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!

Day 2: King Leia

‘It’s slightly blurred, but you probably don’t want to look too closely at a crow with a penis at 9:15am.’ As opening lines to the second days of academic conferences go, Professor Ewan Fernie‘s contribution is going to take some beating. In his plenary session, ‘Lighten Our Darkness’, Fernie established a series of far-reaching connections between Shakespeare, Ted Hughes, Freud, Adorno, and the philosopher John Moriarty. He evoked the ways in which literature and criticism, in attempting to develop a ‘pathology of cultural communities’ to diagnose the discontents of our civilisation, have frequently flirted with the dark forces which that civilisation necessarily represses.

It’s always too early in the morning.

But while acknowledging the terrible energy of barbaric impulses, Fernie also flagged up the dangers of this atavism: despite the suffering such restrictions have placed upon us, the consequences of their removal might well be worse, and the ‘low-stakes game’ of academia makes it all too easy to imagine a benign (rather than brutal) liberation from a distant armchair. The paper also took in minotaurs and boars and sharks (oh my!) and, in its focus on the evolutionary similarity between the latter and the human form, left me wondering both if I was writing this blog with the fin of a shark, and if there was an untapped market for a new Chinese delicacy: academic’s hand soup.

In the first panel session I attended, Ronan Hatfull considered the modern afterlives of Ophelia, coming to the conclusion that in some adaptations, the role she takes on makes her more Hamlet than Hamlet (in Hamlet). Hatfull’s key text – Park Chan-Wook’s film Stoker - revisits a tradition dating back to Heinrich Muller’s Hamletmachine, in which the silenced Ophelia returns as a harbinger of intense violence. Remarking on the surprisingly small number of lines given to the character (as few as Osric), he suggested that Ophelia’s apparent malleability has allowed subsequent writers to use her to throw Hamlet’s inertia into relief, and paradoxically, to reclaim the stereotypically masculine role which the Prince refuses to fulfil.

The umbrella represents Yorick. From Stoker, by Park Chan-Wook.

If the deviant ‘popular Shakespeare’ which emerges from Hamlet’s refraction through its minor characters (which I also discussed in my own paper, on singing gravediggers, later in the day) is a phenomenon with which the defenders of ‘correct Shakespeare’ are loath to engage, ‘Star Wars Shakespeare’ would send them running to the nearest weeping brook. John Curtis playfully discussed how Ian Doescher’s mash-up brings a new meeting to ‘alienating Shakespeare’. Reliant on multiple in-jokes and an almost-too-regular verse style, it might nonetheless offer an oblique new opportunity for presenting the texts in the classroom. In the spirit of Curtis’s paper, I propose a production of ‘Palpatine, King of Britain’.

Sara-Marie Westh returned to Earth (or something like it) with a free-wheeling exploration of ‘Starbucks Shakespeare’, taking in a range of surprising similarities and differences between the culture of the early modern playhouse and the modern coffee house. She described how Starbucks, like the theatre and like the conference room, is a constructed space which determines the experience we have and the kinds of stories we hear. Westh also commented on how the branding of both a disposable Starbucks cup and an ‘immortal’ Shakespeare play functions as a value-added tag, no matter what each ‘contains’, and reflected on the changing cultural position of coffee – from luxury rarity to ephemeral daily occurence – and vice versa, and in the case of theatre.

As usual, the marketing department has got there first.

The second plenary speaker of the day, Professor Grace Ioppolo, shared her considerable experience in rediscovering and publicising the ephemeral products of Renaissance culture (though I didn’t catch her coffee preference). Ioppolo gave delegates a whistle-stop tour through the field of manuscript studies, pointing the way towards the most useful physical and digital collections. Praising the recent trend for digitising manuscript resources, she also stressed the importance for early career researchers of establishing a strong online presence, to track the impact of research and to take advantage of funding opportunities in the growing field of digital humanities. Returning to the written page, she drew our attention to the secret treasures lurking in the pages of commonplace books (where Donne and Jonson were the most quoted writers), and the presentation and commission copies given to aristocratic lovers of the theatre, many of whom were amateur playwrights themselves. Ioppolo also covered the chequed history of the documents assembled in the Henslowe-Alleyn Papers in the posession of Dulwich College, and shared stories of optimistic forgers whose continuing attempts to produce a ‘Shakespeare manuscript’ indicate a lingering need for a biographical authorial presence.

