My Shakespeare Summer: Previewing ‘Research Now: Shakespeare in Contemporary Performance’

In a special post,  Julie Raby joins us on the blog to let us know what she’s been up to over the summer and offers us a sneak preview of a brand new module launching in the new academic year! 

Often, Higher Education Lecturers are asked what we do in the Summer…

Summer for Lecturers is normally a time for research and preparing modules for the new academic year.

This Summer, I am very lucky to be able to combine research and teaching in designing a module strand to be delivered in the Autumn semester. I’m working on designing a module strand which will focus on my research interest in Contemporary Shakespeare in Performance. 

This strand forms part of a new module titled ‘Research Now’, which explores a range of  interests pursued by Lecturers on the Literature programme. Other interests featured this year include Science Fiction (with Dr Liesl King) and  Caribbean Literature (with Dr Sarah Lawson Welsh) .

Though as tutors we teach lots of different modules which are informed by our research, it’s rare for tutors to get the opportunity to design learning on a module from scratch that builds totally on their research area.  

I’m very excited about the module, though it will probably a one off, because the idea is that every year different strands will be added to the module each year, ensuring that all of the research taking place across the programme is directly linked into teaching and one time or another. Therefore it will be unusual for every strand to be delivered every year.

Image result for david tennant shakespeare

I’m in the process of setting reading, identifying productions and research questions and the challenge is to curate the resources, so the strand is coherent and includes academic rigour, a pedagogic rationale, as well as accessible for students studying the topic in one semester, and new to this approach.

The title Shakespeare in Contemporary Performance might seem to be an oxymoron.  Some scholars might also feel that the idea of looking at Shakespeare in performance is not something you would undertake in the Literature Discipline, where the key focus is text and context. The contemporary aspect of the module is partly about exploring and analysing productions performed recently, and how the contemporary moment might be reflected in these productions. One question might be around how successful these productions are in are working with a historical text in the contemporary moment. 

Though we look at Shakespeare’s plays and the focus is on the text and production, students are not experiencing the text by acting themselves (though if they wish to set up a study group to do this, it would be encouraged). The idea is that the students will explore a range of productions and think about how the text has been reflected in the production. I am hoping that students will have lots of different views and this will add to the richness of the discussions we will have every week.

Image result for fiona shaw richard ii

On the module, students will debate some of the theories and recent debates around Shakespeare in performance. We’ll be looking at a range of issues such as Celebrity Shakespeare, Teaching Shakespeare, Shakespeare as/and Popular Culture and Global Shakespeares. Some of the productions selected so far for debate include: Much Ado About Nothing (dir Josie Rourke) and starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate, Julie Taymor’s film, Titus, Deborah Warner’s Richard II with Fiona Shaw in the title role and the Cheek by Jowl Measure for Measure. We’ll be looking at debates in recent Shakespeare Scholarship which will include the work of W.B. Worthen, Marvin Carlson, Susan Bennett, Judith Buchanan, Pascale Aebischer, Carol Rutter and Anna Blackwell. Some of the contemporary issues we’ll discuss may include #MeToo, Trigger warnings and diversity in the theatre. We will also explore different theories which might include, Postmodernism, Hauntology, Gender performance and Barthes idea of the death of the author.

Though there is a subject focus on the module, the main focus of the module is for students to develop their research skills. This is why the application of theory and working through different research methodologies will be a key focus on the module, and it is this approach that brings intellectual challenge to the module.

One treat at York St John is that we hold the York Theatre Royal archives.  In addition, students will have access to York St John Information Learning Service databases such as Box of Broadcasts, Digital Theatre Plus, and Drama Online as well as the extensive DVD collection. With the RSC #MeToo Measure for Measure just about to go on tour, the Rose Theatre in York, and lots of Shakespeare performed outdoors, students have got many opportunities to go and see some Shakespeare over the Summer.

The moodle site is up and running, and any student with a YSJ email can send me an email and I’ll add you on so you can explore, whether you are interested in taking the module or not.