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Shakespeare and Emotion: Then and Now

Date: Monday 29th April 2013
Time: 4.30pm to 6.30pm
Venue: Riverview Room, Emmanual College
                  University of Queensland
                  MacGregor Drive, St Lucia

About the workshop:

Audiences and readers of Shakespeare have long concurred that Shakespeare was a master of emotion- a writer who could understand and articulate human emotion in unusually modern terms, prompting -even now - intense emotional responses. This roundtable event explores how emotion, as it was understood in Shakespeare's time and in ours, conditions Shakespeare's work and assures its continued relevance to contemporary audiences.

Secondary School English and Drama Teachers from across Queensland are invited to join us for two lively papers from international experts in the field, culminating in an open discussion on practical ways to use knowledge about emotion to make Shakespeare matter to students today.

Download Erin Sullivan's lecture slides

Download Penelope Wood's lecture slides



Mind, Body, And Emotion in Shakespeare

Shakespeare is often credited with understanding human emotion better than any other writer, but what do we know about emotion as it was understood in Shakespeare's own times? In this session Dr Erin Sullivan will discuss the medical models that underpinned emotion in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, introducing participants to the system of the 'four humours' of the body that were thought to make up physical, mental, and indeed emotional health. Erin will explain how this system emphasized holism across mind, body, and soul, and also how its understanding of the materiality of the body linked to other material and cosmic forces in the outside world.

Drawing on scenes from Shakespeare's plays, in particular moments from Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado about Nothing, Erin will show how this medical and scientific understanding of mind, body, and emotion influenced how Shakespeare represented the experience of love, sadness, and anger in his own works. We will see how language we might now assume to be metaphorical contained literal possibilities - how a young lover might literally burn with passion or how a bereaved parent might genuinely die from grief.

Participants will be invited to read passages from Shakespeare in this new light while also bringing insights from their own experiences of reading, teaching, and feeling with Shakespeare.

Stage Kisses, Stage Blood and Eavesdropping
Scenes: The Young Audience at Shakespeare's Globe

The Playing Shakespeare series, inaugurated by Globe Education in 2007, provided more than 50,000 secondary school students across the UK with free tickets to one of the Globe theatre's annual productions. As part of a wider research project on the audiences at the Globe Dr Penelope Woods will look at the responses of these young audiences to Much Ado About Nothing (2008), Romeo and Juliet (2009) and Macbeth (2010) directed by Bill Buckhurst and produced by Chris Stafford.

The reconstructed Globe Theatre in London is an unusual performance space whose performance conditions (open- air, in the round, half-standing, half-seated) and heritage significance determine features of audience response and interaction.

Teachers may be surprised to learn that young audiences at these productions spoke back, cried out and offered mesmerizing running commentary on their cognitive and emotional experience of these performances.

This session will focus on some key moments of emotional intensity or complexity on stage - kissing scenes, bloody stage fighting, and the 'eavesdropping' scenes in Much Ado (2.3 and 3.2) - to ask what the cognitive and emotional response of this audience can reveal about the continuing appeal of Shakespeare's drama to young people today.

Attending teachers will gain new insight into the ways in which Shakespeare might resonate for their own students, and there will be ample opportunity to ask Penelope about this fascinating research and to discuss with other teachers how it might benefit classroom teaching.


Dr Erin Sullivan is a Lecturer and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute, part of the University of Birmingham, UK. Her teaching and research focuses on how Shakespeare and other Renaissance writers engaged with contemporary religious, scientific, and philosophical ideas about what it means to be a living, feeling, and thinking human being. Before joining the Shakespeare Institute she completed her PhD at University College London, where she held the Roy Porter Memorial Studentship and was jointly affiliated with the English department and the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine. She is currently completing a book on sadness in Shakespeare and is also the editor of The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Early Modern Literature and Culture (Manchester University Press, 2013) as well as A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival (Arden/ Bloomsbury, 2013).

Dr Penelope Woods is a Research Associate with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100-1800). She is working on audience emotion in early modern performance history and collaborating with UK and Australian theatres on research into audience emotion in the theatre today. Penelope collaborated with Shakespeare's Globe in London on a four year PhD project on spectatorship and audiences. Prior to this Penelope read English at St John's College, Oxford, and has a Masters in History from The Warburg Institute. She has a forthcoming chapter on The Indoor Theatre Audience: Pity and Wonder in Andrew Gurr and Farah Karim-Cooper (eds) (2013), Moving Shakespeare Indoors, Cambridge University Press (2013) and a forthcoming chapter on The Shakespeare Audience- Debate and Provocation' in Stephen Purcell's Shakespeare in Practice: The Audience, Palgrave Macmillan (2013).

For further information, please contact Penelope Boys, CHE Education and Outreach Officer at the University of Queensland.