‘I am / At war ‘twixt will and will not’ (Measure for Measure) Or Why I’ve been advising the writing team of the new TV series Will

Grace Ioppolo writes:

As some of you may know, I’m the founder and Director of a theatre history digitisation project that offers free access to 2000 pages of original records from Shakespeare’s time (www.henlsowe-alleyn.org.uk). The records belong to Philip Henslowe, a theatrical entrepreneur who built the Rose and Fortune playhouses and financed several acting companies, and his son-in-law Edward Alleyn, who with Richard Burbage was the most famous actor of the age. Alleyn was shrewd enough to ensure that this huge archive would survive in perpetuity at the school he founded, Dulwich College. Shakespeare and his colleagues did not manage to keep their records intact, and their papers were scattered and largely destroyed.

Since I published the Henslowe-Alleyn website and archive in 2009, it has received a lot of attention, both from scholars and from the much wider community. According to Google Analytics, we receive up to 28,000 hits per month on Google (which I still find hard to believe), with about 2000 visitors to the site each month. I’ve been contacted by a surprisingly large range of people, including actors, directors, journalists, dramaturgs, comedians, archaeologists, London community activists (!), and even government officials, as well as a man who claims Henslowe as his ancestor, who want further information. I also tweet about the project @ProfShakespeare.

But in August 2016, I had a very exciting email from Sarah Byrd, who introduced herself as part of the London-based writing team of ‘Will,’ a new TV series commissioned by the TNT network in the US, offering a look at the ‘dark’ subculture of Shakespeare’s world in the late 1580s and early 1590s. Sarah told me that she’d found the Henslowe-Alleyn website through Google and thought that I might be able to help her devise ideas for the show. When I rang her, she and I were each very surprised to discover that the other was from Los Angeles and that we’d both been to University there. I went to UCLA and she went to USC; of course, UCLA is much higher-ranked than its cross-town rival USC, but I didn’t hold that against Sarah! She has degrees in English literature and knew quite a lot about the early modern age (and has proven to be an excellent and energetic researcher), and she invited me to meet the creative team. So, off I went to their offices in Soho.

I can honestly say that it was the most enjoyable afternoon of my life in terms of creative thinking and exchanging ideas and information. The writers’ room was papered with photos of all the actors cast in the show (many of them had been in ‘Game of Thrones’ and other popular shows), and Sarah’s colleague David Rambo, a playwright and screenwriter also from Los Angeles, explained how the team worked. I learned that ‘Will’ was created by Craig Pearce and is the culmination of his ten-year effort to get the series on the air.

What they and I anticipated would be a short meeting turned into quite a long one as I answered their questions about the famous historical figures Shakespeare might have encountered, as well as the factual events captured in theatre history, such as the construction of playhouses, interventions and censorship by the government and what daily life was like in London (a subject about which I know a lot, as I’ve studied Henslowe’s famous ‘Diary’ and Alleyn’s lesser-known daily diary). I also gave them a list of historical figures with quite juicy backstories, including Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and his infamous sister Penelope Rich, on both of whom I do research. I offered some gossip of the age, including Ben Jonson’s claim that there was something anatomically wrong with Queen Elizabeth I (you can Google that one). But above all I told them that they should make Henslowe and Alleyn recurring characters in the show (they appear in Shakespeare in Love, after all), and they agreed! Sarah, David and the others on the team took copious notes of my comments (and especially enjoyed all the Tudor gossip), and I left their offices feeling ecstatic. The show will take a lot of liberties with the truth and seems to be a kind of Shakespeare meets Game of Thrones (a show that borrows repeatedly from Shakespeare’s plays and from medieval epics), but as Shakespeare took a lot of liberties with the truth, that seems fitting.

Since last year, I’ve had further conversations and emails with Sarah and David and was quite proud to accompany them and David’s husband Ted to Dulwich College, where Calista Lucy, the Keeper of Archives, and I showed them the originals of Henslowe’s and Alleyn’s papers, as well as the P. G. Wodehouse Library and the James Caird, the boat used by Ernest Shackleton in his Antarctic expedition. If a second series of ‘Will’ is commissioned, Sarah and David hope to return to London and their reconstructed and imaginative world of Shakespeare.

‘Will’ premieres in the US in July, so here’s hoping that it turns up on a UK television channel soon afterward. You can watch a trailer for the show here:

You can read about the show here:



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The Professional Track ceremony

Lucy Stone writes:

The Professional Track has grown into a scheme which is embedded across the School of Literature and Language, with students from all Departments getting involved.

In 2016-7 we ran 10 different professional courses, welcomed 10 external speakers and supported 80 academic placements, which resulted in over 40% of the student population in the School involved.

