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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!

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!

November 29, 2010

The shape of things to come

On Saturday, I submitted the first full draft of my fourth, and final, chapter to my supervisor for critique. I say "draft", but this probably suggests something far more sophisticated than I've actually created. I prefer to think of it as my first Technical Rehearsal. The shape of the thing is there, the length and the timing, and it's fully blocked and plotted. However, there are still key components missing, still a lot of elements - the actors, if you will - to be carefully integrated.

Nonetheless, it's a big step. I now have a full 80,000 word dry-run of the whole thing, minus Introduction and Conclusion. While the research/planning stage is essential in shaping my ideas, I find that it's only in the act of writing that I really understand what I'm doing. Now I've reached the end, I can step back and see the whole. There's a great deal still to be done, but now I know what that is.

Chapter Four has ended up being structured around canon theory. I'd been worried about it being essentially a long review essay, but I think and hope it's now much more sophisticated. Taking in turn the RSC Complete Works of Shakespeare, The Oxford Collected Middleton and, in massive shift, the RSC Complete Works Festival, I discuss paradigms of canonicity and completeness, comparing and contrasting the theoretical principles on which the bibliographic, the authorial and the performative canon are made "complete".

I'm still building up the canon arguments. Much canon debate centres around the exclusion of minority groups and the political/ideological mechanics that determine the classics. My work is less political, but the language of selection/exclusion in canon theory, and an understanding of the institutions that invest "significant" works with cultural capital is directly transferable to the determination of the "Complete Works".

Ultimately, I end up arguing that "completeness" - and, indeed, the adjective "Shakespearean" - are highly subjective and contingent concepts, that shift according to purpose and defy homogeneity. The repertoire, however, offers a far more productive understanding of canon as a fluid pool of works that fade in and out of fashion, and act collectively to authorise new and fringe works alongside the canonical. The idea that we might be able to move away from a consumer-led desire for the "complete" and accept a more democratic, flexible formation of canon that removes the boundaries of separation is perhaps currently impractical; but my guess is that the electronic text (allowing playlist style selection of linked plays according to the researcher's interests) may well be the medium through which canonical boundaries finally become truly porous.

July 15, 2010

Chapter One Rewrite

This summer, as well as creating a first draft of my fourth (and final) chapter on the place of the apocrypha in the 21st century Shakespeare canon, I'm taking a month at a time to go over my first three chapters and restructure/rewrite/re-research them in the light of where my thesis has taken me.

This means that I'm spending July revisiting Chapter One, which I completed a year ago. This began life as a chronological survey of the textual history of the apocrypha from the 1664 2nd Folio to Tucker Brooke's 1908 "Shakespeare Apocrypha", the volume which I'm arguing shaped - and continues to shape - conceptions of works attributed to Shakespeare as a dichotomy of authentic/not.

Now, covering 250 years of editorial history, even of the apocryphal plays, is a lot to do in a single chapter, and the more I read the more I'm conscious that this ground has been covered a lot. John Jowett most recently did it for the apocrypha in "Shakespeare Supplemented" (2007), while individual moments have been given a much greater level of detail than I have space for in dedicated articles, such as Edmund King's forthcoming piece on the Pope/Theobald dispute over Double Falsehood. Additionally, of course, there are plenty of general textual histories on Shakespeare under whose umbrella the apocrypha fall.

So, I've spent part of this week refining what I think this chapter is doing uniquely, and I've just decided that I need to restructure it. As a chronologically-ordered survey of apocryphal "moments", it's inadequate. However, there are pieces in the chapter which have not (to my knowledge) been discussed before in detail, such as Robert Walker's collected works of Shakespeare (which Jowett mentions briefly) and a contribution to The Adventurer in 1753. More important, however, are the narratives that recur throughout my chronological survey: a growing concern for Shakespeare's "reputation", the introduction of biography and chronology alongside the advent of Bardolatry, and the beginnings of attempts to group and categorise the apocrypha ahead of Brooke's edition.

What I'm now thinking, then, is that a thematic rather than chronological survey is the way forward. The different strands of burgeoning critical thought criss-cross throughout the plays' history, and I think it's more important to bring those out at the expense of a linear timeline.

Now, the chapter will begin and close with discussion of C.F. Tucker Brooke's Apocrypha- first establishing its importance, then examining the 250 years of mechanisms and decisions that inevitably led to its creation, before returning to a close reading of Brooke's material itself to understand its purposes and agenda.

