Promoting the study, practice
and enjoyment of Shakespeare.

Join today

Latest News and Info

Latinx Shakespeares as Performance Methodology

Professor Carla Della Gatta shares with us her work on Latinx Shakespeares, including how the research towards her recent monograph has helped her to build a wide-ranging open-access archive and resources page at LatinxShakespeares.Org, of interest to BSA members for their researching and teaching.

The growth of Global Shakespeares over the last two decades has expanded the knowledges of theatrical traditions across the world and the cultural, political, linguistic, and economic histories that inform them. My research is an investment in what I have referred to as the diversified local, focusing on a minority population as means to both understand the work of Latinx theatre-makers and to rewrite the history of American Shakespeares so that it includes the over seventy-five years of contributions of Latinx artists and cultures to American Shakespearean performance.

Latinx Shakespeares are Shakespearean productions and adaptations that are made Latinx through dramaturgy, textual adaptation, casting practices, and/or backstage processes. Latinx Shakespeares: Staging US Intracultural Theater (University of Michigan Press, 2023, open-access),draws a theatre history, one with stops and starts and theatrical traditions with surprisingly long arcs. These works range from culturally-appropriative musical theatre with Puerto Rican characters such as West Side Story (Broadway, 1957) to engagements with Cuban religious practices—both Catholic and Indigenous African—such as Hamlet, Prince of Cuba (Asolo Repertory, 2012) to immigration narratives about border crossings between Mexico and the US, such as La Comedia of Errors (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 2019). The trajectory reveals no direct through line from white artists taking up Latinidad to Latinx artists taking up Shakespeare, but as more Latinx theatre-makers became involved in these productions, the range of dramaturgical practices and nuanced depictions of Latinx expanded.

Latinx Legibility Onstage and Off

There are no Latinx characters or settings in Shakespeare, as the ethnic category of Latino was coming into formation during Shakespeare’s time. According to the US government, there are four races: Black/African American, white/Caucasian, Indigenous/Native American, and Asian. Hispanic/Latino is an official ethnicity—only as of the 1980 Census—and can be of any race.[1] Latinx is the gender non-binary term for Latino, the peoples who live in the United States who are a product of, or descended from, Spanish colonization. These are homogenizing and problematic categories for identity, and my use of them in Latinx Shakespeares (and here in this blog) pushes on those limitations.[2]

One of the challenges in historicizing the role of Latinx peoples is in the recognition of Latinx. For example, in the long-running production of Othello with African American actor Paul Robeson in the titular role, Puerto Rican actor José Ferrer played Iago (Broadway, 1943). None of the reviewers of Ferrer’s performance ascribed the stereotypes or tropes that often get applied to Latinx actors today, that they are ‘fiery,’ ‘hot’, etc., as the ethnic category of Hispanic (later Latino) had not yet fully gained traction. Although audiences knew that Ferrer was Puerto Rican, the combination of his racial whiteness and a lack of a recognized official ethnic category both contributed to a lack of recognition of his identity.

More than seventy-five years later, Latinx Shakespearean productions address such issues of Latinx legibility, including colorism and anti-Blackness within Latinx communities. In Alex Alpharaoh’s 2019 O-Dogg: An Angeleno Take on ‘Othello’, the action is set during the six days of the 1992 LA uprisings that followed the acquittal of white police officers who had beaten a Black man. Alpharaoh rewrites Othello to Afro-Latinx, Iago as Indigenous Latinx, the Emilia character as white-passing Latinx, and the Desdemona character as Korean-American. The adaptation simultaneously maps the historical interracial violence throughout the city of Los Angeles and the intra-ethnic biases that play out within Latinx communities on personal level.

One of the ways that Latinx characters are made legible is often through an emphasis on the aural. Nearly all Latinx Shakespeares include some Spanish to signal Latinidad, whereas with each passing decade, Latinx theatre includes less and less Spanish.  Because Latinx are absent from Shakespeare’s canon and visually racially-diverse, theatre-makers embellish the aural through language, accents, music, and the larger soundscape. What I term a Latinx acoustemology for Shakespeare is this aural excess, or auralidad, that is invited through the openness of Shakespeare’s language and invites the nuances of identity that lead to a reformulation of Latinx as an identity category.[3]

Latinx Shakespeares as Methodology

Integral to writing a theatre history, especially one of adaptation, is the ‘both/and’ of creative/critical practice. As a scholar-practitioner, I draw on the knowledge of artists and understand and advocate for creative work as an act of criticism, and throughout Latinx Shakespeares, the output of artists that is theatre-making is on equal plane to the output of academics that is our scholarship. In so doing, this type of performance criticism takes seriously the aesthetics, processes, and creative practices of Latinx art-makers and positions itself against binarism and the divisive ‘us-them’ mentality that looks to art to explicitly engage ‘the political’.

