Opportunities for Doctoral Research in Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies at Queen’s University Belfast

  
DEL PhD Studentship Awards, 2016 entry
36 DEL studentships are available across the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast and will be allocated to outstanding students undertaking PhD study across the broad range of disciplines within the Faculty. The deadline for DEL applications is 29th January 2016.

 

For UK applicants, a studentship consists of:

1.) Funding for fees for 3 years of full-time PhD study (1 October 2016-30 September 2019)

2.) A maintenance stipend for the 3 years of the scholarship

All DEL studentships will be awarded on a competitive basis to outstanding applicants who have: an excellent undergraduate degree; completed, or are due to complete by September 2016, a Master’s degree in a relevant subject; an original and exciting research proposal that will contribute to the further enhancement of areas of research strength in the Faculty.

 

The School of English at Queen’s University Belfast invites applications for PGR study in all areas in which the School has research expertise, broadly:

1.) literary studies in English (from Old English to contemporary literature, including Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies)

2.) creative writing

3.) language and linguistics

4.) broadcast literacy

For a list of particular areas of staff expertise, please see http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofEnglish/Staff/AcademicStaff/

 

Applicants who wish to be considered for a DEL award should apply for a PhD place in the School of English before the deadline of Friday 29th January 2016, 5pm. Applications should be made via the Admissions Portal.  

 

For further information, see http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofEnglish/PostgraduateStudies/ResearchDegrees/DELDoctoralProjects/

Informal enquiries can be sent to: Professor Moyra Haslett (m.haslett@qub.ac.uk) or the Graduate Secretary Ms Linda Drain (l.drain@qub.ac.uk). Informal enquiries regarding PhD applications in the areas of Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies can be sent to Dr Edel Lamb (e.lamb@qub.ac.uk).

Review: NT Live Hamlet at the Odeon Cinema, Stillorgan

 

Reviewed by Emily O’Brien

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The NT Live Hamlet opens with nostalgia: its star actor sits on the floor listening to records and sorting through old belongings with heavy sadness and longing. The space is confined and intimate, and it is Hamlet who asks “who’s there?” when Horatio enters. Soon, their small corner of space disappears into the actual vastness of the stage, as a massive, looming, inky set unfurls before us. This is a stately home as might be imagined in a Farrow and Ball photo shoot: all greeny-blacks and charcoal-blues, desolate, creaking and beautiful, with huge branches of white flowers, at once funereal and bridal, adorning a long banqueting table.

This dichotomy of the private, feeling individual overwhelmed by the public structures of familial and social expectations sets the tone for the production’s returning preoccupations. “He was a man”, Hamlet tells Horatio when the latter speaks of his father as a great king, the close-up camera of the live broadcast emphasising the poignancy of the words. Throughout, it is suggested that public roles have a distorting, even poisonous, effect on the individual. As Claudius (in a slickly menacing performance by Ciaran Hinds) lists impatiently how “your father lost a father…”, the audience, further bystanders, feel the ghastly inappropriateness of the conversation in the public, formal setting of the official dinner.

Hamlet’s soliloquies, then, are unambiguously staged as a retreat from this strained world. He jumps deftly atop the dinner table and shares his thoughts with the audience as the rest of the actors go into an extreme slow motion, forming a near freezeframe tableau as a backdrop to his escape into the personal and subjective. It seems that the audience is figured here as an understanding, almost comfortable presence, even as it also underlines the extent to which Hamlet is trapped. This relationship relies in part on the curious intimacy established by the celebrity presence of Benedict Cumberbatch and his impassioned performance — after all his face and body are deeply familiar, and a strong part of the appeal of star Shakespeare is that the audience “knows” this Hamlet before the play begins.

The production makes attempts to explore the geopolitical dimension of the play with its present-day resonances. The fracturing costs of conflict and displacement are expressed in the wreckage of the stage as a huge cloud of ash gushes onto the set at the close of the first half, leaving it drowned for the remainder of the performance. The play’s characters struggle on with life as they know it, climbing over the transformed and mutilated terrain, but the critique offered is unclear. Here, as elsewhere, the overwhelming visual beauty of the production seemed to submerge meaning rather than elucidate it. When Cumberbatch spoke directly to the audience during the applause, asking for their support for humanitarian relief of the crisis in Syria, it suggested the insufficiency of the exploration of these issues, rather than building on it.

