Essay Collection: Joyce/Shakespeare, ed. by Laura Pelaschiar

Joyce Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s presence in Joyce’s work is tentacular, extending throughout his career on many different levels: cultural, structural, lexical, and psychological; yet a surprisingly long time has passed since the last monograph on this literary nexus was published. Joyce/Shakespeare brings together fresh work by internationally recognized Joyce scholars on these two icons, reinvigorating our understanding of Joyce at play with the Bard. One way these essays revitalize the discussion is by moving well beyond the traditional Joycean challenge of “thinking Shakespearean” by “thinking Hamletian,” redefining the field to include works like Troilus and Cressida, Othello, and The Tempest. This collection also transforms our understanding of how Hamlet works in and for Joyce. In compelling essays that introduce new variables to the equation such as Trieste, Goethe, and Futurism, Hamlet’s role in Joyce gains fresh mobility. The Danish prince’s shadow, we learn, can still cast itself in unpredictable shapes, making Joyce/Shakespeare as rewarding in its analyses of this well-studied pairing as it is when it considers fresh Shakespearean matches.


Valérie Bénéjam
Richard Brown
Vincent Cheng
Paul Fagan
Dieter Fuchs
John McCourt
Laura Pelaschiar
Vike Martina Plock
Giuesppina Restivo
Sam Slote

For more information see:

Review: DruidShakespeare at the Kilkenny Arts Festival 2015

“The lining of his coffins shall make coats/To deck our soldiers for these Irish wars” declares Shakespeare’s Richard II. Delivered in Ireland by Irish actor Marty Rea, in the surrounds of a former seat of English colonial power, these lines took on a new significance in the Druid production. DruidShakespeare was an incredibly ambitious undertaking: four history plays, performed by thirteen actors, in a seven-hour event. Directed by Garry Hynes from an adaptation by playwright and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe, the production presented Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V as one continuous saga of power and ambition. The production opened at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York earlier this summer and it then formed the main event of the annual Kilkenny Arts Festival.  In Kilkenny, the play could be viewed either as a full cycle in one day or seen over two consecutive evenings. Though a seven hour Shakespeare marathon could appear to be a daunting task for many theatre-goers, the energy and pace of the action belies the duration of the performance. Cuts to the four texts were relatively seamless. Richard II was slow and steady with greater emphasis on movement, while the subsequent plays had a faster and more abrupt pace as the narrative developed.

O’Rowe’s approach to the script initially appears to deify Shakespeare, whom O’Rowe refers to in the programme as “the greatest writer.”  He compares cutting material from a Shakespearean text to “throwing away gold”. Yet the production itself reacts to the text in a rebellious rather than reverential manner.  The event has been hailed as one of the most significant Irish productions of the decade, and Druid certainly probed the history plays from many innovative angles. In both its Irish and American setting, the production demonstrated, but completely inverted, many of the central concerns of the four English history plays. The plays explore English identity and nationality, undercut by the Irish context. The production effectively explores imperial power in a post-colonial world.

In addition to nationality, the production explored gender. The casting is entirely gender-blind, interweaving a new discourse of gender into the narrative of patrilineal legacy in Shakespeare’s Henriad. Aisling O’Sullivan plays Hal (later Henry V), with Derbhle Crotty as Henry IV, Bolingbroke, and Montjoy. The ostensibly masculine concerns of kingship and heredity examined in Shakespeare’s verse are dissected by the female actors delivering the lines.

Druid Shakespeare - Aisling O'Sullivan as Henry V

Druid Shakespeare – Aisling O’Sullivan as Henry V

The Kilkenny leg of the tour lent a new dimension to the production through the spectacular setting of the courtyard of Kilkenny Castle. The environment of the Castle Yard almost recalls original staging conditions in early modern theatre, with an outdoor performance in a walled enclosure. Beginning at five o’clock and commencing just after midnight, the production encompassed daylight, sunset, and total darkness, the tension on stage heightened by the fall of night. The setting in the grounds of Kilkenny Castle furthers the Irish dimension to the production. When Henry V asks Montjoy “What is this castle called that stands hard by?” (IV. vii) it appeared almost a gesture towards Kilkenny Castle itself, looming over the courtyard mere feet away.

Kilkenny Arts Festival - courtyard. Photo credit: Micahel Waldron.

Kilkenny Arts Festival – courtyard. Photo credit: Michael Waldron.

