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'Base, common, and popular' : elements of the popular in contemporary Shakespearean performance

Purcell, Stephen (2008) 'Base, common, and popular' : elements of the popular in contemporary Shakespearean performance. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94591) (KAR id:94591)


This thesis examines the recent upsurge in Shakespearean performances which incorporate elements of ‘the popular’. In many cases, this takes the form of an apparent restoration, taking a historically-located or text-centred ‘authentically’ popular Shakespeare as its model. In others, a more subversive attitude is implied, suggesting that popular culture might provide a challenge to Shakespeare’s perceived cultural authority. Often, these contradictory attitudes may be found existing side-by-side and incompatibly within one piece of work.

Chapter One puts the term ‘popular’ itself under close scrutiny: it often has commercial connotations, but in a theatrical context it is more frequently used to signify something ‘of the people’. As this chapter shows, however, this is a problematic concept. Chapter Two analyses the use of anachronism in popular Shakespearean theatre, suggesting that it has the potential both to assimilate the past to the present unproblematically, and to disrupt the tendency to universalise. Chapter Three extends this analysis to the practice of departing from the Shakespearean text: its historical precedents, its possible ‘textual’ justifications, and its potential for transgression of the ‘sanctity’ of Shakespeare’s words.

In Chapter Four, a variety of parodic appropriations and adaptations of Shakespeare are considered; I examine the numerous versions of the relationship between Shakespeare and popular culture constructed in them, and suggest the emergence of a performance trend which is characterised by intertextuality and defiant of traditional cultural hierarchies. Chapter Five examines a similar topic from the opposite angle, looking at constructions of the popular Shakespearean audience which are promoted as ‘authentic’, and deconstructing these from a materialist perspective. Chapter Six looks at the implications of theatre space on a Shakespearean production’s ‘popular’ elements, and in my conclusion I draw together the ideas about Shakespearean cultural authority and transgression which permeate the thesis.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94591
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Subjects: N Visual Arts
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 04 Jul 2023 10:46 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2023 10:46 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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