For Shakespeare to be made Latinx, adaptations and concept productions cannot merely integrate thematic issues of the border, Latinx characters, or include Spanish. Latinx Shakespeares at their best are acts of theatrical bilanguaging, a process I describe as ‘a liberation from discrete genres of theatrical storytelling as well as Shakespearean English [that] pushes against the idea of universality to expand theater communities for a specific locality’ (p. 109). The act of theatrical bilanguaging involves an inclusion of backstage processes and performance methods and crosses dramaturgical, ethnic, and linguistic borders.[4] For example, in Chapter Four of Latinx Shakespeares, I attend to three Hamlet adaptations that take different approaches to mixing performance—ritual, ceremonial, and devised theatre practices—and theatrical practices to create space for Latinx subjectivity and interiority. Each of these productions addresses the crisis of the self that results from coloniality by crossing multiple borders, ‘linguistic and cultural, religious and ritualistic, within the play and without’ (p. 27).

Latinx Shakespeares demonstrate how early strategies of division such as the West Side Story effect—the staging of cultural difference of any kind in Shakespeare as cultural-linguistic difference—can be transposed to a bridge through theatrical bilanguaging, an act of ‘listening for commonality rather than difference’ as an ‘act of creating bridges is a look to the future for the new American theater’ (p. 174). They make the case that Shakespeare can be staged as ethnic theatre when created and staged through theatrical bilanguaging.[5]

Writing an Archive

Latinx Shakespeares examines Latinx-themed Shakespearean productions. As my research into Latinx engagement with Shakespeare began to expand backwards historically and forwards to new productions, it also expanded more widely to bilingual and semi-bilingual theatre, the Latinx artists who perform, design, and direct Shakespeare without a Latinx theme, pedagogical practices, translation practices, and Latinx ontologies for theatre-making through stories that must be adapted to embrace our cultures. As a result, I co-edited with Trevor Boffone Shakespeare and Latinidad (Edinburgh University Press, 2021), a collection of essays and interviews with twenty-five contributors that extends the breadth of possibilities of engaging Shakespeare for Latinx cultures.

I wanted to ensure that the history of the myriad intersections of Shakespeare and Latinidad is readily available and accessible to make clear Latinx contributions to American Shakespeares. Along with the open-access monograph that was published in January, I launched the first online archive of Latinx theatrical adaptation in February. LatinxShakespeares.Org goes beyond Latinx Shakespeares and intersections of Shakespeare and Latinidad to adaptations of other (white) canonical literatures including Greek and Roman plays, Spanish Golden Age dramas, and adaptations of Lorca, Chekhov, Ibsen, Molière, and more. With over twenty contributors at the outset, its launch included more than 150 Latinx Shakespeares, more than 30 bilingual and/or Latinx-authored (but not themed) Shakespearean adaptations, and nearly 100 Latinx-themed and/or authored adaptations of other western literatures.

The archive continues to grow, with more than twenty-five productions and adaptations added in the first six months. It is Phase I of a larger project of creating community through archiving theatre history. I have been in touch with over 250 theatre-makers—to gain permission to include their ephemera and photographs and to learn about their work—and I have heard from dozens more, each excited to be part of such a lengthy and creative theatrical legacy. For practitioners, the archive is a resource of contemporary dramaturgies for classical theatre, and for scholars, it is a database of strategies for engaging Shakespeare by and for an ethnic group. I would love to hear from scholars and artists how it is being used in their research, and from those who wish to contribute a performance review, drama analysis, or guest blog. Please contact me at carla[at]umd[dot]edu.

Carla Della Gatta

University of Maryland

[1] Latinx is a geographical term, based on a shared history and culture, whereas Hispanic is a language-based term for those from Spanish-language dominant countries.

[2] Shakespeare is pluralized as ‘Shakespeares’ to signal an interdisciplinary, Cultural Studies approach. The diversity of perspectives, methodologies, and subject matters is indicated in this pluralization, unlike older disciplines such as English, Literature, and Theatre.

[3] ‘Acoustemology’ is a portmanteau for ‘acoustic epistemology’ and was coined by Steven Feld. See Wes Folkerth, The Sound of Shakespeare, New York: Routledge, 2002. 106.

[4] I adapt for the theatre Walter Mignolo’s concept of languaging that is a ‘way of life between languages: a dialogical, ethic, aesthetic, and political process of social transformation’. Walter Mignolo, Local Histories / Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 265.

[5] I define ethnic theatre as a ‘for us, by us’ with examples such as the Yiddish theatre, Armenian theatre, and early Latinx theatre.

