Saturday, what a day! (Grooving all week with you.)

Dumbledore: more sinister than you think.

The final day of BritGrad began with a panel on tyranny. Nicole Mennell (University of Sussex) gave her paper “‘So barbarous and so beastly’: Animal Imagery, Tyranny and Dehumanisation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Titus Andronicus“. She spoke about characters transforming into literal and metaphorical animals. Tyrants are bestial in their cruelty, but because they possess rationality, they are even worse than beasts. Hunters also become predatory creatures in pursuit of prey. Human victims, as well, can metamorphose, such as Titus‘s Lavinia, who is compared to a doe and suffers several mutilations.

Polly Jeanetta Brown (The Shakespeare Institute) questioned whether Prospero of The Tempest and Dumbledore in Harry Potter were trusted tyrants. The answer was a resounding yes. The “benevolent” Dumbledore fits Plato’s “philosopher king” ideal, a tyrant for the greater good. He also uses cunning to keep the peace in a way that would make Machiavelli proud. Prospero can be seen as a Nietzschean figure, a “good man” who alters others to become more like him.

What happens when you marry Othello and Much Ado About Nothing?

After that discussion of disturbing violence and sinister old men, Marie Ryan, Molly Lambert, and Octavia Finch (all from The Shakespeare Institute) talked about adapting Shakespeare for their Creative Practice course. They discussed their process of selecting plays and conflating characters. The group delegated writing but edited the piece as an ensemble for consistency. Lambert mentioned the struggles with creating effective but washable fake blood. Then the three performed ten minutes of their hour-length play, about a theatre company performing Much Ado About Nothing but living Othello behind the scenes.

Ronan Hatfull (University of Warwick) also presented “‘This Blasted Heath’: A Critical-Creative Exploration of William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett and Cormac McCarthy Through Dystopia”. He showed a video and shared poetry as well as sections from his and his fellow students’ post-apocalyptic play, which drew from Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, and Cormac McCarthy.

Spooky, no?

Our final plenary talk featured both Laurie Maguire and Felix Budelman with Oxford University: “Audience Responses to Ambiguity in Othello, The Winter’s Tale, and Two Greek Tragedies”. They used questionnaires to determine the alertness of audiences to ambiguities in theatre. The two found several kinds of audience reactions. For example, Aeschylus’s Libation Bearers revealed what they called The Oleanna Effect, named after David Mamet’s play. Audiences were split on whether one character in a masked production was faking grief. The scene was  ambiguous in a way that provoked disagreements, but audience members generally didn’t perceive that ambiguity, as they were convinced they were right.

Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale revealed The Janus Effect, in which the audience appeared to perceive ambiguity regarding whether Leontes had reason to be jealous based on his wife’s behavior. Half of the audience was convinced one way or the other, while the other half genuinely didn’t know or selected multiple answers. Othello involved The Octopus Effect. Rather than focusing on one motive for Iago’s manipulations, members selected multiple compatible statements.

I’m just a natural fool…

The last panel I attended on the last day was a blessedly lighthearted session on clowns. Rebecca Agar (University of Ulster) started by examining “The Use of ‘Low Comedy’ in The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth“. This play, written around 1587, contained popular characters which were not featured in its historical sources. Agar wanted to look beyond the comic relief of the lower class characters to see the potential social commentary in the play’s humor.

Kim Gilchrist’s (Roehampton University) “‘How mad a sight it was to see Dametas’: The Arcadia, Tarlton, and Sidney’s escaping clown” analysed Philip Sidney’s views of clowning as found in the Arcadia. Gilchrist also looked at physical irregularity in clowns as well as Arcadia‘s influence on the play Mucedorus, noting the similarities between the latter’s clown Mouse and the character Dametas. Gilchrist determined that Sidney’s anti-clown views and the interaction between popular and more elitist texts were far more complex than has been accepted.

Finally, Charles Morton (The Shakespeare Institute) concluded the panel with “Your all-licensed fool”: Will Sommers, Robert Armin, and King Lear’s Fool”. He drew connections between Henry VIII’s beloved jester Will Sommers and the Fool in King Lear. Robert Armin, for whom the Fool’s role was likely written, wrote a book “Fool upon Fool”, which included a section on Sommers. Morton also regaled us with obscure and hilarious jokes told by Sommers, the most successful of which (then and now) was a fart joke.

The ever-lovely Institute garden.

The day was almost done. Richard O’Brien gave the closing remarks and presented two Liz Ketterer Memorial Awards for the best abstracts. First place went to Harry Ford (University of Exeter) for his “‘Set down your venerable burden’: piggybacking in Shakespeare’s As You Like It and the medieval outlaw tradition”, and 2nd went to Sam Meekings (Lancaster University) and his “Views from the Beargarden”. After a hearty round of applause for our hardworking BritGrad Chair, we relaxed and chatted in the Institute garden for the closing reception, which involved eating and drinking delicious refreshments.

