‘Nature’s Fragile Vessel’: Journal article by @DrJ_Gregory

August 4, 2017

My journal article on ‘”Nature’s Fragile Vessel”: Rethinking approaches to material culture in literature’ has been published this week ‘Online First’ and will be in the next issue of Cahiers Élisabéthains: A Journal of English Renaissance Studies.


The notion of fragility is a pervasive one in Western culture. Considering its appearance in early modern texts can help us to understand the history of fragility, as an idea, metaphor and feeling. The relationship between humans and breakable things is used as a metaphor that recognizes human limitations in body or mind. This essay begins with one peculiar instance of fragility from Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens before analysing other examples in early modern culture. It ends by making a few tentative propositions regarding the relationships between literature, material culture and the representations of human fragility.

Read the article (open access)

As well as reading the one instance in Shakespeare’s work where the word ‘fragile’ is used, the essay considers other early modern writing and paintings. I’m especially interested in the way that people are described in literature as being fragile like an object, whether that object is a ship at sea, or a fragile vase on the edge of a table.

The essay is partly me working out my next steps in this area for a larger project, as well as being an attempt to negotiate the scholarly field as it relates to material culture and object-studies, the idea of the human, and the (now, not so recent) turn to the study of literature and the emotions. It seems to me that these three areas are highly contested and fraught with different priorities, perspectives, and concerns; but these three interdisciplinary research foci still have huge potential in terms of developing new research methodologies, research impact (outside of academia), and, of course, thinking about our engagement with literature.

I’d welcome any comments. My contact details are on my profile page.

Four Ages of Man (national gallery)

The Four Ages of Man (Valentin de Boulogne)

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Early Modern English Domestic Tragedy, Special Issue of Early Modern Literary Studies

August 2, 2017

Exciting journal special issue call for papers

Early English Drama & Performance

Early Modern English Domestic Tragedy, A special issue of Early Modern Literary Studies
Deadline for submissions: September 1, 2017

Essays of c. 7000 words are invited for a special issue of Early Modern Literary Studieson domestic tragedy.  Possible topics might include individual plays (e.g. Arden of FavershamA Warning for Fair WomenThe English TravellerA Woman Killed with KindnessThe Miseries of Enforced MarriageTwo Lamentable Tragedies); lost domestic tragedies (e.g. Keep the Widow Waking); the genre as a whole; domestic tragedy and print culture; domestic tragedy and material culture –(props, clothing, trade and domestic objects); editing or teaching domestic tragedies; domestic tragedy in performance; domestic tragedy and tragic subjectivity; domestic tragedy and power, gender, and/or local and national identities;  and the relationship between domestic tragedy and classical conceptions of tragedy (does Othello, for instance, have a claim…

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‘Good things of day’: A Review of Everyman Theatre’s Macbeth 20th–29th July 2017.

July 22, 2017



Macbeth is a mystery. Despite being one of Shakespeare’s most revered tragedies, the sole extant text found in the 1623 Folio appears to derive from a performance version that heavily cuts Shakespeare’s lost manuscript and incorporates stage cues for songs from Thomas Middleton’s The Witch, who may or may not have been the reviser of the play. The conjectured cuts (perhaps as much as a quarter of Shakespeare’s original) and perceived lacunae lend the play considerable interpretative flexibility in terms of both criticism and performance. Such flexibility is apt for a play that revolves around the eponymous character’s interpretation of a tenebrous prophecy. One question we might ask ourselves, for instance, is how many children do the Macbeths have, and where are they now?

This unanswerable question was touched upon in the opening of Everyman Theatre’s production of Macbeth, when the three witches clutched dolls in their hands, although the use of props could equally be regarded as alluding to the play’s obsession with infanticide. The witches dashed these dolls’ brains in during the play’s opening, which anticipated Macbeth’s (played by Steve Smith) gruesome execution at the hands of Macduff (David O’rourke) a couple of hours later. The witches, from the play’s opening to this production’s cyclical ending, were stunning. Sexy and yet terrifying. Childishly mischievous and yet terribly destructive. The audience were mesmerised by the performances of Lorna Prichard, Victoria Walters and Rebecca Baines, who were far steeped in spellbinding characterisation. One must commend the movement work of Emma-Jayne Parker. The moment in which Macbeth visits the sisters was perhaps the highlight of the play, with the supernatural potency of a scene from the great horror flick, The Exorcist, emphasised by some neat lighting and auditory tricks. These witches were present throughout the performance, casting evil eyes over unfolding events and helping with scene transitions (their method of resurrecting corpses was entrancing and, in terms of exits, very useful!). From a scholarly perspective, I was delighted that director Simon H. West retained the Hecate scenes, which are almost always cut, and which add little to the plot, while seeming metrically anomalous in terms of their incorporation of rhyming trochaic octosyllabics. The scene totally worked: it satiated the audience’s desire for as much Weyard Sister action as possible, while showcasing the talents of Sarah Green as the ominous deity; Green also provided the most entertaining interpretation of Lady Macduff I have seen in performance.