Call for contributions: “Learning from Casting” (University of Southampton, 3rd July 2023)

Call for contributions: “Learning from Casting”, a symposium at the University of Southampton 

On the 3rd of July, 2023, the University of Southampton will host a symposium for researchers, actors, and creatives interested in examining current casting practices in Shakespeare productions in the UK. The conversation, which will cover topics such as non-traditional and conceptual casting, self-tapes, online auditions, and casting challenges presented by specific plays, will take the form of roundtable discussion, a panel bringing together distinguished Shakespearean actors working in the UK, and a session with Sam Jones CDG, who is credited with casting some of the most successful films, TV shows, and stage productions over the last couple of decades, and who will join us to discuss her experience as the Head of Casting for the RSC as well as her work with Dominic Cooke on the second season of The Hollow Crown

While there is no need to submit a proposal for a research paper, you are welcome to express interest in participating in a roundtable discussion by sending a brief outline of your research interests in Shakespearean casting or your experience with the current casting practices in the industry to Jakub Boguszak by June 1, 2023.

Call for Submissions: Global Macbeth

Global Macbeth

This collection of essays seeks to explore the many exciting new directions surrounding the scholarship concerning Macbeth. Long associated with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, Macbeth continues to fascinate multifarious cultures around the globe. Macbeth’s weird witches and fantastic apparitions are inescapable whenever one watches this play. This particular collection is especially interested in abstracts that concern film, stage, and scholarly treatments of the play in Eastern European countries, Russia and Ukraine, China, Japan, India, Africa, and South America. Possible topics for papers may include the following, but are by no means delimited by them:

  • Productions of Macbeth, Past and Present on Stage
  • Films, Adaptations, and Appropriations of Macbeth in the Global Arena
  • Issues of National Identity, Race, and Ethnicity in Macbeth
  • The meanings and representations of the Witches in Macbeth
  • The Problematics of Pedagogy, Macbeth, and the Undergraduate Classroom
  • Homosociality and Queer Affiliations in Macbeth
  • The Cultural Function of Witchcraft and Fortune Telling in Macbeth
  • The Green World: Macbeth and Eco-criticism
  • The Digital, Textual, and Editorial History of Macbeth

Please submit a 500 word abstract by November 1, 2023 to Sandra Clark and W. Reginald Rampone, Jr.

Reanimating and Reconsidering ‘Othello’

Vanessa I. Corredera (Associate Professor at Andrews University) writes about her work on Othello in ‘post-racial’ America and her recently published monograph, which is available from Edinburgh University Press.

Given my scholarship on what in my book I call “reanimations” of Shakespeare’s Othello—essentially, works that either briefly or more extensively engage with and therefore bring Othello back to life in the modern era—academic friends frequently ask whether I have heard about/seen/read the latest reiteration of Shakespeare’s (in)famous tragedy. Such was the case recently when someone posted in the Shakespeare Society Facebook group about Frantic Assembly’s adaptation of Othello at the Lyric Hammersmith. I had not heard of this adaption, so I followed the Facebook link to learn more. While I know that one should rarely, if ever, look at online comments, I could not help myself, and I was struck by two observations. First, several commenters noted that they had taken their students to see this adaptation of Othello. Second, the longstanding debate about whether Othello is a racist play or a play critiquing racism reappeared in the comments. In my book, Reanimating Shakespeare’s Othello in Post-Racial America (Edinburgh University Press), I trace how the racial frameworks (the strategies for conceptualizing race) so popular in America’s supposed “post-racial” era (2008-2016) frequently result, even if unintentionally, in anti-Black versions of Othello. To instead craft an anti-racist engagement with Othello, I reveal, takes significant, intentional care both with the racial frames used to interpret Othello and with the details that comprise the work, whether a performance of the play, a comic book rendition of the titular character, or a comedy sketch referencing both. I therefore wondered: What racial frameworks did Frantic Assembly use when adapting Othello? How did those frameworks shape their artistic decisions? And were the students who saw the adaptation properly prepared to assess whether it perpetuates racist caricatures or critiques racist systems, whether, in other words, it is an anti-Black or anti-racist Othello?

Though Reanimating Shakespeare’s Othello focuses on reanimations of Othello in America and in an era that can in hindsight seems especially naïve, the principles I explore in the book for considering race and/in Othello can nevertheless help scholars, creators, and teachers engage more ethically with the play. While the belief in a post-racial society has receded, the racial frameworks of the post-racial era I discuss in the book linger. And though scholars consider these frameworks most often in relation to the U.S., the stereotyping and therefore scapegoating of minoritized identities for racial inequity instead of attending to systemic issues, the appeal to the so-called “colourblind” view of race, and the continued privileging of white perspectives are employed far beyond America’s shores. I thus offer key questions that all who engage with Othello—from scholars to adaptors to theatermakers to teachers to the everyday audience member—can ask in order to assess more effectively the racework undertaken every time this by-and-large “toxic” play is brought back to life.[1]