It’s fair to say it’s been a brilliantly busy year.

This year, the event to celebrate the fantastic achievement of all students who have completed the Professional Track is split into two parts; the first of which is happening on Friday 12th May.

This week I’ve been preparing for ceremony, and thinking about what workplace skills are important.

If you’d like to take a peek into my day, read on…

 A day in the life of a Professional Track Facilitator:

7.30am: I leave home. I lift share with a colleague from my old office, which is great as it helps me save money on petrol, and I get someone to talk to.

8.15am: Arrive at the office, say good morning to the cleaner as I wrestle with huge bags through the door to the office. I’ve been getting supplies for the ceremony.

8.30am: I cannot function until I’ve had my breakfast. It’s far too early for me to eat when I wake up, so I’m always ready for breakfast, whilst I check my emails, by the time I arrive at work. Sarah, my colleague arrives at this time too, so we all always have a quick debrief in the morning. Collaboration is really important, and I know I’m lucky that Sarah is always keen to help with any ideas and queries.

9.00am: This week I’m preparing for the first Professional Track ceremony, which is on Friday, and there’s plenty to be done. This year we’ve got about 30 students who have completed the scheme, and so we’re having two ceremonies rather than one! I start by printing off the award certificates.

11.00am: Meeting with my manager, Cindy. We talk through strategy, and the plan of action for Friday night. I give her a copy of the ceremonial booklet for her to proof read.

1.00pm: I’ve got a student dropping by my office soon to chat about final preparations for Friday. I put the kettle on in readiness.

3.00pm: This afternoon I’m making a note of everything I need to have ready for Friday night. I’ve updated the booklet now, and the catering has been confirmed – just need students and the night to arrive!

4.00pm: Check emails, and find that another student has confirmed they can attend. I fire off a thankful reply and mentally plan what I’m going to focus on tomorrow.

4.30pm: The day is over…only four more days until the ceremony.


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Visual culture and ‘points of view’

Dr Neil Cocks writes:

Studying English Literature can lead to work with many different kinds of texts, from the latest scientific papers, to material texts such as gravestones or coins. For example, Dr Neil Cocks’s research on ideas of ‘point of view’ in written texts has resulted in an interest in visual culture. He has now published on photography and feminist art, teaches modules in Film Theory, and has worked with artists and art charities. Here he writes about a recent project:

“I have recently been helping set up Activate Learning’s Przytułku Społeczność Projekt in Banbury. This is a Polish community art and photography project, focused on responses to the history and legacy of the English workhouse. I was invited to contribute because of my research interest in questions of identity and ‘point of view’. I am to speak about the completed art works at the project’s opening.

The approach to photography taken up by Wig Sayell, the central artist involved in this project, puts me in mind of John Cage’s prepared pianos. It is an art that turns upon tensions between chance and design. Cameras are loaded with old, rusty and leaking film, and the developing process does not seek to avoid certain technical hitches. The images were taken by interested members of the Polish community in Banbury, all from very different walks of life, but none of them experienced artists. Results can be seen in the images attached.

Take the first of these. It depicts a building in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire,  originally designed as a workhouse. During the developing process, the roll of film stuck to itself, resulting, unexpectedly, in the strange, curtain like frame to the image. It is a suggestive accident. The workhouse was originally a place of observation and control, where movements were always open to scrutiny, yet also a building whose interior was not seen by many in C19th society. It persists as a part of Chipping Norton’s architecture, but few of the thousands who pass it every day know what it once was. Its history is largely invisible. It is a structure that escapes the gaze in a further sense, as it now forms desirable, private, luxury residences. Is, then, the image here one of exposure? Are we getting a peek inside the curtain? Or has it fallen? Does it obscure, rather than reveal? And if it is a curtain, what might that say about the ‘reality’ of this image, so laboriously and chaotically produced?

The second image depicts what in the present day appears to be something like a quaint bell tower. Originally, this housed the viewing platform that allowed those within the workhouse to be subject to constant surveillance. The old film in the camera that took this picture leaked, resulting in this strange distortion at what once was –  but now, for so many reasons, cannot be –  the point of clear, disciplinary vision.

The Private view for this project is to be held at Activate Learning, Banbury, on the 22nd of June. Please contact me (Dr Neil Cocks) for more details.

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Chair of the Senior Tutor Community of Practice

We are pleased to announce that Dr Madeleine Davies has been elected Chair of the Senior Tutor Community of Practice.

 Madeleine writes: ‘I’m very excited about this opportunity and I’m looking forward to working closely with this fantastic group of colleagues. The ST COP is always brimming with ideas and we’ll be working together on new initiatives throughout the next session.’


