All entries for September 2009

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.


September 14, 2009

British Shakespeare Association Conference @ King's College London

Just a very quick post about this year's BSA conference in London. Entitled "Local/Global Shakespeares", the conference brought together a prestigious line-up of speakers, events, workshops and seminars. Though, to bring up a negative, no lunch.

I was only able to attend the first day of the event, as I've recently been in something of a state of flux through moving house and still had a great deal of sorting out to do at home. However, the first day seemed to go extremely well. An opening set of plenaries saw Ann Thompson speaking interestingly about the global impact of Hamlet; Gordon McMullan giving a fascinating account of The Island Princess in performance and its assocations with Indonesia; and Sonia Massai discussing a Zimbabwean township-style production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona that I'm now dying to catch. They were followed in the afternoon by the great Edward Hall of Propeller discussing the work of his company and the always-entertaining Michael Dobson on the global spread of Shakespearean performance.

The day concluded with Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson (a "right pair of old hams" in the words of a fellow delegate who shall remain anonymous) delivering a jointly-written paper, taking a line or two at a time, on the sonnets. The novel delivery was extremely entertaining; it's always nice to see someone doing something a bit different with the old paper format. The content of the paper was deliberately contentious, aiming to kill the Dark Lady, the Rival Poet and the Young Man. By taking the sonnets out of sequence, they pointed out that very few of the individual sonnets identify the gender of their addressee; that there is no reason to assume continuity of addressee between sonnets; that there is no reason to conflate any of the addressees with the volume's dedicatee; and that the sequence itself should not be thought of as such, but rather as a collection, or even a "rattlebag".

I completely agree with the deconstructive approach of Wells and Edmondson, and it is necessary to take an extreme position in order to counter the invariably biographical readings applied to the collection over previous decades. However, I did take issue with the suggestion that the order of the sonnets should still be retained. This reading was based on the idea that a sequence of thought does not exist between the poems, and if that is the case, and the poems really are a "rattlebag", then there is no reason save bibliographical to retain the order. The problem with retaining the order is that we will read them in order; and once we begin reading the sonnets in order, it is surely impossible to retain the same sense of each sonnet standing completely independently. As Wells acknowledged, several of the sonnets themselves imply a continuity of thought, beginning with "But" or similar, and once you acknowledge that continuity then the statistics begin to look shaky. If one is going to deconstruct the sonnets, then the traditional order, the 'sequence', needs also to be broken up. Once the biographical readings are successfully interrupted, maybe then we can return to the order provided by the book and reconsider, freed of the 'characters' history has created, what the order implies.

In between the plenaries was a split session featuring thirteen parallel events. Thirteen. Sadly this meant I had to miss some extremely interesting-sounding seminars, such as one on Early Modern Repertories which would have been very relevant to my current work. Instead, I sat on a panel called 'Teams Researching Shakespeare in Higher Education', which discussed changes in HE policy and funding. As I'm part of a research team, my contribution to the panel was in discussing how my route has differed from the 'traditional' PhD route which most of my peers at Warwick have taken. The different emphasis on skills and training; the opportunities afforded; and the profile one gets from being part of a research team are all positives. Negatives, perhaps, would be the increased pressure and the anxieties over 'ownership' of the research: will my work on the apocrypha remain entirely mine, or will I be ceding the best bits to the greater book project? It was an interesting discussion in any case, and we're putting together a report so the AHRC can hopefully benefit from the feedback.

That was it for the conference for me, but a useful day nonetheless. Hopefully I'll be in a more settled place when the next big conference comes around, and be able to get a lot more out of it as a result.


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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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