The location was further utilised during the interval; as spectators walked out into the second courtyard they could observe a graveyard bearing the headstones of deceased characters, increasing in number at each of the three intervals. The seeming futility of the scheming and intrigues in the play was thus demonstrated effectively off stage. The epic concerns of kingship and state formation are linked with the more mundane tasks of grave digging and headstone carving.

A particularly effective touch was the appearance of all three monarchs together towards the end of the production. At his coronation, Henry V was joined on stage by a silent Henry IV and Richard II, in a cyclical coronation where the crown was passed between the three. This poignant moment drew the four plays together in a holistic performance that questioned identity, individuality, and nationality. With this production then, Druid has certainly thrown down the gauntlet for Shakespearean drama in Ireland.

Academic talk: Prof Alan Stewart at NUI Galway


Prof. Alan Stewart
(Columbia University / Centre for Editing Lives and Letters)
Writing a life in early modern England: the case of Richard Stonley

Moore Institute Seminar Room (Hardiman Research Building G010)

NUI Galway

5pm Tuesday 15 September

In 1972, the Folger Shakespeare Library acquired a diary written between 1581 and 1598 by Richard Stonley, an Exchequer official, who on 12 June 1593 bought ‘the Venus and Adhonay per Shakespere’, the first known purchase of a work by Shakespeare. That entry aside, the diaries have received little critical attention. Disappointingly mute on topical detail, they feature instead daily transcriptions from the Bible, records of Stonley’s financial outgoings, and the thinnest of narratives about his daily activities. This paper asks what Stonley was doing in this diary, one of the earliest English diaries to survive – and how his entries relate to his controversial Exchequer career.

For more information contact

Report: Revisiting Corcadorca’s Merchant of Venice 2005

Revisiting Corcadorca’s Merchant of Venice 2005 was a site-specific exhibition which aimed to “celebrate and remember” the 2005 production of The Merchant of Venice, part of the programme for Cork’s tenure as European Capital of Culture. Under the auspices of the DUETS-funded “Creation and Reception” project, led by Dr. Anne Etienne (UCC), the exhibition ran from the 13th to the 20th of July, and included a round table event at University College Cork on the 18th of July.

It is easy to overlook the significance of the 2005 The Merchant of Venice. The original event took place at several different venues around the city. The play’s street scenes took place on the pavements of Cork, the courthouse scene in Cork’s courthouse, and a disused cooperage owned by University College Cork served as Shylock’s warehouse, and also served as the location of the exhibition. The project coincided with the ten year anniversary of the original production, but also explored more broadly the role of site-specific theatre and cultural memory. The exhibition focused on sparking memories rather than recounting the event. For those not fortunate enough to have witnessed what was undoubtedly a spectacular theatrical undertaking, the exhibition offered a window into the first large-scale site-specific production in Ireland, and invited the viewer to think about site-specific theatre and its potential uses.

Within the vast hangar of the cooperage, small televisions played various scenes from the play on a loop. This evocative and thought-provoking audio visual portion was curated by Corcadorca director, and director of the original production, Pat Kiernan, in collaboration with film-maker Nicholas O’Riordan. The brief screenings were not accompanied by any explanatory material, which can appear quite disconcerting initially, until one appreciates that this exhibition does not attempt to recreate the original event but to provoke and probe memory.

Revisiting Corcadorca MofV - exhibit 1

A small room in the corner of the vast warehouse held the second portion of the exhibition, a photographic exhibit of still images of the play taken by Mike MacSweeney. The stills were suspended from the ceiling on clear fish wire, appearing almost to float in mid-air. The images were accentuated by an audio recording of the scene staged in that very corner of the warehouse; Shylock’s voice echoed around the suspended images. A combination of audio, visual, and audio-visual exhibits awaken the senses to stimulate both memory and imagination.

Revisiting Corcadorca MofV - exhibit 2

The third and final of phase of the project was a roundtable discussion with the director and actors of the original production, held in University College Cork on July 18th. The event certainly fulfilled its premise to “celebrate and remember” what was a seminal moment in contemporary Irish theatre. The actors discussed their experiences in performing in multiple locations, and how the production overcame practical issues such as funding and health and safety laws. The roundtable provided opportunity for reflection on Corcadorca’s monumental achievement, but also explored the status-quo of Irish theatre in the present decade.

