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Cardiff’s @Mark_Truesdale reflects on his new book The King and Commoner Tradition

February 26, 2018

9780815364764Having shared the corridors of the Cardiff School of English, Communication and Philosophy with Dr Mark Truesdale for a number of years, I was interested in how he thought his book had emerged from this milieu. @DrJ_Gregory

In this blog post Mark reflects on just that:

While studying for my MA at Cardiff University, I developed a keen interest in politicised readings of medieval outlaw tales while also being fascinated by the fools of early modern drama and their relationship with those in power. This left me rather torn as to what direction to pursue for my PhD. Fortunately, at this crossroads Stephen Knight introduced me to the ‘King and Commoner’ tale of King Edward and the Shepherd (c. 1400-1450) in which several of these interests seemed to intersect. Here was a comic tale of a forest-dwelling trickster who critiques the court’s abuses, poaches the king’s deer and encounters a disguised monarch. The late-medieval tradition it comes from abounds with incognito kings and commoner carnival feasting in upside-down worlds, interrogating class relations against a backdrop of court oppression and proto-panoptical surveillance.

Scouring archives and ballad collections over the following years, I discovered that this somewhat neglected tradition was surprisingly widespread, with tales stretching from the tenth century to the nineteenth century. It also boasts an extensive cultural influence that happens to include shaping the early Robin Hood tradition and providing the literary foundation for early modern disguised ruler plays (or more generally the ‘mingling of Kinges and Clownes’, as Sidney puts it); Shakespeare was a particularly enthusiastic fan, adapting the motif for several plays. My monograph emerged from this research. It explores the tradition’s fifteenth-century poems and sixteenth- to eighteenth-century ballads and chapbooks, charting its gradually morphing political character. It also provides extensive appendices to provide context, summarising the medieval tradition’s earlier incarnations and analogues, as well as some of its most notable appearances in early modern drama and beyond.

Cardiff University provided a perfect base from which to study. My research is indebted to a wonderfully supportive community of medieval and early modern academics, as well as departmental funds to present my research at a variety of conferences and visit libraries/archives elsewhere. At Cardiff, I was also lucky to have access to an extensive library manned by hugely helpful librarians. Within ENCAP, I am particularly grateful to Rob Gossedge and Stephen Knight for supervising my PhD thesis, but must also thank Carl Phelpstead, Helen Phillips, Megan Leitch and Martin Coyle, as well as many fellow postgraduate students for providing insightful and helpful comments or advice throughout the course of my research.

The King and Commoner Tradition: Carnivalesque Politics in Medieval and Early Modern Literature was published this year in the Routledge series, ‘Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture’. Find out more from the Routledge website. Follow Mark on twitter at @Mark_Truesdale.




Richard III Redux: Save the date

February 3, 2018

Richard III.jpg

An exciting production touring Wales this March will be a new take on Shakespeare’s Richard III. The production asks:

In this reimagining of Shakespeare’s Richard III, how does the story change, the character change, the body change, the acting change, when explored by a disabled actress with deadly comic timing and a dislike of horses? How do previous star vehicle Richards measure up to this reimagined Richard?

Follow Sara Beer and Kaite O’Reilly on twitter for more, and visit Kaite’s blog here. For the Cardiff Shakespeare review of Richard III at the Royal Welsh College last year, see here. On ‘Richard III and staging disability’, visit the British Library website here. Those with access to English Studies can also view a recent article on Richard III and ‘Performing Disability’ (Let me know if you don’t have access but would like to read it @DrJ_Gregory).



Next MEMORI seminar: Derek Dunne on ‘Shakespeare’s Licence’, Nov 16 at 5.15, room 2.47

November 13, 2017

Cardiff University’s Medieval and Early Modern Research Initiative is delighted to announce our next research seminar, which is to be given by one of our newest members and colleagues, Derek Dunne.

Cardiff Medieval and Early Modern Research Initiative

Cardiff University’s Medieval and Early Modern Research Initiative is delighted to announce our next research seminar, which is to be given by one of our newest members and colleagues, Derek Dunne.

Derek’s paper – ‘Shakespeare’s Licence: Counterfeiting Authority in Early Modern England’ – will take place on Thursday, November 16 at 5.15 in room 2.47 of the John Percival Building. As ever, a wine and soft drink reception will follow the paper.