Kate Alexander, in the day’s second panel, also spoke of the interconnectedness of creative work and the physical body. Her paper aimed to establish an underlying musicality for Lady Macbeth, a character in a play with little room for melody who she admitted ‘scared’ her as an actress. Alexander’s creative experiments, in the vein of Antony Sher’s character sketches, showed one way for a performer with their own artistic capabilities to get under the skin of a character. How do you possess a role – especially a role that puts you in touch with the dark areas to which Fernie alluded – without a role possessing you? Alexander spoke of Lady Macbeth’s own role-playing, before demonstrating three scenes where musical awareness – from a schmaltzy waltz, as the new Queen sweet-talks the Scottish court, to a confused fugue where two overlapping minds fail to fully meet, to the ‘atonal aria’ of ‘Out, damned spot’ – was useful for an actress inhabiting the character’s mindset.

If the music is too much, there are other ways of internalising Shakespeare

King Lear has been notoriously difficult to interpret musically – a challenge Chris Gleason spared himself in a paper reflecting on the human identity of one of Shakespeare’s most towering characters. The recent spate of Lear productions has given fresh urgency to the questions which the part demands. How old should an actor be before taking on the part? Simon Russell Beale is 53, Ian McKellen was 68, and David Garrick only 24. How old is too old? And why is the character considered to be such an ultimate test of talent? Though some have pointed to the range the actor must display across his eleven scenes, while still maintaining a single trajectory, Gleason speculated that the answer lay in the simplicity of the tragedy. The seeming mundanity of Lear’s initial errors in judgement – unlike, say, Macbeth’s – suggests arrogance and stubbornness on a domestic level which need not have such shattering personal or political consequences. The intensity of the tragedy, with its roots in a ‘family row’, is partly due to its intimacy: as Olivier, who was not a success in the part, once commented, the mad King is ‘like all of us, really’.

Professor Simon Palfrey took an even closer look at Lear – not the King himself, but a crucial moment in the play between Gloucester and Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom at the edge of a cliff that turns out to be more existential than literal. Reducing the two characters to archetypes – the blind and the naked – Palfrey put a single moment of play-life under the critical microscope, and found it almost impossibly teeming with life. He discussed the opposed, ‘competing modalities’ of what Edgar-Tom and Gloucester say will happen next, and the bewildering array of lives and perspectives gestured at in Edgar’s speech: each crow, beetle and fisherman independently existing on the edge of life, drawing the reader or auditor’s perception back and forth across the text’s vertiginous line-breaks. Pointing out the ‘unnumbered pebble’ invisible from the height of the speaker who identifies it, Palfrey imagined twenty-one possible intellectual and theatrical ‘blockings’ for the scene, as varied as the stones upon the shore. These proposed, simultaneous alternatives took in the workings of blindness, fatherhood, decorum, life and death, reality and fiction, as they operated across the lines and the cue-spaces between them – and if these meanings seem too dense to be covered in a few sentences, spare a thought for the BritGrad publicity team’s Charlotte Horobin, valiantly live-tweeting Palfrey’s discussion on the edge of her seat.