1. Does this reanimation of Othello take a colour evasive approach?

First, a word on the term colourblind, which was long used to convey the ideas at the heart of what is now called colour evasive. People rightly note that it is an ableist term and that we should therefore avoid employing it. Though I do so in my book, I want to rectify that usage here. While no one term has yet to replace colourblind when it comes to discussions of racial perspective and/or casting, I think the proposition of colour evasive is an especially thoughtful and effective substitution.[2] In discussions of post-racial America, however, philosophers, political theorists, sociologists, and performance studies scholars all employ colourblind to describe the fundamental approach toward race underpinning the post-racial era: “not seeing” race. Essentially, to be what we would now call colour evasive entails considering each race as if society treats them equally, as if racial inequity no longer exists. Often, people conceptualize not recognizing race as the more polite, even ideal attitude, as if the concept of race is the issue and acknowledging race the problem. The true issue, however, occurs when people ignore racial inequality, and with it, racism. But what does this mean for Othello?

Too often, creators who re-animate Othello do not truly pay attention to race, approaching the play as if a tragedy where a Black man marries and murders a young white woman can ever be race-neutral. The reanimations of Othello I study, however, suggest that when creators are inattentive to race, their versions of Othello frequently depend on stereotyping, racial caricatures, and one-dimensional versions of the titular character, thereby making them anti-Black. Yet short of creators saying they do not focus on race, which they usually do not say expressly, how can we tell if they are taking this approach? One place to start is by paying attention to the ways they frame their reanimation.

For instance, in my Introduction, I demonstrate how when creators argue that the play is not about race and/or gesture toward their emphasis on so-called “universal” themes such as jealousy, it often means they are not thoughtfully considering race in Othello. Additionally, the care any work takes toward confronting race in Othello may be perceived by analyzing promotional materials. As I argue in Chapter 1, how we visualize Othello matters and gives insights into the racial perspectives taken when reimagining the character. For instance, in the promotional poster for Frantic Assembly’s Othello, why does only Desdemona meet the viewer’s gaze? What should we make of the fact that Othello’s shirt is positioned half-way up his back, exposing his body to the viewer? What racial dynamics does this tableau tap into or contest? If one discerns that care has not been taken concerning race and representation when promoting a particular reanimation, one can in turn be wary about a similar lack of care in the work itself.

2. Does the reanimation meaningfully push back against the stereotypes of Black masculinity triggered by Othello?

The violent Black man. The rage-filled brute. The Black Buck. These are all common stereotypes about Black masculinity that reanimations of Othello can easily invoke, even if unintentionally. After all, audiences see Othello’s rage as he confronts Desdemona’s supposed infidelity, and that rage eventually becomes murderous. While Othello may not rape her, the intimate nature of the strangling on their nuptial sheets nevertheless evokes the threat that Black masculinity supposedly poses to white femininity as envisioned in the stereotype of the Black Buck. Yes, some of these racial caricatures may have American histories. But as American cultural artifacts such as police procedurals with Black men as gangsters or hip-hop songs comprised of stanzas glorifying violence and demeaning women circulate globally, so too do these distortions of Black men. Thus, audiences within and outside of the U.S. may likely bring these stereotypes to bear upon reanimations of Othello.

It is therefore vital for creators who reanimate Othello across mediums to craft a complex vision of Black masculinity, such as the one developed by Keith Hamilton Cobb in the play American Moor (Chapter 4). Through the central figure of the unnamed actor auditioning for the role of Othello, Cobb depicts a Black man justifiably angry at the systems that delimit and oppress him, but a man who is also funny, earnest, loving, and creative. He may be virile, but he is no threat, adamant, but never violent. And importantly, through this actor, Cobb also articulates a multifaceted vision of Othello in stark contrast with the white director’s facile one. Depictions like Cobb’s vitally counter versions of Othello reduced to mere caricature, such as what I argue can be found in the comic series Kill Shakespeare (Chapter 1), where Othello is nothing more than a brutish, violent soldier reduced to a status so abject that he comes across as less than fully human. To craft an anti-racist Othello therefore means developing a nuanced, multidimensional, and decidedly non-stereotypical Othello. Anything less is unequivocally anti-Black. 

3. Does the reanimation inculcate sympathy for both Desdemona and Othello?

In Chapter 5 of Reanimating Shakespeare’s Othello, I address what I call the “Desdemona problem,” namely, the difficulty creators and audiences alike have when it comes to feeling sympathy for Desdemona’s misogynistic abuse at her husband’s hands while also holding space and extending sympathy for the racial abuse that Othello experiences. Put differently, the affective, powerful depiction of a white woman as innocent victim can make it difficult to not only attend to Othello’s racial degradation, but also to the ways even Desdemona participates in that process.

