Archive for February, 2012


The Unheard Prayer: Religious Toleration in Shakespeare’s Drama

February 27, 2012

Joseph Sterrett (who completed his PhD at Cardiff University) has a monograph forthcoming with BRILL publishers (June, 2012).

Joseph Sterrett is now Assistant Professor at Aarhus University.

The Unheard Prayer: Religious Toleration in Shakespeare’s Drama

By the time Shakespeare had become a professional playwright, England had negotiated, broadly, four tumultuous shifts in religious orientation within living memory: Henry VIII’s initial break with the Roman Church, an intensification of Protestant doctrine under Edward VI, an arguably more intense reactionary restoration of the Roman faith under Mary, and the re-establishment of Protestant religion under Elizabeth I. Among the various practical manifestations of each of these shifts was an inevitable change in the regulation of the manner and method of prayer. Quite apart from the question of whether one’s prayers were efficacious or not, prayer was a performance that announced to one’s neighbours where one’s religious sympathies lay, if not one’s religious identity. In many ways prayer itself became a text that was read, scrutinized, and interpreted as an indication of one’s loyalty to the state, which is to say, the very person of the monarch. It offered one more parallel, should one be needed, between the God to whom one appealed in prayer, and the monarch who rhetorically assumed a similar position as head of the English church. And it became the underlying challenge that derived from a commonplace irony, where those who were accused of practicing unsound religion protested the compatibility of their beliefs with their loyalty to the crown, a point which in effect argued for the separation of religious policy from the polity of state.
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Shakespeare Inside-out in Lancaster

February 24, 2012

British Shakespeare Association
10th Anniversary Conference
24-26 February, 2012


Elizabeth Ford and Richard Wilson from Cardiff University will be taking part in the British Shakespeare Association Conference in Lancaster this weekend.



(SUNDAY 26th)

Panel 39: ‘Clowning’ Workshop and paper (2.00 pm – 3.30 pm, Studio A29 LICA Building)

Chair: Steve Longstaffe

Placing and Spacing the Clown: Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Elizabeth Ford, Cardiff University.

It is generally accepted that the clown role of Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona was added to the play for the actor Will Kemp. Kemp/Launce operates chiefly in the intermediate space of the on-stage area identified by Robert Weimann as the ‘platea’, and is associated by most critics with the residual features of festive ‘clownage’ still at large in the early 1590s. But along with his ‘cur’, Crab, Launce also acts as a burlesque parallel to the themes of love and friendship in the wider play.  The role, therefore, explores but also joins the liminal space of performance between stage and yard in popular Elizabethan theatre, providing Shakespeare with a ludic prototype for a host of clowns and fools to come.  Kemp’s Launce instils Shakespeare’s first comedy with an experimental performative edge – one which shines through Ralph Crane’s literary mediation of the play for inclusion in the First Folio.  In this paper, I will show how the only early extant text of the work captures Kemp’s performance, and how the transitory and evolving spaces of clown and author can be glimpsed behind the Folio’s static textuality.


(SUNDAY 26th)

Panel 24: Shakespeare and I (10.00 am – 11.30 am Conference Centre Room 1) Chair: Ramona Wray

Panel leaders: Will McKenzie (Birkbeck, London) Theodora Papadopoulou (University of Cyprus)

Participants: Simon Palfrey (Brasenose College, Oxford University) Richard Wilson (Cardiff University) Phil Davis (University of Liverpool) Paul Edmondson (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).

The aim of this panel is to bring together for discussion some of the contributors to the collection of essays Shakespeare and I (in press to be published by Continuum in early 2012).The book, part of Continuum’s innovative, provocative Shakespeare NOW! series, strives to advance a new, active, self-invested critical writing; it challenges its contributors and readers to explore their deepest, most intimate responses to the plays and poems. Shakespeare and I argues passionately that critical writing must assay the difficult task of articulating life-forging, life-changing effects of literary art: that these irreducibly personal, formative (and transformative) experiences are a legitimate, if not essential, object for critical writing.

The BSA conference provides an ideal forum for discussion of the book and the living, breathing kind of critical thought and practice it presents. The contributors to the book assembled here do not only consider how aesthetic experience’s fierce energy mocks feeble boundaries of ‘subject’ and ‘object’, ‘inner’ and ‘outer’, ‘play’ and ‘playgoer’, ‘text’ and ‘reader’; they have also, much more riskily, turned themselves ‘inside out’ by publishing in this avowedly autobiographical critical text something of their own sense and intuition of themselves. The panel seeks to explore the consequences of such a step. After presenting a small extract from their essay, the contributors will each be asked to reflect on the difficulties, lessons, even pleasures, of writing it. How did the exercise change their perspectives on Shakespeare, criticism or, indeed, on themselves? In the general discussion which follows, we would hope to stimulate a thoughtful discussion on the value of self-investment in any literary consideration of Shakespeare, and the new formal shapes for criticism that this might necessitate and entail.



King Lear at The Tobacco Factory

February 23, 2012

One of the pinnacles of world drama, and Shakespeare’s greatest masterpiece, King Lear is the most complete account we have of what it is – and what it is not – to be human.

The play launched Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory on an unsuspecting world in February 2000; the company is delighted to offer this new production to a much larger audience in 2012. 

King Lear is played by John Shrapnel.

Directed by Andrew Hilton
Designed by Harriet de Winton

John Shrapnel is a commanding actor with a long and enviable track record in both theatre and film. He has a huge raft of work with The National Theatre from Olivier’s days to Hytner’s, played in films for Warner Brothers, Dreamworks and Working Title and has worked extensively in Television and Radio. He recently played Gloucester opposite Pete Postlethwaite in Rupert Goold’s Liverpool Production.