‘Should be, should BZZZZZZZZ’ – Kat learns about feedback in 10 Things I Hate About You

The same decorum that prevents Edgar intervening in his father’s attempted suicide also inhibits me from discussing my own paper, so I’ll move on to the delegate with whom I shared my panel. Hester Bradley’s ‘The Taming of the Tunes’ started from the concept of ‘incidental Shakespeare’, finding Shakespeare where his presence might be unanticipated or even unintended. She looked at the Shakespearean resonances of recent popular music figures, from the Ricardian Johnny Rotten onwards, and considered the treatment of the Shrew’s Katherine in songs by, among others, Franz Ferdinand and the film ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’. Broken up by YouTube excerpts and the occasional bout of live dancing, Bradley’s paper viewed Katherine breaking a lute over her tutor’s head as a proto-rock’n’roll gesture, and positioned the figure as a node for the cultural discourse surrounding feminism, sexuality,aggression and the ‘bad reputation’ of performers from Courtney Love to Miley Cyrus. Neither of whom, unfortunately, as far as I can tell, were played at the BritGrad party later that evening.

Day 1: From islands to carparks

At the end of the first day of BritGrad 2014, we’ve learnt many things. Among them: that people in the Renaissance didn’t really understand how dogs’ legs worked; that some theatre critics in the 1980s were remarkably racist; and how best to insult a man called Jake in the 17th century.

Professor David Crystal kicked things off with a rambunctious whistle-stop tour through the development to date of the Original Pronunciation movement, and the possibilities to come. Gleefully using a whole range of accents (if you’ve got it, flaunt it), he shared stories of the responses of OP audiences who were delighted to hear people speaking Shakespeare ‘like them'; even if their accents were wholly different, the difference from RP modern English was what made the performance feel accessible and fresh. Aided by Hilary Crystal and by a couple of bawdy gestures, David elucidated some risqué jokes that have been lost to modern ears, and suggested that the familiarity of OP might have been linked to the spread of early modern English around the burgeoning global trade network. Difficulties for actors include the fact that a lack of hierarchy across dialects make it harder to convey class distinctions. And the positives? It seems to make plays at least ten minutes shorter…

‘This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine.’

The first panel session I attended presented Shakespeare as the missing link between Churchill and Aslan. Sarah Waters, armed with an insanely-detailed pie chart, demonstrated the deep Shakespearean underpinning of C S Lewis’s Narnia series. Focusing on ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ as a modern fantasy twist on ‘The Tempest’, she showed how Prospero informed its portrayal of a magician who sleeps in the afternoon and exerts what would now come across as colonial power over the enslaved Dufflepuds in a benign and doddering manner which Caliban might well have preferred.

Louis Osborne complemented her paper with a brief dip into the use of Shakespeare’s imagery of oceans around the same historical period. His talk drew on a range of plays and speeches, including Churchill’s, to illustrate how the British political establishment has turned, especially in times of war, to a Shakespearean sense of the ‘sceptred isle’ of Great Britain, where the sea appears as a natural barrier to the threat of foreign invasion.

Gonzalo’s Dream: Lucas Cranach – The Golden Age

The conservative rhetoric underlying this political trend stood in contrast to the reading of ‘The Tempest’ offered by Martin Young in a later panel session. Young placed Gonzalo’s speech in 2.1, which envisages a utopian society where natural abundance has eliminated the need for ‘sovereignty’ or ‘labour’, in the context of evolving ideas of political economy, suggesting that critics have dismissed the issues raised by his vision by relating it solely to its source in Montaigne, or to a historical concept of the Golden Age. Citing four separate Marxes, he suggested that instead we attend to the role of labour under Prospero’s sway, and how this relates to the ideas Gonzalo struggles to articulate about the possibilities of social change.

Professor Tony Howard‘s plenary session also addressed the evolving social make-up of an island kingdom (Britain itself), looking at the experiences of black and Asian actors taking part in British Shakespeare performance from Paul Robeson onwards. His research suggested that audiences from a range of minority backgrounds identified with non-white performers such as Sidney Poitier, even if they were of different ethnicities. There was an interesting parallel with David Crystal’s realisation that audiences of all accents were pleased that OP offered the chance to hear ‘people like us’ performing Shakespeare. Howard drew on local examples from the RSC – where many black and Asian Shakespeare actors made their first appearances, despite ingrained resistance – and from Birmingham Rep, a theatre which has changed over time to meet the needs of a multi-ethnic city. But he also indicated that progressive, diverse programming was a possibility in 1948, the year of the last London Olympics, even as it sat alongside the more reactionary entertainment of the minstrel show in the BBC radio schedules.

