During the reign of Elizabeth I, London was at the centre of a burgeoning literary and theatrical culture whose influence is still felt to this day. William Shakespeare made the journey from Stratford-upon-Avon some time in the 1580s and became a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later the King’s Men; their principal playwright by the time the first Globe Theatre was completed in 1599. Across the river from the main commercial city, the Globe was a centre for entertainment alongside the bear-baiting pits and brothels of the Southwark ‘Liberties,’ but the theatre was also a place for a wide range of contemporary concerns to be disseminated and explored: the power structures of the Tudor and Stuart monarchies, the early forays of colonialism, nascent capitalism, shifting gender politics and the aftershocks of decades of religious conflict.
Today, Shakespeare’s influence is still felt in London: from the genteel Victorian theatres of the West End, where famous actors such as David Garrick, Edmund Kean, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry made their names with iconic interpretations of Shakespeare’s characters, to the National Theatre established in the 1960s where the relationship of Shakespeare to British identity is still being negotiated, to the reconstructed Globe theatre a stone’s throw from the theatre’s original location. At the Globe, modern audiences can encounter Shakespeare in an approximation of its original form. In 2014 the new Sam Wanamaker Theatre opened: a Jacobean-style indoor playhouse where candlelit performances of plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries take place in conditions similar to those of the earliest indoor playhouses.
The Shakespeare in London course at King’s is an opportunity to explore both: the historic context of Shakespeare’s work in early modern London and the long shadow of his continuing influence on the modern city. We will attend a variety of performances: Elizabethan-style performance at the Globe and contemporary adaptations, taking advantage of the varied theatrical landscape that London has to offer. We will trace the remnants of Shakespeare’s city in contemporary Southwark and the evidence of his later influence elsewhere in the city. Lectures will provide background and explore three of his plays in some detail, both in their original context and in subsequent adaptations, and interactive seminar discussions will explore issues related to these texts, including gender, genre, politics and religion. We will discuss the ways that these plays communicate the major political and social concerns of their era, and consider the ways that their meanings have been deployed, inverted or appropriated in four hundred years of performance. This year, the plays we focus on will be Twelfth Night, As You Like It and Macbeth.
Join us in London for an in-depth engagement with Shakespeare in the city that made him famous. For more information visit http://www.kcl.ac.uk/study/summer/programmes/undergraduatesummerschool/modules/kingsculturallondon/Shakespeare-in-London.aspx
We look forward to working with you in July.
Sally Barnden and Miranda Fay Thomas