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February 19, 2009

Sigh of relief

I've just about finished a redraft of my first chapter, which is actually Chapter Two of the thesis. Essentially it's a critical account of the reception of the apocryhal plays over the period 1660-1800, which begins with the seven additions to the Third Folio in 1664 and traces the treatment and gradual marginalisation of the plays by subsequent editors over the 18th century. I've also uncovered a couple of interesting references in other media (pamphlets, newspapers etc) to the apocryphal plays, which provide a nice supporting narrative for the change in public perceptions of the disputed plays.

The fascinating thing about this period (well, one of the many fascinating things) is the speed with which the purpose of Shakespeare in British culture evolves, and the ramifications this has for concepts of canon and authorship. Over 11,000 words, I haven't actually considered the authenticity or authorship of the disputed plays; rather, I've been interrogating the criteria on which authenticity is actually established. Whether or not a play like, say, The London Prodigal is by Shakespeare or not, the debates and motivations that govern its treatment are critical.

The downside is that an account of this kind necessarily lends itself to being discussed chronologically, which feels rather dull. The stories are fascinating, but I'm hoping that there will be time to refashion the chapter and be a bit more creative with the structure of my narrative. Nonetheless, I'm reasonably happy with how it's starting to shape up.

The next chapter (Chapter One) will send me back in time, where I'll be playing with the original performance conditions of the apocrypha, their role in the repertories of the various theatres and questions about early modern conceptions of 'authorship' and 'ownership' when applied to the theatre of the time. It should be a relatively easy chapter, as this is where I discuss the early external evidence for authorship. I'm also hoping that I'll be able to start thinking more about the actual plays - so far, although I've been reading them, I've only been focussing on their role as commercially-circulating items, effectively simply as titles. In looking at their role in repertory, though, there should be space to consider how they sit with the playing practices and concerns of individual companies.

For now, though, a few footnotes to finish off.....

January 09, 2009

A structure

I didn't do a monthly round-up at the end of December, as the last couple of weeks of the year were a bit, um, quieter in terms of the amount of work I got down. Well, it was Christmas. However, I did get quite a bit of reading done over December, and now I'm back into term with a vengeance.

A few changes this year. One is that I'll be working more in Stratford, using the resources of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Shakespeare Institute. As good as the Warwick library is for some things, it simply doesn't have the sheer volume of resources, and it's far easier to go to Stratford than arrange for transfers.

I've also, only today, finally drafted out a structure for my entire thesis. Currently, it looks like five chapters of 10-15,000 words each, plus introduction and conclusion. It's rather scary looking at my projected thesis in this form, but not the kind of scary that I was expecting. Instead, it all looks rather doable and easy. This is scary because a) it won't be, and b) it will almost certainly need massive beefing up. My biggest fear is that the 80,000 words I've scoped out will end up being reduced to a single chapter while the thesis takes me off in entirely new directions.

I don't expect the structure to remain intact. Already, this week, I've read an article which uncomfortably closely echoes a lot of the work I've already done on the eighteenth century treatment of the apocryphal plays. This doesn't invalidate the work I've done, but it means that it doesn't have the same clout I was hoping it would. Therefore, already I have to start redrafting and rethinking my ideas. One of the hardest things in Shakespeare Studies is to say something genuinely new, but I'm still optimistic that, over the next three years, I'll be able to make a substantial original contribution to the field. If I don't, I don't get a thesis, simple as that!

Finally, for today, I'd like to highly recommend Ben Jonson's Every Man Out of his Humour. Long, but extremely funny. Includes a scene with a drunk clown making his two sack-glasses have a fight.

December 01, 2008

November round–up

My Dairy Milk advent calendar reminded me this morning that it's time for this month's round of self-justification. Already, surprisingly, it's getting hard to track my month-by-month progress, as the work all blends into one. In many senses that's good, as it implies there's some continuity in my work so far(!). However, here's a few of the things I got up to in November:

  • Reading: I rounded off a period of research on early modern playing practices with Lucy Munro's excellent Children of the Queen's Revels. Richard Proudfoot's collection of lectures, Shakespeare: Text, Stage and Canon was an extremely well-spent afternoon, particularly in his Canon article which directly addresses the apocrypha and contains a lot of useful snippets (including a bit of external evidence that puts the date of The Birth of Merlin wll after Shakespeare's death). After these, though, I dived back into the eighteenth century ahead of my writing, searching through ECCO for references to the apocrypha throughout the century.

    As mentioned in my last blog, I've also started the intensive reading of early modern dramatists. I've covered most of Marlowe in the last week, re-reading Tamburlaine, both texts of Faustus, The Jew of Malta and Edward II. I also read Thomas of Woodstock, one of the more controversial of the apocryphal plays, which was thoroughly interesting - anyone who likes Richard II should definitely have a look.

  • Writing: I've just paused on what I can justifiably call my first substantial bit of writing. It's not hugely long, and it's far from complete, but it's the first pass at a first draft at what could conceivably be my second(?) chapter. In brief, it tracks the apocrypha "From Chetwind to Malone"; the 1664 2nd impression of the third Folio to the 1790 edition of Shakespeare by Malone. My argument ties together the establishment of a 'canon' for Shakespeare with his growing cultural and national importance as he rose to the status of 'national poet', demonstrating that the canon as we know it is a product of 18th century values and aesthetic criteria. It is during this period that the apocryphal plays were, as it were, damned - in some cases, perhaps too rashly. I'm finding biblical metaphors of canonicity and divine inspiration quite helpful in articulating my thoughts. It's still some way off, but the ideas are starting to take shape. This chapter will primarily provide context for the received views under which we now labour, and hopefully encourage a more objective framework for investigation. This will follow a section on the early external evidence and understanding of early modern repertory playing; and will be followed by work on later scholarship, leading into internal evidence.

