September 28, 2009

Back to the thesis

This blog has been relatively quiet recently, primarily because research has been disrupted over the last couple of months by holiday, conferences and moving house. Now that I'm back into the reading and writing with something of a vengeance, however, I'll try to post more regularly up here.

At the moment I'm constructing a small canon of plays based on a suggestion in Paul Edmondson's thesis on The London Prodigal. Edmondson quite rightly points out that authorial canons are only one way of organising connected plays, and in the case of many plays it is a reductive and largely fruitless way of viewing the drama. Edmondson constructs an alternative canon for Prodigal by drawing together other plays rooted in the prodigal tradition, in city comedy and commerce, and in the themes and tropes he identifies within the text.

This chimes with my own views on canonicity and authorship. I'm taking a wider view of the Shakespeare Apocrypha, but the very fact that the Apocrypha are so connected to authorship studies, and to a single concept of authorship, demands an approach similar to Edmondson's in order to allow the plays their own breathing space, severed from the Shakespeare canon.

Last week, I took Thomas Lord Cromwell and Thomas More as a starting point. These plays are natural siblings; very different in tone and style, but with striking similarities that go beyond the mere shared historial setting. I'm most interested in the questions over fate, civic obedience and presentations of the king that are raised by both plays. From there I've moved to Rowley's When You See Me, You Know Me and the anonymous Jack Straw, as well as opening up the obvious connections to 2 Henry VI and Julius Caesar. Slowly, a narrative is starting to emerge that sees Tudor dramatists tentatively negotiating with the complexities of presenting recent history in a critical, yet non-controversial, way.

The difficulty with this kind of work is that, to do it real justice, you would have to have a thorough recall of the entire corpus of early modern drama. I'm having to be a bit more ruthless and focussed, but hopefully what I draw out will provide a framework for future development of the model.


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I’m Peter Kirwan, a final year doctoral student in the English Department at Warwick, and this is my PhD blog.


Conferences, reviews, articles, thoughts and links relating to my interests in the Shakespeare apocrypha, early modern drama, authorship and performance.

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