BritGrad 2015 was filled with funny and fascinating talks from seasoned speakers and students alike. For some, this was their first conference. The papers were uniformly engaging but touched on a wide variety of early modern subjects: gender and sexuality, metre and poetry, playhouse culture–the list goes on.

A big thank you to the BritGrad 2015 committee for working so hard to put this together, to the stunning plenaries who shared with us their remarkable expertise, and to the students, the very reason for this conference’s existence. Until next year! May there be many more BritGrads.


Friday’s Fabulous Student Panels

“How many falsehoods was Theobald involved in?” Shakespeare asks

Naseem Alotaibi (University of Liverpool) began Friday’s first student panel, Working with Texts. Her paper “Lewis Theobald and Accusations of Plagiarism: A Reconsideration of Shakespeare’s Involvement in Double Falsehood” asserted that scholars have not sufficiently investigated accusations of Lewis Theobald’s plagiarism. Some critics consider Double Falsehood to be the lost Shakespeare play Cardenio. However, Theobald frequently imitated Shakespeare’s writing and was accused of plagiarizing and falsifying multiple plays.

It is no longer politically correct to call the first quarto of Hamlet the “bad quarto”

Scott Shephard (Royal Holloway, University of London) continued the discussion with his presentation “Q1 Hamlet at the National and the Globe Abstract”. Hamlet’s so-called “bad” first quarto, discovered in 1823, has gained some legitimacy in recent years. Since 2000, several theatre companies have used its cuts in performances. Shephard especially focused on Nicholas Hytner’s 2010 production at the National Theatre and Dominic Dromgoole’s 2011 production at the Globe. Both versions received reviews which seemed to have been based more on the performances (mostly positive for the National, less so for the Globe) than for their use of Q1.


Sara Marie Westh (The Shakespeare Institute) passed out hexaflexagons with the words “author,” “intent,” and “character” for her talk “‘Words, words, words’: The Author, his Characters and interpreting Intent”. She noted that we tend to ignore textual instabilities and search for authorial intent, including Shakespeare’s. Westh found this desire to be a natural attempt to connect with and understand another person, but it also distracts from character intentions. There is a difference between author and character, made all the more difficult to discern due to the fluidity of word and thought.

M and Lady M. That dress.

Next up: Music and Noise! Karen Harker (The Shakespeare Institute) introduced us to David Pountney’s 2001 radical production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth. This innovative adaptation of Verdi’s opera received negative reviews, but Harker elaborated on how the production’s color scheme highlighted the composer’s score. Green slime represented blood and was associated with Macbeth, while red was associated with witchcraft, madness, and Lady Macbeth. The way these colors were used showed the progression of the characters, their relationship, the music, and the presence of the supernatural.

Making some noise in the Maori Troilus and Cressida at Shakespeare’s Globe

Laura Wright’s (Yale University) paper “‘After so many hours, lives, speeches spent…’: making noise and doing nothing in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida” spoke about the copious amount of noise in Troilus and Cressida. The drums, fanfares, and verbose speeches have often annoyed audiences, but their sounds are the “white noise” of the war that hangs over the play. The cacophony jars viewers and suggests that its opposite, harmony, is elsewhere, always out of reach. Characters attempt to outshout one another and are deaf to each other’s meanings. Silence is often connected to tragedy and noise with comedy, and the play uses noise to bizarre and complex effects.

The Ghent Altarpiece and its angrily singing angels.

Jen Waghorn (The Shakespeare Institute) finished the panel with “‘Vaine disports of minstrelsie’: musical crimes and culprits in early modern England”. What exactly were musical crimes? Minstrels were frequently conflated with vagabonds, and musicians could be imprisoned for disturbing the peace, performing in the wrong time and place. Playing inappropriate or libellous songs was also a dangerous enterprise. As religious conservatism increased during the 17th century, musical crimes were increasingly reported and punished. Musical criminals were arrested, fined, physically abused, and, perhaps worst of all, forbidden from playing music ever again.

I will not be back.

The final panel of the day covered Shakespeare and Social Media. Thea Buckley (The Shakespeare Institute) started with “To Be Schwarzenegger, Haider, Cumberbatch or You?: interactive Shakespeare and the evolution of Hamlet as hero(ine)”. Hamlet has become a mythical trope, repeatedly regenerated. He can be found in action films and various variations on his story. Interestingly, Hamlet’s inaction can be countered by Choose Your Own Adventure books and interactive computer games. Buckley also showed clips of the Indian film Haider, an adaptation of Hamlet set in 1995 during the Kashmir conflict.

Pug-let himself (maybe)

Elizabeth Jeffrey’s (The Shakespeare Institute) piece “‘Get thee to a puggery!’: Shakespeare and Pop Culture” looked at several Shakespearean phenomenon: an upcoming production of pugs doing Hamlet and a performance of Romeo and Juliet told in the style of Dr. Seuss. Kevin Broccoli’s Pug-let was sponsored by a Kickstarter campaign and will be live-streamed. The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet and of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are examples of how recent years have seen the influence of the internet as well as increasingly “whimsical” adaptations of Shakespeare’s works.