How, then, can reanimations effectively respond to the Desdemona problem? As my analysis of Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief and Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) reveals, frequently, the impulse is to lean into the Desdemona problem, with creators diminishing or even caricaturing Othello to heighten Desdemona’s plight. Alternatively, the challenge is so hard that reanimations sidestep the issue by excising Desdemona, as do Kill Shakespeare, Othello: The Remix (she is a disembodied voice in both), and even American Moor. The operetta Desdemona, however, offers an alternative approach. In the playtext, Toni Morrison powerfully exposes the misogyny Desdemona experiences within Venetian society, at home with her father Brabantio, and with Othello. Yet by staging confrontations between Desdemona and her servant Emilia, Desdemona and her slave Barbary, who reveals her name is actually Sa’ran, and Desdemona and Othello, Morrison brings to light Desdemona’s classed and racial privilege. In doing so, she reveals that the oppressed can also function as oppressors and suggests that the promise of healing only begins when all parties take accountability for the forms of domination they enact. While no reanimation need exactly mirror Morrison’s tactics, to effectually critique racism and therefore be truly anti-racist, they must account for and effectively respond to the Desdemona problem that troubles so many reanimations of this play.   

4. Whose perspective does the reanimation center?

Postcolonial theorist and essayist Ben Okri asserts that in Othello, Shakespeare essentially poured a white man into a Black body.[3] To restate Okri’s assertion, it means that though a Black man technically resides at the heart of the play, Othello nonetheless centers a white perspective because the protagonist is nothing more than a white man’s fantastical creation of Blackness. This centering of whiteness even occurs when Othello gets reanimated much less briefly, such as the short reference to the play in the podcast Serial (Chapter 3). Host Sarah Koenig frames her true-crime investigation of Pakistani American Adnan Sayed’s supposed murder of his Korean girlfriend Hae Min Lee (he has now been exonerated) as an Othello/Desdemona story. I suggest that if Adnan is Othello and Hae is Desdemona, Koenig herself functions as an Iago figure, a narrative orchestrator like Iago who focuses on her perspectives, her affective responses, and her interpretations of each moment over the people of colour on whom she reports. In most versions of Othello, this type of focus on whiteness only directs attention back to figures like Brabantio, Desdemona, and yes, Iago, on almost anyone and everyone but Othello.

Jordan Peele’s film Get Out, however, models alternative possibilities, as I trace in my closing chapter. Get Out’s narrative structure loosely follows Othello’s. Yet while debates still circulate about Othello’s relationship to race, Get Out has been celebrated and widely received as an anti-racist horror film, one that uses music, film angles, plotting, characterization and more to privilege a Black perspective and experience unabashedly. In doing so, the film exposes the horrors of existing in a white supremacist culture without the ambiguity found in Othello. While the details of what centering a Black perspective, Othello’s perspective, will change depending on a reanimation’s given medium, Get Out serves as a vital reminder of how important it is to challenge the perspectival dominance of whiteness in order to make space for new approaches and stories, including new and more racially responsible Shakespearean retellings.

I am not sure which reanimation of Othello will come my way next. Sometimes, I wish the answer were “none,” because despite the anti-racist reanimations I discuss in my book, I am largely skeptical about the need and desire to keep resurrecting this particular play in this day and age. But, if it must be revivified, my hope is that these questions will help us all identify the racial frames that do and do not contest racial inequity in and through Othello so that we can in turn discern which reanimations respond to Othello’s poignant call to “Speak of me as I am” (5.2.352).   

Vanessa I. Corredera

Andrews University


Vanessa’s book is available to purchase from Edinburgh University Press. (Use code NEW30 to receive a 30% discount.)

[1] See Ayanna Thompson’s interview “All that Glisters is Not Gold” with NPR’s Code Switch for a discussion of Shakespeare’s toxic plays.

[2] I only recently learned of “colour evasive” as a substitution for “colourblind” thanks to academic twitter. See tweets by professors such as Uju Aynya, Deadric T. Williams, Tina Cheuk, and Darnell Fine that employ the term and suggest it as an effective, non-ableist substitute.  

[3] See the essay “Leaping Out of Shakespeare’s Terror: Five Meditations on Othello” in A Way of Being Free (Head of Zeus, 2015). 

Header Image: Keith Hamilton Cobb in American Moor.

Randall Martin – Cymbeline in the Anthropocene: A Global Eco-Theatrical Collaboration

Cymbeline in the Anthropocene is an international performance-research project which brings together seven theatre companies and environmentally committed productions from four continents. It is the first collective effort to present Shakespeare’s ecological insights to audiences beyond academia or the Anglosphere. Each contributing company has created locally site-specific and ecologically adapted performances of Shakespeare’s late tragi-comedy, Cymbeline. These are our companies, their performance titles, and the directors:

“Gold and Silver Turned to Dust”; “Does the World Go Round?”

