Report: Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre in Cork

In mid-November 2015, the Irish Renaissance Seminar met in Marsh’s Library. The seminar theme “Time, Memory, and Commemoration” looked back back to the past but also looked expectantly to the future via an open discussion of plans for the Shakespeare quartercentenary. Many of the proposals which were aired at the meeting bore fruit and have been promoted and cataloged on this blog. My project “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre”, funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations Scheme, was one of the final commemorative events in Irish universities in 2016.

The project’s primary aim was to make a unique contribution to the worldwide celebrations of Shakespeare 400. It sought too to inspire interest in Shakespeare’s lesser-known drama; to deepen our understanding of Shakespeare’s sources and his legacy; and to cultivate networks between scholars, theatre practitioners, and the general public. The project comprised a staged reading of Shakespeare’s critically-neglected late play Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c.1606) held in the Unitarian Church in Cork city, and a symposium and public lecture held in University College Cork.

unitarian church Cork

The Unitarian Church, Cork city

Although unfamiliar to a general audience, Pericles proved to be ideally suited to performance as a staged reading. Story-telling is central to its dramaturgy and, as its narrator Gower insists, the tale is designed to “glad your ear and please your eyes”. As hoped, the performance introduced a new audience to this little-known Shakespearean romance. Part of this new audience included the cast of community actors – students from UCC Drama and Theatre Studies and the local LittleShoes drama group – as Pericles was unfamiliar to them and indeed most had never performed Shakespeare before. After just two days of rehearsals we were delighted to take to the stage, with our director Sinead Dunphy, to perform for a packed house. The reading had in fact sold out quickly and we even had to secure extra chairs on the night – as the British Council’s Shakespeare 400 programme suggested, it seems that “Shakespeare Lives…in Cork”!

The reading attracted a diverse audience which included the general public, as well as UCC staff and students of all levels. Cork is a designated UNESCO Learning City and both during and after the project, it was evident that the performance inspired an enthusiastic response from the city’s lifelong learners. The production was filmed and is available online here. A scholarly review of the production can be found on Dr Peter Kirwan’s Bardathon blog.

In addition to the IRC New Foundations funding, the project was also supported by UCC’s CACSSS Graduate School, the UCC Information Services Strategic Fund, and UCC’s School of English. This group of supporters were invaluable when it came to organising the symposium/graduate masterclass which explored Pericles, its sources, and critical and performative history, as well as issues relevant to the plot. With papers that addressed a wide range of topics including Old English, Middle English, neo-Latin, Shakespearean drama, gender studies, and Shakespeare on film, the interdisciplinary symposium explored and enhanced our understanding of Shakespeare, his influences, and his place in the literary canon.

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Dr Peter Kirwan speaking at the “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles” symposium in November 2016. 

The keynote public lecture, delivered by Dr Peter Kirwan (University of Nottingham), gave a rare insight into the herculean task of editing Pericles. The symposium concluded with a convivial roundtable on the performance of Pericles, involving the director, actors, and myself as project leader. Full details on the symposium’s schedule can be found here.

Report by Dr Edel Semple.

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“Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” – reading and symposium in University College Cork 14th-15th November

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and commemorations have been taking place around the world to mark the occasion. University College Cork will make a unique contribution to this commemorative programme through the “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” project. Funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme, the project comprises a public staged reading of Shakespeare’s Pericles (c.1606) and a symposium exploring this critically-neglected play. Notably, as far as records can determine, the play reading will be only the second ever performance of Pericles in Ireland and the first in Munster.

Led by Dr Edel Semple, Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies in UCC’s School of English, the project involves actors from UCC’s Drama and Theatre Studies and the LittleShoes Productions drama group, as well as scholars from UCC, the UK and USA. The play reading is directed by Sinéad Dunphy, a UCC graduate and Festival Manager of the Cork International Choral Festival.

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The staged reading is a free but ticketed event and takes place on Monday 14th at 6pm in the Unitarian Church, Princes Street, Cork. The symposium exploring the play’s sources and critical and performance history, will take place on Tuesday 15th November in UCC, and will conclude with a special public lecture by Dr. Peter Kirwan (University of Nottingham).

Overall “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” will explore and enhance our understanding of Shakespeare’s drama, his sources, the world he lived in, and his legacy; introduce his late drama to new audiences; and will make a distinctive contribution to the year-long global celebrations of Shakespeare’s life and work in 2016. For further info, please see the School of English website and social media (@EnglishUCC), and for queries contact Dr Edel Semple (email e.semple@ucc.ie).

The “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” project is funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme, with additional support from UCC’s CACSSS Graduate School, the UCC Information Services Strategic Fund, and the School of English, University College Cork. The project is also part of the British Council’s Shakespeare Lives programme for 2016.

Tickets for staged reading of Pericles on Eventbrite here.

A detailed schedule for the symposium / graduate masterclass is available from UCC CACSSS Graduate School here (see event listed for 14-15th Nov.)

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The 1609 quarto of Pericles