Indeed, the supporting cast were all excellent, from Shaun Bryan as the darkly humorous Seyton (a role I once played myself for Everyman), as well as the Porter; to Elin Haf Edwards as Lennox; to Helen Randall, who made an easy transition from the heartwarming Juliet of last year’s Shakespeare production to steely Ross here. As a whole, the leading actors were also solid. James Pritchard made for an eminently likeable Banquo, while Beshlie Thorp was racy, charismatic and manipulative, but also evinced considerable acting chops as the guilt-stricken Lady Macbeth in later scenes. The weather was gruesome, and the actors did marvellously well to adapt their performances to the lashing rain (as well as the chorus of drunken voices in Sophia Gardens), which led to a wonderful moment of comic timing in the line preceding Banquo’s assassination: ‘It will rain tonight’. The rain might have had something to do with one of just two criticisms I have of this production (the other being that some difficulties with diction led to a few of the play’s most famous lines being garbled, though one can understand that having to memorise so many lines can present difficulties in the early stages of a show’s run), in that the concluding fight scenes could do with being tightened up, as some demonstrably air-trenching punches dispelled the theatrical illusion somewhat. I hope the cast and crew won’t begrudge me these relatively minor quibbles.

Thus, the rain seemed to cause problems, while, paradoxically, contributing to the tragic ambience. The set itself was ideal, allowing the actors to circumnavigate on several levels, whilst making the audience wonder what lay beyond the main entrance and its bloody handprints. A sign reading ‘Blood will have blood’ immediately caught the eye, and this production did not shirk away from the macabre, with highlights of morose delectation including the burning of Lady Macduff and her young children, and Thomas Easton chain sawing his way through enemies in the role of Caithness. One could be forgiven for considering the annual open air performances to be family friendly. This Macbeth was anything but; the bashing and dashing of children’s dolls in the opening moments said it all. The director and his cast took risks, and they paid off. It was an engrossing, thoroughly enjoyable performance of high-quality, and I have come to expect nothing less from this company. Now that Everyman Theatre has flirted with the macabre, I wonder if they might take a further risk next year and put on a performance of Shakespeare and George Peele’s Titus Andronicus? Critically derided for centuries, that play has experienced a resurgence, and I can think of few better venues to experience the shocking mutilation of Shakespeare’s heroine (and the subsequent acts of direful revenge), screened by the trees of a darksome forest just beyond the city’s centre. After all: ‘Blood will have blood’, they say.





Shakespeare performances in Cardiff and nearby this summer

June 30, 2017

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There seems to be so much Shakespeare lined up for the summer it’s difficult to keep track. However, I’m going to have a quick look about and see what I can collect together here. Please let me know if I’ve missed anything and I can add it.

We don’t have anyone lined up to review these, so if you are interested please get in touch with me.

Some of the productions detailed below are playing elsewhere and fairly nearby too. Just follow the links on the play titles to find out more.


Wednesday 5 July A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Ballet Cymru at Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl

Wednesday 5 July The Tempest
Taking Flight Theatre Production in Newport (2pm and 7pm)


Thursday & Friday, 6-7 July The Comedy of Errors
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men at Cardiff Castle (Gates open 6.30pm)

Friday 7 July The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Festival Players at Caerleon Amphitheater, near Newport (7.30pm)


Thursday & Friday 13-14 July Richard III
Showcase Performing Arts at Redhouse, Merthyr Tydfil (7pm)

Friday 14 July The Taming of the Shrew
Heartbreak Productions at Chepstow Castle (7.30pm)

Saturday 15 July A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Fringe Theatre Festival, YMCA, Cardiff (2-3pm)

Sunday 23 July Twelfth Night
Everyman Youth production in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff (7.30pm)

20-29 July Macbeth
Everyman production in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff (Saturday at 3pm, and otherwise 8pm; no Sundays)

Saturday 29 July The Tempest
Taking Flight Theatre Production in Cardiff (Noon)

Sunday 30 July The Tempest
Taking Flight Theatre Production in Penarth (4pm)


Illyria TheatreSaturday 5 August The Comedy of Errors
Illyria production in Abergavenny (7pm)

Join our Cardiff Shakespeare Facebook group here.


