A slice of Christmas (b)log

This has been the only full year of our two year research project, and we have been busy. This blog offers a summary of the year’s blog activity, from furries to archives, from handwriting competitions to virgin sacrifice. And whatever else you do, do be sure to take our fabulous and not-in-any-way-difficult Christmas quiz.

Our first project publication is out, a Forum on 1580s drama in Shakespeare Studies 45 (20017), featuring essays on theatrical boom and bust, the place of the playhouses in Elizabethan leisure time, boy company dramaturgy, and the disruptive but prerequisite role of 1590s print as a witness to 1580s performance. Those of you without subscription can read our ongoing series of blog posts on theatre history, evidence and language for more.

One of the project aims is to create a census of everything we know about the first thirty years of theatre-building in Elizabethan London, and to ask how we know it, and that archival work has resulted in a number of blogs. Callan Davies’ work for the project has been transformative and wonderful, and he’s written about the playhouses and espionage, the histories of real-life crossdressing social scandal, scrappy archives, and the unavoidable figure of Venus. He also asked us what happens if we see the playhouses through the eyes of judge, antiquarian and Recorder of London, William Fleetwood. I hope Callan won’t mind if I take this opportunity to thank him publicly for all the work he’s done and continues to do for the project. His writing for the blog constitutes an exciting body of work and a taster for our future project writing.

Lucy Munro’s work for the project has generally taken place away from the website, but we were lucky enough to get a report from her work in the Huntington Library on the unfinished work of theatre historian William Wallace and his often overlooked wife, Hulda Berggen Wallace. I am confident that this story contains more references to oil than you might expect.

We’v been lucky to host a variety of guest blog posts: Tom Rutter on theatrical fashion, Sally-Beth MacLean announcing the launch of Records of Early English Drama online, Derek Dunne on a kind of writing often forgotten by literary scholars, and Laurie Johnson and Sally-Beth MacLean on the Newington Butts playhouse. Sometimes one blog post has sparked another: Elizabeth Tavares, for example, wrote about genre and theatrical troupes in response to my own piece on theatrical genre, and Leah Scragg responded to my suggestion that we think about why authorship and attribution matters. We encourage all readers to consider pitching blog posts to us, whether on new topics or in response to existing pieces.

We began the year with our first Dolphin’s Back workshop, exploring the first surviving play performed in a London playhouse, The Three Ladies of London, on the site of the first known Elizabethan playhouse, the Red Lion. More recently we teamed up with the TIDE project to investigate immigration in Elizabethan England, using performance to explore plays and non-theatrical material alike. Callan Davies and Haig Smith wrote two excellent posts on immigrant life before and after the workshop. We’re about to announce our final season of Dolphin’s Back workshops, to run over February and March 2018, so do look out for that.

We had our conference this August, and it was full of new ideas from performers and scholars alike: you can read summaries of panels, responses from delegates and my own attempt to summarise what worked (and what didn’t work), where I try to think aloud about how open scholarship is to new ideas.

To my surprise, I found myself writing on such unanticipated topics as furry Shakespeare, attribution, attribution and attribution (authorship works in mysterious ways, folks). I was also lucky enough to be able to write about discoveries made whilst collaborating with performers. This included writing about Marlowe, Nashe, prosody and mightiness in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Dido, Queen of Carthage, directed by Kimberley Sykes, and performance, gesture and identity in Dolphin’s Back’s production of The Woman in the Moon in the Wanamaker Playhouse. We’ve also recently published interviews with the cast from this show, and I’m very struck by Emma Denly’s testimony of her experience of how gender and height affect casting in classical theatre. I was especially pleased to be prompted to write about the ways stories work onstage by James Wallace’s Read Not Dead reading of Sappho and Phao – this is a topic I think scholars, performers and audiences can easily take for granted. Our work with Emma Frankland’s production of Galatea continues, and you can read about our exploration of the virgin-sacrifice-friendly villagersthe gods and hear Vicky Abbott’s gorgeous music for the show. It’s been exciting to work alongside well-established and younger theatre companies and to find new ways for academics and performers to work. In the blog posts above, I hope you’ll find helpful discussions of these kinds of creative, two-way conversations.

The controversies surrounding my initial blog post on attribution continue to blow my mind, and have convinced me more than ever of the need to open up our discipline to new voices and new conversations. The responses to that blog, particularly around gender, strike me as a useful repository of the kinds of resistance and gatekeeping that often discourage new scholars from joining such conversations. For exactly that reason, we’ve been excited to work with performers and theatre companies, both well established and new, and to welcome new work from researchers at the start of their careers both to our conference and our blog. Do please be in touch if you want to add to that conversation.

Finally, I’ve recently begun a series of blog posts on theatrical words, which I think are currently making it easy for us to misunderstand the earliest years of English theatremaking. You can read an introduction to the series and its first two entries, on the word actor and the place of inn playhouses in theatre history. In both popular and scholarly conversations about performance history, we use words like actorplaywrightplayhouse and theatre as though we know what they mean. This blog series aims to suggest that we don’t.

Many thanks to our readers for supporting this project. We end our period of funding in March 2018, but the work continues thereafter. Do stay with us, but until then, I wish you gold, frankincense and mirth.

Andy Kesson





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