Brittany LaPole (The Shakespeare Institute) finished the day of panels with her overview “Social Anxiety: The relationship between Social Media and Shakespearean Scholarship”. She observed how experimental productions often utilized the plays Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as we saw in Jeffrey’s talk. LaPole used Such Tweet Sorrow (the story of R&J live-tweeted) and Dream40, a highly interactive, mostly digital rendition of Dream. Occasionally there is an “us vs. them” mentality between those who embrace digital Shakespeare and those who reject it. However, by and large, the internet has produced an array of creative responses to Shakespeare, serving as a playground to fans who wish to respond to Shakespeare in original ways.

The day of textual conundrums, musical controversies, and digital Shakespeare concluded with a party at the pub Keys & Kitchen, complete with food, drinks, music, a garden patio, and cooperative weather.

Friday’s Peachy Plenaries

Dr Chris Laoutaris with Gyles Brandreth on The One Show

The second day of BritGrad again offered several fascinating plenary talks. Dr Chris Laoutaris with The Shakespeare Institute spoke on “Early Modern Robotics in Shakespeare and Spenser”. He discussed posthumanism or “cyborg theory” and wondered how familiar Renaissance audiences were with robots, noting that we now live at a time when the existence of humanlike robots is very possible. Numerous religious sermons at the time referenced automata when discussing false idols and hypocrites (those who go through the motions but are inwardly barren). Laoutaris showed a few clips of early modern robots which were both incredibly advanced and eerie. Renaissance England was a place of wonder and skepticism about the wonderful.

Dr Andy Kesson

Another former BritGrad chair, Dr Andy Kesson from the University of Roehampton, talked about the importance of studying playhouses directly before Shakespeare, a time when early modern theatre culture was forming. He lauded archival work by Martin Wiggins and Tiffany Stern which reimagined theatrical history and said that scholarship should “inconvenience perceived narratives”. Kesson discussed several quotes about early modern theatre, including the famous statement in Robert Greene’s ‘Groats-worth of Wit’ (1592). The reference to Shakespeare and his “tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide” quotes 3 Henry VI and was most likely written by Henry ChettleKesson argued that the quote suggests that early Shakespeare was associated with violent plays. From the bloody histories (Richard III, Edward III, and the Henry VI trilogy), to Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare featured a surprising number of war narratives. Even his comedies (The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona) were quite violent and sometimes misogynistic.

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, at Shakespeare’s Globe, with actor Mark Rylance, Mayor Francois Decoster, and Dr Remy Cordonnier looking at a recently confirmed Folio which will be exhibited at the Globe in 2016.

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, Head of Higher Education and Research at Shakespeare’s Globe, gave the final plenary talk of the day, “The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage”. She discussed her research and observations about theatrical gestures in the Renaissance. A wide variety of influences shaped gestures, including acting skill, costumes, and lighting conditions. How did large, outdoor spaces affect hand movements in comparison to intimate, candle-lit theatres? We assume outdoor performances at the Globe were grand and over-the-top, but Karim-Cooper noted that stillness on an outdoor stage can be both powerful and highly visible. She also gave insight into different kinds of “gestural annotations,” including iconic and instinctive movements, depending on what the passion, play, or performer needed to convey.

Day 2 of BritGrad 2015 was another success. Thanks again to the plenaries who shared their repositories of knowledge with us!


Thursday’s Student Panels

Thursday featured several splendid plenaries, but BritGrad is mainly an opportunity for students to give and hear student papers. I was only able to attend one panel at a time, so here is just a sampling of brilliant panels on the first day of BritGrad 2015.


I was required to attend the panel on Screen Adaptations, and I’m glad I did. I presented my paper “Korol Lir: When the Political Becomes Metaphysical”, a piece on Grigori Kozintsev’s powerful 1971 adaptation of King Lear. ThisLear is both socially and spiritually astute, grim but less pessimistic than many interpretations.

Hayley O’Malley’s (University of Michigan) presentation “Child Solicitor: Innocence and Interpersonal Ignorance in Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus” examined what she called a “network of boyhood” in the 2011 film. She found the absence of children and young people, especially in the protest scenes, to be as telling as the silent presence of several children. A dead Volscian boy spurs Aufidius’s revenge against Coriolanus, a boy on horseback serves as a kind of soliloquy for the protagonist, and silence gives both mini-Martius and his mother Virgilia effective voices.