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Dr Wendy O’Shea-Meddour at the Oxford Literary Festival

As part of the St Hilda’s College Writers’ Day at the Oxford Literary Festival, Dr Wendy O’Shea-Meddour (alumna, St Hilda’s College, now English Lecturer at the University of Reading) and her daughter/illustrator, Mina May (now aged 16), discussed their adventures in the world of children’s books with Nicolette Jones of The Sunday Times.

Their internationally best-selling ‘Wendy Quill’ series threw them into the limelight when Mina was only 11 years old, and they were quizzed them on what it felt like to appear on stage at Edinburgh Literary Festival, on Woman’s Hour with Jenni Murray, and to have the film crew for Newsround squeezed into their lounge! In the beautiful setting of Worcester College, and amongst an audience of academics, children, and aspiring creative writers, they also discussed topics such as ‘the power of humour in fiction’, and ‘how to get and stay published’.

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The Monroe Group: University of Reading Interdisciplinary Research Network for the study of Politics in the Americas  


Dr Madeleine Davies writes:

Staff and research students are invited to attend the University of Reading’s new interdisciplinary research network launch event on 2 May, 2017.

The Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, will launch the network and introduce the keynote speaker, Professor Andrew Rudalevige (Bowdoin College). This will be followed by a one-day conference on President Trump’s first 100 days.


Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada June 18, 2016. REUTERS/David Becker – RTX2GYKG


The network is led by Dr Mara Oliva (Department of History), and Dr Mark Shanahan (Department of Politics); Dr Madeleine Davies (English Literature) is also involved in the planning and organisation of the Network which is designed to encourage dialogue between scholars in the arts, humanities, social sciences and sciences working on all aspects of politics in the American continent. It has been developed in response to a recent expansion of staff and student recruitment working in the field of US and Latin American politics at the University of Reading.

The Monroe Group will be home to existing UoR researchers and PhD students working in this area and will facilitate new collaborative projects, research grants applications and teaching development across all disciplines.


As part of its creation, you are invited to attend the launch event, ‘Trump’s First 100 Days’ on May 2nd. The link is below.




DEL colleagues may also be interested in two other political events this term: on Tuesday 25th April, Douglas Carswell will be speaking in the Van Emden Lecture Theatre, 5-7pm (organised by Dr Mark Shanahan in the Department of Politics), and on Thursday June 1st we welcome Jess Phillips MP to the University. She will be speaking in the Van Emden Lecture Theatre between 6-8pm on June 1st (organised by Dr Madeleine Davies). To reserve a place at either event, go to reading.ac.uk/events.

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Dr Madeleine Davies views the Vanessa Bell exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (April 13 2017)



If you have an interest in ‘The Bloomsbury Group’, you may enjoy visiting the Vanessa Bell exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Vanessa Bell was Virginia Woolf’s older sister and she was an influential artist in the early twentieth century. Born in 1879, she studied art at the Royal Academy in 1901 (working with John Singer Sargent for part of her studies). She was later influenced by Post-Impressionism and by Abstraction, and she was central to Roger Fry’s Omega Workshop which sought to challenge the division between decorative and fine arts. Much of Bell’s work for Omega, designing murals, mosaics, screens, stained glass and textiles, is influenced by Cubism and Fauvism.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery is a treat in its own right. It was designed to showcase innovative methods of illumination and it is the oldest public art gallery in England. The gallery sits in wide green spaces and the permanent exhibition houses works by Gainsborough, Hogarth, Constable, Poussin, Watteau, Raphael and Canaletto amongst many others.

The Vanessa Bell exhibition has gathered together a wide selection of Bell’s artworks and textile designs. Of particular interest to Woolfians is the collection of Bell’s original book jacket illustrations for her sister’s novels and extended essays. Also interesting are Bell’s textile designs, mainly produced in the 1920s, but suprisingly contemporary in colour and shape.

I find Post-Impressionism and Abstraction interesting intellectually, but less satisfying in aesthetic terms. Viewing Bell’s muddy canvases in the gallery did not change my mind about their aesthetic appeal, but it did allow me to identify elements in her artworks that I had not noticed before. I was struck, for example, by her habit of ‘framing’ or even ‘double-framing’ particular images that she associated with either memory or anxiety (or both). Such images are contained by blocks of colour, or by painted parallel structures, as if to exercise tight control over the power of their associations. A particularly vicious painting of one of her husband’s lovers is also well worth seeing (the deliberately ugly image is ‘framed’ by colour blocks on three sides), and her sketchbooks and illustrated letters are equally compelling and reveal Bell to have been a fine sketch artist.

