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Book Launch - Simon Palfrey and Ewan Fernie: “Macbeth, Macbeth”

June 1st |5pm BST|Online

Simon Palfrey and Ewan Fernie discuss their collaboration and more broadly the experimentation in radical new forms of literary and creative writing that defines the exciting new Beyond Criticism Editions series from Boiler House Press. Host Michael Whitmore, Direction of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC. Registration on Eventbrite.


Performance in History

Monday 7th June & Wednesday 9th June|18.00-19.30 (BST)|Zoom

3 Plays, 3 Days, 3 Events! 'Performance in History' is a series of conversations taking place over three evenings in June, bringing together doctoral and early career researchers to think about the ways in which some of Shakespeare's best known and most performed plays have shifted and changed through their performance(s) across history.

Hosted by the London Shakespeare Centre (LSC) and the Centre for Early Modern Studies (CEMS), two parts of the Arts and Humanities Research Institute at King's College London. If you have any questions or queries about any of the events, please contact either the LSC ( or CEMS ( Registration on Eventbrite.


Political Assemblies in European Historical Drama c.1550-1650| University of Oxford|Deadline 31st May 2021

What does early modern historical drama say about political assemblies such as Parliaments, Cortes, Diets, Estates, Senates, and States General? In Shakespeare’s Henry VI part 3 Parliament is a site where the nature of monarchy is discussed. The play opens in the Parliament House of England and, as the scene unfolds, Yorkists, Henry and the king’s supporters debate who the rightful king is and on what grounds the throne could be legitimately claimed. What, though, of Continental drama? Do French plays dramatize proceedings in the Estates General during the blood-soaked Wars of Religion? Or Dutch ones stage disputes unfolding in the States General during the Protestant revolt against Spain? How far do history plays produced in one country reflect on political assemblies in another, whether past or present? Are there neo-Latin plays which, through whatever historical guise, invoke consultations in some form of deliberative assembly?

This conference is a collaboration between two international research projects: ‘Histories: Assessing the Role of Aesthetics in the Historical Paradigm’ and ‘Recovering Europe’s Parliamentary Culture, 1500-1700: A New Approach to Representative Institutions’ (Oxford). We see it as an exploratory and fact-finding exercise and hope for a wide participation of international scholars. With your help we hope to get a sense of the range and variety of early modern Europe’s vernacular and neo-Latin historical drama that depicts Diets, Estates, Parliaments and Parliament-like assemblies, and to begin exploring the variety of depictions and uses of those assemblies. Whether written and performed in monarchical or republican regimes, whether set abroad or at home, or in ancient, medieval, or near-contemporary times, how did European historical drama use Parliaments, Cortes, Diets, Estates, Senates, States General and similar bodies to discuss notions of power, authority, and legitimacy? How far was the relationship between theatre and political assemblies conceptualised as the drama or theatre of politics? Analyses of topical or allegorical invocations of such bodies are also of great interest.

Proposals for papers of 15 minutes are invited. We particularly welcome papers that discuss the following topics:

•        history plays about Parliaments, States, Diets or parliament-like bodies and the key issues those tackle, whether political or religious;

•        scenes in historical drama that are set in Parliaments, Cortes, Diets, Estates, Senates, or States General or reports of proceedings in them;

•        discussions of Parliaments, Cortes, Diets, Estates, Senates, or States General in historical drama;

•        rhetoric of speeches in political assemblies;

•        the relationship between dramatic portrayal of parliaments and parliament-like bodies and the historical, philosophical, or polemical sources that inspired them;

•        the interdependence of historical drama about national assemblies and the emergent science of politics;

•        historical drama performed in Parliaments, Cortes, Diets, Estates, Senates, or States General;

The conference will include two interdisciplinary round table discussions: one on what depictions of national assemblies in European historical drama reveal about literary and theatrical trends, genre and rhetoric, and one on what they suggest about contemporary understandings of such institutions and their changing cultures.

Confirmed speakers include Paulina Kewes (Oxford), Sofie Kluge and David Hasberg Zirak-Schmidt (both University of Southern Denmark) and Paul Seaward (History of Parliament Trust).

Please send an abstract of up to 1000 words and a brief biographical note (including institutional affiliation) of up to 200 words to by 31 May 2021. Delegates will be notified by 7 June.