Blake Barbiche (The Shakespeare Institute) analyzed why Carlo Carlei’s 2013 film Romeo and Juliet was a commercial and critical failure in her essay “‘O [No] Romeo, Romeo’: Shakespearean Film Adaptation Gone Amiss”. She found it to be incohesive and unoriginal. Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame heavily altered the script, and the gorgeous visuals borrowed from Baz Luhrmann’s and Franco Zeffirelli’s versions of the play. Editing often muddled characterizations, and the whole piece lacked humor and “youthful energy”. Barbiche concluded that clarification of Shakespeare’s text was often preferable to drastic simplification.

The second panel I attended, Choices and Interpretations, began with Fiona Dunne’s (University of Southampton) “The Complexity of an Evil Choice in Macbeth.” Dunne used complexity science to analyze Macbeth. Complexity science is an expanding field that studies multiple actions and can be used to track epidemics or measure sustainability. Dunne believed it overlaps with the arts in the way it examines what we don’t know, making a case for literary text being a complex system. Initial conditions are extremely important, and the whole is more than the sum of its parts. This playworld can be divided into performance, production/edition, and text/context.

Jessica Chiba (Royal Holloway, University of London) discussed ontology and Shakespeare in “To be or not to be–what is the question?” The most famous line in Hamlet captures the imagination of so many partly because it is an ontological mystery. What is being? Characters throughout Shakespeare’s works declare they are what they are, or they are not what they are. What makes these characters believe this? In comparison to his contemporaries, Shakespeare was quite unusual in the way he focused on questions about existence and being.

Caroline Heaton’s (Sheffield Hallam University) paper “Casting, cutting, and costume: reflections on reviewing Shakespeare in performance” followed her journey of pursuing an MA by reviewing RSC productions for a 40,000 word thesis. She is still in the process of compiling and editing reviews; cutting them down is one of the most difficult parts. Heaton went over what a production might include: text, design, concept, context, actors, and audience. For each production, she wondered what most critics missed what most people discussed. Also, was there a way to remain objective? Perhaps the most difficult question she asked was how to make her reviews relevant to others.

The final panel of the day was Tragic Appropriations. Saksham Sharda (University of Kent) spoke about “The Accidental Racialization of Caste in Bollywood’s Appropriation of Othello. He criticized the film Omkara for merging caste and race, a conflation he considered a foreign imposition. In this version, Othello was of a low caste, but he also had darker skin than other characters. Sharda also touched on whether Shakespeare was truly universal or simply imperial, noting how it replaced the Bible as a means of colonialism.

Mette Sjolin’s (Lund University) “Appropriating trends: Shakespeare’s tragedies in modern drama” covered several modern adaptations of King Lear, Romeo and JulietOthello, Macbeth, and Hamlet. She noticed a distinct feminist trend. Pieces about Lear often looked at the sisters and their absent mother, focusing mostly on what happened before the play. Romeo and Juliet adaptations were frequently romantic comedies, asking what might have happened. Othello prompted artists to wonder, did it have to happen? Macbeth adaptations turned to history, asking what really happened, and Hamlet posed a conundrum as to whether “it” really happened at all, causing adapters to question and reimagine the play.

Eilís Smyth (The Shakespeare Institute) concluded the panel and the day with her paper “Naming Lady Macbeth: Searching for Scotland in the ‘Scottish Play'”. In spite of appropriating Scottish history, Macbeth is classified as a tragedy rather than history. This incredibly famous “Scottish play” is written by an English writer based on Holinshed’s Chronicles, which are filled with anti-Scottish bias. Queen Gruoch is dehumanized to the point of being the nameless Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth was likely not such a bad ruler. Little research has been done on Shakespeare in Scotland, and perhaps bardolatry has blinded critics to this unique case of cultural disenfranchisement by Shakespeare.

BritGrad 2015 witnessed a marvelous first day of plenaries and panels on adaptation, philosophy, and more. Thankfully, the scintillating conversations carried on throughout the entire conference.

Until next time!


BritGrad 2015: Thursday’s Delightful Plenaries

Richard O’Brien, our hero

This past weekend was a fabulous blur of dynamic plenaries, informative panels, and lovely weather. Shakespeare Institute Director Michael Dobson gave the opening remarks with his usual wit, expressing wry confidence in the lineup and emphasizing his lack of involvement in this student-run conference. BritGrad Chair Richard O’Brien did accept responsibility for the proceedings and welcomed everyone to the first day of BritGrad.

Shakespeare Institute Director, Professor, and glittering wit Michael Dobson

The Shakespeare Institute’s Dr Erin Sullivan spoke first on ‘Shakespeare, Sadness, and the History of Emotions.’ A former BritGrad Chair, Sullivan shared memories and reflected on the number of lasting academic relationships she made at the conference. She went on to discuss the history of emotions, an inherently interdisciplinary field which has faced challenges over the years due to its perceived subjectivity. From Roland Barthes to historian Barbara Rosenwein, scholars have posed theories about how to study the history of emotions.

