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Shakespeare's 400th Anniversary

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As we mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, we shall be following key themes, controversies and research relating to the life, legacy and the different worlds of Shakespeare, travelling from Stratford to London, taking in his fellow dramatists and expanding the scene through international encounters on stage, media and film.

We will be offering free chapters from prestigious books and articles from Shakespeare Survey every month to celebrate the reach of Shakespeare's global reputation, as well as attending key conferences through the year to bring you the very best in global Shakespeare scholarship.

Please browse these excerpts below, or click here to link straight to either our free book chapters or Shakespeare Survey articles.

Follow us on #CambridgeShakespeare to receive updates every month!


During the month of December, we are looking at Shakespearean actors.

Free Shakespeare chapters

‘'The Written Troubles of the Brain': Writing, Character, and the Cognition of Performance’, a chapter from Shakespeare Performance Studies, by W. B. Worthen.

'In any given theatre, acting might be conceived as a structure of affordance: a means of seizing the instrumental value of the performance’s (and the performer’s) situation, materials, opportunities in relation to a given sense of aims, purposes, abilities, consequences, significance of the project – in relation to what counts as work and as “working” in the theatre.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.



‘Shakespeare v. Actor’, a chapter from Shakespeare's Possible Worlds, by Simon Palfrey.

'The economy and technology of actors’ parts was the perfect medium for Shakespeare’s imagination. This part was the basic working text of the theatre: a “roll” for each individual part, consisting of its cues and speeches, and nothing else. The cues were unattributed, with no indication as to who speaks them, or when. This meant that much of the playworld was unwritten, indicated only by lacunae.' Click here to continue reading the free chapter.



‘Shakespeare in Public: the Resisted Rise of the Amateur Dramatic Society’, a chapter from Shakespeare and Amateur Performance, by Michael Dobson.

'Between 1802 and 1809 a fierce debate about the social allegiances of the national drama affected the amateur and the professional stage alike. It would continue to rumble on even after the monopoly on legitimate professional drama in the metropolis long enjoyed by the two Theatres Royal was finally abolished in 1843. By now regarded as the embodiment of British public culture, Shakespeare was inevitably a major focus of this debate, and it would affect the amateur performance of his plays in the Anglophone world for the rest of the century and beyond.'Click here to continue reading the free chapter.



‘Playing and Education’, a chapter from Actors and Acting in Shakespeare's Time, by John H. Astington.


‘Dramatic activity in grammar schools was not restricted to the London area, but seems to have been widespread throughout England. The Protestant reformer and playwright John Bale visited Hitchin Grammar School in 1552, where the boys presented a variety of English-language plays on religious and controversialist subjects, under the leadership of their master, Ralph Radcliffe. When Bale was later a prebendary of Canterbury Cathedral, in 1562, the King’s School there was putting on plays, as they certainly were again between 1629 and 1632, and the tradition may have continued through the period when Christopher Marlowe was a student at the school (1578–80).‘Click here to continue reading the free chapter.



‘Spectacle, Intellect and Authority: the Actress in the Eighteenth Century’ by Elizabeth Eger, a chapter from The Cambridge Companion to the Actress, edited by Maggie B. Gale and John Stokes.

‘Women’s increasing involvement in the theatre can be associated with licensing agreements enacted in England after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, when Charles II allowed women to play female roles on the legitimate stage. The Licensing Act of 1713 reduced various laws relating to rogues and vagabonds into a single Act of Parliament, raising the status of the profession as a whole to a respectable legal standing. For the first time the Lord Chamberlain’s relation to the theatre was given statutory recognition.‘ Click here to continue reading the free chapter.

Free Shakespeare Survey articles

‘“How Chances it they Travel?”: Provincial Touring, Playing Places, and the King’s Men’, by Alan Somerset, from Shakespeare Survey 47, edited by Stanley Wells

‘Touring could occur in any season, with the summer preferred (twenty-one years), although the company can be found in seven seasonal tours during December and January. The company's touring activities were pursued with no less energy during the years of their special favour at court, although they planned and timed their tours to ensure their availability to the queen at court, where rewards were highest.‘ Click here to read the free article


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‘Shakespeare and the Acting of Edward Alleyn’, by William A Armstrong, from Shakespeare Survey 7, edited by Allardyce Nicoll


‘The thesis that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet's strictures on strutting, bellowing, and extravagant gestures with Alleyn's acting in mind necessarily implies that Burbage practised the type of acting of which Hamlet approved. Shakespeare would not require Burbage to preach what he could not practise. Hence one might justifiably expect contemporary references to the acting of Alleyn and Burbage to fall into the pattern of a sharp contrast between a turgid, blustering technique on the one hand, and a discriminating and finely modulated style on the other. Such is not the case.’ Click here to read the free article


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Players of Shakespeare

We are also pleased to be able to share free chapters from our Players of Shakespeare series, in which well-known actors with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre on their interpretations of major Shakespearian roles.

Patrick Stuart on Shylock

Zoë Wanamaker on Viola

Ralph Fiennes on Henry VI

Susan Brown on Queen Elizabeth

Richard McCabe on Iago

Nancy Carroll on Lady Percy


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