The exhibition and corresponding round-table discussion offer a glimpse of a spectacular production of The Merchant of Venice and invited one to think about how Shakespeare’s plays can be re-imagined within a contemporary Irish context.  The project justly commemorates Corcadorca’s outstanding achievement, but it is not self-congratulatory or sentimental. Rather this series of events was forward-thinking, both for Shakespearean productions and Irish theatre in general. The stimulating exhibits and round-table discussion recalled the 2005 event but also examined the wealth of possibility in Irish theatre today. The recent DruidShakespeare production of Shakespeare’s history plays serves to illustrate the continuity of ambitious renderings of Shakespeare’s dramas in Ireland.

Symposium: Early Modern Military Identity – University College Cork

Early Modern Military Identity

August 28th 2015, 2pm-6pm

University College Cork, O’Rahilly Building, room G27

2-2.15pm Welcome

2.15-3.45pm PANEL 1:
Andrew Hadfield, ‘Dulce Bellum Inexpertis: The defence of Lord Grey’
David Edwards, ‘Campaign Journals of the Elizabethan Irish Wars’
Matthew Woodcock, ‘”I speak to thee plain soldier”: Constructing and Defending Identity in Tudor Military Autobiography’

3.45-4.20 LUNCH

4.30-6pm PANEL 2:
Clodagh Tait, ‘“A print on my body of this day’s service”: Experiences of ‘wounds and hurts’ in early modern Irish warfare’
Cian O’ Mahony, ‘Souldiers, or Clarkes, or Both’: Literary and Military Identity in Pre-Civil War Norfolk’
James O’ Neill, ‘Scythians, cannibals and werewolves? The Nine Years War and the myth of the Irish primitive’

7.30-8.30pm PUBLIC LECTURE:
Prof. Andrew Hadfield – ‘Edmund Spenser on the Munster Plantation’
This event takes place at the Elizabeth Fort (Barrack Street, Cork city)

For further information, please contact Dr Cian O’Mahony (School of English, UCC) at

Andrew Hadfield at the Elizabeth Fort, Cork – “Edmund Spenser on the Munster Plantation”

On Friday 28th August, Prof. Andrew Hadfield (University of Sussex) comes to the Elizabeth Fort, Cork city’s 17th century star fort, to discuss the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser and the Munster Plantation. All are welcome to attend.

Prof. Hadfield is the author of Edmund Spenser: A Life (2012), Shakespeare and Republicanism (2005), and Shakespeare, Spenser and The Matter of Britain (2003), and, among other volumes, he has edited The Norton Spenser (2013) and The Oxford Handbook of English Prose, 1500-1640 (2013).

This event is kindly supported by the Cork City Heritage Fund.

Review Essay: DruidShakespeare at the Kilkenny Arts Festival

Of crowns, nations and memory machines:

Druid reimagines Shakespeare’s histories

Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Druid Shakespeare, in co-production with the Lincoln Center festival NYC

Richard II, Henry IV, Parts I and 2, Henry V, The Castle Yard, Kilkenny Arts Festival, 6 – 15 August 2015.

Director Gary Hynes, with adaptation by Mark O’Rowe

Cast and production details:

Reviewed by Stephen O’Neill

“What ish my nation”?, asks Captain MacMorris in Shakespeare’s Henry V, in a scene that brings together an Irishman, a Scotsman, a Welshman and an Englishman supposedly united in the king’s ambitions to conquer France and thus expand his empery. It’s a scene that is frequently cut from modern productions of the play, perhaps because for directors it smacks of a Shakespeare too much the Elizabethan dramatist for modern sensibilities, or that it seems too easy a form of political symbolism. Druid follow suit in cutting the four captains scene and with it Shakespeare’s only Irish character in their ambitious production of Shakespeare’s Henriad (Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V), all adapted and deftly redacted in the careful hands of the contemporary Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe, with Gary Hynes’ directing. Omitting MacMorris might seem surprising considering how the pre-publicity for DruidShakespeare foregrounds the Irish subtexts to Shakespeare’s Henriad. Gary Hynes has been quoted as saying that “At the time when Shakespeare was writing these plays, Ireland would have been to England as Afghanistan is to the U.S. today”. In his preface to the programme, Fintan O’Toole remarks that the Tudor state’s bloody Nine years War against the revolt in Ireland “looms large in Shakespeare’s history plays”. It is the Tudor period’s Vietnam, he suggests, in that Ireland and the Irish wars simultaneously haunted and are refracted in the literature of the period, sometimes by indirection and sometimes – as in the instance of MacMorris and his resonant question – by overt, topical direction.  Shakespeare’s play is alert to the risks of such topical allegory, parodying it in the character of Fluellen, whose fondness for elaborate parallels is treated comically. Other mentions of Ireland in the cycle remain – ones that are true to Shakespeare’s sources but that become charged in the context of the Elizabethan wars in Ireland. In Richard II, the capricious yet vulnerable king talks of supplanting “rough rug-headed kerns” (an Anglicization of the Gaelic word ‘ceithern’ meaning foot soldier but here a derogatory catch all term for the native Irish), a line that at once encodes Elizabethan constructions of the Irish as barbarous and also expresses Richard’s own desire to demonstrate resolve, to do what English kings historically do. The peat-covered stage, a key visual element of Francis O’Connor’s evocative set design, reinforces connections between Richard’s intent to uproot the Irish rebels, his kingly image, and his mortality too. Indeed, in the post-performance interval at Kilkenny, a hooded man hastily buries Richard’s body out the back; as he piles up the soil, we audience members become silent witnesses to usurpation and murder. Such are the “sad stories of the death of kings”.

Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Marty Rea as Richard II. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Precisely how DruidShakespeare understands itself as responding to the coincidence of Shakespeare’s great cycle of history plays with the Nine Years War is not absolutely clear. Why cut Mackmorrice from Henry V but retain Richard’s talk of usurping the Irish from their land? But the lack of clarity is ultimately a good thing. Previous productions in Ireland of Shakespeare’s histories struggled to make such topically and ideologically charged allusions work in a modern context. Ouroboros Theatre’s Richard II at the Abbey in 2013 sought to make sense of play’s Irish subtexts via more recent Anglo-Irish relations, with visual cues to IRA hunger strike and inclusion of U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday. But ultimately these felt forced.

Druid and O’Rowe don’t seem concerned with forcing through connections between hundreds of years of Anglo-Irish relations (by the time Shakespeare is writing his plays, English interventions in Ireland are already three centuries old) as these are condensed and re-presented in literary texts like Shakespeare’s histories. Nor are they concerned with producing an overtly reactive post-colonialism by Hibernicizing Shakespeare’s cycle. Hynes has spoken of creating an emotional and physical landscape for the plays, an approach that she and the company also applied to their highly regarded Synge cycle. The production works because it allows us to consider how these plays make meaning on their own terms. DruidShakespeare recognizes too how a Shakespeare play is a spectral thing, made up of the ghosts of past performances, of critical interpretations, of audience expectations. Experiencing the plays over two consecutive nights (alternatively, one could see the four plays on one night), amplifies these sensations – going back to Castle Yard on the Sunday evening felt like a return to a group of people that one had got to know, and of whom you wanted to learn more.

Charlotte McCurry as Blunt, Clare Barrett as Bardolph, Rory Nolan as Falstaff and Aisling O'Sullivan as Hal. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Charlotte McCurry as Blunt, Clare Barrett as Bardolph, Rory Nolan as Falstaff and Aisling O’Sullivan as Hal. Image by Matthew Thompson.

This is, then, less an Irish Shakespeare than a production conscious of doing Shakespeare in and from Ireland. So, we hear Irish accents – both rural and urban – and one effect is to make plays that read like roll calls of English aristocratic families seem foreign. That sense of distance is created through the production choices more generally – from costumes with hints of current fashions to the welcome use of gender-blind casting to shake up what can otherwise seem like a relentlessly patriarchal, masculinist world. The audience is made conscious of the body beneath (especially in the deathbed scene of Henry IV Part 2 when Derbhle Crotty’s breasts can be seen through the nightgown). Such elements contribute to the feeling that the plays are being treated as representations, as self-reflexive constructions of history and historical figures.