Plenary Dr Erin Sullivan on the Renaissance blues

Sullivan’s particular interest lies in Renaissance sadness in its manifold forms. There was an ambiguity about sadness; for example, sadness over the world’s sins could be salutary, while other kinds of melancholy could be unhealthy and even dangerous. She used Antonio from The Merchant of Venice as an example of a character whose identity seems intertwined with melancholy and noted that she was drawn to Shakespearean characters whose emotions differed from the norm.

Plenary Ben Naylor, breaking it down

Ben Naylor with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama was the second plenary of the day. He emphasized the importance of fostering a relationship between academics and theatre and directed an interactive analysis of Hamlet, act 1, scene 1, from a performance perspective. This close reading involved questioning what every line could tell audience members who were completely unfamiliar with the play. The scene is full of what Stephen Greenblatt called “strategic opacity.” Even the first lines, “Who’s there?” and “Nay answer me,” create immediate conflict and keep the audience at the edge of their seats.

Naylor pointed out the significance of Italian (Bernardo) and Roman (Marcellus) names, Wittenberg and its chief association with Protestantism, and possible stage directions found in the text. Shakespeare expertly alters the mood throughout the scene, particularly when Horatio and company sit down to hear a story about the ghost. Seeing actors sit, the audience begins to relax and let their guards down. The ghost suddenly interrupts story time and the audience’s complacency. This back and forth analysis between Naylor and his students normally goes on for four hours, which, based on his talk, surely fly by.

Paul² and Sylvester James Jr, Mayor of Kansas City

Our final plenaries Dr Paul Edmondson with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Dr Paul Prescott with the University of Warwick discussed their project Shakespeare on the Road. Prescott was fascinated with the number of Shakespeare festivals in the United States which made very little if any profit, performing Shakespeare on the cheap tickets or for free. He and Edmondson celebrated the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth by visiting 14 of these 200 or so festivals and seeing 44 performances and 22 plays, beginning and ending with The Winter’s Tale. They also conducted 150 interviews.

This massive, illuminating, and exhausting trip from coast to coast included a foray into Stratford, Canada, as well as the Harlem Shakespeare Festival, the Amerindian Shakespeare Initiative, and Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, which required the cast to set up and take down sets for every performance. The Pauls found that the American festivals tended to be conscientious about diverse casting. This decision was not to be confused with “non-traditional casting,” a term which bothered some due to its suggestion that actors of colour hadn’t been involved with Shakespeare in the past.

After a wonderful day of plenaries and panels (stay tuned for more information about student papers), delegates had the option to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Othello, featuring Hugh Quarshie as Othello and Lucian Msamati as the company’s first black Iago.

Thank you for joining us for Day 1 of BritGrad 2015! More summaries are coming soon.

Brudermord and an Award!

Yesterday, we completed DAY ONE of BritGrad’s 2015 conference. A write-up of Thursday’s events will appear soon. For now, I’d like to summarize what happened on Wednesday:

As you know, Professor Tiffany Stern from Oxford University gave a talk on Wednesday afternoon about the play Der Bestrafte Brudermord (Fratricide Punished) a German adaptation of Hamlet from the 18th century. She discussed her journey into the world of early modern puppetry, noting that plays in Shakespeare’s day were often adapted into puppet shows. For example, Julius Caesar‘s stabbing scene could be turned into humorous, cartoon-like violence. Many of these shows were mishmashes of characters, plays, and settings.

Commedia dell’Arte thrived in England’s puppet performances. Due to the high level of improvisation, puppeteers had leeway to push the limits of censorship. We know that English theatre traveled abroad, and sometimes companies with dwindling numbers of employees conflated people and puppet shows or converted entirely to puppetry. Stern decided that, though she had known Fratricide Punished as a play for actors, evidence supports the possibility that it was also a puppet show. Its stage directions and cast, including extra violence and unnecessary characters, suggests puppet shenanigans.

Her talk was followed by a fantastic, high-octane, hilarious production of Der Bestrafte Brudermord by Hidden Room Theatre and a talk-back with its performers. They discussed how they composed the music, crafted the puppets, and collaborated on comedic bits and more emotional moments. Because it worked so well, director Beth Burns was quite convinced that the play was designed to be a puppet show.

After that, we walked across the street to The Windmill to catch up with attendees at the pub!

I’d also like to announce that last year’s BritGrad won the Second Annual Bardie Award for Best Conference of the Year. The Shakespeare Standard called it “a brilliant opportunity and friendly atmosphere for postgraduate and early career researchers to discuss Shakespeare and early modern theater.” Read more about the award here. Congratulations BritGrad 2014, and here’s to BritGrad 2015!

Schedule for June 3rd and Possible Rail Strike

BritGrad technically starts on Thursday, June 4th, but, as our previous post demonstrated, we will still be around on Wednesday!

15.30-16.30- Pre-show talk by Oxford Professor Tiffany Stern

17.30-18.45- Performance of Der Bestrafte Brudermord (Fratricide Punished), a Hamlet puppet show

20.00- Join us at the Windmill, a pub just across the street from the Shakespeare Institute.