Taking Flight Theatre @takingflightco : The Tempest

June 8, 2017

Clean-Tempest-Poster banner

Taking Flight Theatre return, this time with their unique take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Join the Magic Staff Liner Corporation and indulge yourself with a jaunt on the newest addition to their fleet- their number one luxury ocean liner, The Remembrance.  Let their crew take care of your every worry, your every woe on their 10 year anniversary cruise to the Island that Time Forgot.

Expect lots of laughs, physical comedy, live original music and most of all expect the unexpected.

This performance has live integrated BSL interpretation and audio description. Touch tours and BSL introductions are available by arrangement- please contact beth@takingflighttheatre.co.uk or on 07785 947823 to discuss this, or any other access requirement.

This is an outdoor performance so please wrap up warm and bring your brolly/sun cream/blanket/travel chair!

Performance dates: 

Thursday 8th, Friday 9th, Saturday 10th performances in Thompson’s Park. Audience to meet at the Romilly Road entrance.

Sunday 18th performance in Roath Park. Audience to meet at the conservatory entrance.

Read our review of last year’s Shakespeare production.

Visit the Taking Flight website, book tickets, and find out about their performances outside of Cardiff too.


Losing the Plot: Reflections on the Thomas Nashe Symposium

May 26, 2017


On May 20th 2017 I had the pleasure and privilege of attending a symposium on Thomas Nashe at Shakespeare’s Globe. It was wonderful to spend a day discussing the exuberant dramatist and pamphleteer. The papers were thought-provoking and I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with some colleagues, and meeting in the flesh, as ’twere, scholars whose work I have long admired. I am very excited for the significant, forthcoming six volumes of Thomas Nashe’s work being published by Oxford University Press (further information on this critical edition can be found here: https://research.ncl.ac.uk/thethomasnasheproject/).

Of all the excellent papers delivered at this event, Matthew Dimmock’s piqued my interest in particular, for he discussed the authorship of Dido, Queen of Carthage. Dimmock considered some reasons why the play has been seen as anomalous in Christopher Marlowe’s canon, and explored the ways in which Nashe might have had a hand in the text. Nashe’s name appears alongside Marlowe’s on the 1594 Quarto title page, but scholars since the early nineteenth century have regarded the play as being almost entirely by Marlowe; they have debated the extent to which Nashe contributed, and indeed whether he contributed at all. Some scholars have explored dramatic inconsistencies in the text, characterization, vocabulary, use of sources, and so forth, in order to suggest that the play was composed by two authorial hands. Others have argued that Nashe merely made a few superficial changes and prepared the play for the printers. Modern attributionists often attempt to identify co-authors’ writing stints, and they do this for a variety of reasons: yes, to give each playwright credit (we might note that Aston Cokayne complained in 1658 that the 1647 Folio of John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont’s works did not ‘give to each his due’), but also to broaden our knowledge of the ways in which early modern authorship teams and companies operated, and so forth. Dido, Queen of Carthage seems, in many respects, to defy attribution analysis. I have never discerned any patch of text indicative of Nashe’s verse, though I cannot say I’ve subjected the text as a whole to a sustained examination.

Following Matthew Dimmock’s paper, I offered an alternative hypothesis for Nashe’s involvement: I suggested that Nashe had supplied the plot, and that this might account for any perceived anomalies in the extant text. We have evidence that authors were commissioned to write detailed plots, and that they sometimes showcased these plots before the company prior to the treatments themselves; other dramatists could easily write plays from such scenarios (to instance just one example, in 1598 George Chapman was commissioned to write a play based on a plot by Ben Jonson). Such author plots would likely contain, at the very least, a list of dramatis personae assembled for each scene, and could even contain elaborate sequences of stage business.

