February 16, 2012

Blog dormant

My Warwick usercode is about to expire, so this blog will become dormant shortly. For updates, please visit The Bardathon or my homepage at the University of Nottingham.

Very best, and thanks for reading.

Peter Kirwan

November 19, 2011

Where am I?

This blog hasn't been updated in some time and, for that, many apologies. Since submitting my thesis, I've begun a new role at the University of Nottingham, as Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama. I'm working on ways to consolidate my various online presences, but I can now be found at Peter.Kirwan@nottingham.ac.uk and online at http://nottingham.ac.uk/english/people/Peter.Kirwan . Hopefully I'll begin blogging properly again soon!

September 10, 2011

Shakespeare Club

Writing about web page http://www.stratfordshakespeareclub.org/shakespeare-club-event-20110913-Peter-Kirwan.html

On Tuesday, I'll be addressing the Shakespeare Club of Stratford-upon-Avon, with the title "Chasing Windmills: Where Next for Cardenio?" This lecture will discuss the aftermath of both Brean Hammond's edition of Double Falsehood and the RSC's recent production of Cardenio. If the play is now part of the canon, what are we to expect for it next?

Shakespeare Institute, Mason Croft, Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon. 7:45pm.

September 01, 2011


The thesesMy copyTitle page

August 31, 2011

Sixty Minutes with Shakespeare

Writing about web page http://60-minutes.bloggingshakespeare.com/

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's official response to the Authorship Question will be going live tomorrow! Sign up at the website http://60-minutes.bloggingshakespeare.com/. I'm one of sixty scholars contributing a sixty-second podcast to a big batch of questions designed to show the wider contexts of Shakespeare's writing which mean that, fundamentally, only he could have written the plays (within certain stipulations - my own contribution is about the prevalence of collaboration during the period, for example).

I'm also in a line-up of mugs alongside people like Stephen Fry, Dan Snow, Antony Sher, Michael Wood and Simon Callow, as well as many of the leading academics in my field. I'm imagining this event's going to make a bit of noise...

July 29, 2011

Final push

I'm submitting my PhD in 33 days. The whole thing is now essentially written. There are some references to chase up, some bits of syntax to straighten out, a contents page to create, but the body of the work is pretty much all there. I've got a full month now to tweak it as far as possible, make sure the arguments are tight and that I'm happy releasing it to my examiners.

It's been a bit of a slog, but it'll be in within the three year mark and, hopefully, it'll be a good thesis. One can never tell, of course, until the viva, but I hope that I'll be able to hand it in with a smile as well as a sigh of relief.

Here goes!

July 24, 2011

The World Shakespeare Congress in Prague

I'm just back from the World Shakespeare Congress in Prague. This is the biggest gathering of Shakespeareans, which happens once every five years in a different corner of the globe. I just wanted to post quickly about the sessions I saw, and I'll leave out my joyous experiences of Czech beer. It's a beautiful city though, and I was pleased that the schedule built in plenty of free time for sightseeing.

Day One was an opening reception in the beautiful National Theatre, with a talk on the theatre's history by Martin Hilsky, the prestigious and erudite translator of Shakespeare into Czech, and a performance by several clowns riffing on The Winter's Tale and the gravediggers of Hamlet.

Day Two began with Stanley Wells on "Shakespeare: Man of the European Renaissance", a typically entertaining and learned lecture from Stanley. In the afternoon I attended a session on "Editing Hamlet" which discussed the practical and theoretical issues raised by a number of traditional and online editorial projects. Neil Taylor was particularly good, reflecting candidly on the decisions made in the third Arden Hamlet. I then had my own seminar on "Magic and the Occult in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries." This was a fun discussion, which focussed particularly on the (apparent) decline in magical belief/representation, and the problems of discussing magic in a sceptical age. I was disappointed not to manage to talk more about my own paper, but I received good written feedback and had chats with people afterwards, so felt like I got a great deal out of the seminar. In the evening I saw a student production of The Winter's Tale, starring several of the efficient conference assistants.

Day Three gave us the best plenary, Martin Hilsky on "Shakespeare's Theatre of Language: Czech Experience". With detailed discussion of particular examples, Hilsky introduced us to the problems of translation, arguing for remaining faithful to the playfulness of language rather than the words themselves. The translation of puns, double-meanings, ambiguities of gender and reference etc. into another tongue is perhaps the closest form of close-reading there is, and Hilsky was superb in his explanation of the potential. Next, "Shakespeare Illustrated" combined an interesting paper on labyrinths by Sophie Chiari with a typically fascinating look at Fuseli by Stephen Orgel. The day concluded with "International Perspectives on Shakespearean Theatre Reviewing", a lively seminar chaired by Paul Prescott, Peter Smith and Janice Valls-Russell which was a thematic sequel to the conference I participated in in Stratford two years ago. The issues remain live, but the international scope drew particular attention to problems of translation and reviewer expertise, and it'll be interesting to see the ouctomes of the seminar.

