MEMORI – Dr Mary Morrissey (Reading) this evening

April 23, 2015


The next MEMORI research seminar takes place tomorrow at 5.15 in room 2.48.

Dr Mary Morrissey (Reading) will be speaking on ‘Conversion and Reformation Polemic in John Donne’s Sermons’.

Mary’s research focuses on Reformation literature – particularly that emerging from London. Her 2011 monograph, Politics and the Paul’s Cross sermons, 1558-1642 (OUP), is a detailed study of England’s most important pulpit of the Reformation period, analyzing the rhetorical and interpretative strategies used by preachers on politically sensitive subjects and occasions. Mary also retains an interest in early modern women writers, with a particular focus on women writers’ use of theological arguments.



CFP: Magic and the Supernatural in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

April 10, 2015

Cardiff University Postgraduate Conference, July 21st 2015

An understanding of magic and the supernatural is crucial to the study of the medieval and early modern periods. Magic was a part of everyday life, ingrained into the cultural world view and popular imagination. It was also elusive, encompassing a plurality of meanings and forms that permeated every level of society and resulted in a wide range of practices, from those based on folkloric beliefs to quasi-religious rituals. As a means of understanding and attempting to control the social, spiritual, and natural world, it could be both a comfort and a threat to established norms.

We welcome papers exploring the significance of magic and the supernatural to medieval and early modern thought.

Suggested topics include but are not limited to:

  • Magic and religion
  • Magic and science
  • Attitudes towards magic and the supernatural
  • Science fiction and fantasy
  • Alchemy
  • Ritual magic
  • The psychology of magic
  • Magic and technology
  • Magicians and cunning folk
  • Astrology
  • Angels and demons
  • Ghosts and apparitions
  • Witchcraft
  • Medicine and anatomy
  • Shape-shifting
  • Supernatural creatures
  • Otherworlds
  • Prophecy and dreams
  • Necromancy and conjuring

We welcome abstracts from postgraduate students and early career researchers on all aspects of this topic in medieval and early modern history, literature, art, archaeology, architecture, and music.

Please send abstracts of 200-300 words to supernatural@cardiff.ac.uk for papers no longer than 20 minutes by Monday 25th May, 2015.

Find out more here: https://magicandthesupernaturalcardiff.wordpress.com/

In addition to panels, the conference will feature keynote addresses from Professor Ronald Hutton from the University of Bristol and Dr. Darren Oldridge from the University of Worcester.


CFP: Shakespeare and Waste (Kingston Shakespeare Seminar in Theory)

April 1, 2015


Kingston Shakespeare Seminar (KiSS), part of the London Graduate School, announces the launch of Kingston Shakespeare Seminar in Theory (KiSSiT): a series of seminars and conferences for postgraduate students and early career scholars with an interest in Shakespeare, philosophy and theory. The program will be committed to thinking through Shakespeare about urgent contemporary issues in dialogue with the work of past and present philosophers – from Aristotle to Žižek. It is intended that one-day KiSSiT conferences will be held three times a year at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames, which was developed by the great director Sir Peter Hall to be a ‘teaching theatre’, where actors and academics would work together. KiSSiTevents will be free and open to all. The inaugural KiSSIT conference will take place at the Rose Theatre on Saturday 23 May, 2015, on the theme of SHAKESPEARE AND WASTE (see CFP below). Auditors are also encouraged to attend. Confirmed speakers include Scott Wilson (Kingston University) andPeter Smith (Nottingham Trent University). Although there is no attendance fee, seating is limited, and registration is necessary: see email contact below. Reduced-price tickets will be available to all participants for the evening performance at the Rose Theatre of Jonathan Miller’s acclaimed production of King Lear, starring Barrie Rutter   CFP: SHAKESPEARE AND WASTE The Oxford English Dictionary lists three main senses for ‘waste’ in the English language:

  1. Waste or desert land
  2. Action or process of wasting
  3. Waste matter, refuse

The conference invites abstracts for 20 minute papers which fit under these broad headings. Papers might consider, but are not limited to, the following areas and questions:

  • The early modern association between waste and idleness
  • The link between waste (land) and wilderness
  • Waste paper
  • Economic concerns relating to Shakespeare
  • Do waste products of the body suggest a leveling and/or intensification of social hierarchy?
  • The relationship between human waste and abjection
  • The concept of human waste associated with digestion, purging, emetics, and / or blood-letting
  • The concept and processes of ‘catharsis’ in relation to waste
  • Waste in King Lear
  • What does the imagery of contamination by human waste (muddy fountains / cisterns, stains, filth) suggest about the relationship between racial and ethnic groups?
  • Human waste as the traditional Protestant symbol of money; conversely, money as the denial of feces and its evocation of the human body as pure physicality

Organizers: Johann Gregory, Paul Hamilton, Anne Sophie Refskou, Timo Uotinen, Richard Wilson. Please submit abstracts and brief CVs, or register as an auditor, by emailing the organizers at kingstonshakespeareintheory@gmail.com before 1 May, 2015 (auditors may register before 15 May) Please indicate whether you would like to book a ticket for King Lear in your mail.