Also, please note that there might be a National Rail strike from 17.00 on Thursday, June 4th until 16.59 Friday, June 5th. Visit National Rail’s page on service alterations for more details.

A Hamlet Puppet Show: Der Bestrafte Brudermord (Fratricide Punished)

If you are in Stratford-upon-Avon on Wednesday June 3rd, please join us at the Shakespeare Institute at 3:30 p.m. for a pre-show talk and at 5:30 to watch an English performance of Der Bestrafte Brudermord (Fratricide Punished), an early adaptation of Hamlet. This puppet show, presented by Hidden Room Theatre, runs just over an hour.

The company’s academic adviser Professor Tiffany Stern (Oxford University) will give the pre-show talk from 3:30-4:30 on how Shakespeare’s plays were adapted for puppet performance in Europe during the seventeenth century.

In 1710, this mysterious, thirteen-page, hilariously slapstick German Hamlet — its script partly derived from the first, ‘bad’ quarto — was found in the depths of a monastery. This play is one of the most vivid traces we have of the work of the English Players, companies who took English plays on tour around northern Europe in Shakespeare’s time.

In keeping with the marionette show traditions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Brudermord employs onstage narrators (Judd Farris and Jason Newman) who perform all voices, music, and sound effects for the puppet cast — beautiful Sicilian rod marionettes made by Los Angeles’ Mystery Bird Puppet Show, styled and costumed by Jennifer Davis. This Hamlet varies from its English predecessor by incorporating additional comic characters and scenes.

The Hidden Room is an internationally acclaimed theatre company from Austin, Texas, which specializes in linking the past and the future of performance through early modern classics, and technologically forward thinking new works. Brudermord won Best Production of a Comedy, Best Ensemble, and Best Director at the B. Iden Payne Awards.

Admission to the play is £5 at the door.  Spaces are limited, and will be allocated on a first come basis, please therefore arrive in good time to avoid disappointment! No need to RSVP.

Watch the trailer here:

BritGrad 2015 Schedule

At long last, here is the agenda for BritGrad 2015! Download a copy here.



8.00-9.00- Registration, tea and coffee

9.00-9.25- Welcome and Opening remarks

9.30-10.30- Plenary: Dr Erin Sullivan (University of Birmingham): Shakespeare, Sadness and the History of Emotions

10.40-11.55- Session One of Delegates

Screen Adaptations (Chair: Kelsey Ridge)

Child Solicitor: Innocence and Interpersonal Ignorance in Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (Hayley O’Malley)

Korol Lir: When the Political Becomes Metaphysical (Noelle Matteson)

‘O [No] Romeo, Romeo’: Shakespearean Film Adaptation Gone Amiss (Blake Barbiche)

Twelfth Night, Gender and Sexuality (Chair: Karen Harker)

Beyond the Binary: A gender fluid approach to sexuality in Twelfth Night (Mary Odbert)

Trans-Twelfth Night (2004 & 2014): Performing the Cross-gendered Body and Text (Boram Choi)

What you will? The politics of queering Shakespeare at the Irish national theatre (Emer McHugh)

Pictorial Representation (Chair: Elizabeth Jeffery)

The Vision of Queen Katherine: On the Nature of Performance Evidence (Emma de Beus)

Re-forming Richard: Shakespeare, Graphic Novels and the Body of Richard III (Megan Holman)

Popular Authenticity: Knight’s Pictorial Edition of Shakespeare’s Richard III (Ged Hodgson)

12.00-13.00: Plenary: Ben Naylor (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama): A Close Reading of Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 1, from a Performance Perspective

13.00-14.00- Lunch

14.00-15.15- Session Two of Delegates

Research and Creative Practice 1 (Chair: Richard O’Brien)

Improving Shakespeare? Examining my own practice as a female playwright, adapting and appropriating Shakespeare’s women. (Zoe Cooper)

Views from the Beargarden (Sam Meekings)

Reading Venus and Adonis through PaR (Stefanie Bauerochse)

Faith and Feigning (Chair: Marius Klimowicz)

Faith Awakened: Suspension of (Dis-)Belief in The Winter’s Tale (Jonas Kellerman)

Sensory Doubt and Aesthetic Faith: The Passage from Troilus to Leontes (Jonathan Gill)

Gender and Feigned Death in Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado about Nothing, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Winter’s Tale (Yi-Hsin Chen)

Choices and Interpretations (Chair: Charlotte Evans)

The Complexity of an Evil Choice in Macbeth (Fiona Dunne)

To be or not to be—what is the question? (Jessica Chiba)

Casting, cutting, and costume: reflections on reviewing Shakespeare in performance (Caroline Heaton)

15.15-15.30- Tea and coffee

15.30-16.30- Plenary: Dr Paul Edmondson (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) and Dr Paul Prescott (University of Warwick): Shakespeare on the Road