Paul Robeson and Peggy Ashcroft in Othello – London, 1930

The following panel in the Hall featured Martin Young, Malte Unterweg and Iman Sheeha. The first paper related Shakespeare’s tragedies to the concept of Fortune in once-popular medieval texts, such as Lydate’s ‘Fall of Princes'; Unterweg found a wealth of reference across the canon to the constantly-turning wheel which was felt to control the rise and fall of the powerful, and lay behind the tragic fate of Shakespearean rulers such as Julius Caesar and Richard II. Sadly he did not speculate on how representatives of insurgent power such as the future Henry VII would have performed on this iconic Bradley Walsh game show:

Sheeha spoke about a different understanding of power, showing how the resistance of the appalled servants in Middleton’s A Yorkshire Tragedy might have been perceived in the wider context of the Church and State’s teachings on tyrannicide. She sketched out the analogy between household and commonwealth, and explained how even a subject’s rebellion against rulers (domestic or political) who were felt to be monstrous or evil could be discouraged if their status was lawful, and thus endorsed by God. Whether or not it is justifiable to refuse to endure tyranny, it certainly isn’t safe, as the fate of the servants in this play makes abundantly clear.

After lunch, Dr Richard Buckley delivered a plenary on a subject which would have provided Renaissance audiences with a masterclass in practical tyrannicide, if only they’d been looking in the right carpark. His first-hand account of the dig for the bones of Richard III was as gripping as archaeology gets outside of a Dan Brown novel, and certainly featured more intense pelvic damage than the average episode of Time Team. Switching between the history of Leicester and its most famous long-term resident to the history of the excavation itself, Buckley gave the impression that the survival of the remains was a one-in-a-million chance – they were nearly crushed by a Victorian outhouse – which made it all the more surprising that the team had apparently come across them by lunchtime on the first day of the dig. Concluding with the now-familiar reconstruction of Richard’s face, Buckley updated us on the medical research into the last Plantagenet King’s scoliosis – although few people would have known he had it, and it didn’t impede his ability to fight or ride a horse, it seems there was a grain of truth behind Shakespeare’s myth-making. So that’s helpful.

The pelvis that launched a thousand tweets

The day closed with another round of panel sessions. Unwittingly, I chose a pairing of papers which revived one of the most bloody and savage oppositions of early modern culture, in a panel which should really have been titled ‘BEAR VS DOG!!!’ Gerard Sargent presented a compelling portrait of Timon of Athens as a character who, even in exile, is also looking back over his shoulder to the society he has turned his back on. Conceiving of himself and his new world as bestial, he nonetheless cannot resist elements of the human creeping into his animal imagery. Sargent suggested that this self-division between man and beast is what drove Shakespeare and Middleton to add nineteen references to dogs which are entirely lacking in the play’s known source texts. I wonder if Middleton had just got a new puppy, but I suppose I’ll defer to the expert.

Hannah Hickman bravely countered nineteen dogs with a single bear: the exit-pursuer of A Winter’s Tale which has come to stand both as one of the most familiar and most perplexing images in all of English literature. Hickman speculated on the problems of genre generated by having a man in a bear suit tearing someone apart mere scenes before the similarly-attired ‘men of hair’ who perform the jolly satyrs’ dance at the Bohemian sheep-shearing festival. But if the bear isn’t just funny, what is it? Her response took in folk mythology, Ovid’s tale of Calisto, and a novel thought: a cipher for Hermione, the fiercely-protective mother who spends much of the play in secret hibernation.

A surprisingly-accurate bear from Topsell’s History of Four-Footed Beasts – a favourite at this year’s BritGrad

Until tomorrow, friends – bear down for BritGrad.

‘So many hours must I take my rest/So many hours must I contemplate/So many hours must I sport myself’ – Your BritGrad programme

Hello all delegates, and welcome to Stratford!