University of Exeter Drama students

Exeter, England

Director, Evelyn O’Malley


Willow Globe Theatre company

Powys, Wales

Artistic Directors, Sue Best and Phil Bowen

Cimbelino en la Patagonia

Setebos theatre company

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Artistic Director, Mónica Maffía

“Once Upon a Time in the Anthropocene”

Cornell University Department of Performing & Media Arts students

Ithaca, New York

Director, Theo Black


Montana Shakespeare in the Parks

Bozeman, Montana

Artistic Director, Kevin Asselin

Dramaturge, Gretchen Minton

Imogen in the Wild

Shakespeare in Yosemite theatre company

Yosemite National Park and University of California Merced

Directors, Katherine Steele Brokaw, Paul Prescott, William Wolfgang


La Trobe University Department of Drama students

Melbourne, Australia

Director, Rob Conkie

Generously supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Cymbeline in the Anthropocene’s main research goal has been to build an open-access archive documenting the performance creations and ecological discoveries of participating companies. Their voluntary contributions have collectively created a compact global vision of contemporary Anthropocene conditions, while also facilitating cultural exchanges and personal understanding of the era’s present-day impacts across continental borders. The project’s research and dissemination activities continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, even though theatres world-wide were forced to suspend live performances for more than a year in 2020-21. During this time, regrettably, we lost four theatre companies from our original group of ten. This included three non-English-speaking productions from China, Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Georgia. But along the way we picked up two in Buenos Aires and Ithaca, New York to cross the finish line last summer with seven.

In weekly blogs since January 2020, the project website has built up a pioneering record of eco-theatrical practice by tracking practitioners’ script and screenplay creations, material construction of stage properties, and original soundscapes and artwork. The project leader, Prof Randall Martin, and website manager and project researcher, Dr Rebecca Salazar, have interviewed directors and performers to explore their environmental adaptations to local Anthropocene conditions, such as the smoky skies that now pose health risks every summer in western American outdoor performances. We have also gathered audience comments about the shows, although, disappointingly, pandemic restrictions greatly reduced this anticipated fieldwork. The website further documents the adoption of the project’s public humanities outreach by university instructors and high school teachers who have assigned the project’s website materials in their courses.

Why performance?

The Anthropocene is our present-day era of massive, human-aggravated environmental ruptures and calamities. Western and now global models of maximal resource extraction and free-market growth have set off climate, extinction, and sea-level crises on such a scale that it can be difficult to make sense of the damage or conceive of mitigating ways forward. Yet as the revolutions in gender and sexuality of the past eighty years have demonstrated, the seemingly “natural” verities or norms of Western thought – such as patriarchal and racial hierarchies – have been dismantled by cultural critique and political pressure to alter our ethical and legal assumptions.

Similarly, ecological world-views are beginning to be shifted in the light of Anthropocene dangers not just by scientific research, but by telling new stories about the animals we are, and what our well-being on earth depends on to survive. Drama, as a form of storytelling, has the added benefit of stirring spectators through shared physical and emotional exchanges among actors, audiences, non-human animals, and their environments. Theatre has the power to help us affiliate ourselves with the subjective lives and independent value of more-than-human nature, and to catalyse individual and community environmental engagement and action in the world. As foundational conservationist Aldo Leopold observed,

no important change in [environmental] ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions.

Feeling as well as re-imagining new pathways into kinship, empathy, and reciprocity with non-human beings are the primary goals and possibilities of ecotheatre. And Shakespeare is a powerful vehicle for making this affective cognition happen. 

Why Shakespeare?

For although Shakespeare’s canonical status today is often contested, and his work has historically been used as a tool of European colonialism, his works continue to be translated and adapted into scores of global languages and performance traditions. Global familiarity and transcultural adaptability make Shakespeare’s works particularly useful for mobilizing ecodramaturgical innovation on both local and global scales.

Theatre scholar Theresa M. May first defined ecodramaturgy as three different forms of engagement: 

1 It reflects lived experiences of local communities onstage and offstage, and welcomes people historically excluded from dominantly white and economically privileged theatre-making and spectatorship.   

2 It incorporates materially sustainable modes of theatre production and performance.

And 3 it relates its environmental meanings to present-day and site-specific contexts of “the community it serves, and the politics into which it speaks.”[1]   

I would add a fourth principle to these three: ecodramaturgy also revalues the well-being of non-human bio-communities and earth-systems. Foregrounding our co-evolved relations with other lifeforms disrupts the theatrical presentation of stories and beings according to the sentimental aesthetics of genre (think: “forest of Arden,” or “the heath”). It also expands the mental horizons of what environmental philosopher Todd Dufresne calls “differential consciousness.” This means recognizing our capacity for both suffering and flourishing as a species like any other. Respect for life’s pluralized unity serves to counter what Dufresne also calls modernity’s “globalization of indifference” towards nonhuman nature.[2] And it encourages us to treat entire ecosystems and their inhabitants (such as the Trent River watershed in England which Hotspur plans to disrupt but whose ecological integrity Glendower defends in Henry IV Part One) as persons equally deserving of rights to protection and care.