As far as I am aware, I am the first to suggest that Nashe supplied the plot for Dido (perhaps an ominous sign!), and I did so in my PhD thesis, ‘Kyd and Shakespeare: Authorship, Influence, and Collaboration’ (p. 129). By curious coincidence, I discovered that Brian Vickers subsequently made the same suggestion in volume II of The Collected Works of John Ford, elaborating that Nashe probably prepared the plot or scenario from Book IV of the Aeneid (p. 10). This is not a suggestion I feel strongly about, nor, despite my facetious comment at the symposium, would I care to engage in ‘an attribution debate’ on the subject. However, I was pleased that Dimmock said he would give it further thought. But Jennifer Richards considered the hypothesis unlikely, for Nashe was ‘not a plotter’. Conversely, Richard Proudfoot thought the suggestion warranted further attention. Richards may very well be right, but I should like to take this opportunity to expand ever so slightly on the thinking behind my suggestion.

We might ask ourselves, for example: how, in terms of drama, can we establish what Nashe was NOT? Can we compare Nashe’s meandering through episodes, anecdotes and descriptions irrelevant to the narratives of some of his prose works to his ability to compose a scenario designed for the stage? We have just one extant sole-authored play written by Nashe: Summer’s Last Will and Testament. Indeed, C. L. Barber has noted that the pageant ‘lacks the control provided by plot, by events inside the fiction’, but this is partly ‘because the event it was designed to express was the occasion of its performance’ (p. 64). Barber concludes that Nashe was a responsive writer rather than a masterful one. Nashe himself tells us that he supplied the induction and the first act of The Isle of Dogs, but that play is lost. We have just one other play containing Nashe’s hand, if we accept that Nashe wrote the opening act of the play known as Henry VI Part One in Shakespeare’s First Folio (a play co-authored, by my argument, with Thomas Kyd, not Marlowe, for Lord Strange’s Men, and adapted by Shakespeare at some point after the formation of the Chamberlain’s Men in 1594). Perhaps Nashe wasn’t a plotter, but there seems to be a discernible pattern in these two collaborations. Nashe was entrusted with beginning co-authored plays: introducing the characters to audiences and setting the events in motion. Some of the startling inconsistencies between the opening act of Henry VI Part One and the remainder of the chronicle history play suggest that, as in The Isle of Dogs, Nashe did not have ‘the least guesse of my drift or scope’ when it came to composition of the remaining four acts. However, the play’s opening act, despite being considered rebarbative by certain scholars, is, in my view, well-constructed, a point that even John Dover Wilson, who criticized Nashe’s ‘dull, miserably commonplace, and often unmetrical verse’ (p. xxvii) in 1952, conceded. Nashe certainly understood how integral the author’s plot was to fashioning a play, for he praised Robert Greene as a master craftsman in Have with You to Saffron-Walden. Notably, Nashe’s acknowledgement that Greene was a master of drawing up plots is comparable to Francis Meres’s praise for Anthony Munday in his Palladis Tamia.

There is compelling evidence in favour of Jennifer Richard’s argument that Nashe was not a plotter. But I do not think we should wholly dismiss the notion that Nashe at least had a hand in the drafted scenario behind Dido, Queen of Carthage, nor do I think we should overlook this aspect of early modern dramatic composition (hence the awful punning trigram in the title of this blog post, ‘Losing the plot’) in attribution studies. Questions of how, or why, we can/should establish Nashe’s hand in the scenario behind Dido, I leave to other un/fortunate travellers, if they decide to pursue this avenue.

Works Cited:

Brian Vickers, ed., The Collected Works of John Ford: Volume II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming)

Cesar Lombardi Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011)

Darren Freebury-Jones, ‘Kyd and Shakespeare: Authorship, Influence, and Collaboration’ (Doctoral dissertation: Cardiff University, 2016)

John Dover Wilson, ed., The First Part of King Henry VI (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1952)


Interview on Shakespeare with Yvonne Murphy, Omidaze Director

April 23, 2017

Romeo and Juliet OmidazeTo celebrate Shakespeare’s official birthday, director and producer Yvonne Murphy has shared with us some thoughts on Shakespeare and the latest Omidaze (Oh My Days!) production of Romeo and Juliet, coming to Cardiff later this month. In 2008 Yvonne founded Omidaze Productions, which now has a reputation for exciting Shakespeare theatre and generally shaking things up a bit.

What is special about the Romeo and Juliet production this year?