To frame DruidShakespeare as an Irish approach to the plays would be to do the overall production and performance a disservice. The cycle deserves to be remembered for several standout performances. Marty Rea is captivating as Richard II. Avoiding a notable tendency of modern productions to play him in high camp or as suffering from a Jesus complex (as in Ben Whishaw in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown, 2012), Rea brings a subtlety to the role. His Richard is a man of many colours, despite his white face that recall portraits of Elizabeth as the Virgin Queen or perhaps the 1980s’ Dublin street artist The Dice Man. Rea also makes a memorable appearance at the opening of Henry V as the war mongering Archbishop of Canterbury, decked out here in graphite robes and mitre and with a delivery by Rea that recalls the booming auditory of Ian Paisley, the late Ulster Unionist politician. Derbhle Crotty’s Bolingbroke is played as proficient, intellectual and current by way of contrast to Richard who seems not fit for the times (an interpretation that may recall W. B. Yeats’s 1901 essay on the Henriad, “At Stratford-on-Avon”). Aisling O’Sullivan’s mischievous and mysterious Hal provides a foil to Rory Nolan’s genuinely funny Falstaff. In the tavern scenes, the production captures the play’s comic energy, and its recurring interest in this subversive terrain of Henry’s kingdom, as if to say this is home before any court scenes or battlefields. Gavin Drea as Poins and Clare Barrett as Bardolph bring a real presence to these supporting roles. At times, however, O’Sullivan’s Hal seems to spit out his words, and the vowels become so long and over-worked as to begin to sound like Felonious Gru from Despicable Me. The hyper-accent would make more sense in terms of Hal’s motivation to pass in Eastcheap among Falstaff and company, were it not for the fact that his soliloquy at the end of Act1, Scene 2 in which the prince compares himself to the sun obscured by clouds has been cut, perhaps to make his relation with Falstaff as surrogate father (and indeed mother) seem more enigmatic to audience members. O’Sullivan’s delivery is more effective when applied to Henry V, particularly his more jingoistic rhetoric. O’Sullivan brings an immediacy to “Once more unto the breach” which can all to easily lend itself to parody, directing the call-to-arms to the audience in Castle Yard – a space otherwise under-used in the production – as a small band of soldiers move in stylized, choreographed poses behind the young king.

Aisling O'Sullivan as Henry V. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Aisling O’Sullivan as Henry V. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Movement is another highpoint of this production. The bare stage and scaffold set is used very effectively, with the balcony put to good use especially in Aaron Monaghan’s energetic Chorus in Henry V. Mark O’Rowe’s adaptation also brings momentum to these history plays – pace and speed are achieved without the language being redacted too severely. O’Rowe’s adaptation foregrounds the essentially episodic structure of the plays, with rapid scene changes perhaps offering insight into Shakespeare’s own approach to the project of staging the complexities of the historical past.

O’Rowe’s style of adaptation is of the reverent kind. Yet, there is evidence too of a bolder, less respectful approach to the Shakespearean text. Henry V offers its audiences a double closure, the first with the king’s marriage to the Katherine of France, the second with the epilogue lamenting how Henry’s victories were quickly overturned during the reign of his son. In O’Rowe’s hands, however, we end with an interpolated, imagined scene that returns us to Eastcheap where in the company of Mistress Quickly, Pistol, Bardolph, Nym elegize Falstaff before setting off to war. The New York Times reviewer felt that this postscript over-sentimentalized the sacrifice of Falstaff to Hal’s political ambitions. Yet, the closing scene is less about sentimentality that about showcasing the affective intensities of Hal’s decision to reject Falstaff in the pursuit of power. The affect is all the more poignant given that the scene coincides with a darkening in the sky over Castle Yard that brings a stillness and focus to the stage.

In the postscript, we sense what has been lost, and watch with foreknowledge that further loss and suffering await Pistol and company on the “vasty fields of France”. We sense the casualties of war, the perils of treating a crown as a sign of immutable power, of history returning and repeating itself, and the violence done in the name of the nation. In this elegiac postscript, O’Rowe and Hynes distill the larger themes of Henry V and the entire cycle into more human terms. DruidShakespeare at once confronts and gives the lie to arguments that Irish theatre has an attenuated relation to Shakespeare. This is not an Irish appropriation of Shakespeare’s English histories so much as a rich dramaturgical and theatrical exploration of the dynamics of Shakespeare’s Henriad, and of the ghosts of history therein.

Marty Rea, Garrett Lombard, Aaron Monaghan (centre) and Bosco Hogan. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Marty Rea, Garrett Lombard, Aaron Monaghan (centre) and Bosco Hogan. Image by Matthew Thompson.

Dr Stephen O’Neill is a lecturer in English at Maynooth University. He is the author of Shakespeare and YouTube (Bloomsbury 2014), Staging Ireland: Representations in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama (Four Courts (2007) and several essays on the reception of Shakespeare. Twitter: @mediaShakes