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The Disguised Ruler in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries by Kevin A Quarmby



The Disguised Ruler in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012; reissued in paperback, Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2016)

In the early seventeenth century, the London stage often portrayed a ruler covertly spying on his subjects. Traditionally deemed 'Jacobean disguised ruler plays', these works include Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, Marston's The Malcontent and The Fawn, Middleton's The Phoenix, and Sharpham's The Fleer. Commonly dated to the arrival of James I, these plays are typically viewed as synchronic commentaries on the Jacobean regime. Kevin A. Quarmby demonstrates that the disguised ruler motif actually evolved in the 1580s. It emerged from medieval folklore and balladry, Tudor Chronicle history and European tragicomedy. Familiar on the Elizabethan stage, these incognito rulers initially offered light-hearted, romantic entertainment, only to suffer a sinister transformation as England awaited its ageing queen's demise. The disguised royal had become a dangerously voyeuristic political entity by the time James assumed the throne. Traditional critical perspectives also disregard contemporary theatrical competition. Market demands shaped the repertories. Rivalry among playing companies guaranteed the motif's ongoing vitality. The disguised ruler's presence in a play reassured audiences; it also facilitated a subversive exploration of contemporary social and political issues. Gradually, the disguised ruler's dramatic currency faded, but the figure remained vibrant as an object of parody until the playhouses closed in the 1640s.


'"Bardwashing" Shakespeare: Food Justice, Enclosure, and the Poaching Poet', Journal of Social Justice, 5 (2015): 1–21

William Shakespeare arguably represents the height of English intellectual creativity. His drama and poetry transcend his mortality, speaking to generation upon generation with an authoritative appeal that seems morally superior because of its durability over the centuries. In his play As You Like It, Shakespeare even appears to glorify the social bandit and proto food activist. Characters that survive in the Forest of Arden by poaching their usurping duke’s deer are likened to the mythical figure, Robin Hood. The allusion achieves greater significance when considered alongside near- contemporary pseudo-biographies that record Shakespeare’s early life as a poacher and youthful renegade. At face value, Shakespeare’s Robin Hood reference might suggest his subtle advocacy of food sovereignty and social justice. This romanticized image is supported by later historiographies that interpret medieval and early modern enclosure from a specifically partisan viewpoint. Early nineteenth century historians who referenced More’s Utopia, and whose influence is evident in enclosure analyses ranging from Marx to Polanyi and Bookchin, unwittingly assist in perpetuating the iconography of the social bandit Shakespeare, united with his rebellious rural contemporaries. Surprisingly, however, Shakespeare’s true personality – that of a shrewd and ruthless businessman, at ease with hoarding in time of famine as purchasing common-land rights and privileges at the expense of his impoverished neighbors – is less familiar. The opportunistic, land-grabbing, pro-enclosure Bard, while not erased from critical view, is certainly shielded by the bardolatrous hero- worship of later ages. This “Bardwashing” of Shakespeare’s agrarian capitalist identity, in favor of the morally irreproachable icon, owes much to gossip gleaned from the very people most impacted by his aggressive exurbanite dealings. This paper interrogates the populist iconography of Shakespeare, and questions his reinvention as a local celebrity and Robin Hood eco-champion, rather than aggressive capitalist willing to exploit for immediate profit the food justice rights of his hometown community.


'Enactment and Exegesis: Recontextualizing Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London through Performance as Research', Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies: The Three Ladies of London in Context (2015): 1–13

McMaster University’s The Three Ladies of London conference engages with Wilson’s early modern dramatic text through Performance as Research (PAR). The archival recordings that make up this PAR moment reside in, and are accessed from, their digital home on the Queen’s Men Editions website (QME). Within the wider academic community, however, PAR has yet to achieve its full potential or acceptance. This essay considers the reason for this lessening of PAR’s scholarly status, associated, as it seems, with the hierarchical superiority of more traditional print-based exegesis, which is invariably prioritized and valorized as the sole means to validate PAR’s academic potential. Such valorization denies the collaborative model PAR offers as a laboratory for innovative scholarly inquiry. In addition, this essay questions the prevailing hegemony, and inherent presentism, of recent reconstructional 'original practice' scholarship, while offering an argument for recontextualizing, reviving, and re-enlivening the dramatic text through the embodied skill of the PAR actor


'"Would they not wish the feast might ever last?": Strong Spice, Oral History and the Genesis of Globe to Globe', Multicultural Shakespeare, 11 (2014): 17–30

The 2012 Globe to Globe Festival proved a great success. Actors, directors, musicians, dancers, designers and technicians travelled from all over the world to perform on the Globe stage. Visitors to London’s Cultural Olympiad enjoyed six jam-packed weeks of Shakespeare, presented in an array of international languages. The Globe’s Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole, and his Festival Director, Tom Bird, had achieved what seemed, to many, the impossible. Nonetheless, filmed interviews with Dromgoole and Bird, conducted during the festival by the American documentary-maker Steve Rowland, offer tantalizing insights into the genesis of the festival venture. These candid interviews confirm the sometimes farcical, often exhausting, but invariably serendipitous truth behind the Globe to Globe Festival’s short, intense history. Although the Globe was “flying completely blind,” it still succeeded in hosting a glorious feast of Shakespearean delights, seasoned with the strong spice of multiculturality.