ABSTRACT: Shakespeare’s Licence: Counterfeiting Authority in Early Modern Literature

This talk will argue for the impact that licencing has had on the composition of early modern literature. Early modern playing companies required separate licences for performing a play, going on tour, printing a playtext, and for the theatre itself. Without the Master of the Revels’ signature, no performance of early modern drama could take place. Yet early modern licences are also open to forgery and counterfeiting, as detailed in…

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November 10, 2017



Clock Tower Theatre Company began in 2013, conceived by executive producer Steve Bennett and associate artist Minty Booth. They have been running the theatre company for eighteen months, achieving their aim of giving creatives a platform to perform for Cardiff audiences. Their latest venture, a short play written by James Sarson and directed by Miriam Dorfner, ‘Bread’, was thoroughly enjoyable.

‘Bread’ was rendered enjoyable by a concoction of ideal ingredients: good writing, good direction and good casting. The play concerns two women awaiting the apocalypse, their supplies diminishing as they muse on how the end will come: a big bang, hellfire, sudden blackness? The stage was cluttered with cardboard boxes, a table laden with cans of beans and peaches, wine glasses and a bucket concealing a dead rat (which enabled Woman One to soliloquise while retaining a sense of realism). It was a claustrophobic set, exacerbated by the fact that audience members were huddled into the cramped coffee house. I myself had possibly the worst seat in the house, pressed against the wall, a potted plant tickling sweet nothings in my left ear. But this helped create the perfect ambience: a small room (possibly a kitchen or living room), two lonely survivors with no-one but each other for company, the audience essentially voyeurs. Sarson’s script was replete with plenty of humour, but he was also adept at emotive language, a passage concerning reminiscences of a kiss under an umbrella rich with sensory description, but avoiding a lapse into purple prose.

The lead actors were excellent. Faebian Averies gave a very naturalistic, understated performance, while Seren Vickers played an edgier character, displaying considerable emotional range. Also, their chemistry on stage was tangible, and there were times when I couldn’t tell if their dialogue was scripted or extemporised, so engaging and believable was their repartee.

The two related memories, which they had been stockpiling in case they ran out of conversation. Some of these memories were fond, such as the moment in which Averies’s character recalled her mother making bread. However, the two characters realised that their memories were often rose-tinted, even artificial; the bread wasn’t handmade. Dialogue concerning supermarket stalls demonstrated how much we take for granted, including such luxuries as fruit and (tubes of) yoghurt. The audience nervously awaited the apocalypse. No idea why the end of the world was approaching. We learned that the sky now resembled rust, that people had to wear gas masks outside, that tigers had become extinct. Sarson refused to satiate our desire for epistemophilia, which created an air of mystery that allowed us to focus primarily on his well-drawn characters, rather than an overarching apocalyptic narrative. The play concluded with a harrowing speech, an ordeal Averies’s character had recently gone through, the way her primal urges had taken over. The audience were silent, completely engaged by Averies’s delivery and Vickers’s reactions. And then, the characters reverted to the humour with which they had begun the play. Life is too short, after all.

The clock was counting down for these two characters but, judging by the talent on display here, Clock Tower Theatre Company have a bright future ahead of them.


“That excellent grand tyrant”: A Review of Richard III, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Thursday 19 October–Saturday 28 October

October 22, 2017


richard-iii-web-fin RWCMD

Richard III is an early Shakespeare play, probably written just a couple of years into his career as an actor-dramatist, in which Shakespeare provides a perfect infusion of dramatic elements borrowed and refined from contemporaries such as Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, and George Peele. In these times of political and economic ambiguity, in which monsters seem to have gained power through uncertain means, it is apt that Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama should put on a production concerning a warped Machiavellian villain, whose theatrical predecessors include Kyd’s Lorenzo and Marlowe’s Barabas.

