The Shakespeare and the Queen's Men project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's Research-Creation Grant. This new grant recognizes the important work done by artists within the university community and the value of pursuing research through artistic production.
We believe producing plays gives a particular insight into theatrical process and dramatic text...Created in the spirit of scholarly enquiry, our productions are arguments of a kind--ones we hope will generate further debate.
The centerpiece of our research was the professional repertory production of three Queen's Men plays that had not been performed together since 1604. The plays were produced in conditions that approximated those of the original company and the rehearsal process was based on our current understanding of Elizabethan production practice. They were performed on a short tour of Hamilton and Toronto culminating in an international conference on the company and their plays. The project depended on a dynamic interaction between scholars and theatre professionals and gave insight into the original company’s work, their plays and the differences between Elizabethan approaches to theatrical production and our own.
Our approach to producing the plays has been categorized as “original practice” production and compared to similar work conducted at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. The notion of “original practice” productions however is a contentious one since evidence is so scanty on the period that it is hard to establish exactly how Elizabethans originally rehearsed and performed their plays, in addition to the obvious but sometimes overlooked fact that it is not possible to turn back time and recreate the past. Our productions were not recreations or reconstructions; they were research experiments designed to explore the available evidence on the Queen’s Men and their practices through theatrical production. While many members of our audience chose to view the shows as recreations, the words “recreation,” “reproduction” and “reconstruction” were banned from all material associated with the project, much to the chagrin of our publicity team who understood the appeal of this idea. It is important to us that you too understand that we are not presenting our production records and resources as reconstructions or replicas of the work of the Queen’s Men.
Why Produce Plays?If it is impossible to recreate past performances, why bother producing the plays in the first place? The answer to this is twofold:
- The impossibility of recreating the past does not stop historians making arguments in order to communicate their understanding of the available evidence.
- We believe producing plays gives a particular insight into theatrical process and dramatic text; one that cannot be achieved through the studying of documents and writing of papers alone much as we support, encourage and engage in these activities.
The SQM project was inspired by the book The Queen's Men and their Plays by Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean. In the introduction the authors outline the central purpose of their work as follows:
Shakespeare was not our contemporary, and one way to insist on that fact is to study the things which he had to deal with and which our age is free to ignore. Shakespeare had to deal with the Queen's Men. We are free to ignore them - the first summer festival of Queen's Men plays has yet to be held. But if measuring the difference between Shakespeare and ourselves makes for good history, and if the Elizabethans are to be thought of as not another version of ourselves but as strangers from the past, and if things nearly forgotten are the proper objects for historians to keep in view anyhow, then we think the plays of the Queen's Men are worth careful consideration (xvi).
Sally-Beth and Scott both served as advisors on our research committee. The experimental approach of their book and the importance placed on maintaining historical distance became informing principles of the project. Unfortunately Scott passed away before seeing the festival of plays he dared to imagine and we would like to dedicate this website to his memory.