Andrew Hilton’s commanding production … is once again a revelationElizabeth Mahoney, The Guardian, on 2011’s Richard II

One of the finest productions of Shakespeare – or any other playwright for that matter – seen in Bristol in yearsToby O’Connor Morse, The Independent, on the 2000 production of King Lear

Please note since first announced there has been a change to the casting. See Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s website for more details.

See the youtube video about the production here:


You can still catch Coriolanus at Cardiff’s Chapter

February 19, 2012

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can still catch Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus at Chapter in Cardiff. It includes a stunning performance by Vanessa Redgrave and the film isn’t as “action packed” as the trailers make out.

Monday, 20 February 2012 20:00 Cinema 1

Tuesday, 21 February 2012 17:45 Cinema 1

Wednesday, 22 February 2012 20:00 Cinema 1

Thursday, 23 February 2012 14:30 Cinema 1

Thursday, 23 February 2012 17:45 Cinema 1

Is Coriolanus Shakespeare’s Greatest Tragedy?


The Merchant of Venice in Cardiff: A Quick Review

February 13, 2012

I was lucky enough to catch The Merchant of Venice at The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff last Saturday. Here’s a quick review.

The Programme Note begins poignantly:

“This is a funny old play – though perhaps more funny peculiar than funny ha ha. The history of anti-Semitism, culminating in the Nazi atrocities, means that we view the play from an angle Shakespeare could not have anticipated or intended.”

The production brought a new verve and brittle dynamism to one of Shakespeare’s often performed plays. It was unashamedly modern. Happy to take what it wanted from the text and play with it, the performance occasionally intercepted the letter but kept to the spirit of the play. This bore fruit in the confidence of the dialogue and staging. Nearly everyone wore business suits, reminding the audience that finance was not just a social concern for those on the Rialto four hundred years ago.

The twelve-strong cast used the stage of the Richard Burton Theatre with great assurance. Adam Skeats nearly stole the show with a charming and ridiculous Launcelot Gobbo, pandering to the audience whenever he could. However, Shakepeare’s “comedy” is rarely just about laughs. James Peake balanced his portrayal of Shylock on a knife-edge: part stop-at-nothing revenger and part isolated scapegoat. Bassanio (Eric Kofi Abrefa), with his sack of of cash during the court case, belonged in the world of Plan B – Gratiano (Dafydd Llyr Thomas) might have been Ben Drew. Gillian Saker’s Portia, with her side-kick Jessica Hayles as a fun-loving Nerissa, confidently arranged proceedings, becoming a cruel puppet master over Shylock after her endearing behaviour earlier on in the play.

Rain fell over the stage sporadically in a strip from the heavens promising disappointments and perhaps a sinister cleansing. Besides this, the play’s staging incorporated a number of innovations that worked to make the audience part of the play’s action. After the interval, the Duke, with his assistants, presided over the law court, judging from high up in the upper circle of the theatre. Strip-lights and microphones descended for Shylock and an introverted unflinching Antonio (Edward Killingback) centre stage, while Shylock himself entered with clinical tools on a hospital trolley for his surgical procedure. This staging included the audience terribly, making them potential witnesses to a murder, and awkwardly complicit in the bullying of Shylock.

Jamie Garven’s direction of The Merchant of Venice brought intelligence and vigour to a profoundly disturbing play. The performance managed to be “funny peculiar” and, at times, “funny ha ha”, but its final moments brought the play to an unexpected finale. After the corny celebrations in Belmont, Shylock’s daughter Jessica (the petite Non Haf) was left caught in the rain in her little yellow Mac. Not singing, but dumbfounded. She stood silently alone onstage, looking at the letter which had told Belmont of her father’s financial and human collapse.

Robert Smith’s single muted trumpet played with a Miles Davies world-weariness, providing the soundtrack to the play – memorably an uncannily appropriate “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. Like the music, the play was stylish and often moody, but it begged the audience to reflect on who and what belongs in “our” society.

Johann Gregory (Cardiff University)


The Merchant of Venice played from Feb 7th until Feb 11th, 2012.

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama:

Images from:


Fabler Shakespeare Readers in Cardiff: Macbeth

February 11, 2012

Fabler Shakespeare Readers is a community arts engagement project devised and facilitated by Adam Timms. In 2007, a small group of individuals commenced reading the complete works of Shakespeare above a cafe in Canton, Cardiff. In 2008 the group moved to Chapter arts centre, its current home, and the popularity of the group grew enormously. We regularly involved groups of around 20-30 individuals from the local community – theatre-goers, Shakespeare fans, academics, newcomers, actors, directors, writers – all are welcome! In December 2010 we will complete the first cycle of Shakespeare’s sole-authored works, with out reading of The Tempest. 2011 will see the launch of Fabler Theatre Company and our next phase of readings!”


Sunday February 12th, 2012, 6.30pm, Media Point, Chapter, Cardiff.

(Cost: £3 on the door)

Chapter Arts Centre, Market Road, Canton, Cardiff

For more information about Fabler projects click here.


The Merchant of Venice: Opening Night in Cardiff

February 7, 2012


Richard Burton Company presents
The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jamie Garven

Tuesday 7 – Saturday 11 February 7.15pm
Matinee Wed 8 February 2.30pm

To win Portia’s hand Bassanio must prove his worth, but his lavish Venetian lifestyle has left him deeply in debt. He turns to his friend Antonio for help. Shylock offers Antonio a loan but demands a pound of flesh in return if it is not repaid in time. So the fairytale becomes a nightmare.

What price Mercy in a world obsessed by profit and poisoned with hatred?

Venue: Richard Burton Theatre

Tickets: £10, £8 concessions

Please note that we recommend that this production is suitable for audiences aged 14+ as it may contain strong language, violent scenes and scenes of a sexual nature. 

Find out more here:

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