'The Wrathful Dragon versus the Foolish, Fond Old Man: Duality of Performance and Post-Feminist Affect in the 2013 Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s King Lear', Cahiers Élisabéthains, 86.1 (2014): 63–74 (Co-written with Gretchen E. Minton)

The 2013 Oregon Shakespeare Festival's King Lear presented a dual problem for any reviewer. With two actors sharing the principal role, which performance represented the director's vision and which should be considered first? Bill Rauch's intention, to explore Lear's multifaceted character through two distinctive performers, seems counter to demands for consistency inherent in any repertory production. An unforeseen outcome for this forced duality was its affect on the production's powerfully envisioned Cordelia, whose character shifted subtly in response to the different Lears. To interrogate and complement this schizophrenic theatrical moment, two academics collaborate on a combined review of two separate performances.


‘“Come unbutton here”: McKellen’s King Lear as Dramatic Censorship of the Flesh’, in Teatro do Mundo: teatro e censura, ed. Cristina Marinho, Francisco Topa and Nuno Pinto Ribeiro (Porto: Faculdade de Letras, Universidade Porto, 2013), pp. 17–39

The 2007 RSC production of King Lear, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Ian McKellen, caused a media storm, though possibly for all the wrong reasoons. As the storm raged all around him, McKellen’s Lear tore down his soaked and besmeared lower garments and exposed not the traditional under apparel of a mentally challenged and defenceless old king, but McKellen’s full groin and genitals in all their naked glory. King Lear's ‘uncovered body’ manifested itself in an extreme act of onstage (and, subsequently, media) over-exposure. In response to this baring of an actor’s body, critics focused unduly on McKellen's nakedness, the consequence of which was an international awareness of his state of undress when the production began its world tour. Unfortunately, alone among nations, Singapore decided to ban the production unless the actor covered himself, a demand that McKellen surprisingly conceded to. This unilateral act of censorship was later mirrored, however, by the PBS television network, which employed strategic camera angles to achieve the same effect. This essay explores the significance of these censored moments and their heritage in British theatre history.


'Behind the Scenes: Penn & Teller, Taymor and the Tempest Divide', Shakespeare Bulletin, 29 (2011): 383–97

Comparative analysis of Julie Taymor's 2010 film, The Tempest, with reference to similar creative choices evident in her 1986 stage production of the play, excerpts of which survive in an obscure 1992 children's television program.

Shakespeare Survey 64 (2011)

''Narrative of Negativity: Whig Historiography and the Spectre of King James in Measure for Measure', Shakespeare Survey, 64 (2011): 300–316

Traditional criticism of Measure for Measure has long noted a similarity between the fictional Duke Vincentio and the real King James. Indeed, some critics of Measure for Measure have insisted that the Duke and James are one and the same. An analogous similarity between Shakespeare’s Duke and the real King James seems based irrefutably on ‘historic fact’, with Shakespeare attempting a lifelike portrayal, or topical caricature, of the personality or political opinion of his Scottish king and patron. Biographical analogy holds the key to appreciating the contextual topicality of Shakespeare’s dramatic creation, with the spectre of King James residing firmly in the Duke of Measure for Measure. This specific instance of biographical analogy, focusing as it does on certain negative aspects of James’s personality and reign while searching for parallels in the Duke, is best called the ‘Duke-as-James’ theory. A culture of critical conservatism among Shakespeare scholars, especially those who follow the hegemonic/subversive model of new historicist practice, continues to uphold the ‘Duke-as- James’ theory as irrefutable ‘historic fact’. By refusing to respond to longstanding revisionist historical research, new historicist scholars continue to nurture a traditionally held view of Measure for Measure as topical political commentary, with Shakespeare offering decidedly negative or apologetic opinions about the qualities and intentions of his new king. This article seeks to redress the imbalance caused by such critical conservatism by interrogating our tacit acceptance of the ‘Duke-as-James’ theory in relation to Measure for Measure, and by highlighting the anachronistic historical construct at the theory’s core.

  'Julie Taymor's Sandcastle Tempests', Cahiers Élisabéthains, 80 (2011): 43–5

"'As the cony that you see": Rosalind's Risqué Rabbits in As You Like It ', Shakespeare, 6:2 ( 2010): 153–64

In As You Like It, Rosalind makes a passing comment in response to Orlando's questioning which seems, in all innocence, to refer to rabbits gambolling contentedly in Arden's idyllic forest. Assuring him that she is native to the place, Rosalind invokes the image of the 'coney' that dwells near where it is kindled as proof of her local heritage. Twenty-first-century actors delivering this line regularly use a pronunciation for 'coney' that would, for any early modern audience, seem particularly alien. This article traces the history of the word 'coney', its banishment from later editions of Bowdler's Family Shakspeare, as well as its reinstatement following alteration by a nineteenth-century lexicographer who sought to make it sound acceptable for family reading. In doing so, it highlights the overtly sexual meaning of the word, linked as it appears to slang terminology for the female pudenda and thus the commodification of the female body, so restoring its potential as Rosalind's cryptic pun about the hidden truth of her 'Ganymede' disguise.




''A Twenty-fifth Anniversary Study of Rehearsal and Performance Practice in the 1980 Royal Court Hamlet and the Old Vic Macbeth: An Actor's View', Shakespeare, 1 (2005): 174–85

2005 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of two famous Shakespeare productions on the London stage: Peter O'Toole's Macbeth and Jonathan Pryce's Hamlet. Comparison of differing techniques for rehearsal and textual assimilation, combined with markedly dissimilar approaches by their respective directors, situate these productions in the historical context of British theatre of the early 1980s. From the viewpoint of an actor in both productions, this survey represents a primary resource in the study of twentieth-century drama. It exposes the opposing forces of “old” and “new” acting and directorial styles, the significance of changing attitudes to set and costume design, and the ultimate importance and limitations of performance space and venue. Most importantly, it demonstrates how both audience and critical reception might impact on the developing strategy of Shakespeare performance.

Shakespeare, published by Routledge