Visit this website for the latest:

Sophie Battell: Hospitality in Shakespeare

March 24, 2015

Simon Russell Beale, centre, is in compelling form in Nicholas Hytner’s production of Timon Of Athens (2012)

Sophie Battell (Cardiff University) will be presenting a paper on “Hospitality in Shakespeare” as part of a panel on “Faire la fête à la Renaissance: Renaissance Feasts and Festivals” at this year’s Renaissance Society of America conference in Berlin.


Paper Abstract

Shakespeare’s dark ‘middle comedies’ depict rituals of feasting in interesting, but often uneasy ways. In Troilus and Cressida, when the city of Troy is at war and under siege, the risk of offering hospitality to one’s enemy is great. The play presents blended moments of hospitality and hostility mixed, as when the Greek warrior, Ulysses describes his intended entertaining of the Trojan warrior, Hector: “I’ll heat his blood with Greekish wine tonight, / Which with my scimitar I’ll cool tomorrow. / Patroclus, let us feast him to the height”. In Timon of Athens, meanwhile, the relentless show of hospitality’s maimed rites and broken banquets is perhaps what has led so many modern critics to describe the play as difficult and essentially ‘unpalatable’. My paper aims to demonstrate how Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens invert rituals of feasting, leading to moments of dark theatrical spectacle.

Find out more here:


Sophie Battell tweets for Cardiff Shakespeare @CardiffShakes



Hamlet by Everyman Youth Theatre

March 22, 2015

Everyman Youth Theatre is proud to present their dystopian like interpretation of this powerful play, where our tragic hero cannot move without it being reported back to the false king. As with Hamlet’s own thoughts, the play questions the nature of revenge and what is considered madness. The production retells Hamlet’s journey but has been shortened for the younger audience.

Fri 27 Mar – Sat 28 Mar, 2015

Cardiff, St David’s Hall

Find out more here:




March 18, 2015



It was 7:15pm. I was in the unenviable position of attempting to find a parking space in Canton during a football match on St Patrick’s Day. The play was to start at 7:30pm and I hadn’t even picked up my tickets yet. I’d been stuck in traffic for almost an hour… But I had faith that a bit of Jacobean comedy would make this all worthwhile.

I say comedy, but as any director of this too oft neglected text will know, Measure for Measure problematizes the notion of genre. So much so that it was given a genre of its own by Frederick Boas in 1896: ‘problem play’. Yet Measure for Measure has all the conventional tricks of early modern comedy plays. The bed trick. Disguise and deception. A family reunion. Matrimony. Structurally, Measure for Measure is as much a comedy as, say, A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Twelfth Night. But the play is hardly light comedy. It’s enveloped by Jacobean cynicism. There are pockets of darkness…

Fortunately, at 7:25pm, I found myself sitting in the front row, with time to spare…

The set was fairly simple, just as I like it. Wooden doors, rostrums etc. The music playing as audience members shuffled in reminded me of productions at the Globe theatre I’d seen on Sky Arts. The sort of sweet (contemporary) harmonies I imagine Robert Johnson composed for Shakespeare productions. Apart from the familiar Chapter stage, this felt like a Royal Shakespeare Company production. Indeed, Cardiff’s Everyman Theatre are staging this play as part of the RSC Open Stages Project. This initiative is great for amateur theatre. I’ve watched professional productions with actors who’ve yet to disrobe themselves of amateur habits. I’ve watched amateur productions with remarkably professional actors. Seeing an amateur company with professional training was an intriguing prospect.

The play opens with the Duke Vincentio (played by Brian Smith) telling his deputy, Angelo (Andreas Constantinou), that he intends to leave Vienna. This is a fib, of course, and the fantastical duke of dark corners disguises himself as a friar so that he can, like a groundling, observe his fellow actors from below. From the off Brian Smith exuded stage presence. It is easy to forget, as an audience member, how much work goes into a production like this. The duke speaks almost a third of the lines in this play. Smith’s Vincentio can be stern, he can be pitiable, he can be hilarious. It is the mark of a very good player that he clearly feels no trepidation about involving the audience with a quick glance, a cursory aside, a metatheatrical wink. I realised instantly that Vienna, and the play itself, was in good hands. Smith could pass as an RSC professional quite easily, methinks.

