The Idea of the Shakespearean Actor

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Sally Barnden, Emer McHugh, Miranda Fay Thomas

Call for Papers

The Idea of the Shakespearean Actor 

An edited collection

Eds. Sally Barnden, Emer McHugh, and Miranda Fay Thomas 




What comes to mind when we think about the Shakespearean actor, or Shakespearean acting? What do actors past, present, and future consider ‘Shakespearean acting’ to be? Is the idea of the Shakespearean actor helpful, or does it limit and restrict the notion of what Shakespearean performance can be? 


Histories of Shakespearean acting have often provided catalogues of names weighted in favour of white cisgender actors including David Garrick, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, and Mark Rylance, in favour of cerebral or declamatory performance styles, and in favour of performing in an English accent. This collection will read against the grain of theatre history to confront the idea of the Shakespearean actor. 


As performance trends have changed over the last thirty or forty years, and as landmark works in Shakespeare and early modern performance studies have shown, the limits and definition of ‘the Shakespearean’ have expanded.[1] New approaches address the limits of a teleological, British-centric approach to the histories of Shakespearean acting and acting practices: there have been interesting challenges to the limits of 'Shakespearean acting' from earlier periods, from figures such as Ira Aldridge, Paul Robeson, Asta Nielsen, Ellen Terry, Sarah Bernhardt, Fanny Furnival, Sarah Siddons, and even Edward Kynaston.


This edited collection invites contributors to seek alternatives to biographical accounts of Shakespearean actors which conform to established and canonical performance histories. It aims to interrogate how the idea of ‘the Shakespearean actor’ has been constructed—and challenged—over four centuries. It interrogates whether ‘Shakespearean acting’ is now or indeed ever was a discrete and meaningful category. It offers a critical appraisal that challenges, provokes, and disrupts notions of elitism in Shakespearean performance, and offers a range of scholarly and practitioner perspectives that, taken together, provide both a history and a counter-history to the presentation and reception of Shakespeare's work.

Contributions may address (but are not limited to): 


-       Shakespearean acting through different media: film, radio, and television; online and intermedial performance

-       Casting identities, fandoms, and communities  

-       Approaching acting practices and histories using premodern critical race studies

-       Shakespeare and the disabled actor 

-       Shakespeare, gender, and performance: the histories and practices of trans and gender-non-conforming Shakespeareans; new approaches to cross-gender performance

-       Queer Shakespeareans

-       National identities and national theatres; Shakespearean performance and its connection to narratives of nationalism, empire, class, elitism, imperialism, and ‘civilisation’ 

-       Non-Anglophone Shakespearean performance 

-       Aging, youth, and concepts of beauty and virtuosity

-       Actors' biographies and autobiographies and the histories of Shakespearean roles as rites of passage (‘Hamlet as Everest’, ‘Lear as the final hurdle’)

-       Creative/critical appraisement of performance practice 

-       The figure of the actor-director 

-       Actors and the archive (personal and institutional archives) 

-       Skill and training: voice, breath, and accent; actor training and verse speaking manuals (Cicely Berry, Kristin Linklater, Declan Donnellan, Giles Block) then and now; Hamlet’s ‘speak the speech’ as acting advice

-       Inanimate performances: portraiture, photography, and material culture 



We are particularly interested in receiving abstracts from BIPOC scholars and artists, trans and gender-non-conforming scholars and artists, disabled scholars and artists, queer scholars and artists, and early career researchers. Please get in touch with us if you have ideas for an abstract! 


Please send an abstract of no more than 250 words with a short bio of 100 words to, and by THURSDAY 30th SEPTEMBERPlease send your abstract to all three email addresses, rather than one. For more information, or to discuss your ideas regarding an abstract, please contact the above addresses. 


The provisional timeline is for contributors to submit essays (c. 5000 words) in summer 2022. 






[1] This is not an exhaustive list, but examples include Carol Rutter’s Clamorous Voices, Abigail Rokison-Woodall’s Shakespearean Verse Speaking, Errol Hill’s Shakespeare in Sable, Bridget Escolme’s Talking to the Audience, John Astington’s Actors and Acting in Shakespeare’s Time, W. B. Worthen’s Shakespeare and the Authority of Performance, Ayanna Thompson’s Passing Strange and Colorblind Shakespeare, Sophie Duncan’s Shakespeare’s Women and the Fin de Siècle, Anna Blackwell’s Shakespearean Celebrity in the Digital Age, Amy Cook’s Shakespearean Futures: Casting the Bodies of Tomorrow on Shakespeare's Stages Today, Delia Jarrett-Macauley’s Shakespeare, Race, and Performance: The Diverse Bard, and Jonathan Holmes’ Merely Players?