Molière on stage: Lessons in Interpretation| The Maison Française, Oxford|Deadline June 30, 2021

Organized to mark the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Molière’s birth, this joint conference and festival seeks to re-examine his plays, through the prism of modern and contemporary (20th-21st century) productions. The aim of the conference will be to examine the ways in which the great directors of the 20th century such as Baty, Jouvet or Planchon have shaped our understanding of these plays, as well as to understand how the stage can in itself serve as an instrument of knowledge of Molière’s work. How does the director, in staging the text, reveal new dramaturgical functions and mechanisms, which would go unnoticed without the crucible of the stage?  

Direction is a hermeneutic device by vocation, one that reveals latent meaning – conscious or otherwise – in the dramatic text. But it is also a heuristic device: the great series of incarnations that embodied Molière’s characters (Jouvet’s austere and grandiose Don Juan, Daniel Sorano’s boastful and spirited Sganarelle by Vilar, Richard Fontana’s feverish and seductive Tartuffe directed by Vitez, the adolescent Agnès played by Isabelle Adjani directed by Roussillon, Bakary Sangaré’s improbable Orgon by Bozonnet, Mexianu Medenou’s playful Dom Juan by Julie Brochen) allowed for an awareness of the plays’ multiple potentialities. Similarly, certain observations on the dramatic structure can only be made upon the passage to the stage (the pacing of the acts, the importance of scene transitions, the structuring of the declamation for the voice, writing conceived entirely according to breath, etc.). Having established themselves as authorities in their own right in the artistic process as of the end of the 19th century, directors have opened new avenues for the continuation of Molière’s legacy and the understanding of his work, which hitherto largely borrowed tools from historical and literary analysis. 

This conference will adopt a global perspective on the staging of Molière’s plays for live theatre, with a particular emphasis on francophone theatre, where Molière has been the object of numerous adaptations and hybridizations, as well as on theatre in other languages and cultures (English, Spanish, and Asian languages...), where Molière’s legacy is continually renewed through the act of translation. For instance: The Misanthrope by Ivo van Hove, New-York Theater Workshop, 2007 ; The Imaginary Invalid by Rogério De Carvalho, Teatro Nacional São João de Porto, 2012 ; Tartuffe by Denis Marleau and Stéphanie Jasmin, Théâtre National de Montréal, 2016, Tartuffe by Christopher Hampton, Theater Royal Haymarket, London, 2018, and lately Molière in the Park trilogy (Tartuffe, The MisanthropeThe School for Wives) by Lucie Tiberghien (Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, New York, 2019-2020). 

Proposals for papers can be sent to these addresses before June 30, 2021: ; ; 


Ghost Scenes / Scènes de spectres| Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier|Deadline 15 July 2021

Organised by Pierre Kapitaniak (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3), Thierry Verdier (Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3) and Andrew Hiscock (Bangor University, GB).

This international conference addresses the nature and functions of ghost scenes in the performing arts in France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe from the 16th  to the 18th centuries. Spectral appearances may be considered from aesthetic, dramatic and/or scenic, metatheatrical, metaphorical, socio-cultural, political, philosophical, and other perspectives – and here the list is by no means exhausted.

The ghost is a familiar figure, indeed a pillar of revenge tragedy. This legacy of classical tragedy, from Aeschylus to Seneca, where protatic ghosts commented on the action, provided a model for European dramatists from the 16th century onwards, before gradually giving way to new forms during the Enlightenment. When one thinks of ghosts on stage, it is the late father of Prince Hamlet stalking the battlements of Elsinore that first springs to mind. However, if this early modern figure looms particularly large in the consciousness of modern audiences, it can deflect attention from a wealth of examples elsewhere in the period. If it is true that Old Hamlet’s ghost has come to embody (or rather disembody) the vengeful ghost per se, it is easy to forget that at the turn of the 17th century it was a highly original innovation whose immense success shaped the theatre ghost in Britain for decades and even centuries to come.

In France, more than sixty years later, the ghost takes on a tangible form when it animates the Commander’s statue in Molière’s play, as signalled in the very title, Dom Juan ou le festin de pierre, especially in its English version, Dom Juan or the Feast with the Statue.