The four strands that lead up to it are:

1) The 43 play canon that existed for sixty years between 1664-1724, thus embedding the notion of an extended and unstable canon in editorial thought.

2) The question of reputation that persists through Pope, The Adventurer, Capell, Steevens and Knight, and the role of editors and critics in "helping" Shakespeare maintain his reputation.

3) The advent of biography and chronology as key to an understanding of Shakespeare. Early references by Dryden, Rowe and Capell are developed more fully by Malone and the German romantics. This section, of course, ties in to the rise of Bardolatry.

4) The canonising and organisation of the apocrypha, begun by Malone's "Supplement" in 1790 and continued through editions of "Doubtful Plays" edited by Hazlitt, Tyrrell, Moltke etc.

By reading the paratexts and apparatus of the key texts in these four strands, the chapter argues that certain ideologies are at stake in the policing of canonic boundaries, and that the creation of an "apocryphal" category creates the necessary buffer zone for disputed plays that allows them to be housed and removed from canonic consideration, as evidenced by the lack of any apocrypha editions since Brooke.

I'm a lot happier with this shape for the chapter, so I'll be spending the rest of July knocking it into shape.

May 16, 2010


The blog has been quiet lately while I've been focussing on a number of projects. Now, though, I'm back in a position to knuckle down to the thesis, and I'll no doubt be posting more frequently here.

Upcoming excitements include:

  • Another production of Arden of Faversham, this one at the Rose Theatre, Bankside. I'll hopefully be seeing this in late June/early July.

  • A reading of Double Falsehood taking place here at Warwick. I'm not sure yet what my involvement might be with this, but I'm hoping it'll be particularly useful for my work.

  • A plenary paper at the next British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, in mid-March. I'll be presenting on the implications of Double Falsehood's inclusion in the Arden Shakespeare, and sharing a panel with Professor John Jowett and Gregory Doran of the RSC.

  • An article on Yorkshire Tragedy, shortly to be published in the journal Law and the Humanities.

  • Several talks, including a session at the London Forum of Authorship Studies and an address at the Shakespeare Centre in Stratford by Brean Hammond on his edition of Double Falsehood.

  • Director interviews with several leading directors on past productions of apocryphal plays. These will probably include Michael Boyd, Greg Doran, Terry Hands and more.

More to follow soon!

October 29, 2009

Returning to the repertory

This blog has been relatively quiet recently, and bizarrely that's actually because I've been working harder on my PhD than usual. It's far easier to post tangential pieces when I'm procrastinating than try and sum up the work which is going directly into a chapter.

My current work is focussing on the five apocryphal plays that are (relatively) indisputably attached to the Chamberlain's/King's Men during the period that Shakespeare was an active member of that company: Thomas Lord Cromwell, Mucedorus, The London Prodigal, The Merry Devil of Edmonton and A Yorkshire Tragedy. Taking each of these plays in turn, I'm looking at its place in the company's repertory and the ways in which it might be usefully considered "Shakespearean" - not in the literal sense of penmanship, but in the sense of a discursive influence and authorship that shapes and is re-shaped by these plays.

Each play provides a different way into the question. Mucedorus, for example, is most interesting to me for the textual differences in its early editions, and how those changes reflect what was happening in the company during the early years of James' reign; while A Yorkshire Tragedy raises issues of censorship. However, the aspect which keeps cropping up is how the plays intersect with experiments in genre. It's increasingly my belief that all of the above plays fit into a narrative of generic development within the company, at the heart of which sits the company's resident dramatist.

The First Folio conditions us to think of Shakespeare's writing in terms of comedies, histories and tragedies, a set of definitions which can be reductive and unhelpful. Scholarship in recent years, in getting away from a Shakespeare-centric model, has been extremely productive in looking at the wider narratives of genre within the early modern theatrical companies, with key events such as Beaumont and Fletcher's move to the King's Men instigating that company's development of the tragicomic form. My contribution to this line of thought is to resituate the "apocryphal" plays within the company's repertory and show how they are involved in pushing the boundaries of genre within the company, in turn provoking responses among the better-known plays. They also raise interesting possibilities for what "Shakespeare" may imply; was the name associated with - or used to authorise - generic experimentation?

