April 4, 2016, by Guest blogger
Blogging Shakespeare at Nottingham
By Peter Kirwan
April 1st 2016 marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of The Bardathon, my personal review blog of Shakespeare. I set the blog up in 2006 to chronicle my (successful) attempt to attend all fifty-four productions in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2006-07 ‘Complete Works Festival’. During that year I developed something of a readership, so I kept the blog going, extending the remit to write about all productions, films and adaptations of Shakespeare and his contemporaries that I could get to. When I joined Nottingham in 2011, I brought the blog with me.
The history of reviewing Shakespeare is a long and illustrious one, best captured by my PhD mentor Paul Prescott in his fantastic book Reviewing Shakespeare (Cambridge, 2014). From the earliest commenters on Shakespeare such as Simon Forman (who drew the moral from The Winter’s Tale that we should ‘beware trusting feigned beggars or fawning felons’) through the snide remarks of Samuel Pepys and the dazzling description of Samuel Taylor Coleridge that watching Edmund Kean was ‘like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning’, to the skills of the professional critic of the twentieth century, Shakespearean reviewers have always led the way in trying to explain the effect of Shakespeare on the present.
The explosion of blogging in the twenty-first century has opened up the discourse to a wide variety of voices, and debates about the place of amateur and professional bloggers alongside the old guard of formal newspaper critics are ongoing. Now that The Bardathon is ten years old and contains more than 300 reviews, I’m thinking about what the results are of this unplanned work, and what the blog tries to offer that makes it distinctive:
- It’s a personal archive. Unlike newspapers, scholarly journals or other review sites, the personal blog means that one person’s subjective opinions and theatregoing choices can be traced over a series of years. It’s easy to judge my opinion of a Hamlet based on my opinions of many other Hamlets, for instance.
- It is long form. The ability to write 2000 words on my opinion on the new film of Macbeth, for instance, gives me much more freedom than many professional reviewers to get into detail and evaluate particular choices. While academic journals allow reviews of this length, they will normally appear a year or more after the production’s close.
- It invites comment. Some of my most high-profile posts – such as on a controversial production of The Merchant of Venice, or on a preview of Joss Whedon’s film of Much Ado about Nothing – generate a huge amount of discussion, often from voices not traditionally involved in debates about Shakespeare.
- It champions the underdog. For scholars of Shakespearean performance, while we might be able to find hundreds of articles on Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, we find it harder to get good reports of more niche (but often more interesting) productions. So, academics often have to visit my blog to find reports on, e.g., an open-air production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, a beautiful charity production of Hamlet, a phenomenal student production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, or a staged reading of The Rape of Lucrece. Far more so than my peer-reviewed articles, The Bardathon is cited widely by scholars because it offers primary evidence of exciting productions for which very few other traces exist.
- It expands the canon. Where else can you find reviews of two separate productions of John Fletcher’s The Sea Voyage? Or a report on Nottingham Playhouse’s early public reading of Brean Hammond’s edition of Double Falsehood? While journals such as Research Opportunities in Medieval and Renaissance Drama go out of their way to cover non-Shakespeare productions, very little of this is accessible to the general reader. One of the things The Bardathon has tried to do is preserve good reports of rare stagings of plays by projects such as The Owle Schreame, Shakespeare’s Globe’s Read not Dead and the White Bear Theatre Pub and highlight exciting work that otherwise slips under the radar.
Ultimately The Bardathon is only one person’s opinion, but its archives have been, I hope, useful to a wide range of readers. It will be an important part of Nottingham’s public engagement with Shakespeare for many years to come, but I hope it might also inspire more voices to document their own experiences with Shakespeare and share them with the wider community.