But what exactly is a “ghost scene”? It is a scene in which the playwright stages the apparition of a revenant, a deceased person’s soul which returns to haunt its murderer or, on the contrary, to spur on a loved one in order to be avenged. A violent death is thus necessary so that the dead person be prevented from resting in peace. In accordance with popular and learned traditions of thinking, these apparitions usually take place at night, when the realm of the dead can encroach on that of the living. In the theatre, especially when it is in the open air, this implies conventions that signify the darkness of night, which have already been the subject of a previous conference (see ASF n° 4, 2015). While night scenes invite considerations about the very nature of theatre and what can be seen there, this is complicated by the presence of a supernatural being and the further uncertainties it raises. When the ghost becomes involved in the action, it appears as a figure of authority, whom none dares disobey, like the spirit of the prophet Samuel that the Pythoness conjures up before Saul in Jean de La Taille’s Saül le furieux (1572). In this respect, drama radically opposes theology. More specifically, for Protestants, who rejected Purgatory (and with it the possibility of the soul’s return), the authority of a ghost is unthinkable, since it constitutes a diabolical imposture. One may therefore wonder how theatre accommodates those professions of belief, or subverts them, through the figure of the ghost.

For theologians, illusion is always of demonic essence and therefore dangerous; for playwrights, it is inherent in the very aesthetics of theatre and therefore eminently playful. This opens up a further venue of exploration, since ghost scenes often play on the very reality of the other characters’ sense of experience. From the 17th century onwards, for instance, a particular kind of scene emerges, with “vain phantoms”, as in Corneille’s Illusion comique (1634), where characters whom others believe to be deceased disguise themselves as ghosts, with financial or matrimonial motivations in mind, or in hope of reconciliation.

“Who’s there?” exclaims Bernardo in Hamlet. This opening question draws attention to the fact that a ghost, in order to be a ghost, must be identified as such. Contributions may consequently wish to examine the paradoxical way in which theatre seeks both to establish the resemblance of the ghost to a living character and to identify its spectrality. Furthermore, the presence on stage of an immaterial being questions the pact of performance, inviting the audience to accept that a flesh-and-blood actor can embody this essentially disembodied being. Is the ghost a codified figure? What are the visual and aural codes that often play on an opposition between the staging and the text? How can the “realistic” constraints of the former be compensated by and contrasted with the freedom the latter offers? To what extent do the various components of performance, such as music and lighting, enable the director to break free of “realistic” constraints?

In its remanence of humanity, the spectre is the perfect metaphor for the actor who impersonates someone who is not (or no longer) present, and it is no coincidence that the term “shadow” (umbra) should designate both ghost and player. Yet corporeity is not the only feature of the spectral figure that draws attention to the workings of the theatre. Etymologically (spectare), the spectre is what we think we see and consequently what attracts the gaze... of its etymological kindred, the spectator. It is therefore unsurprising that such scenes of apparition should provoke a variety of viewing responses, in turn making the ghost visible to all, to one or a few characters, or to the spectators alone. It is the ghost of Banquo who both sits and does not sit at the banquet table.

In the 18th century, theatre machinery and theories of acting, for instance by Aaron Hill and Diderot, encourage a reassessment of the ghost on stage and of characters’ responses, in stagings such as David Garrick’s Hamlet in the 1770s. A study of contemporary accounts of performances also provides insights into reception, which can be complemented by scrutinising paintings through which artists like Fuseli or Blake wished to immortalise that fleeting instant of an apparition.

Is the ghost always necessarily present on stage? Are there other ways of provoking dread in onlookers – be they on or off stage? The study of 18th century texts and stage designs, as in Voltaire’s Semiramis (1748), may cast light on scenographic and textual strategies: characters announcing that they have seen a ghost before its appearance on stage, a chest carried onto the stage, the movement of a drapery, an element of the set (a tomb). Ghosts also appear in comedies, as in Samuel Foote’s The Orators (1762), which stages the trial of a spirit brought before a spectral jury that includes Banquo’s ghost.

Startling, elusive, diverse, stage ghosts have inspired the illustrators of editions of Shakespeare’s complete works, as well as painters, generating a sub-genre of “spectral” art in the 18th century. Music and lighting also contribute to create illusion and suspense, sometimes replacing the embodiment of a ghost by an actor. In recent decades, digital effects have also contributed an additional dimension to adaptations of 16th-18th century plays – as if, from century to century, the ghost reinvented itself to meet the challenges of new technologies.

This conference, therefore, invites a variety of theoretical approaches to explore this corpus of performing arts in France, Britain and on other European stages, from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment.


Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be submitted by 15 July 2021, together with a one-page curriculum vitae to Papers will be accepted in English and French.


Jobs & Funding

Career Development Fellowship in Early Modern Literature| University of Oxford (Lady Margaret Hall)| Deadline 4th June

For more information on the vacancy please see here.

Postdoctoral Research Associate| Recovering Europe’s Parliamentary Culture, 1500-1700: A New Approach to Representative Institutions| University of Oxford| Deadline Monday 19 July 2021

For more information on the vacancy please see here.