Let’s revisit just a single example of shared creaturely personhood in Shakespeare. It occurs in the play now known as Henry VI Part Two. There King Henry compares the trumped-up arrest of Duke Humphrey to the distress of a calf taken away by a butcher, who

… binds the wretch, and beats it when it strains,

Bearing it to the bloody slaughterhouse

And as the dam runs lowing up and down,

Looking the way her harmless young one went,

And can do naught but wail her darling’s loss,

Even so myself bewails good Gloucester’s case 

With sad unhelpful tears, and with dimmed eyes

Look after him….

(Henry VI Part Two 3.1. 211-19)

Henry insists his pain is identical — as a sentient mortal being – to the feelings of a brutalized calf and its traumatized mother. His empathy dissolves species hierarchies, and insists we are humanely implicated in a routine process of killing for food. 

Why Cymbeline?

At first glance, Shakespeare’s Cymbeline — which features a runaway princess, an evil step-mother, a war between Britain and Rome, and a final scene of farfetched revelations and reconciliations — doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for confronting today’s environmental crises.

But as a play of emotional and physical extremes, Cymbeline has come into its own as a realistic reflection of threatening twenty-first century conditions. Its themes of personal resilience and global cooperation speak to the collective action nations must take now to confront the intensifying climate crisis and its related infrastructure breakdowns and social emergencies. Moreover, the play’s complex and outlandish storylines seem newly apt for contemporary adaptation because the Anthropocene is changing earth-systems and defying conventional forms and generic norms on more fronts and larger scales than we have ever experienced before.

Outcomes and futures

The Cymbeline network’s performance and knowledge-creation activities culminated in an in-person and livestreamed performance symposium in Bozeman, Montana on 18-20 July 2022, co-hosted by Montana Shakespeare in the Parks. Participating theatre directors and dramaturges each made 10-minute presentations about their shows’ rationales and formative contexts, followed by half-hour videos illustrating the results. The event wrapped up with a roundtable discussion open to in-person and live-streamed audiences. Sessions from all three days are now available on our YouTube channel through our website There you can also find full-length videos of five of our productions. Please visit and let us know what you think!

A complementary concluding event was a wonderful documentary made by CBC Radio 1’s programme, Ideas. It celebrated the originality, life-changing personal impacts, and community collaborations of selective Cymbeline in the Anthropocene productions. The show is now available in a podcast or through our website. It’s lively introduction to our project.    

At the time of writing we are making final edits to the website archive and readying it for migration to a permanent website in 2023.

Randall Martin

University of New Brunswick

[1]Tú eres mi otro yo – Staying with the Trouble: Ecodramaturgy and the AnthropoScene,”
The Journal of American Drama and Theatre 29.2 (2017), 1-18, citation 13 n. 2.  

[2] The Democracy of Suffering (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019).

Eric Dunnum: Unruly Audiences and the Theater of Control in Early Modern London

Eric Dunnum, Associate Professor at Campbell University, tells us about his first monograph, published by Routledge in 2020.

The kernel of my monograph, Unruly Audiences and the Theater of Control in Early Modern London, was formed way back in Dr Amelia Zurcher’s class at Marquette University on early modern drama in 2008. We read Richard II in conjunction with Tamburlaine, and I was struck by the similar (but contrasting) way Richard and Tamburlaine handled audiences. Richard refused to hand over the crown in front of an audience and Tamburlaine refused to take the crown from Mycetes until he had an audience. They both understood the power of performance and the need for an audience. I had a hunch that these texts weren’t just interested in statecraft or political power, but were also meditating on the efficacy and nature of stage performance. 

From there, I became interested in what early modern playwrights thought about performance and audiences. At the time, I was surprised to learn that there was no sustained treatise on acting, performance, or dramaturgy written by an early modern playwright, except perhaps Thomas Heywood’s Apology for Actors (1612). I began to wonder what it would look like if there was one. My dissertation tried to use clues from metadramatic scenes and inset performances to understand how playwrights thought through their own performances. 

I began by tracking down as many metadramatic scenes as I could, and what I found was odd: playwrights, it seemed, were not particularly confident in the effective power of their own plays. For instance, when playwrights staged plays, the performance didn’t actually work. That is, when a fictive performance is given a specific purpose, that purpose is almost never achieved. This may seem surprising since the most famous example of an inset performance actually does work. In Hamlet, an inset performance is used to “catch the conscience of the king,” and it works. However, the success of “The Mousetrap” obscures dozens of other examples throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth century where inset performances fail. A clear example is found in Philip Massinger’s The Roman Actor (1628)a play is produced to teach a miser a lesson about the dangers of greed. However, the plan doesn’t work, and the miser remains as greedy as ever. A similar scheme fails in Massinger’s The City Madam (1632). But it isn’t just Massinger. James Shirley’s The Bird in a Cage (1633). George Chapman’s The Gentlemen Usher (1605), John Marston’s Histrio-Mastix (c.1598-1599), Thomas Middleton’s Hengist, King of Kent (c.1615), among others, feature an inset performance that fails to achieve its goal. In fact, the only fictive play besides Hamlet that scripts a successful performance is Richard Brome’s A Jovial Crew (1641). 