Ophelia’s performance offered some moments of genuine pathos as she desperately tried to express herself beyond the lines scripted for her by the controlling, mostly male, presences in her life. She carries a camera with her, and clutches sheaves of letters, and at one horrific point, tries frantically to undercut her constant surveillance and her inability to speak by writing a note to Hamlet, who is too wrapped up in his own trauma to notice. The stock performance of her madness was disappointing, replete with jerky tics and hair pulling, but I was affected by the poignancy of her care for her bedraggled remaining possessions, and the painful tragedy of her urgent, staccato repetition of the lectures with which she has been burdened.

The prefatory footage supplied in the live broadcast shone a spotlight firmly on Benedict Cumberbatch and the significance of his taking up the role of Hamlet. Scenes showing the actor visiting a school reinforced the apparent societal import of this crowning play of the canon. There seemed to be a great hunger for an edifying and salvific meaning — both universal and for our time — to be found in this Hamlet, but the production, while sometimes painful and depressing, and not without power, was ultimately not revelatory, cathartic or clarifying. In the preceding interview, Cumberbatch told Melvin Bragg (who seemed to be expecting a more metaphysical answer) that each performance left him feeling tired and hungry, and that was about how I felt too.

 

There will be an encore screening of the NT Hamlet at the Lighthouse Cinema, Dublin on 6 January.

 

For incisive reviews giving detailed consideration to the cutting and reorganisation of the playtext, as well as to the specific effects of the live screening context, see those by Peter Kirwan, Tom Cornford, Holger Schott Syme, and Eoin Price.

Review: The Hamlet Session, Cyclone Rep Theatre

The Hamlet Session, Cyclone Repertory Theatre Group, Helix Theatre

Reviewed by Shauna O’Brien (Trinity College Dublin)

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In The Hamlet Session, the Cyclone Repertory Theatre Group cleverly curates the core scenes of Hamlet into a workshop/performance aimed at students studying the play for their Leaving Certificate. Combining performance, audio-visual projection, and powerpoint display, the group’s three actor cast (Marcus Bale, Luke Barry, and Angela Newman) double, triple, and swap their roles with minimal costume changes and minimal scenic fuss. Rather than limiting the scope of their performance, however, this pared-down approach becomes an integral part of the production’s interrogation of Hamlet.

At one point Luke Barry is confronted with a dilemma when two of the characters he is performing (Hamlet and Polonius) appear opposite each other in the same scene. In order to reprise his Polonius, therefore, Barry temporarily (and reluctantly) cedes the role of Hamlet to the more mature Bale. This incites an argument between the two actors over Hamlet’s age, both invoking past precedents to strengthen their claim to the title role. This meta-theatrical tactic is employed successfully throughout the session, as mid-performance an actor will ‘hit pause’ to interrogate their character’s motives, or request help from their co-stars to tease out the meaning of a complicated phrase.

In this way, familiar exam topics such as Hamlet’s state of mind, death and mortality, action-versus-inaction are re-examined in a variety of creative and memorable routines. For instance, Newman’s Gertrude and Ophelia are ‘cross-examined’ by Bale and Barry to interrogate the portrayal of these two characters in the play. Towards the end of the performance audience members are invited to suggest different interpretations of Polonius and Hamlet’s characters for Barry and Newman to act out. Perhaps inevitably, with an audience of secondary school students, this exercise culminates in the absurd – in this case, Newman’s Hamlet gobbling like a turkey, and Barry’s Polonius channelling Conor McGregor.

At times these comic departures threaten to destabilise the overall tone of the group’s performance. Ophelia’s descent into madness prompts stifled laughter from several students. However, any fallout from these rapid shifts in tone are impressively minimised with the production’s use of lighting and sound. In the production’s climax, students are invited on stage to participate in an intentionally comic performance of the play’s final scene. When this scene runs on to Hamlet’s death, however, the lights drop, immediately concealing the student-actors from their classmates, and allowing the audience to focus on Barry’s performance of Hamlet’s final speech.

In spite of a temperamental audience, the three actors successfully engage students with their performance and discussion of Hamlet for nearly two hours. During a Q&A session with the actors, it was encouraging to hear students question the group’s approach to staging and performing the play. Perhaps this is the most successful aspect of the Cyclone Theatre Rep’s Hamlet Session – prompting students to reconsider the play as a malleable blueprint for performance, rather than an inert textbook to be ‘learned-off’ for their exams.

–Shauna O’Brien