Wednesday's plenary speaker was Marjorie Garber, with the most purely entertaining (if less "academic") paper on "Czech Mates: When Shakespeare Met Kafka". The best parts of this featured in-depth discussion of the infinite number of monkeys mathematical problem, with the immortal line "One infinite monkey will suffice." The rest of the day was given over to sightseeing, and a gorgeous conference dinner at the castle.

Thursday began with Djanet Sears, formerly of this parish, discussing her play Harlem Duet. I love the play, and Djanet spoke fascinatingly to it, although I did think that the extensive quotation was perhaps overkill - I most enjoyed her discussion of the influences that went into creating it. The general meeting followed, with announcement that the next Congress would take place in Stratford-upon-Avon or Montpellier, both exciting venues. An afternoon panel session on "The Queen of Bohemia's Wedding" featured three great papers by Nadine Akkerman, James Marino and especially Richard Preiss, who discussed Bartholomew Fair in the context of the amalgamated, and therefore ambiguous, Lady Elizabeth's Men. I then went to a seminar on "2000-2009: A Decade of Shakespeare in Performance." Several delegates discussed Bond, which I wasn't a huge fan of, but which acted as a nice contrast to the discussion of institutional British theatres as in Michael Dobson and Christie Carson's papers.

The final day began with a fascinating selection of papers by the Czech director Karel Kriz, the dramaturge Vlasta Gallerova and the Georgian director Robert Sturua on "Directing Shakespeare: The Cold War Years". While translation was a bit difficult, and the session overran quite tremendously, the speakers (especially Sturua) spoke movingly to the trials of an earlier period and the changes on the world stage. In the afternoon, Marion O'Connor chaired two sterling papers by Anthony Parr and Lucy Munro, the latter of which was particularly interesting to me, focussing as it did on casting in the Caroline period and the ways in which we can read casting strategies into dramaturgy. I think we still lack a sophisticated enough methodology to talk persuasively about this, but Lucy convinced me that it can be done. Finally, a fine panel on "Expectations, Experience, and Experimentation in Shakespeare's Theatre". The main question raised here was of how we judge audience satisfaction - as opposed to success - and the speakers raised a series of fascinating perspectives. Immediately after that, we moved on to the residence of the US ambassador for closing speeches and free champagne.

Huge congratulations to the organising committee, especially the ever-affable Nick Walton and Martin Prochazka who ran events with wit and grace. I had some extremely useful and exciting meetings while I was there, and am now feeling fired up for the final month of my thesis. Very much hoping I can get back to Prague again soon.

June 14, 2011

Cardenio in Conversation

Writing about web page http://bloggingshakespeare.com/listen-to-cardenio-in-conversation

The wonderful people at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have made a talk that I attended on Saturday available online. This was a conversation between Tiffany Stern and Greg Doran on the subject of Cardenio, chaired by Paul Edmondson of this parish.

It was a wonderful discussion, with Greg talking in detail about the history of his relationship with the play and adaptation, and Tiffany eloquently stating her case for scepticism over Double Falsehood. Happily, I don't need to report further, because you can listen for yourself:

Cardenio in Conversation

June 07, 2011

A quick methodological note on Peele's authorship of King John

I'm currently working my way through Charles R. Forker's excellent and timely new edition of The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England. This hugely important play has been long overdue a good, scholarly edition, and Forker's is, from my first few dips into it, shaping up to be just that.

Troublesome Reign

I just wanted to flag up a methodological note that screams out at me from the very first page though. Specifically, in Forker's preface, where he acknowledges Brian Vickers's support on the question of authorship. He cites Vickers's article on the play's authorship in the collection Words that Count (2004) which is, I feel, one of Vickers's strongest pieces of attribution scholarship for its nuance and dramatic/literary sensitivity. I'm very happy to accept the claims of both Forker and Vickers that the play is by George Peele, which seems to fit with my (limited) knowledge of both Peele's work and the wider contexts in which the play seems to have been born.