It's an interesting piece to work on, anyway. Once this model is set up, I'll then cast my eye over the other key apocryphal plays which aren't necessarily associated with the Shakespeare company, and see if they too have anything to say in this regard.

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.

June 15, 2009


Just a quick note to say that I passed my upgrade today.

At Warwick, all PhDs register initially for an MPhil, then at the end of their first year (or thereabouts) go through an upgrade process. This involves an interview with two members of staff (not your supervisor) and submission of 10,000 words and some supporting materials. It's essentially an opportunity for the department to make sure the student's on track, and for the student to get feedback from some extra eyes.

Anyway, I passed, so am now officially a PhD candidate! Plenty of work to do on the material I submitted, but for now I'm going to take a well-earned deep breath and relax for a couple of days.....

April 20, 2009

Term Three Beginnings

It's the first day of the summer term at Warwick, a perfect opportunity to take stock. Here are a few of this term's activities.


My upgrade deadline is in just under three weeks, which involves submitting a c.10,000 word piece of my thesis, a timetable to completion and an abstract/chapter breakdown of the whole thing. The first couple of weeks of this term are going to be mostly filled with finalising those materials, then in June I'll have the interview which will officially upgrade me to full PhD status. Assuming, of course, that the materials are good enough!

Other than that, I'm planning to have my first full chapter complete by the end of June, which is eminently doable. However, I have quite a few German texts that I want to read first, as during the late 18th/early 19th century, the most enthusiastic apocrypha criticism came from scholars such as Schlegel, Tieck, Delius etc. This is of itself interesting, implying a nationalistic factor to critical treatment of the apocrypha: the British putting their national poet on a pedestal and accepting no incursions on the authorised canon, while the Germans, operating at a remove, saw no problem with attributing works of 'lesser' quality to him. Sadly, I don't speak German, so we're working on ways of getting translations of the criticism.

My main concerns at the moment are with canon and canonicity, the boundaries and implications of a defined 'complete' works. This is providing the main theoretical focus for my first chapter, looking at what a canon is, does and represents.


I'm submitting a paper to this year's Britgrad in Stratford which, if accepted, will present some of my current thinking about the nature of an apocryphal canon.

I should also, at some point, hear whether I've been accepted to the Lost in Translation conference, taking place in October. For this, I've proposed a paper looking at the use of surtitles for foreign-language productions of Shakespeare taking place in England, interrogating ideas of cultural ownership implicit in the use of Shakespearean text in surtitle boxes. It's not related to my thesis, but comes out of my MA dissertation on the Complete Works Festival at the RSC, and will hopefully exorcise some lingering niggles about that event.

Finally, I'll be presenting at the English Department postgraduate symposium in June, which I'm also organising. Owing to time, I'll probably be presenting the canon paper that I'm submitting to Britgrad.


I've just submitted a book review of Shakespeare's Globe: A Theatrical Experiment, which will (barring incident) be in the next issue of Arts Professional. I'm also working on journal reviews of the Tobacco Factory's Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra and the National's Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Coming up, I've got the RSC's The Winter's Tale, As You Like It and Julius Caesar booked in for a journal, and their Comedy of Errors for Shakespeare Revue. There's plenty of other Shakespeare to look forward to this term: the Globe's new season, the National's All's Well and student productions (including Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore). I'm restraining myself slightly on the reviewing aspect at the moment - sometimes, it's a relief to just pay for something and not have to write it up afterwards!

* * * * * * * *

I think that's the bulk of this term's activities outlined, though there are various other talks and practical events I'll be checking in on. There's no teaching this term either, though hopefully I'll find out at some point what I'll be teaching on next year. Anyway, that's plenty to be getting on with for the time being, and I'll try and have some more regular updates up here.

March 25, 2009

The Repertory

Just a quick post as a shout-out about the reading I'm doing at the moment. The first section of my new chapter is concerned with reconstructing the original circumstances of performance for the apocryphal plays: company, date etc. From there, I'll be able to comment on what they offered to the repertory at large. Considering the academic interest over the last few years in studying the repertory, I'm slightly surprised that the apocrypha continue to be ignored, as it's my belief that several of them shed fascinating light on company practices, regardless of authorship.

As part of this, I've been continuing my reading of early modern drama, and placing each play once it's read in a table to build up a rough chronology of plays which, hopefully, will be a useful tool in establishing the relationship of plays to each other. You can see the list here.


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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