We progress to the streets of Vienna. I was dazzled by the range of accents, some authentic, others difficult to identify. It was rather like the Babylonian play-within-a-play in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. But dislocality pervades throughout this text, to the extent that Oxford editor Gary Taylor has argued for Thomas Middleton’s hand in changing the play’s setting from Italy to Vienna. As an ‘attribution scholar’ I am uncertain about this, and may pursue the subject myself one day if I progress in the field, but the point is that verisimilitude is not paramount in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

There are some wonderful characters on the streets of Vienna. Pompey Bum, played by the delightful Dan Burrows, who nailed every aspect of this character tour-de-force. Elbow, portrayed by Arnold Phillips, who delighted us with his hilarious malapropisms. The slanderous Lucio, played superbly by the remarkably talented Philip Jones, who wowed me not only with his twisty moustache and dangly earring but also his comic timing. Shakespeare set the precedent for Charles Dickens in his vivacious characterisation of the lower classes. We learn that Claudio (played by Henry Nott) is to be executed for impregnating Juliet (played by Amanda Lever) out of wedlock. To modern sensibilities this may seem hard to identify with, given that the players in the theatre of today are often inbred Jeremy Kyle participants. I realised that I have acted alongside most of this ensemble, and hope to act with many of them again. I was thus fully aware of their talents, but it was somewhat different watching them, like the fantastical duke, from a dark corner.

There is not a weak link in this cast, I realised.

Claudio’s sister, Isabella (played by Cari Barley, who clearly has a good ear for blank verse), learns of Claudio’s impending doom and entreats the surrogate ruler, Angelo, to save his life. The corrupt deputy tries to take advantage of this, and the first half of the play closes with what can only be described as an attempted rape of the nun. Like I said, there are pockets of darkness…

Andreas Constantinou revealed himself as reliable and industrious an actor as ever. His portrayal was remarkably sinister, but he also nailed down each and every complex trait of the antagonist. At times, I even felt sympathy for him. Shakespeare’s characterisation was often paradoxical. His villains can be heroic. The heroes villainous. Constantinou’s delivery of the famous ‘What’s this?’ monologue would be good enough for entrance into any drama school, even if it has become a frequently chosen piece for auditions. He injected refreshing viscerality and dynamism into a passage that, one could argue, has been Mistress Overdone.

Indeed, the play is satiated with some of Shakespeare’s best known aphorisms and speeches. Another such speech is Claudio’s ‘Ay, but to die’ piece. Henry Nott gave perhaps his most understated performance here. He oozed prospective professionalism, and though Claudio is more often not on stage than on, Nott really stood out. (He seemed rather serious during the bows… I cannot tell if he was still in character or not, but I think he should have permitted himself a smile for this wonderful performance!).

I must also mention Richard Watson as the drunken and dissolute Barnardine, my favourite character in the play. He clearly relished playing this comic part, and the audience loved him. He also coped remarkably well with the only first-night hiccup that I could perceive. His cell door came off, but he used this to his advantage and emphasised the poor security in his prison house, to comic avail!

The play concludes with bed tricks and revelations. It is a happy ending (though perhaps not for Angelo and Lucio). A comic ending. And yet, there’s those pockets of darkness again. For all of Isabella’s hard work in retaining her cloistered existence, she is married to the duke without a word of complaint. In this respect, the play is not unlike Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in that the resolution actually poses more problems than answers. Modern day audiences might question if Shakespeare was a sexist, a racist etc. (or, bardolatrously, speak as if he were Germaine Greer and John Lennon’s love child). But we are governed by the milieu of the century we live in. This mechanical resolution was a wee bit undermined by a nun’s (literally speaking) blessing. Nevertheless, Isabella looked rather affronted as the play closed to rapturous, well deserved, applause.

Some very minor quibbles. A couple of silent background actors pulled focus in the last scene, and some actors did not always suit their actions to their words. Their gesticulations sometimes came across as artificial, rather than spontaneous. In this respect they did not always hold a mirror up to their characters’ natures. However, despite the risk of coming across as hyperbolic, I thought this was a tremendous production. I understand Wales Online have given four stars. I’d agree. I would be tempted to give five.

It was certainly worth braving the traffic to enjoy the two hours’ traffic of the Everyman stage.


Measure for Measure at Cardiff’s Chapter – @EverymanTheatre

March 16, 2015


Everyman Theatre: Measure for Measure

By William Shakespeare

Selected by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of Open Stages 2014-16, Everyman’s production of the rarely performed Measure for Measure promises to be a rich theatrical experience. The play is a highly political drama consistent with to-day. It is considered by some to be Shakespeare’s finest comedy, as complex in its setting, as its characters; the richness of the language, reeking of power and of the hypocrisy of the state, both in the court and the low life of the brothels of Venice.

£10 (evening performances) /£8 (matinee)

The RSC Open Stages is the UK’s biggest amateur project. Having received over 150 applications across the UK, the RSC along with six partner theatres will work with the ninety selected amateur groups to support and help them to create their own RSC Open Stages productions in their own venues. Each amateur company will receive training, director mentoring, feedback and support, with the aim of transforming the relationship between amateur and professional theatre.


Find out more here.
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I'm maintaining this blog in my time as Head of English, University of Exeter. It will reflect on matters relevant to colleagues and academics elsewhere, representing in part a continuation of my associate dean's blog (http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/adesblog/). All views are my own and not necessarily those of my employer, nor my department - Andrew McRae (http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/english/staff/mcrae/; @McRaeAndrew).


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