‘The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text’ was one of the events supported by the King’s English Department and two of its research groups (the Text Histories and Politics Research Cluster and the Collaborative Seed Fund Partnership) in the academic year 2018-19. This ambitious two-day conference took place in Bush House on 14-15 June 2019. What began as a conference expanded to include a talk at Middle Temple by the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, (and Middle Templar) Lord Igor Judge, an event at Temple Church held in conjunction with the Inner Temple Historical Society and the Inner Temple Drama society, a Middle Temple Library exhibition of materials curated especially for the conference, and a professional revival of The Misfortunes of Arthur (1587) by the Dolphin’s Back theatre company in Gray’s Inn Chapel on 14 June 2019.
An Apology for Actors: Early Modern Playing Then and Now, King’s College London, Friday 10 May 2019
Research in Action: Engendering the Stage, Shakespeare’s Globe, Monday 13 May 2019.
“Engendering the Stage in the Age of Shakespeare and Beyond” brings together scholars, actors and theatre practitioners to analyse the performance of gender in early modern drama and investigate the effects of women’s performance on the skills, techniques and technologies of the performance of femininity in the drama of Shakespeare and his English and European contemporaries. In May, the project held two events in London at King’s and Shakespeare’s Globe.
The workshop at King’s considered children’s companies and female performers at court as well as professional, more typical, “actors”. The Research in Action event at Shakespeare’s Globe used scenes which include gendered expressions of rage for public performance and audience discussion.
Productions of Shakespeare’s plays have been regularly used to comment on the political and public affairs of their performance moment – occasionally provoking heated responses. In 2017, for example, the Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park prompted a media furore (led by Fox News), because the presentation of Caesar bore a striking resemblance to Donald Trump.
The Public Theatre, other news media, and Shakespeare scholars (such as Stephen Greenblatt) were quick to point out that Shakespeare’s play hardly condones the assassination of Caesar and that it explores, instead, the conspirators’ flawed and extreme reactions to a democracy under threat. But audience responses cannot be contained by a careful reading of the text, and, while a production may clearly announce its relevance to contemporary politics, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific application or to control public responses to it.
The Shakespeare Academy has been running at King’s for the past three years as a Widening Participation project. In 2017-18 we reached over 350 students, continuing to develop close partnerships with teachers and pupils at eight London state-funded secondary schools, from Key Stage 3 to GCSE. We run workshops with the students that investigate Shakespeare’s plays through seminar-style sessions, readings, and creative writing activities. Read more about the Shakespeare Academy here.
Below you can read some examples of creative writing by Years 9 and 10 students from our summer 2018 workshops. We asked them to imagine what Lady Macbeth might have written if she had left a suicide note. As you can see, the pieces are inspired by the imagery and language of the play, but re-imagined for a modern audience.
I was particularly encouraged by the ways in which students engaged with the gender politics of Macbeth. Their writings express the limitations of Lady Macbeth’s agency within early modern patriarchy with a subtlety that I found truly impressive. The entrants showcased below were chosen for their originality, insight and imaginative engagement with Shakespeare’s text. They express the individual poetic and creative voices of the students, while maintaining close adherence to the characterisation, imagery and tone of the play.
The Shakespeare Academy has been running at King’s for the past three years and I am very proud to have been involved from its inception. In 2017-18 we reached over 350 Widening Participation students, continuing to develop close partnerships with teachers and pupils at eight London state-funded secondary schools, from Key Stage 3 to GCSE. We’ve also run Teachers Days with the London Shakespeare Centre.
My role as administrator and workshop leader involves liaising with the schools, creating the programme for the Academy study days, supporting my colleagues in preparing individual sessions and delivering workshops myself. I am particularly passionate about inclusive access to education: my brother and I were the first in our family to obtain degrees. I also believe that engaging with Shakespeare in an interactive and creative way can help to break down perceived barriers by making the plays seem more accessible.
All ‘national curriculum’ students study Shakespeare (two plays at key stages 3 and at least one play at key stage 4). Many of the pupils we work with are from Black or Ethnic Minority backgrounds, or come from families where their parents or carers have not attended university. We give these students access to university-style learning to give them a taste of what they can expect. This makes Shakespeare’s plays a valuable common currency to reach groups who are under-represented in tertiary education. Also, plays such as Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet deal with important social and political issues – power, love, inter-generational conflict, gang warfare – that are still relevant today. The plays are useful tools for thinking about wider social concerns that are universally recognisable.