Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Research article

Explore Early Modern performance culture in our Research in Action series

  Leading academics join forces with Globe actors and you – the audience – to uncover Shakespearean theatre practice in our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

7 minute read

Have you ever wanted to take part in our experiments in staging and performance? Research in Action returns for Summer 2022 with three new events that give audiences the chance to be part of our exploration of early modern and contemporary performance culture.

In these workshops, we throw open the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse doors to scholars, artists and theatregoers, to ask the sorts of questions that are only answerable by doing. Using extracts from well-known and less-familiar plays, Globe actors and leading academics uncover and question the practices of the Shakespearean stage.

We caught up with our Head of Research, Dr Will Tosh, to find out more about this summer’s series of events…

A row of books sits on the wooden gallery of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, cast in candlelight and shadows.

Our Research in Action series continues this summer, exploring Early Modern performance practice.

It’s something of an understatement to say that I’m excited about the return of Research in Action to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse this summer. The thought of bringing together artists, academics and audience members in a freewheeling workshop sparks a special kind of thrill after a two year hiatus during which any sort of in-person contact was off the menu.

Here’s what to expect: a scholar or two with a puzzle; a handful of actors with years of experience and boundless expertise; a beautiful candle-lit theatre; and a talkative, questioning, curious audience.

Since 2014, we’ve explored every nook and cranny of the Playhouse, testing to the limit its candle rig and its capacity to host startling theatrical effects. And we’ve broadened out the topics of our enquiries, sharing vital experiments on the staging of race in Shakespeare’s plays, performances of disability and non-disability, and the nature of gender in early modern drama. Along the way our academic friends have shared their passion for Renaissance games and sports, secret codes and locked letters, beds and bedroom scenes, and much more. The discoveries of our Research in Action workshops have been published in research papers, articles and books, and have significantly advanced scholarship on Shakespearean drama.

Live scholarship returns at last to our Sam Wanamaker Playhouse stage.

Our 2022 season takes Research in Action into more new territories, from the comedies of the Hispanic Golden Age, to intoxicating stage smells, and the dazzling, challenging works of John Fletcher. I hope you can join us as live scholarship returns – at last – to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse stage.

Dr Will Tosh
Head of Research

What to expect: a scholar or two with a puzzle; a handful of actors with years of experience and boundless expertise; a beautiful candle-lit theatre; and a talkative, questioning, curious audience.

Editing in Action

Shakespeare’s collaborator, and one half of Beaumont and Fletcher, John Fletcher was perhaps the most popular dramatist of the 17th century. He wrote and collaborated on more than 50 plays, including three with Shakespeare himself – all the more striking given that Fletcher died before he was 50.

For readers, theatre-makers and scholars today, Fletcher’s drama seems to offer an alternative view of the Shakespearean period, one that is international and global in outlook, that moves between faiths and cultures, that explores race-making on the early modern stage, that prioritises women’s emotional and intellectual experience in a series of remarkable female roles, that thinks carefully about trans and cis gender identities, and that in doing so feels inherently queer and very current.

We have benefited from some remarkable scholarly editions of individual plays by Fletcher and his collaborators – a rich circle including Beaumont, Massinger, Middleton, Webster, Ford, Rowley, Field and others – but the time is right for the first modernised complete edition of his plays. This is the task of Editing John Fletcher for the Twenty-First Century, based at King’s College London and the University of Roehampton. It will call on a range of diverse expert voices to explore Fletcher through innovative critical theory, editorial practice, and performance as research.

Editing John Fletcher for the 21st Century calls on a range of diverse expert voices to explore Fletcher through innovative practice.

The unique format of a Research in Action workshop is the ideal place to start this exploration. We will explore samples of Fletcher’s drama with a group of diverse theatre-makers and expert practitioners and with our audience, joining forces to think through our editorial approaches.

Professor Clare McManus (University of Roehampton) and Professor Lucy Munro (King’s College London)

Research in Action offers a unique format to explore Early Modern drama.