With apologies for the obvious lateness of this information, here is the programme for this year’s 16th British Graduate Shakespeare Conference: BritGrad schedule 2014

It will also be in your delegate packs, with abstracts for each paper, to help you to decide how best to plan your schedule. Panels are taking place simultaneously in the Hall, the Reading Room, and the Annexe, but all plenary sessions will be in the Hall with no competition, allowing you to enjoy them unadulterated.

We kick off with David and Hilary Crystal at 9:25 tomorrow morning. BE THERE.


In an act of potential hubris, I’m going to try to offer a summary of each day’s event with a daily blog from the conference. If that doesn’t happen, I’m sorry – but in that case there will be a full write-up at the end. Enjoy your BritGrad!

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.

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.


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 #5: Grace Ioppolo



We’re pleased to announce our fifth plenary speaker for this year’s conference: Professor Grace Ioppolo.



Grace Ioppolo is Professor of Shakespearean and Early Modern Drama at the University of Reading and an elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. Professor Ioppolo specialises in manuscript and textual studies as well as Shakespearean and early modern drama and theatre history. Her publications include the monograph Dramatists and their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Heywood: Authorship, Authority and the Playhouse (2006) andShakespeare Performed: Essays in Honor of R. A. Foakes (2000). She has also edited King Lear (2007) and Measure for Measure (2009), and is the General Editor ofThe Complete Works of Thomas Heywood (2012 – 2018).

Professor Ioppolo has not only studied the transmission of text from author to playhouse to audience but is a key figure in transmitting such texts to modern audiences. She is the Founder and Director of the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project, which aims to make more widely available the manuscripts left to the Archive of Dulwich College by its founder, Edward Alleyn. Less than half of the theatrical items in the Henslowe-Alleyn Papers have ever been transcribed, and even these transcriptions are difficult to locate; the project is unique in its ambition to provide images and transcriptions of such a large volume of items. Moreover, the Project aims to provide resources not only to scholars of theatre or history, but to students, actors, directors and general readers interested in Renaissance theatre.

BritGrad 2014 is delighted to welcome Professor Ioppolo to the sixteenth conference. Her paper will be titled, “‘What, shall these papers lie like tell-tales here?': Using manuscripts on digital and social media to tell on Shakespeare”.

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.

Bollywood, Reviewing Comedy, and Staging Early Modern Dutch Sex: Papers Called For.

Today’s post is to bring to your notice three calls for papers, spanning the Atlantic Ocean and stopping off in India along the way (and if that sounds like a geographical impossibility, you clearly haven’t read The Winter’s Tale.) The events take in the seriousness of reviewing comedy, the presence of Shakespeare in Bollywood cinema, and the erotic dramaturgy of 15th-century ‘blunt Hollanders’ (as described in Henry VI Part 3. Summaries of each conference follow – you can find out more on the host institutions’ respective websites.


1) Adapting, Performing and Reviewing Shakespearean Comedy in a European Context. 

Interdisciplinary Symposium at the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), London, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 June 2014.

This two-day symposium brings together practitioners, reviewers and academics to generate a focused debate on the transnational and regional aspects of humour and its manifestation in Shakespeare’s texts and adaptations. Events such as the World Shakespeare Festival, as well as international Shakespeare festivals and the increase in international tours of Shakespeare productions, continually raise the issue of “International Shakespeares” vs “local culture(s)” – a key concern of this symposium.

The event concentrates on the text, performance, and reviewing of Shakespeare’s comedies in a European context. We invite proposals for 15-minute papers and provocations that will contribute to and spark focused panel discussions. We also welcome proposals for performances and workshops focusing on the practical exploration of the interrelationship between humour, Shakespearean text and adaptation, performance and reviewing.

