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Childhood in contempoary performance of Shakespeare

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

In this thesis I analyse the performance of childhood in contemporary staged and filmed productions of four Shakespearean plays. I adopt an interdisciplinary approach that ranges across the mediums of theatre, film, television and the livecast and primarily focuses upon the past three decades, with some analysis of seminal productions from the 1970s and 1980s as a point of comparison and departure. The four plays I have chosen span the three decades of Shakespeare’s writing career and include examples from the genres of tragedy, history and tragicomedy. Through a close analysis of the manifestations of childhood in these plays – both in the text and in performance – my thesis illuminates the particular way in which the temporally disruptive children of Shakespeare’s plays intersect with the child (or surrogate) in performance, and what that point of intersection reveals about our understanding of Shakespeare’s children and our attitudes towards childhood.
I begin with a chapter on three productions of Richard III and look at the way in which the pageboy, one of the most overlooked of Shakespeare’s child characters, has been manifested on stage as a miniature facsimile of Richard. I then consider two of the most well-known of Shakespeare’s child characters, Prince Edward and Richard, Duke of York, and argue that there has been a move towards the de-idealisation of childhood through innovative stagings of these young boys in performance. In the second chapter I consider a broad range of productions of Macbeth and demonstrate how modern adaptations have exploited textual ambiguities to interrogate narratives of childhood. I look in particular at the means by which they have moved away from depicting the child as object of fetishisation and guardian of futurity by exploring the darker side of childhood innocence. Next I pick up the theme of the child as emblem of futurity and analyse how three productions of Titus Andronicus have attempted to account for the two children and their indeterminate futures, revealing a more general shift in attitudes towards childhood. In the final chapter I address the question of what childhood scholars call ‘the disappearance of childhood’ through an analysis of three productions of The Winter’s Tale. I look in particular at Mamillius and the ways in which directors account for his absence in the final scene of reconciliation and redemption. The representation of Mamillius in these productions is, I argue, symptomatic of a wider societal problem and one which recurs throughout this thesis: the elision of the boundary between adulthood and childhood and the prospect of a childhood that is disappearing altogether.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2018


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