As is characteristic of many Richard III productions, this version began with the end scenes from Henry VI Part Three, in which King Henry VI (Lewis Cope) is executed by Richard (Sam John). The production started with a bang, quite literally, as Richard put a bullet in the incarcerated king. Richard III is a notoriously long play, but this version was edited appropriately, and the breakneck speed of the scene transitions was dazzling. Richard was swiftly plotting against anyone who stood in the way of his procuration of the crown, all at once disturbing audience members with his bloody complots, while, paradoxically, recruiting them for his cause through wry humour. Richard is a wonderful role that most actors would surely relish (I know I would!), and I must take my hat off to Sam John. His Richard was believable, naturalistic, the grand iambic speeches resembling covert conversations behind closed political doors. Richard is very much a metatheatrical figure, and thus it was difficult to begrudge John the odd theatrical wink, such as when he began reciting Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech, or introduced the odd expletive and interpolation, such as, ‘huggy times’. As any good Richard should, John had the audience in his pocket, formulating evil plans with a clenched gloved hand, transitioning from a black leg brace to a golden one, manipulating us and the characters with whom he shared the stage.

Before long, he was organising the murder of his brother Clarence (played by the mellifluous Justin Davies), in a scene that, it seems to me, is heavily dependent on Scene Nineteen of Thomas Kyd’s The True Chronicle History of King Leir (one of Shakespeare’s most important sources), as the murderers vacillated over the killing before throttling Clarence to death. Thomas Dylan gave a very assured performance as the ruffian Murderer 1 and Tyrrell, and director Joe Murphy made the admirable decision of ensuring he had as much stage time as possible. With King Edward (Javen K. Crosby) and his sons out of the way, the bunch-backed villain (a historically inaccurate portrayal of Richard’s character, largely derived from Holinshed) was mounting a campaign to be regarded as true heir to the throne. This production injected plenty of humour into Shakespeare’s play, including black comedy, as Richard’s faction tossed a decapitated head about like a rugby ball, and modern humour, such as Tyrrell’s allusion to the Harry Potter franchise. The scene in which Richard pretended to be holy and virtuous in the presence of the Mayor (Lewis Coster) and Archbishop (Davies) was ridiculous, its ridiculousness exacerbated by the use of a fake beard, but we are accustomed to the absurd in modern politics: take Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention speech for instance, or the battle for worst hairdo between President Trump and his North Korean counterpart. Such scenes demonstrated how fickle the public can be in times of uncertainty, how easily manipulated.

Tyrants must fall. Richard’s abuse of power soon became apparent, as Buckingham (played by the excellent Franchi Webb) could testify. Richard was readying himself for battle, but not before a powerful confrontation with ex-Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare’s rapid-fire stichomythic dialogue (another device he seems to have largely adopted from Kyd) can seem strange to modern ears, but the scene between John and Roxy Swart was electric. Similarly, Shakespeare’s rhetorical flourishes in the Senecan Chorus-like lamentations of the three women, Elizabeth, the Duchess of York (Foxey Hardman), and Margaret (Luciana Trapman) can seem archaic to modern audiences, but the scene, which emphasises the fulfilment of Margaret’s prophecies, was played with alacrity and ease.

Time was running out for Richard. This was emphasised by the noise of a ticking clock (indeed, the Sound Designer, Euan Foster, deserves a pat on the back for the choice of ominous music and sound throughout the production). Richard was isolated, acknowledging that he was a villain (‘with tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect’; John peaked with his superb delivery of this speech), haunted by all of his victims. Having Richard alone throughout the Battle of Bosworth, accompanied by a cacophony of voices, was a wise directorial decision that highlighted his isolation.

The king was dead. Long live the new king (Richmond, played by Cope; this use of doubling gave the play a truly cyclical feel). The actors bowed to rapturous applause, and I braved Storm Brian back to my car, delighted with what was a truly special performance. An audience member’s voice cut through the tempestuous gusts: ‘The set was excellent!’ Hannah Page’s set really was excellent, enabling the actors to operate on many levels, allowing the audience to see battlefields and streets and palaces and dungeons in our minds’ eyes, and all this was helped by Samuel Child-Cavill’s commendable use of lighting, from the appearance of a giant red rose before the actors graced the stage, which resembled a bloody thumbprint (England was very much under the tyrant’s thumb), to the hazy, spectral figures of Richard’s victims near the end of the production. It is a pity that our own political landscape should house such tyrants.

Anyone interested in Shakespeare, or political intrigue; anyone who is a fan of great theatre, of action, of black comedy; anyone who seeks to find future stars in the constellations of the film and theatre business, should go and see this wonderful production.