16.40-17.55- Session Three of Delegates

Approaches to Titus Andronicus (Chair: Rosie Fielding)

‘My Tongue is Out of Office’: Taming the Tongue in Titus Andronicus and The Revenger’s Tragedy (Richard Johnson)

A Study on Aaron’s Multiple Roles and His subversion of racial stereotypes in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (Ping Ho)

‘Behold the child’: Young Lucius, The Bastard and the Burden of Futurity in Titus Andronicus (Gemma Miller)

Tragic Appropriations (Chair: Karen Harker)

The Accidental Racialization of Caste in Bollywood’s Appropriation of Othello (Saksham Sharda)

Appropriating trends: Shakespeare’s tragedies in modern drama (Mette Sjolin)

Naming Lady Macbeth: Searching for Scotland in the ‘Scottish Play’ (Eilís Smyth)

Metre Matters (Chair: Charlie Morton)

Irregular man’s ne’er constant, never certain’: Metre, Life, and Regularity in Shakespeare and Restoration Verse Drama (Richard O’Brien)

Why Shakespeare’s prosody matters (Robert Stagg)

The speaker’s confession in Shakespeare’s sonnets: The Love of Innocence and Experience (Ying-Chih Kao Cassandra)

19.15- Othello performance for those who have prepaid for tickets


FRIDAY 6th June

9.15-10.15- Plenary: Dr Chris Laoutaris (Shakespeare Institute): Early Modern Robotics in Shakespeare and Spenser

10.15-10.30- Tea and coffee

10.30-11.45- Session One of Delegates

Working with Texts (Chair: Richard O’Brien)

Q1 Hamlet at the National and the Globe Abstract (Scott Shepherd)

Lewis Theobald and Accusations of Plagarism: A Reconsideration of Shakespeare’s Involvement in Double Falsehood (Naseem Alotaibi)

‘Words, words, words’: The Author, his Characters and interpreting Intent (Sara Marie Westh)

Writing, Society and the Supernatural (Chair: Eilis Smyth)

‘And why on me?’: The Witch of Edmonton and collaborative authorship (Robbie Hand)

Shakespeare and the supernatural (Jan Tasker)

‘I’ll sue Mother Sawyer, and her own sow shall give in evidence’: Representations of Female Witnessing and Testimony in The Witch of Edmonton (Cheryl Birdseye)

Shakespeare in the World (Chair: Charlotte Evans)

Intercultural Intersections in a Noh-style Hamlet: (Re)presentations of the Exchanges between Shakespeare and the Japanese Stage (Eleine Ng)

Peter Brook’s King Lear: From Experimentation to Canonisation (Paulo Gregorio)

Shakespeare in Brazil: Cinema, Adaptation and Anthropophagy (Marcel Alvaro de Amorim)

12.00-13.00- Plenary: Dr Andy Kesson (University of Roehampton): Before Shakespeare

13.00-14.00- Lunch

14.00-15.15- Session Two of Delegates

Shakespeare and Cultural Liminality (Chair: Eilis Smyth)

Shakespeare: The Secret to Successful Criminal Rehabilitation (Laura Louise Nicklin)

‘Transformed, transfigured and transmuted’ bodies—Ugly Women in Cervantes, de Rojas and Shakespeare (Shani Bans)

Bodying Forth: Spenser and Shakespeare’s Disabled Reprobates (Kaye McLelland)

Medieval Inheritances (Chair: Richard O’Brien)

‘Set down your venerable burden’: piggybacking in Shakespeare’s As You Like it and the medieval outlaw tradition (Harry Ford)

Troilus- a disappearing hero (Joanne Brown)

‘For what we lack we laugh’: The Emotional Manipulation of Armour in The Two Noble Kinsmen (Suzy Lawrence)

Music and Noise (Chair: Charlotte Evans)

Verdi’s Macbeth: Shakespeare’s supernatural in adaptation (Karen Harker)

‘After so many hours, lives, speeches spent…’: making noise and doing nothing in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (Laura Wright)

Vaine disports of minstrelsie’: musical crimes and culprits in early modern England (Jen Waghorn)

15.15-15.30- Tea and coffee

15.30-16.30- Plenary: Dr Farah Karim Cooper (Shakespeare’s Globe): The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage

16.40-17.55- Session Three of Delegates

Shakespeare and Social Media (Chair: Kelsey Ridge)

Social Anxiety: The relationship between Social Media and Shakespearean Scholarship (Brittany LaPole)

To Be Schwarzenegger, Haider, Cumberbatch or You?: interactive Shakespeare and the evolution of Hamlet as hero(ine) (Thea Buckley)

‘Get thee to a puggery!’: Shakespeare and Pop Culture (Elizabeth Jeffery)

Philosophy and Theology (Chair: Marius Klimowicz)

