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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 and online at . Hopefully I'll begin blogging properly again soon!

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.

June 23, 2010

Brian Blessed

Writing about web page

I'm settling down for England vs. Slovenia, so in the spirit of the day - and as a genuine example of Shakespearean appropriation - here's Brian Blessed (accompanied by a host of English sporting heros) delivering a slightly-altered version of "Once more unto the breach, dear friends" from Henry V. Can't help but feel that Shakespeare wouldn't have cared two hoots about "base football player(s)", but anything that helps.....

BBC World Cup Advert

March 30, 2010

Review Show

Writing about web page

The BBC's latest edition of The Review Show is still online for a few days here. It's the Authorship Question (ie the conspiracy theory side) rather than my area of authorship that they're discussing, but it's still of general interest, and I strongly recommend Jim Shapiro's new book. The Authorship Question persists because people shout it down without listening to it; so, for a respected academic and writer to devote four years and a weighty volume to a serious consideration of the ongoing debates is truly refreshing, and hopefully a game-changer. Oxfordians and Baconians have no excuse not to engage with a book that gives the question a proper hearing.

March 17, 2010

The Arden Double Falsehood: Brean Hammond and Carol Rutter on The Today Programme

In case you didn't catch it yesterday, here's Brean Hammond and Carol Rutter discussing the new Arden edition of Double Falsehood, which was officially released yesterday.


It's an unfortunately short section, and necessarily reductive in the time they've got. There are some interesting questions, though, about the nature of the Arden Shakespeare imprint and what it should be doing. By printing the play as part of this series, Arden have given it "the stamp of the approval, it's now part of the canon", and the interviewer comments that it should only be plays that Shakespeare had a substantial hand in, not things knocked together for a Friday night.

What ARE we interested in? What do we WANT from a "Complete Works"? I'm increasingly bemused and frustrated by this question. Do we want the actual words, an exhaustive list of the specific words that Shakespeare the man specifically chose? Or are we interested in those plays that, in however corrupt a form, were ones that he took a substantive role in devising and shaping for the stage? In that sense, imagine if King Lear hadn't survived. Would we accept Nahum Tate's Lear, with its happy ending, in its place? Would that contain enough of "Shakespeare" to still be considered "worth" something, for what it does preserve of the Immortal Bard?

I'm interested by Carol's assertion that Double Falsehood should be under the "Arden Early Modern Drama" imprint, rather than the "Arden Shakespeare". I don't necessarily argue this. However, I would like to ask - where is the cut-off point? Where does the Arden "Shakespeare" end, and the rest of "Early Modern Drama" begin? Prior to yesterday, the Arden Shakespeare contained only plays with a solid external attribution to Shakespeare: they were either in the First Folio or published in an early Quarto with his name on. Following Double Falsehood, though, the Arden Shakespeare will also be publishing editions of Edward III and Thomas More, both of which have an element of Shakespearean collaboration.

So, how Shakespearean does something have to be to be in the Arden Shakespeare? The editor of the Arden 1 Henry VI expressly admits he doesn't think that there's much Shakespeare in it. The best comparison, though, might be between Double Falsehood (never granted table space before) and Thomas More (increasingly appearing both as the Shakespeare addition and in a full text, such as in the Oxford Complete Works). What is more "Shakespearean"? A play for which Shakespeare wrote a single addition, almost certainly entirely independently of the creation of the rest of the play, yet for which we have evidence of his unique hand writing identifiable lines? Or a play in which probably very few Shakespearean lines remain following adaptation, yet which preserves a lost drama which Shakespeare and Fletcher created together and which Shakespeare may well have been involved in the overall planning of? Where do we draw the line? Do we want our Complete Works to be an anthology of all the words Shakespeare wrote, or a canon of drama which Shakespeare helped create? There's a distinct ideological difference between these two conceptions of "completeness", and I'd argue that this is exactly what is at stake here.

More on the edition once I've had a chance to read it. Provisionally, though, I'm sympathetic towards Arden's wider-reaching conception of canonicity. I'm just interested to see how they present it.

October 15, 2009

Kyd comes out

Writing about web page

Brian Vickers has gone public with his claims about Edward III being co-authored by Shakespeare and Kyd. The story's been picked up by the usual agencies and is doing the rounds of the world media.

So, expect the following: the conspiracy nuts using it as a platform to point out that "Shakespeare" didn't actually write any of his plays; 'enthusiasts' getting all sweaty at the idea that Shakespeare ever collaborated; academics complaining about whether research of this kind actually means anything; and grand claims about a "400 year old mystery being solved". In fact, most of these can be found in the Times' own article and comments already.

Depressingly, note how no-one will actually talk about the play itself. And almost certainly, despite the fact that the announcement is actually about Kyd, I'll lay a wager that none of the follow-up coverage will talk any further about him.

From my research, it seems that these announcements about authorship, whether within the academy or in the wider public sphere, all end up being treated in the same way, with the same core positions essentially unchanged each time. It's hugely frustrating, and I'd really like to see the findings develop instead into a public discussion on the implications of the research, and maybe take advantage of the Shakespeare connection to bring the play itself to greater attention.

Finally, the announcements invite a rhetoric of certainty that bothers me. This isn't "proof". This kind of research never proves anything. It simply - and in my mind, this is quite sufficient - provides a "best fit" of author to play. We will never know if there were other playwrights whose work has not survived who might have provided an even better fit. All we've got are working assumptions about a field where our knowledge is, frankly, quite limited.

I'm quite prepared to accept Kyd and Shakespeare as probable co-authors of Edward III, but I'd like to keep a sceptical eye half-open at all times, same as I do with Hand D of Thomas More. Establishing a name for a section of writing isn't the 'solution' to this 400 year old problem; it's rather a starting-point from which to start asking the far more complex questions about the forms that early modern authorship took. Did Kyd and Shakespeare work together? Did one revise the other's work? Did either take responsibility for 'plotting'? How does the writing fit into the narrative of other history plays? And so on. These are the questions I want to explore, and I suppose I'm always left a bit frustrated after reading these articles, which remind me that the world-at-large is still going to be bound by reductive and largely unhelpful conceptions of authorship which drag back real progress in authorship studies. Vickers has done some sterling work, yet the interesting questions it presents just aren't what the media is interested in.

June 05, 2009

The Romeo and Juliet Experience

Oh, for crying out loud.

May 27, 2009

Artistic apocrypha

Writing about web page

I've been following with some interest this story regarding a sculpture of Christ supposedly by Michaelangelo.

The disputed sculpture
The Disputed Sculpture (picture from BBC)

The dispute is instantly recognisable to me, echoing extremely closely the disputes that have raged over the Shakespeare Apocrypha. Key points:

  • Critics claiming that the work is mediocre, and therefore not good enough for Michaelangelo.
  • Supporters claiming that the work is superior to any other artist of the period.
  • A nation 'selling' Michaelangelo as its national artist.
  • Bystanders asking whether knowledge of the artist actually affects - or should affect - our enjoyment and appreciation of the artwork.
  • The argument that it could represent early work by the young artist, showing us the artist's development rather than maturity.
  • The unequivocal presentation of the sculpture as authentic by the authorities who have invested in it, as opposed to admitting the debate.

I'm going to keep an eye on this, because it may be extremely useful. It's a live debate about what is, essentially, an apocryphal sculpture, and these debates over authenticity seem to follow set patterns. It may, therefore, provide an insight into the debates surrounding my 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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