Shakespeare’s Richard III: @RWCMD Cardiff

September 25, 2017

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama consistently provide thought-provoking and engaging stagings of Shakespeare’s plays – well worth going to check this out:

Thursday 19 October – Saturday 28 October 7.15pm
Matinee Wednesday 25 October 2.30pm
No performances Sun & Mon
BSL interpreted performance on Saturday 28 October. Interpreted by Julie Doyle.

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Joe Murphy

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain. 

Named the most fascinating historical figure in a poll last year of British historians and the public, Richard III continues to provoke debate. Shakespeare’s brutal play portrays him as a ruthless, power hungry villain, who will stop at nothing to gain the throne occupied by his brother.

Venue: Richard Burton Theatre

Tickets: £13, £11 concessions, Under 25s £6

Find out more



‘Do Not Go Gentle’: Everyman Theatre and The Drill Hall. Friday 8th September at Chapter Arts Centre.

September 16, 2017



Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius’s award-winning ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ depicts five elderly people nearing the end of the journey that is their lives. The characters embody different aspects of Dylan Thomas’s famous villanelle, from which the play’s title derives: wise men, good men, wild men, and grave men. Moreover, the characters’ journey, which takes place in a nursing home, interweaves original dialogue with Robert Scott’s diary accounts of his ill-fated Antarctic expedition. Each role is rich in characterisation, and Cornelius gives us an insight into pasts that they can only vaguely recall, such as problematic marriages, loving husbands no longer recognised by their wives, and the devastating effects of post-traumatic stress disorder induced by the Vietnam War, whilst simultaneously exploring the effects of dementia and the politics of care. The script is heart-warming, shocking, thought-provoking, and hilarious, seemingly discordant ingredients that result in a very fine play, if cast and directed right.

Fortunately, this production was indeed very well cast and directed. Ray Thomas and his actors and crew have embarked on one of the most ambitious undertakings in Everyman Theatre Company’s rich history, involving members from Wales and Australia. The joint cast – Cate Feldmann, Susan Gallagher, Owen Trevor-Jones, Max Donati, and Greg Aitken from The Drill Hall in Mullumbimby, and Geraint Dixon, Rosy Greenwood, Peter Harding-Roberts, and Arnold Phillips, from Everyman, Cardiff – worked perfectly, with not a weak link to be found. The on-stage relationships between them were eminently believable, and the actors tickled funny bones and pulled at heartstrings in almost equal measure.

Geraint Dixon played Scott, who narrated the expedition throughout with dulcet Welsh tones, while offering audience members the odd glimpse of a man behind the historical figure, nearing his end and lamenting his failures. Peter Harding-Roberts was hilarious as the bombastic Evans, very much representing a wild man who, for much of the play, raged against the dying light, which made his ending all the more poignant. Rosy Greenwood played the occasionally scandalous role of Wilson; she was engaging and warm throughout, and stole hearts with ease. Cate Feldman’s performance as Bowers was particularly touching, for she refused to acknowledge that she had lost her way and could no longer recognise her husband, played by Arnold Phillips, who also gave a beautifully understated performance. No less poignant were the interpretations of Owen Trevor-Jones as Oates and Max Donati as his son, Peter, victims of war and suicide. The confrontation between these two was especially effective.

Moreover, director Thomas and professional designer Ruth Stringer made great use of the depth and breadth of the Chapter Arts Centre stage, with white drapes, resembling all at once bedclothes, icy crevices, and the Terra Nova sails, helping to convey at various points a hostile landscape and a laundry room. Additionally, the judicious use of lighting, primarily white, with hints of blue, reflected both the metaphorical Antarctic expedition and the nursing home interior. The stage also resembled a raised ice-field platform, with suggestions of white tiled flooring and other features added to it, such as ski tracks. The actors remained in character throughout proceedings, often sitting stage right, drinking cups of tea, or preparing for the next leg of their journey.

The play’s conclusion felt tragic in many respects, as Wilson’s husband (played by Greg Aitken) turned up and we realised that the relationship between her and Scott was not as it seemed. With only Scott left on stage, he was given a choice of walking into a palely shining light and exiting stage left, or raging against that dying light. Needless to say, he exited stage right, and thus concluded a wonderful piece of ambitious theatre. The production’s Cardiff journey is now over, but it will resume at the Memo Arts Centre, Barry, on 16th September, and The Savoy, Tonyrefail, 29th September.

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