    It's early days still. I'm pleased with the general sense of what's going on, but it still needs a great deal doing to it. Nevertheless, I'm feeling confident that this will be able to provide a good basis for my upgrade in May.

  • Other activities: Theatregoing has been quietish, but I caught King Lear in Liverpool (appalling) and Twelfth Night in Stratford (hilarious), the latter of which I've just finished a review of for a journal. I've been to a considerable amount of research seminars and academic training sessions, and my work with the Business School has been continuing. It's slightly scary how quickly the month has gone to be honest!

December brings with it a great deal of peace on campus, so I'm planning to plough on with a considerable amount of reading and writing over the holiday. I'm also writing a paper to give at a postgraduate seminar series in January, so that'll keep me busy over the turkey!

October 31, 2008

October Round–Up

It's been a while since I've posted, partly because it's been an extremely busy month. So, without further ado, here's what I've been up to:

Reading: Reading this month has taken two strands. Following on from last month, I finished my trawl through 18th century editions and did some more in-depth work on Edward III's journey to (near) canonicity. My critical reading, though, has been more geared towards the cultural value of 'Shakespeare' and the growth of his centrality in British culture. Andrew Murphy's Shakespeare in Print and Michael Dobson's The Making of the National Poet have been the two biggies, though I've also for the first time read Jonathan Bate's The Genius of Shakespeare. Primarily I'm focussing on getting historical and literary context for Shakespeare's cultural place up until the end of the 18th century.

That's actually been about it for the PhD; the rest of my month has been spent in a blur of conferences, seminars, academic training, teaching and all kinds of other related activities, all of them up on my e-portfolio. I've also got back to my reviewing. It is pleasant to be settling down to doing a bit of reading, and it's sparking off a lot of ideas. Pleasingly, a great many books seem to give related information while not actually applying it to the apocryphal plays, so there are lots of gaps in which my own research fits, the 'missing chapters', so to speak.

Back to the books...

October 03, 2008

September round–up

Every month I'll be putting up a quick summary of my month's work. I imagine that this will become increasingly meaningless once I start putting the thesis into long chapter-form, but for now it's a good way of keeping track of what I've actually been doing!

So, this month:

  • I have re-read and written synopses of seventeen apocryphal plays, from the likely (Edward III) to the extremely unlikely (The Lady's Tragedy). The synopses are written partly to help me keep track of what's actually going on in all the plays, but more importantly to log the various conversations and themes within the play, which will be of use when considering parallel passages later.

  • I've created my e-portfolio, and also a site for the project team. Both still need a lot of work, but they're up and usable!

  • I've done an initial collation of all the contemporary external evidence for the plays and prioritised on that basis (and that basis alone) the strength of the claims of each to Shakespearean authorship. It's extremely satisfying to ignore the 400 years of subsequent commentary and just look at the historical evidence. It also throws up interesting points - for example, there is far more contemporary evidence for The London Prodigal being by Shakespeare than The Two Noble Kinsmen. Yet the former play is widely unknown, primarily due to subsequent criticism - all justified, I'm sure, but it's fascinating to look at the original evidence without prejudice.

  • I've been learning about authorship methodologies, the various criteria and tests used to establish a play's authorship: verse tests, parallel passages, vocabulary, socio-linguistics etc. This is something I'll be getting into in more detail further down the line, but for now I've developed a solid general understanding of the techniques, which is essential when editors are summarising their own beliefs.

  • I've been reading! This month it's mostly been editions, including the first five single editions in the RSC Complete Works as well as various editions of the apocrypha. Best book this month - John Jowett's Shakespeare and Text. Most useless was James McManaway's The Authorship of Shakespeare pamphlet, basically a riposte to anti-Stratfordians which did, however, include some useful points on the burgeoning cultural value of Shakespeare.

  • I've attended a training session on teaching for postgraduate tutors and had my first meetings about the Warwick Business School course I'll be assisting on this year.

  • Finally, I've just started two more strands of work; one going through the early editorial tradition and tracking the appearances and commentary on the apocrypha (or, as Alexander Pope referred to them, "those wretched plays"); the other, some more detailed work on Edward III and Arden of Faversham, two plays with no reliable early connection to Shakespeare which have subsequently risen to the 'top' of the apocryphal pile.

That's it for this month!

September 01, 2008

Welcome to the Apocrypha

Welcome to the Apocrypha!

This is the blog on which, over the next three years, I'll be posting news, thoughts, short essays, multimedia material (with a bit of luck), links and updates on the progress of the Shakespeare Apocrypha studentship.

This studentship is part of a larger AHRC funded project entitled 'Collaborative Plays by Shakespeare and Others', which will result in a new edition of Elizabethan and Jacobean plays that may have Shakespeare's hand in them. My part of the project will be dealing with a number of issues - how one establishes authorship, how the plays have been attributed over the centuries, the methodologies and technologies that have been and are used, the cultural importance of Shakespeare's name as associated with these plays and so on.

At this stage (day one of 1,095!), I'm primarily just excited to be working on a selection of relatively neglected plays. The last collected edition of the apocrypha was in 1908, and this new edition will hopefully be a significant contribution to their re-introduction into higher-profile theatrical and critical circulation.

Anyway, at this stage there's quite clearly very little else to say. As the project gets going, I'll hopefully be able to start posting here more regularly. For now, it's time to hit the books.


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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