Bell’s portraits of Virginia Woolf are very well known but to see her work in its breadth is an absorbing experience, not least because it evokes the writers, artists, friends and locations of Bloomsbury, and speaks so securely to its ‘atmosphere’ (as Woolf calls it). ‘Bloomsbury’ was as much about art as it was about literature and this exhibition significantly enhanced my knowledge of its aethetic philosophy.

The exhibition runs until 4th June and students have free entry: I recommend a trip to Dulwich to enjoy it while you can.

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Maddi Davies writes:

I have invited Labour MP Jess Phillips to talk at the University on June 1st. She is a witty and engaging speaker who is not afraid of addressing controversial issues. All students and colleagues who have an interest in contemporary politics, equal rights, and in this MP’s campaign against online intimidation, will find this a fascinating event.

You can reserve a free place at reading.ac.uk/events, or go to the event’s web-page: http://www.reading.ac.uk/15/about/newsandevents/Events/Event718558.aspx




The Edith Morley Building, University of Reading

This is a free event. Jess Phillips’ book Everywoman will be available to buy at a discounted price after the event when there will also be a book signing.

Register online at: reading.ac.uk/events

For further information, please email: m.k.davies@reading.ac.uk

Jess Phillips is Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

This event is supported by the Endowment Fund and is introduced by Sir David Bell

Convenor: Dr Madeleine Davies, Department of English Literature

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RUSU Teaching Excellence Award: Dr Madeleine Davies

Dr Madeleine Davies writes:


I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who nominated me for the ‘RUSU Teaching Excellence Award’. I have won the Award for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I will be given the Award at the ‘RUSU Partnership in Teaching and Learning Showcase’ on Wednesday 19th April, 1-3pm (3Sixty). I do hope that some of you will be able to come along because I wouldn’t have won the Award without you.

It is difficult to express how much the nominations for the RUSU awards mean to us as individual colleagues. It makes all the difference to know that the work we do is appreciated and, when our students take the time to make this known, their generosity and goodwill is extremely touching.

Thank you again, everyone: I feel as though I’ve won an Oscar!

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Neil Cocks has a new publication: Higher Education Discourse and Deconstruction: Challenging the Case for Transparency and Objecthood.

Neil Cocks has published a new monograph with Palgrave,  Higher Education Discourse and Deconstruction: Challenging the Case for Transparency and Objecthood.

Neil writes:

My new monograph is concerned with neo-liberalism and Higher Education. We all have at least some idea that universities are undergoing significant change, and that this is to do with an increase in managerialism. The university is subject to market forces, and these manifest themselves in an audit culture, one that produces change through subtle means: ‘steering from a distance’, as the educational theorist Stephen Ball has it. The problem is often understood in terms of an assault on truth. Neo-liberalism requires old certainties to be dissolved, and post-modernity is taken to be its discourse of choice. As such, it is understandable that there are those that turn to objecthood with positive relief. Self evidence, transparency, materiality: with these we might stem the flood! My monograph counsels against this move. Following the groundbreaking work of Bill Readings, I argue that the new-managerial university is resistant to the discursive, not the apparently self-evident.

Palgrave describe the book as:

‘[…] a critique of neoliberalism within UK Higher Education, taking its cue from approaches more usually associated with literary studies. It offers a sustained and detailed close reading of three works that might be understood to fall outside the established body of educational theory. The unconventional methodology and focus promote irreducible difference and complexity, and in this stage a resistance to reductive discourses of managerialism. Questioning the materialism to which all sides of the contemporary pedagogical debate increasingly appeal, the book sets out a challenge to investments in ‘excellence’, ‘transparency’ and objecthood. It will be of interest to students and researchers in the fields of education, sociology, and literary theory.’

And here is a review from Jan de Vos, author of Psychologisation in Times of Globalisation (2012) and The Metamorphoses of the Brain – Neurologisation and Its Discontents (2016):

‘Have you not always had the suspicion that audit culture and managerialism in higher education have to do with “the sexual, the invisible, the excessive, the linguistic”?, then this fascinating book is for you! Critically engaging with Diane Purkiss’s essay on sexual harassment, Ecclestone and Hayes’s rejection of the discourse on bullying and Nigel Thrift’s Non-Representational Theory, Neil Cocks convincingly shows that these critical voices veer dangerously close to what they attack and are perfectly aligned with neo-liberal managerialism. Cocks’s compelling argument is that when the aim of those critics is to free theory from the tyranny of subjectivity, we are in for a new tyranny: that of the self-evident. This book’s sustained plea to still engage with both irredeemable textuality and the excessiveness of subjectivity should be mandatory reading for scholars and their managers.’
Dr Jan de Vos

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