When the referendum happened last year I watched and listened to our country fracture. British society is at a crucial point in its history and I believe we need space and time to have a proper conversation about what kind of society we want to live in. We are a generation away from the Second World War after which we reshaped our society for the better. I would like to think we are enlightened enough that we can make the necessary fundamental steps, which are now needed without conflict as a catalyst.

I struggled post the referendum to know what I should do next. I felt silenced and fearful. I questioned the role and direction of theatre and the arts generally and what Shakespeare had to do with anything anymore. I went a long way away to come back round to Romeo and Juliet. A story of society. A morality tale of how a broken and dysfunctional society puts at risk the futures and lives of our young people. If Romeo and Juliet had felt empowered, felt able to influence those in power and listened to, then they may have made better and more informed choices. We ignore our young people at our peril. It is all of our responsibility to ensure there is no conflict on our streets and our society is a place which values equality, knowledge, tolerance and understanding. And above all it must be a society in which no one feels fear for themselves and those they love.

What is distinctive about putting on productions of Shakespeare in Wales?

Shakespeare takes time to do well. I have fought for that time. Unless the actors understand the verse structure and every syllable of what they are saying how can they hope to communicate it to an audience? Especially a non-traditional theatre audience who are not used to hearing the language? A four-week rehearsal period is not an artistic decision, it is an economic one and one which needs to change if we are to produce classics of quality. I feel very privileged that the Arts Council of Wales and all our partners felt able to invest in Omidaze to do this work in this way.

Wales is a small nation and one which I think would benefit from less catergorisation of art forms and more breaking of boundaries – I am interested in melding artforms. I am interested in what entices audiences across class, ability, race, gender and age into a circus tent and what creates barriers to the same people for theatre. In all my shows I attempt to blend and break boundaries of different artforms, (circus, stand-up comedy, dance, visual art) to allow as many people as possible a route into the work.

I also made a conscious decision to cast as diverse a cast as possible. If I want to reach a non-traditional audience for Shakespeare then the people on stage must reflect the people on the streets of Wales and Britain. Much work is needed to increase and diversify our casting pool in Wales and then create enough strong quality work and development opportunities to keep talented actors and creatives here.

Omidaze is not just about putting on a show: you are also involved in educational projects. Do Shakespeare’s plays offer room for ‘inspiring change’ or are you always reacting against them?

I am never reacting against the text. The text is my absolute starting point and what I begin and end with. It is a story which needs to be told. I do not come with a concept which I want to squeeze the play inside. I read and read a text and let it resonate within me and find the story which I feel strongly needs to be told right now.

I am however reacting against how Shakespeare is often done. My starting point for the trilogy was to ask who is Shakespeare for and where and how can it be staged, by who and for who and why?

Shakespeare is a gateway art. It opens doors, raises expectation and ambition levels and it belongs to all of us. It is a gift which we must share because to close that door is to shut off a light to people.

I was deeply concerned by the lack of gender equality in the theatre industry and I knew Shakespeare was a good starting point to raise awareness around that discussion. However, conversation of equality cannot and should not be confined to gender. Equality is all about power sharing. There are no villains. Just years and years of doing things a certain way and years of lists being created of people to use whether that is a lighting designer, production manager, voice coach or actor. It takes time, energy and conscious effort to change those lists and so that is what I decided to do. In my own small way.

The educational aspect of Omidaze is at our very core. It is not an add on. We rehearse live in schools in front of young people to break open the process. We create workshops to accompany the work and invite young people from disadvantaged areas into our dress rehearsals. We open the doors to young people looking for work experience and we hold Q&As whenever we can. Theatre and the arts in general are in a state of emergency. If we only see arts subjects in schools as vocational and then see a career in the arts as too precarious for anyone not from a stable financial background the voices and work will not represent modern Britain. The arts and culture belong to everyone. We must value them and their impact and create a strong society with them at its core. Whoever heard someone tell a child to only study Maths or Science if they want to be a Mathematician or a Scientist?

As Churchill so famously supposedly said (or is it an urban myth?) when asked if the money ring-fenced for art and culture should be put into the war effort – ‘Then what are we fighting for?’

Yvonne blogs at omidaze.wordpress.com

Read the Cardiff Shakespeare review of last year’s Omidaze Shakespeare production.

Visit the Omidaze website


Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

27 April – 14 May, 2017

Find out about tickets.

If you would like to contribute Shakespeare-related news or reflections, please get in touch with me (Johann Gregory).

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