The politics of popular music in contemporary Shakespearean performance

Adam Hansen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter tries to reread, or to hear again, examples of the ways popular music has been used in some recent productions of Shakespeare. Given their number, this account can only be selective, suggesting ways of addressing what happens when popular music meets Shakespearean performance that go beyond the focus here on two different productions: one fairly faithful to an editorially established Shakespearean text, and one looser, more radical adaptation. In turn, this chapter contributes to a field of study developed by Stephen Purcell in his Popular Shakespeare, where he says ‘an area … which remains as yet relatively unexplored is that of Shakespeare and ‘the popular’ in performance’. We might note that there has been even less attention paid to Shakespeare and popular music in performance, and this silence continues. Titus Andronicus, directed by Pia Furtado in 2014 in a Peckham car park, featured ‘beatboxing, breaking and more’. One review praised the production’s ‘visual impact’, while complaining it was ‘full of loud music’: this was the extent of the analysis of the staging’s sonic aesthetic. This chapter’s rereading, or rehearing, tries to address several questions, questions informed by research into the interactions between music and literature, as articulated by William E. Grim: The first way in which music may influence literature is on the inspirational level. … This is the case of music being the writer’s muse. … Music can also influence literature at a metaphorical level. At this level, music serves as the subject matter, point of departure, or intertextual reference within the work of literature. … The third type of influence that music may have on literature is at the formal level. At this level, the work of literature utilizes or attempts to imitate musical forms and/or compositional procedures within a literary context. On reading this, one might wonder what it has to do with popular music in recent Shakespearean performance. Grim focusses on what classical (not popular) music does to or for literature as text (not as performance), and on the creation of texts (not their consumption).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShakespeare, Music and Performance
EditorsBill Barclay, David Lindley
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781316488768
ISBN (Print)9781107139336
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017

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