Research Stream


Penelope Woods
Queen Mary University of London



Feelings in the Room: Theatre Audiences and their Emotions

The social and material circumstances of theatre performance have varied through time adapting to shifts in tastes and technologies. This project examines the significance of the material and social spaces of theatres (their “affective technology”) for emotions that circulate in these spaces and the ways emotion is sought and produced in the theatre.

Feelings in the Room: Theatre Audiences and their Emotions

Hamlet and His Mother, Eugene Delacoix, 1849. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From chamber performances, to masques, processions, pageants, open-air and indoor public theatres, the material nature of the theatre site, cultural context and performance technology have informed the ways in which theatre has sought and produced emotion amongst its audiences. Drawing on sociological, praxeological and spatial theories of human interaction and emotion this project evaluates the significance of spatial features of theatre design in the production of audience response. Case studies include performances at the open-air, rectangular Fortune Theatre, rebuilt in different countries at different periods. Evidence from diaries, letters, law courts, playbills, prompt books and oral histories provide insight into response sought and elicited. Repertory – the plays written and produced for a specific stage in a particular period – provides a different aesthetic indication of affective practice.

1.    The Fortune Theatre (1600-1621) London, England
2.    The New Fortune (1964-) Perth, West Australia
3.    The Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre (2014-) Gdańsk, Poland

Sites of, frequently highly ephemeral, affective audience response are being identified to develop historical methodologies to better examine and account for these little-researched phenomena. These fall into embodied response which is traceable to facial and gestural responses in the moment to performance (as well as the reciprocal importance of these within the performance itself) and identifiable responses such as laughing, weeping, gasping and yawning; other embodied affective responses such as fainting and parasympathetic responses such as vertigo, vomiting, contagious laughter, hiccupping etc. Embodied affective audience response also includes those perhaps more closely determined by cultural convention such as applause, ovations, booing, hissing, walking out and interjecting. Less immediate, and perhaps less embodied, affective responses where performance becomes a reference point or framework in other life situations, or where memories of performances surface at a later point are also part of the scope of this project. The complexity of the audience as collective, informed or produced by shifting micro-communities of response and individual responses is being considered. The social and cultural conditions of performance and response in particular spaces, relations of pleasure, sympathy, hospitality, hostility and antagonism are some frameworks examined in this project.


Woods, Penelope. ‘Chapter 7- The Indoor Theatre Audience: Pity and Wonder’ in Moving Shakespeare Indoors. Ed. Andrew Gurr and Farah Karim-Cooper. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. pp. 152-67.

Woods, Penelope. ‘Chapter 9- Pocket Henry V: A Collaborative Debate’ in Shakespeare and Audience in Practice. Stephen Purcell. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pp. 159-172.

Woods, Penelope. ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona: directed by Arne Pohlmeier for the Two Gents Theatre Company (Harare, Zimbabwe and London, UK)’ in A Year of Shakespeare: Reviewing the World Shakespeare Festival 2012. Ed. by Paul Edmondson, Paul Prescott and Erin Sullivan. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. pp. 223-26.

Woods, Penelope. “Two Gentlemen of Zimbabwe and their Diaspora Audience” African Theatre 12: Shakespeare in & out of Africa. Ed. by Jane Plastow et al. (2013)

Woods, Penelope. “Observations from the Rehearsal Room; Playing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe” Shakespeare Bulletin 30.4 (2012): 565-72.

Woods, Penelope. “Frontier Shakespeare and the Feeling of Ownership”, Centre for the Histories of Emotion Blog Space, 6 March 2013.

Papers Given

‘Likerous Looking and Amatory Audition in Othello’, Senses in Performance Seminar Group, Shakespeare Association of America, St Louis, Missouri, 10-12 April, 2014.

‘Fortune at the Theatre’, Risk, Chance and Fortune in the Renaissance, Renaissance Society of America, New York, 28-30 March, 2014.

‘‘Many will swoon when they do look on blood’ Stage Blood and Audience Affect’, The Blood Conference, Oxford University, 3-5 January, 2014.

‘Painted Sepulchres: Doing Audience Historiography’, PMRG Conference, University of Western Australia, 29-30 November, 2013.

‘An Audience for Othello (c.1604): the Affective Technology of the Elizabethan Theatre’ Arts and Rhetorics of Emotion in Early Modern Europe, University of Queensland, Australia, 25-27 November, 2013.

‘’Globe to Globe’ and its Audiences, London 2012’ International Federation of Theatre Research, Barcelona, 22-26 July 2013.

‘Emotions Backstage: the literal and imaginary space of the seventeenth century Tiring House’ Sourcing Emotions-Centre for the History of Emotions Bi-Annual Conference, Perth, Australia, 27-29 June, 2013.

‘Audience Skill: An exploration of the habitus of being audience in a reconstructed early modern theatre’ Shakespeare Association of America, Toronto, 28-30 March 2013.

‘The Reciprocal Face Dynamic on the Early Modern Stage’ Faces of Emotion Collaboratory, University of Melbourne, 5-7 December 2012.

‘Hospitality and Hostility: the interpersonal dynamic at the Globe Theatre’, Shakespeare and Emotions, Australia and New Zealand Shakespeare Association, UWA, 27-30 November 2012.

Invited Lectures

“Well Painted Passion’: Towards a Manifesto for Audience Historiography, for the Performance Studies Departmental Seminar Series, Sydney University, invited by Dr Amanda Card and Dr

‘Emotions in the Wild, Emotions in the Gallery: the Intentionality of Spectatorship in the Art Gallery’, Art History Seminar Series, Melbourne University, invited by Dr Felicity Harley-McGowan (AI), 9 October 2013.

‘Stage Blood and Stage Kisses: Playing Shakespeare with Globe Education at Shakespeare’s Globe’, for Continuing Professional Development Lecture Series, University of Queensland, invited by Prof Joanne Tompkins and Dr Alison Scott, (AI) 29 April 2013.