Plays, Poems & New Writing Story

Exploring gender and symbolism in our upcoming talk

  What we can expect at the latest These are the Youths that Thunder event in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

3 minute read

Each year, we open our playhouse doors to two rising stars of Shakespeare studies to offer up new thoughts, musings and revelations on Shakespearean times and text as part of These are the Youths that Thunder.

This November sees Dr Iman Sheeha, Lecturer in Shakespeare and Early Modern Literature at Brunel University, speak about the symbolism of women at windows and other boundaries of domestic spaces in Early Modern Drama. We spoke to Dr Iman to find out more about her work.

Shylock grabbing Jessica's arm in The Merchant of Venice

Phoebe Pryce as Jessica and Jonathan Pryce as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, 2015. Photographer: Manuel Harlan.

Can you tell us a bit about your research focus, and the subject of your Youths That Thunder talk?

This talk will focus on the way The Merchant of Venice engages with early modern anxieties surrounding women, servants and liminal domestic spaces, spaces like doors, windows and gates. I show that the play evokes fears members of the original audience may have had about wives, servants and spaces that rendered households porous and, unlike the domestic tragedies popular on the stage at the time, it fails to contain these anxieties.

What drew you to it as a topic?

I am completing a book on domestic tragedies, plays about dysfunctional families and ‘houses in a sweet pickle,’ as one character in a domestic tragedy describes the household in which he works. All of these plays engage with fears about what women and servants get up to in the absence of their shared master of the household and in relation to spaces that connect at the same time as they separate the household from the street.


How has your research changed the way you think about Shakespeare’s plays?

Working on domestic tragedies has helped me see Shakespeare’s plays from a fresh angle. Shakespeare was not working in isolation, and he knew about this new genre (we know A Warning for Fair Women, for example, a domestic tragedy dating to the late sixteenth century, was performed by the Chamberlain’s Men). I find it so rewarding and exciting to investigate the ways in which Shakespeare not only borrows tropes from these plays but also transforms them, as he does in Othello.

André Holland as Othello and Jessica Warbeck as Desdemona in Othello, 2018. Photographer: Simon Annand.

What do you enjoy about your current role at Brunel?

I love how diverse the student body is and how rich the cultural backgrounds that people bring to the classroom are.

What’s your next dream research topic?

Perhaps my ‘dream’ project would be about cats in Shakespeare (crazy cat lady here!). Failing that, I am currently working on liminal domestic spaces in Early Modern Drama.