Confirmed keynote contributors include:

Prof. Tom Bishop, University of Auckland

Niels Brunse, translator

Prof. Michael Dobson, Shakespeare Institute

Mark Fisher, theatre critic (The GuardianThe Scotsman and others)

Dr. Steve Purcell, University of Warwick & Pantaloons

Dr. P.A. Skantze, University of Roehampton


Contributions are invited on topics in the following areas:


1)    “Comedy and Culture: The Starting Point”

Papers in this section should explore the underlying relationship between humour and culture. Questions to be asked could include: Which aspects of humour are universal/which are dependent on cultural context? How does Shakespearean comedy reflect the interrelationship of humour and culture?


2)    “Adapting Across Cultures”

Concentrating on textual adaptation, contributions to this panel could address issues of language, translation, surtitling, and dramaturgy, as well as historical dimensions of textual practice and adaptation.


3)    “Performing Across Cultures”

This panel could consider issues of “transnational” performance, e.g. local vs. global audiences; audience and humour; transgeneric forms and humour (especially where comedies are played as tragedies and vice-versa), as well as Shakespeare and community/citizenship.


4)    “Reviewing Across Cultures”

This panel could consider the art of the review; national styles of reviewing; the institutionalisation of reviewing; print versus new media, and festival reviewing. It could also compare local, national and “transnational” reviews (i.e. reviews of touring productions).


Please send 200-word abstracts with a 50-word biography by 15thFebruary 2014 to the following address:


Please indicate whether you want to contribute a 15-minute paper or a workshop / performance piece.


2) Love, Sex and Romance in Early Drama. 26th April 2014, University of Toronto.


From 24 to 27 April 2014 Poculi Ludique Societas is putting on a production of Lancelot of Denmark and Of Winter and Summer. These two so-called abele spelen, together with the other abele spelen Gloriant and Esmoreit, are the oldest surviving secular plays from the Low Countries, preserved in the Van Hulthem manuscript (c.1410). Of Winter and Summer is also the oldest known allegorical Dutch play and an early example of the debate play. Both Lancelot of Denmark and Of Winter and Summer are concerned with love and sex; the former is also one of the very few surviving romance plays of medieval Europe, a seemingly popular genre well into the early modern period.

This one-day symposium aims to explore both the idealised and realistic portrayal of love and sex on the medieval and early modern stage as well as the relationship between drama and romances, both in the Low Countries and beyond.

Potential topics include:

  • representations of love and/or sex on stage
  • how to stage the act of sex
  • romance plays
  • the connections between medieval romances and plays (e.g. in manuscript context)
  • the role of dramatic festivities at wedding celebrations
  • connections between medieval debates dealing with love and plays

Please send a 400 word abstract to by 15 March 2014.

More information here.

3) Shakespeare in Bollywood, 27th June 2014, Royal Holloway, University of London.

On 27 June 2014, Royal Holloway will host a one-day graduate conference on Shakespeare in Bollywood with the renowned critic Dr.Poonam Trivedi of Delhi University as keynote speakerThe day aims to bring together academics and practitioners in the field to gain a better understanding of the current state of research in this vibrant field. Organised by Koel Chatterjee and Preti Taneja in the English Department with the support of Dr Deana Rankin,Deputy Director of the MA in Shakespeare, with funding from the RHUL Research Fund and the English Department, this conference will, we hope, be the first of a series of events on Shakespeare and Indian Cinema culminating on a larger-scale conference and film festival in 2016.

We invite proposals for 20 minute papers on any aspect of Shakespeare and Bollywood. Topics could include:

  • Prehistories
  • Commercial Hindi Shakespeare films
  • Economics – global and local
  • Gendering Shakespeare/ Gendering Bollywood
  • Hindi Art-House Shakespeare films
  • Shakespearean songs and Bollywood music
  • Shakespearean Actors and Film-makers
  • ‘Academic’ Shakespeare vs. ‘Popular’ Shakespeare
  • Translation theory and practice
  • Adaptation theory
  • Hybridity and (post)-colonial theories
  • Art work and promotional material – posters, flybills, film trailers, coffee table books

Abstracts of 300 words (plus a 50 word bio) should be sent to by 3 March, 2014.

We will contact all those who send abstracts by 24 March, 2014.

The conference fee is £25 (to include light refreshments).