Marking 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare

By Irish Research Council

Posted: 22 April, 2016

To mark 400 years since the Bard’s death, postgraduate scholar Emer McHugh, a researcher at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway, tells us about her project: “Irishness and Shakespearean Performance: Theatre, Culture, National Identity.”

My doctoral research looks at Shakespeare performances by Irish theatre companies from the beginning of the Troubles to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Thus, I investigate the cultural politics of performing Shakespeare at changing stages of Irish national identity. My case studies include Druid Theatre Company’s recent DruidShakespeare; Pan Pan’s adaptations of Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear; and recent productions at the Abbey and Lyric Theatres. I’m particularly interested in looking at how these performances elucidate Irish cultural attitudes towards this most English of playwrights, especially in the run-up to this year’s 1916 commemorations.

What I particularly love about my research is that I’m looking at a history of performance that hasn’t been given much attention in the past: whereas there has been much critical focus given to the literary dimensions of Shakespeare and Ireland, there is a huge gap where performance histories are concerned. Generally, I’m interested by our own fascination with Shakespeare as a cultural icon – and my research allows me to apply this to my home country: a country that hasn’t really come to terms with his work. Shakespeare has come to symbolise English cultural hegemony on this island: how have Irish theatre practitioners come to terms with this?

My research may be about the work of an English playwright, but I think it tells us a lot about Ireland, and its relationship to English and international theatre and culture too. Moreover, I’d like to think that a little part of our own theatre history is slowly being excavated.