Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Senior Lecturer in Drama researches neglected female characters in Shakespeare

Tuesday, 06 March 2018

Laura Higgin

Dr. Laura Higgins, a Senior Lecturer in drama, is researching neglected women characters in the Shakespearean work Richard II. A broad exercise, this ranged from tracing performance histories to interviewing actors.

There are three main female characters in Richard II: the Queen, the Duchess of Gloucester, and the Duchess of York. Dr. Higgins argues that they have been considered uninteresting compared to more popular female characters such as Joan la Pucelle (Joan of Arc) and Margaret of Anjou, who have appealed to critics on account of their military exploits and ruthless and transgressive behaviour. However, Dr. Higgins argues that the three Richard II women are interesting in their own way. Instead of employing arms or guile, they not only use language to produce insightful and compelling arguments, which illuminate the core conflicts in the play, but they also show determination, flexibility, and courage in defending those they love.

To gain a deeper insight into this, Dr. Higgins has interviewed actors: she argues that actors have an intimate knowledge of characters that cannot be gained simply by reading the play. They included Genevieve O’Reilly, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Sian Thomas, and Lee Quinn. In addition to the interviews, Dr. Higgins employs a range of analytical methods, three prominent elements are (I) mapping the characters’ journey through the play and the considering the symbolic resonances of references to space and place; (II) reviewing the performance history, which dates back to 16th century in some cases; and (III) examining theatre ephemera held in archives (e.g. reviews, production programmes, posters and publicity materials, production videos, and prompt books).

In terms of future interests, Dr. Higgins tells us that “one of the threads that runs through past, present and (hopefully) future research is Shakespeare production history and contemporary performance.”. Additionally, a major facet of her work is connected to “theories of space and place which help us to interrogate the complex interactions between actors, text and space in Performance.”

The other area she is working on, which arose out of her Doctoral research (and incidentally was very much inspired by one of the actors interviewed for a thesis chapter) is the conceptualization and staging of dramatic ghosts both in early modern plays and works by modern and contemporary playwrights.