Dr Emma Whipday
What is your role at King's and within the London Shakespeare Centre?
I joined King’s as a Teaching Fellow in September 2015, having studied and taught at the University of Oxford, UCL, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and Shakespeare’s Globe.
I co-teach a range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules relating to Shakespeare and early modern drama, including ‘Shakespeare’s London’ (co-taught with Shakespeare’s Globe), ‘A Mad World, My Masters: Performing Culture in Jacobean England’, ‘The Film of the Play’, and ‘Working with Early Modern Literary Texts’. I also convene graduate courses on ‘Theatre, Gender and Culture in Jacobean London’, and ‘Global/Local Shakespeares’. I’m also a Globe Education Lecturer at Shakespeare’s Globe.
My research interests include domesticity on the early modern stage and page, early modern popular culture, representing domestic violence, theatrical practice as research, and early modern drama in contemporary performance.
What first drew you to Shakespeare and Early Modern studies?
I grew up watching repeats of Kenneth Macmillan’s ballet Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare in Love, and these two experiences seem to have had a disproportionate effect on my academic development! I continue to be interested in Shakespearean tragedy, the relationship between offstage and onstage worlds, how performance conditions shape texts, the connections between the quotidian and the theatrical, and how Shakespeare’s works can be translated and adapted across media. I also attended summer drama courses as a child that allowed me to experience rehearsing and performing in The Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the relationship between text and performance has been at the centre of my work ever since.
As an undergraduate I was lucky enough to study with Professor Laurie Maguire and Dr Emma Rhatigan at Magdalen College, Oxford; Emma introduced me to the proliferation of genres and texts in the early modern period, from Donne’s sermons to Sidney’s sonnets, and from Nashe’s picaresque fiction to the genre of domestic tragedy, while Laurie’s inspirational approach to close readings of Shakespeare’s works encouraged me to think about textual variants, theatre history, and the plays in performance. When I arrived at Magdalen, I wanted to focus on Victorian sensation fiction and ‘penny dreadfuls’, but I soon discovered that an interest in sensational violence, unhappy homes and popular culture led me to the stages and streets of early modern London.
I then studied for the ‘Shakespeare in History’ MA at UCL, which enabled me to explore the relationship between canonical and non-canonical texts in the early modern period, situating Shakespeare’s plays in their theatrical, literary and social contexts, supplemented by workshops at the British Library and theatre trips to Shakespeare’s Globe. I became fascinated by the little-studied relationship between the genre of domestic tragedy (a group of plays, often based on recent crimes, that portray disruption in non-aristocratic households) and Shakespeare’s tragedies, and I wrote my MA dissertation on whether Othello can be productively read as a domestic tragedy. I developed this research for my PhD thesis, ‘Shakespeare’s Domestic Tragedies: Disrupted Homes on the Early Modern Page, Stage and Street’, which explores how Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth use elite and foreign settings and heightened language to stage familiar domestic worlds. Alongside my thesis, I developed my interest in theatrical practice as research as an approach to early modern drama, collaborating with academics at UCL and the University of Exeter to stage Samuel Daniel’s The Tragedie of Cleopatra (UCL, 2013; the National Trust at Knole, 2014) and ‘The Tragedy of Merry’ from Robert Yarrington’s Two Lamentable Tragedies (UCL, 2014). I have published on early modern popular culture, domestic tragedy, the RSC’s recent ‘Roaring Girls’ season, and staging Daniel’s Cleopatra.
What are you currently working on? How does your research inform what we do at the London Shakespeare Centre?
I am currently preparing a monograph based on my PhD thesis for publication; I am also co-writing an article (with Freyja Cox Jensen) on my cue-script performance of ‘The Tragedy of Merry’, for a special issue of Shakespeare Bulletin on ‘practice as research’. I’m interested in exploring what reconstructing early modern practices can teach us about this play in particular, and the genre of domestic tragedy more widely. I am currently curating a ‘Domestic Shakespeare’ strand for the Shakespeare 400 King’s internal festival (run by LSC), which will bring together my joint interests in domestic disruptions and in approaching early modern texts through performance.
What do your students get out of studying Shakespeare and his contemporaries?
Studying Shakespeare and his contemporaries grants you access to an alien world, a world of Kings and crowns, of foundlings and voyages to undiscovered lands, of bed-tricks and elaborate courtships - but a world with uncanny similarities to the one we know, in its family fall-outs, political struggles, fantasies, and anxieties. The works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries engage with all of these themes and ideas in ways that are culturally specific but that continue to resonate, when we read them and when we see them performed. By studying these texts, you can begin to get a sense of how these works were shaped by, and themselves shaped, the world they inhabited.
What are the most rewarding aspects of teaching Shakespeare in London?
Teaching Shakespeare’s works in the city where Shakespeare lived and worked, and where his plays were written and performed, offers an invaluable opportunity to engage with how Shakespeare engaged with London in his work, and to explore how London’s theatres made Shakespeare’s plays possible. Working with Shakespeare’s Globe is particularly valuable in this respect; co-teaching the undergraduate ‘Shakespeare’s London’ course and the MA in Shakespeare Studies with Shakespeare’s Globe enables me to watch students’ understanding of theatrical contexts grow as they experience how the architecture of the stage spaces and the acoustic and visual possibles of the theatres engages with and affects Shakespeare’s playtexts. The British Library is also a wonderful resource for students; it is the place where I carry out the majority of my own research, and the opportunity for students to have almost limitless access not only to secondary literature, but to early modern playtexts, pamphlets, commonplace books, ballads, and chronicles, is invaluable for developing research skills and enabling original research. The MA in Early Modern English Literature: Text and Transmission offers students the chance to handle rare printed books, and to work with curators and book historians. Furthermore, London is a uniquely theatrical city, and taking advantage of this can enhance your studies: if you’re interested in early modern drama in contemporary performance, the sheer volume of productions in London, at the Globe, the National the Barbican, the Old Vic, the Young Vic, the White Bear, the Rose at Kingston, the Rose at Bankside, and elsewhere, is unrivalled.
Is there anything you'd like to say to students thinking about applying to study with us at King's?
We’d love to hear from you – we welcome students with a variety of interests and from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, so do get in touch. We’d be happy to answer any questions about the courses available.