My caution is with the reportage of a new set of collocations created by Vickers using the Pl@giarism software that has been central to his recent work. I quote from Forker:

He [Vickers] generously shared with me his as yet unpublished reflections on Peele's dramaturgy, a document from which I have borrowed freely. Most important of all is his graciousness in letting me present for the first time in print (as Appendix 2) his list of 219 verbal collocations between this play and other works by Peele - collocations of three identical consecutive words, in each case unique to The Troublesome Reign and plays already established as Peele's. Sir Brian isolated these impressive matches in 2009 by means of a computer program in a way that, in my judgement, not only establishes the attribution beyond cavil but that holds rich promise of further such discoveries in the study of anonymous Elizabethan plays. (xiii, my emphases)

The collocations are duly reprinted in the appendix, 335-56. They are thoroughly interesting - some are relatively commonplace - which makes it all the more surprising that they are unique - while others are very idiosyncratic. I particularly liked the find of "I, poor I" as a shared collocation between Troublesome Reign and The Arraignment of Paris for example, which is a peculiarly emphatic and deliberate usage.

While these are interesting, however, there is a glaring omission in the reportage of these results that could potentially undo the effectiveness of these results. It's the same one flagged up by MacD. Jackson in his critique of Vickers's work on Kyd in Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama. I'll apologise for the liberal use of bold emphasis in the paragraph that follows:

As it stands, this appendix represents a mere accumulation of parallels between Peele's work and the play in question. It has established 219 interesting links, which are unique and give us valid data. However, this number is meaningless in isolation. In order to establish the power of these results, we need to know how many unique links were shared between Troublesome Reign and the canons of other writers.

So, if we know that Shakespeare's early plays have 21 unique collocations with Troublesome Reign, Marlowe has 60, Greene has 85 and Kyd has 3, for example (and I'm making these numbers up), then we can say with confidence that Peele is an extremely likely candidate. However, for all we know from these results, Marlowe could have 170 different unique links with Troublesome Reign; Greene could have 350 etc; in which case, the 219 links with Peele suddenly look less impressive.

An accumulation of parallels in favour of one author is of no real quantitative value unless those parallels are compared on a like basis with parallels accumulated in favour of other authors.

Even though I'm sure that Vickers has done this (it is, after all his Shakespeare Co-Author that taught me these principles), we need to see this in reportage. Forker's edition is going to be fundamental in consolidating the authorship of the play by Peele, and yet Forker has apparently uncritically accepted the sheer weight of numbers without seeking to contextualise what those numbers actually represent. This is troubling from a methodological point of view, as non-specialists reading the edition will assume that this is standard practice and then, turning to Eric Sams's Edmond Ironside or Michael Egan's Thomas of Woodstock, find the exact same one-sided accumulation of parallels supporting Shakespeare's authorship of those plays.

I stress again - I am ASSUMING that Vickers has done this research and that the unique collocations between Peele's work and Troublesome Reign outweigh in both quality and quantity the unique collocations between TR and Greene, TR and Marlowe, TR and Shakespeare etc. But for the credibility of authorship studies, we need to have these comparisons upfront, so that lay readers have a frame of reference for understanding the strength of the claims. Scholars turning to the "Authorship and Date" section of the introduction will find Forker's excellent analysis, heavily dependent on Vickers's more nuanced work, which in my mind clinches the case for authorship. But if the use of collocations is going to be so heavily foregrounded, literally bookending the scholarship on the play, then it needs to be properly and responsibly reported.

April 27, 2011

Apocrypha Now!

Writing about web page http://www.shakespeareexchange.org/

Any Shakespeare buffs on the East Coast should check out this rehearsed reading of Mucedorus alongside The Comedy of Errors at the New York Exchange. Now, I'm not convinced about the pairing of plays. I'd be far more interested to see it in conversation with a late play like Cymbeline or The Winter's Tale (if nothing else, for the bear comparisons!) because these are the plays that shared the stage with Mucedorus following the revisions made to it c.1610 (first printed in the 1610 quarto). I'm not sure that the relatively civilised farce of Errors and the romantic folk narrative of Mucedorus really have anything in common. However, I wish very much I could be there, and fascinated to hear from anyone who can make it!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Apocrypha Now!

Apocrypha [uh-pok-ruh-fuh] - writing or statements of doubtful authorship or authenticity

Could Shakespeare have written the little-known Elizabethan comedy Mucedorus? Some say he did and that the play should be a part of the canon...but the debate still rages on.  In this concert reading series wepair Mucedorus, in its first-ever New York presentation, with Shakespeare's rollicking comedy of mistaken identity A Comedy of Errors in an exploration of what really makes a play feel like Shakespeare.  

Hear the poetry.  Laugh at the comedy. Compare the two plays.


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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