All entries for February 2011

February 24, 2011

Author! Author!

Writing about Gnomeo and Juliet (Rocket Productions) @ Showcase Cinema, Coventry from The Bardathon

A further thought after tonight's viewing of Gnomeo and Juliet. After fleeing the slings and arrows of the Reds, and being caught up by a hostile dog, our protagonist Gnomeo finds himself at the statue of Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, who becomes animated as he explains to Gnomeo how his own version of the same story ended.

The Statue of Shakespeare

Bill Shakespeare, voiced with thespy gravitas by Patrick Stewart, is a self-absorbed and self-publicising author. In describing the beauty of his tragic ending, his tendency is immediately towards the elevating effect that the tragic conclusion of Romeo has on his own authorial identity and recognition. Following the death, it's "Curtain! Lights! Applause! Author! Author!" Fame and glory await the successful tragedian, a glory in which the statue nostalgically exults.

A Shakespeare Statue appeared onstage in various plays in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, described by Michael Dobson as part of the monumentalising of The Bard in British culture (it's late now, but if I find time to dig out the specific references, I'll insert them here). Usually, however, appearances of Shakespeare onstage were partially (or implicitly) self-deprecating, serving to authorise the "improvement" of the works by new dramatists. Paradoxically, the monument served as a figure for the new and transient.

Here, it functions similarly, if with less self-awareness. The statue is bound in his own past, his own fixity. In many ways, this is the statue as reimagined by Lukas Erne and those advocating the "return of the author", a Shakespeare who sees his own works as fixed and takes pleasure in his own authorial versions. He is directly opposed to the question of adaptation posed by Gnomeo, who refuses to accept Shakespeare's tragic ending, and the two enter into conflict over the problem. Shakespeare's tragedy is rooted in an artistic ideal; while Gnomeo appeals to the heart and to human (gnomic?) happiness. It is Shakespeare who comes off badly, particularly in his smug "Told him so" as a distant explosion roars over the Capulet/Montague houses towards the film's climax. Yet the statue's subsequent disappearance as the film's happy ending takes over speaks to the supplantation of authorial auctority over the performance text.

Shakespeare is inevitably introduced into his own plays in order to alert audiences to the process of adaptation. Implicitly or explicitly, his role is to offer an embodiment of the notion of textual fidelity, against which the performative reading - which is always and necessarily an adaptation, to a greater or lesser extent - is licenced, by flattering comparison or competitive contrast. His appearance within the performance text is itself an adaptation, forcing Shakespeare into a liminal state in which his fixity is itself an adaptive element; paradoxically, his centrality and monumentalisation can only exist within a wider discourse of (re)appropriation and (re)performance. What Gnomeo and Juliet, as an inherently parodic adaptation, is able to do is poke direct fun at Shakespeare, turning him into a fusty establishment figure within his own text, enacting a deliberate confrontation with and rejection of Bardic permanency. As such, the right of adaptors to remake Shakespeare to suit a modern purpose is explicitly articulated as a radical and subversive move that asserts the re-maker's ownership of "Shakespeare".

Good for them.

February 22, 2011

Time out

2011's been a complicated year so far. I moved house at the start of January, and since then have been taking some time off the thesis proper in order to focus on some admin bits and small pieces. However, I've not been idle! Here are a few of the highlights:

* A performance history of The Two Gentlemen of Verona contributed for the forthcoming RSC single edition.

* A review of the MokitaGrit production of Double Falsehood for Gary Taylor and David Carnegie's forthcoming collection The Quest for Shakespeare's Cardenio (OUP, 2012).

* A publishing proposal for a monograph based on my thesis. This is only a first draft for now, but a very useful exercise in contextualising my PhD work within what I would like to achieve with it in the long term.

* My paper for the SAA meeting in Seattle. Entitled "Apocrypha and Canonical Expansion in the Marketplace; Or, My Shakespeare's Bigger Than Yours", it's due to be circulated on Friday.

* Two job applications for teaching positions. I've had one rejection, and hoping to hear from the other shortly.

* A major AHRC grant application for a project stemming from the apocrypha edition. This is going to be submitted to the AHRC at the start of March, and I'm really hopeful that we get the funding - I'll post more about it if we do, but it'll be a hugely exciting series of events!

* I peer-reviewed my first journal article. Still waiting to hear back on one I've got under review though.

* Designed a module for an open-learning course in Shakespeare.

* Some research assistance for Carol Rutter for a forthcoming paper on early modern ambassadors.

* And several theatre reviews!

Now though, it's back to the thesis. I spent yesterday trying to work out how to begin the redraft of my introduction, and today the plan is to blitz it. It's nice to be back into the meat of what I do!

February 05, 2011

Top Ten

I'm hugely pleased and privileged to have been asked to contribute a chapter to an edited collection coming out with Ashgate in 2012. Entitled The Elizabethan Top Ten: Defining Print Popularity in Early Modern England, and edited by Andy Kesson and Emma Smith, this is a hugely exciting project that will interrogate the idea of "popularity" in the early modern book trade. How do we measure and define what was popular? Is it a question of number of publications; of number of references; or of perceived literary quality? It's an important question - the battle between the popular and the prestige is eternally present, and much of our thinking about early modern texts is pre-conditioned by our perception of the kinds of audiences that books could have reached.

My contribution will be one of ten short essays, each dealing with a specific genre or phenomenon. I'm taking responsibility for "Drama" with an essay on Mucedorus, the anonymous play whose known number of reprints dwarves any other from the period. Most of the criticism on the play is bound up with attempting to explain how a play of variable quality (but high popular excitement) came to be published so frequently. I'm interested in looking at this body of criticism, and the play itself, and determining how we pigeonhole ideas of the popular in relation to drama, which was a necessarily popular form. Why has a play that, apparently, could have been one of the most successful plays of its time (if, indeed, we believe that this can be measured by numbers), fallen into obscurity and neglect? How does popularity and fitness to a time and genre shift? And how do we redefine the popular under the cultural weight of the prestige - in this case, to separate the play from its only early attributed author, Shakespeare?

Very much looking forward to writing this article. The colloquium is in September, which follows my PhD submission date frustratingly closely, but that just gives me more of a reason to get cracking!

February 03, 2011

Early Modern London Theatres Database now online

Writing about web page

On Tuesday, I attended the launch of the new Early Modern London Theatres website. Connected to the Records of Early English Drama project, which is producing a frankly terrifying amount of data about the material conditions of early modern theatre, this database is a major new resource for theatre historians.

The strengths of the site are in the detail. It not only provides a bibliography of all early evidence pertaining to the theatres, companies and personnel of the London stage, but also provides a (reasonably comprehensive) guide to where that early evidence has been reprinted and discussed. It thus becomes not only a bibliography, but a study of historical interpretation. The Learning Zone section of the website gives a demonstration of the potential in relation to the Cockpit Riots.

I have a couple of initial reservations, based on my experience testing the first draft of the site, but these are to be resolved. The timelines of data are very busy at the moment, and require some patience to interpret. I'm also slightly uncomfortable with the 'faceted search' option, which has the potential both to open up entirely new areas for exploration but also to lead people down dead ends as they follow through the pre-determined categories. These are only user-based quibbles though; and with a database of this scope and variety, one might argue that there is no search mechanism that could fully open up the available data.

What I hope the website does allow in time is for users to upload their own lesson plans using the database. The Learning Zone is an ideal example; but I'm not sure how many theatre courses might cover the Cockpit riots. It'll be fascinating to see how academics use this opportunity to expand their own teaching.


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.

February 2011

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