To thank is to Think? A Heideggerian Reading to Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale (Chahra Beloufa)

‘Mortal flies’: dignity and distance in Shakespeare’s theatre of insects (Clio Doyle)

‘Let not your hearts be troubled’: Body and soul in John Donne’s Devotions (Lamanda Humphrey)

Playhouse Culture (Chair: Rosie Fielding)

Appropriating history in 1594: The alternative producers of the Elizabethan history play (Amy Lidster)

Early Modern Playbills go to Hollywood: and attempt at reconstruction (Adam Barker)

‘This unworthy scaffold’: Re-evaluating the Importance of the Curtain Playhouse in the Early Modern Theatre Industry (Lana Harper)

19.00-23.00- BritGrad Party



9.15-10.30- Session One of Delegates

Citizenship and Ownership (Chair: Richard O’Brien)

Citizenship and Community in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Laura Beattie)

Shakespeare and Gentrification (Martin Young)

‘This island’s mine’: ownership of the island in The Tempest (Kelsey Ridge)

Figures of Tyranny (Chair: Eilis Smyth)

‘So barbarous and so beastly’: Animal Imagery, Tyranny and Dehumanisation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Titus Andronicus (Nicole Mennell)

The Shakespearean ‘Grand Mechanism’ as Nihilist Castigation of Leadership in Achebe’s Arrow of God (Olawale Taju Ajayi)

Prospero and Dumbledore: Trusted Tyrannny? (Polly Brown)

Popular Appropriations (Chair: Elizabeth Jeffery)

The Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive (Michael John Goodman)

Under the Umbrella: Restoration Adaptations in Print (Emil Rybczak)

10.30-10.45- Tea and coffee

10.45-11.45- Performance Session

Research and Creative Practice 2 (Chair: Richard O’Brien)

The Shakespeare Ensemble: A Journey Through the Trials and Tribulations of Adapting Shakespeare (Marie Ryan, Molly Lambert, Octavia Finch)

‘This Blasted Heath’: A Critical-Creative Exploration of William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett and Cormac McCarthy Through Dystopia​​ (Ronan Hatfull)

11.55-13.10- Session Two of Delegates

Locating Hamlet (Chair: Kelsey Ridge)

‘A document in madness’: Performing Ophelia and the stigma surrounding mental illness (Rachel Stewart)

Cinematic Glocalization of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Korean Film, King and the Clown (Young Yun)

Hamlet is Everywhere, Even in Narnia (Sarah Waters)

Actors and Audiences (Chair: Rebecca Martin)

Joao Caetano – How a Shakespearean actor became the father of Brazilian theatre (Livia Segurado)

To Act or Not to Act? Performing the Emotions of Cuckoldry in the work of Philip Massinger (Kibrina Davey)

Exit pursued by a bear, a moratorium on duping the audience. The Brechtian enlightenment of stage illusion and empathy with Shakespeare’s characters in The Winter’s Tale (Sara-Kate Fletcher)

Adapting Early Modern Sources (Chair: Charlie Morton)

Northumberland: Family man, strong orator, leader of men, dangerous conspirator or well-loved   favourite (Susan Smith)

‘The more than honeyed sweetness of this poet’s style’: Reading Euripides with Erasmus (Carla Suthren)

Othello’s Poetic Geography: Around the World in Five Acts (Francesca Gattuso)

13.10-14.10- Lunch

14.10-15.10- Plenary: Professors Laurie Maguire and Felix Budelman (Oxford University): Audience Responses to Ambiguity in Othello, The Winter’s Tale, and Two Greek Tragedies

15.10-16.25- Session Three of Delegates

Global Receptions (Chair: Elizabeth Jeffery)

In the everlasting shadow of William Shakespeare? Ben Jonson and Germany (Malte S Unterweg)

Evolution and revolution: Ernest Renan’s Caliban: suite de la Tempete (Charlotte Evans)

Sacred geometry and boybands: the fall of the Tokyo Globe (Rosie Fielding)

Shakespeare and Death (Chair: Kelsey Ridge)

Waking the Senseless: Getting to the Dirge in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline (Rebecca Ehrhardt)

‘I am more an antique Roman than a Dane’: Shakespeare and the Roman mythos of suicide (Louis Osborne)

Death, Mourning and Remembrance in Shakespeare’s Roman Plays (Hazel Stenner)

Fools and Clowns (Chair: Karen Harker)

Behind the Laughter: The Use of ‘Low Comedy’ in The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (Rebecca Agar)

‘How mad a sight it was to see Dametas’: The Arcadia, Tarlton, and Sidney’s escaping clown (Kim Gilchrist)

‘Your all-licensed fool’: Will Sommers, Robert Armin, and King Lear’s Fool (Charlie Morton)

16.25-16.40- Tea and coffee

16.40-17.10- Closing remarks and prize giving

Time TBC- Closing reception at Royal Shakespeare Theatre

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!