top of page
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Instagram

Ph.D. Project 


Shakespeare’s Dramatic Style at the Curtain Playhouse (1597-99).


My project was prompted by the Museum of London Archaeology’s (MOLA) excavations of the Curtain site in 2016. These revealed a rectangular playhouse that was so well-preserved it provided an unprecedentedly detailed set of performance conditions to study Shakespeare’s Shoreditch plays. Approaching the term “style” as a composite of what a dramatic text is made of/from (aesthetics) and how it is used (utility), I develop a hybrid methodology in this study that reanimates features of John Russell Brown’s 1970 book Shakespeare’s Dramatic Style and applies the latest advances in textual studies, theatre history, and practice-as-research (PaR) to show a new style of Shakespeare at the Curtain.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men relocated to the Curtain in 1597 after suffering a series of personal, legal, and financial setbacks and remained there until the new Globe opened in the summer of 1599. During this time, Shakespeare was an ambitious but cash-strapped playwright who retooled old plays to pull in new crowds (Romeo and Juliet), cashed-in on popular characters with sure-fire spin-offs (The Merry Wives of Windsor), and found innovative solutions for the Curtain’s fluid audiences (Henry V). In a series of three sequential case studies, I demonstrate that Shakespeare adapted his dramatic style to account for the unique circumstances and challenges presented by Curtain performance. The result was a raucous, violent, and interactive style of Shakespeare, unlike any other stage in his career or at any other playhouse. 

My research was heavily impacted by COVID-19, and consequently, these findings have implications that reach beyond the study’s motivating purpose. In addition to providing new critical territory that engages scholars from across a broad range of disciplines in productive new conversations about Shakespeare’s style, my study presents a model that connects dramatic texts with their sites of performance while reducing geographical barriers to participation.

This introduction to my research interests was filmed as part of the Three Minute Thesis competition in 2019.

My PhD research is under the supervision of Professor Susan Bennett at the University of Calgary, and is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Issak Walton Killam Trust. If you would like more information on the project, or have any questions about involvement in PaR elements, please feel free to contact me here. 



Map of Early Modern London (MoEML);

The Stage Shoreditch;


Early English Books Online (EEBO);

Records of Early English Drama (REED);

Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) excavations;

Holger Syme's reflections on the Curtain dig;

The Before Shakespeare project

Dr. Robert Stagg's entertaining documentary on Shakespeare's Shoreditch.

Shoreditch Curtain Theatre

Abram Booth's View of the Cittye of London from the North towards the Sowth (1600) is one of the only surviving contemporary images of Tudor Shoreditch. The large outdoor playhouse (whose distinctive flag is highlighted in orange) was previously believed to be the Curtain. MOLA's excavations of the site in 2016, however, unearthed a rectangular playhouse, which may be depicted here as part of a square structure (gold). What impact could this remarkable and unexpected playing space have had upon Shakespeare's plays in performance? And how might these findings influence the way we approach the plays in the theatre today? 

Shoreditch Shakespeare Graffiti Street Art

Only traces of Shakespeare remain in Shoreditch today but times are changing. This epigram was demolished in 2016 to make way for "The Stage", a 38 storey development on the site of the Curtain Playhouse, that will feature apartments, offices, retail outlets, and an exhibition space. 

Terrific....anything that can be done to connect Shakespeare to his deep roots in Shoreditch is commendable, and can only enhance our understanding of his plays and times. 

James Shapiro

Shoreditch Shakespeare

Shoreditch's Victorian underground station was closed in 2006 and replaced by a new site in 2010. The district has a long history of impermanence, replacement, and renewal dating back to its Tudor playhouses; which has left behind a rich and textured palimpsest in the layers of its built environment.

bottom of page