferny’ (in the manner, one presumes, of a fern) is not extant in the Shakespeare corpus, but the second plenary speaker we’re announcing today, who is speaking on Friday June 6th, will be familiar to many BritGrad delegates, past and present.

A flowery Fernie

Professor Ewan Fernie is Chair of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham and co-founder of the ground-breaking MA programme in Shakespeare and Creativity at The Shakespeare Institute, BritGrad’s host institution. His creative interests have led to a number of collaborative projects with Simon Palfrey, including Bloodhill, a novel in response to Macbeth. The two are co-editors of the innovative Shakespeare Now! series of ‘minigraphs’ for Continuum Books. Fernie is the author of The Demonic: Literature and Experience  (Routledge, 2012) and Shame in Shakespeare (Routledge, 2002), and the editor of Spiritual Shakespeares (Routledge, 2005).

Hot on the heels of an inaugural lecture – ‘Freetown! Shakespeare and Social Flourishing‘ – celebrating his appointment at the University of Birmingham, Fernie will be setting Shakespeare alongside Ted Hughes’s ‘Crow’ poems to explore how their response to the darkness in ourselves  can act as a kind of social therapy. The title of his talk, ‘Lighten our Darkness’, gives us something to cling on to in these biting winter months.