Translation in Action

Early modern Hispanic dramatists, like their contemporaries in London, certainly knew how to get a laugh. While the theatrical genre known as comedia is capacious enough to include tragedies and histories, a comic element is central to many of the most vibrant works of the Golden Age stage. The figure of the gracioso – neither fool nor clown, but a sidekick of the protagonist – puts the comedy in comedia.

This summer, scholars from the Diversifying the Classics project at the University of California, Los Angeles will join Globe actors to perform scenes from Hispanic classical drama in English translation. With a focus on the gracioso and attendant questions of humour in translation, we will explore the comic potential of metatheatrical devices, the force of colonial and class critique and the complexities of gender identity. We will examine how this repertory relates to its English-language counterpart, how humour calls attention to economic and social positions, and how effective translation might make the humour in these plays more legible to audiences in the present.

How does effective translation of Early Modern Hispanic texts make the humour in these lays more legible to our present audience?

We will focus on two dramatists of the Golden Age, on either side of the Atlantic: Spain’s Ana Caro Mallén de Soto, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, from the lands now known as Mexico. The chosen scenes from Caro’s The Courage to Right a Woman’s Wrongs and Sor Juana’s One House, Many Complications and Love is the Greater Labyrinth promise laughs, discoveries, and more than a few surprises.

The workshop extends the ongoing project of Diversifying the Classics to translate, promote, and perform works that are too little known in the Anglophone world and bring exciting plays to new audiences. The scenes are from new English versions, and we are especially eager to hear from an audience about the resonance of the language as well as its effectiveness in performance, learning what intrigues, surprises and makes you laugh. Our graciosos – cross-dressed Castaño, class-conscious Ribete, mischievous Flora and the irrepressibly bawdy Tuna – will lead the way.

Professor Barbara Fuchs and Robin Kello (University of California Los Angeles)

Dramatists explored will include Ana Caro Mallén de Soto and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

Perfuming the Early Modern Stage

Scent is one of the most important ways in which many people make sense of the world. In Shakespeare’s London, the rich smells of oak, thatch, tallow and beeswax that filled indoor and outdoor playhouses would have mingled with the heavy perfumes worn by wealthy playgoers, and the tobacco smoke produced by pipe-puffing gallants. Theatregoers might have appreciated the way these strong smells masked the supposedly foul atmospheres of early playhouses: contemporaries complained about the garlic-laden breath of fellow playgoers, the fumes rising from polluted nearby waterways, and the stench of rotting timbers.

The smellscape of playhouses such as the 1599 Globe was also influenced by onstage effects. Aromatic cues in early modern drama range from jokes about the body odour of fictional characters to theatrical episodes in which pipes are smoked onstage, incense is burned, or sulphur-tinged gunpowder effects are deployed. Today, the prevalence and significance of such ephemeral aromatic effects is easily overlooked. Through our Research in Action workshop, Here’s a Sweet Stink Indeed!: Perfuming the Early Modern Stage, we plan to foreground early modern drama’s pronounced interest in the olfactory. A group of actors will present extracts from three early modern plays that feature the onstage production of powerful odours, with audiences asked to reflect on how these scents influence their experience of each episode. Our aim is to explore how perfumes, incense, and less pleasant odours might have contributed to both tragic and comic performance effects, and to consider what it might mean to stage a play that appeals to our noses as well as our eyes and ears. In other words, how do scents help us make sense of performance?

Dr Chloe Kathleen Preedy (University of Exeter) and Dr Freya Verlander (University of Warwick)

A candelabra with 12 beeswax taper candles is lit, hanging low over the thrust stage of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

What was the smellscape of the Early Modern playhouse?

In a Research in Action workshop, the audience is always part of the research team. Expect discoveries – and expect to be asked for your thoughts.


Our Research in Action series returns as part of our Summer 2022 season.

Editing in Action: Fletcher for the Twenty-First Century, 25 May 2022, 6.00pm

Translation in Action: Comedies of the Spanish Golden Age, 27 June 2022, 6.00pm

Perfuming the Early-Modern Stage: ‘Here’s a Sweet Stink Indeed’, 2 August 2022, 6.00pm

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2022 edition of Globe magazine and is a benefit of being a Member of Shakespeare’s Globe.