Why were playwrights seemingly so hesitant to stage plays that changed their audience’s behaviour? My first attempt at an answer was to theorize that these plays were in dialogue with anti-theatrical writers. Writers such as Anthony Munday, Stephen Gosson and John Northbrooke argued that plays had a direct (and negative) effect on the actions of the audience. Playwrights within their plays were attempting to counter that message with one of their own – plays don’t affect the audience at all. They were essentially saying, “plays can’t hurt you, so don’t worry about it and come enjoy some live performances at Bankside.”

And yet there was more, I think, going on. After all, beyond some negative PR, anti-theatrical writers didn’t pose a huge threat to the playwrights. They were mostly active in the 1580s and 90s, and probably didn’t have a massive influence or readership. So I doubt playwrights would put this much work into countering a fairly fringe discourse. The effort they put into countering this message suggests a deeper anxiety.

And they were right to be anxious. The basic premise of the anti-theatrical writers (that performance influences the actions of the audience) was repeated by those with much more power over the theatres. London authorities used this same argument when they closed the theatres. 

Early in my research I became fascinated by the 1597 riot at the Swan theatre, seemingly caused by a performance of the Isle of Dogs. Warrants were issued for the authors, and all the theatres in London were slated for destruction. The order to close the theatres used similar logic (and language) as the anti-theatrical writers: the play affected the audience’s actions and so the play, playwrights and playhouse were at fault. Although the riot at the Swan was the only documented disturbance that occurred within a playhouse, plenty of riots happened in the vicinity of the theatres, including the almost yearly apprentice riots. These too resulted in closings, and the orders of closure again used language that mirrored the anti-theatrical writers. The evidence suggested to me that the existence of the theatres and early modern drama itself was contingent on the behavior of audiences. 

Much of the research I did while expanding my dissertation into a book centred on these riots. I read documentation on and responses to the unruly activities of Londoners. My research, aided by some of the fantastic work on riots and unrest by historians like Roger Manning, Tim Harris, Ian W. Archer, and Taylor Aucoin, as well as early modern scholars Ian Munro, Paul Menzer, and Chris Fitter painted a picture of a very unstable London and some very fearful London authorities, who were willing to shut down the theatres whenever the social order was threatened. This put the playhouses in an extremely precarious position: in order to stay open and continue to produce plays and make money, they had to find a way of controlling their unruly audiences.

The similarity between anti-theatrical arguments and the logic of theatre closures provided the key, I think, for understanding why playwrights were so hesitant to embrace the efficacy and power of their own performances. They wanted to construct a theory of performance that controlled their audiences’ physical responses in the theatre. To oversimplify, they were trying to teach their audience to not respond to performances, thereby training them to watch a performance in a polite and nonthreatening way.

The failure of inset performances to affect their audience in plays like The Roman Actor is just one strategy that I explore in my book. I find that plays throughout the period use a variety of methods to control their audiences because they feared what might happen if their unruly audiences were inflamed in the playhouse and let loose in London.

As an American, it is interesting to look back on my research on riots after the unrest in the summer of 2020. In early modern London, capital (the playhouses) collaborated, perhaps unwillingly, with the state to ensure social order. The plays may have been exploring or even endorsing radical and subversive ideas, but the institution of the playhouse was fundamentally conservative. Its first and most important job was to stay open and make money. It is a reminder, I think, that no matter how progressive a stance an institution might take, capital will always work with the state to protect itself. This might help explain why a mass movement against police brutality, which was nominally endorsed by institutions and companies throughout the world, resulted in more brutality and increased police budgets.

Part of the value, then, of studying Shakespearean era drama and its relationship to early modern London is being able to trace how modern systems of power emerge. When we read Shakespeare and his contemporaries, we are watching as they negotiate new institutions that they are partially inventing. While my work is specifically focused on trying to understand how playwrights were working to construct the new institution of playgoing, to understand this institution, we also have to learn how broader systems of state and financial power operated, systems that are still with us today.

Eric Dunnum

Campbell University

To learn more about Eric’s research and publications please visit his departmental page.

Image credit: Detail from title page of A students lamentation that hath sometime been in London an apprentice, for the rebellious tumults lately in the citie hapning (London, [1595]), Folger Shakespeare Library, STC 23401.5. Reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Website by Agency For Good

Copyright 2024. All Rights Reserved