Professor Pascale Aebischer
Pascale Aebischer is Professor of Shakespeare and Early Modern Performance Studies. She specialises in the history of the performance of early modern drama (including Shakespeare), with an emphasis on 1580s-1700 and 1980s-present. She has a particular interest in bodies and performance technologies (from candlelight through social media to 'live' theatre broadcast and digital performance). These interests are reflected in her teaching, which focuses on early modern - Restoration theatrical cultures and performance practices, Shakespeare, and present-day performance on stages and screens.
From 2021 to 2023, Pascale Aebischer is leading the coordination of the AHRC's Covid-19 research portfolio as Principal Investigator of The Pandemic and Beyond: the Arts and Humanities Contribution to Covid Research and Recovery.
She has served as Director of Education and Head of Department for the Department of English and Film.
Office 319 (Queen's Building)
Please note that I work part-time, from Monday-Thursday, and divide my time between teaching and work on The Pandemic and Beyond.
My research is mostly situated at the intersection between the early modern playtext and theatrical culture on the one hand and present-day performance on the other, with a particular focus on bodies, gender, race, violence, ethics, media, or spectatorship - or all of these together. Past research and book projects include Shakespeare's Violated Bodies: Stage and Screen Performance (CUP, 2004), Remaking Shakespeare: Performance Across Media, Genres and Cultures (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), Jacobean Drama (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), Performing Early Modern Drama Today (CUP, 2012, "Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2013"), Screening Early Modern Drama: Beyond Shakespeare (CUP, 2013), and, with Susanne Greenhalgh (Roehampton) and Laurie Osborne (Colby), Shakespeare and the 'Live' Theatre Broadcast Experience (Bloomsbury/Arden Shakespeare, 2018; paperback 2019).
My most recent book is Shakespeare, Spectatorship and the Technologies of Performance (CUP, April 2020). The book develops work in phenomenological approaches to performance and spectatorship, as well as work on digital performance, scenography and theatre architecture and reconstruction. I am concerned with how the affordances of present-day performance technologies, both low-tech (as in the use of architecture and candlelight in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) and high-tech (as in the use of digital technologies to transmit, enhance and expand on live performances), create new ways of understanding the spatial dynamics and dramaturgies of early modern drama. What, for example, happens to spatial relations, 'liveness' and the relationship between the spectator and the performance when a theatrical performance is transmitted live to a cinema near you?
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, I am currently coordinating the AHRC's Portfolio of funded Covid-19 research. For more information on this work, see The Pandemic and Beyond: The Arts and Humanities Contribution to Covid Research and Recovery. This work builds on and integrates my earlier AHRC/UKRI-funded project, Digital Theatre Transformation: A Case Study and Digital Toolkit , which explored how Creation Theatre (Oxford) managed its complete digital transformation of its backstage and creative operations, establishing a business model and creative practice that enables the company to continue paying freelance creatives Equity wages. We worked with representatives of Equity and with members of Creation Theatre and Big Telly (NI) on documenting the processes of digital transformation and the business model that enabled it, and to produce detailed research of audience responses, including an assessment of the perceptions of value-for-money for live digital shows.
I have also embarked on a 'rapid-response' Cambridge Elements project on Viral Shakespeare: Performance in the Time of Pandemic, in which I consider how during the closure of theatres in March and April 2020 and in step with the viral spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, digital Shakespeare productions and broadcasts went 'viral', reinforcing the sense of community between Shakespeare lovers at a time of lockdown and bringing different theatrical cultures into unprecedented contact.
I am also involved in a project with colleagues in the UK (Freyja Cox-Jensen, Harry McCarthy, Maria Shmygol) and Switzerland (Lukas Erne) concerned with using practice-based methodologies to explore plays by Shakespeare that were translated into German and used as touring scripts in the seventeenth century.
The ‘Pandemic and Beyond’ project is hosted by the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health at the University of Exeter and embedded in the College of Humanities, with team members from Humanities (Prof Pascale Aebischer, Dr Benedict Morrison, Dr Rachael Nicholas), the Medical School (Prof Victoria Tischler), the Business School (Prof Sarah Hartley), and Social Sciences and International Studies (Prof Des Fitzgerald). The team will build partnerships with academic communities, the wider public connected or impacted by the AHRC Covid-19 projects, Non-Governmental Organisations and policymakers to inform local, national and international crisis response and policy. The project will begin in March 2021 and conclude in February 2023.
I am very interested in hearing from graduate students who would like to carry out a research project on Shakespeare and early modern performance studies, theatre history, spectatorship, feminist and/or queer responses to early modern drama, or adaptation studies. Since the advent of Covid and the digital turn in theatre, I have a particularly strong interest in new forms of digital theatre involving early modern texts. With Shakespeare so (problematically?) present in curricula and performance cultures across the world, I would welcome the opportunity to work with research students who have their own cultural perspectives and non-Western methodologies to bring to bear on the study of Shakespeare in performance. I have a particular interest in theatre architecture, media and technology, including digital technologies, and have a long-standing fascination with the work of Derek Jarman and other counter-cultural artists who have engaged with the drama of the early modern period.
I also have an interest in the relationship between French classical theatre and early modern drama in England and would welcome supervising interdisciplinary work that might also take in German and Italian traditions, as well as visual culture.
With Brexit and the Climate Emergency as urgent present concerns, I would love to facilitate PhD work focused on how either of these concerns are reflected in the present-day performance landscape for early modern theatre - or, indeed, on how they replay older debates regarding the environment and the place of early modern England within the broader political landscape of early modern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and Africa. With much of my teaching energies going into decolonising the curriculum when it comes to teaching early modern drama, PhD research in that area would also be a very exciting thing to be involved in.
I am currently supervising two students: Jim Porteous, who is examining a cluster of plays written at the time of James I's accession (the 'Ho' plays, plus Isle of Gulls), and Abhik Maiti, who is researching the merging boundaries between video games and literature, with an emphasis on Shakespeare.
Former supervisees include:
- Jeremy Bloomfield: “An Analytical History of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi in Text and Performance” (co-supervised with Dr Jane Milling, Drama): completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2011.
- Jennifer Barnes: ‘“Masculinity and the Heroic Body in Filmed Adaptations of Shakespeare’s Tragedies”: completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2012. Her thesis research has since been rewritten as Shakespearean Star: Laurence Olivier and National Cinema (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
- Sally Templeman: “Food and Its Discourses in Early Modern Texts”: completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2013.
- James Alsop: “The Living Dead in Early Modern Drama”: submitted within four years; PhD awarded in 2015.
- Callan Davies: “The Mechanics and Invention of Moral Vision in Early Modern Tragedy”. completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2016.
- Harry McCarthy: "Boy Actors on the Early Modern English Stage: Performance, Physicality, and the Work of Play". Completed and examined within three years; PhD awarded in 2019.
- Jim Porteous: "The representation of London and the court in city comedies performed by Children’s Companies 1604-06". Part-time PhD, completed within four years; PhD awarded in 2020.
- Abhik Maiti: "All the Computer’s a Stage: The Merging Boundaries Between Video Games and Literature". Current.
- Jane Wright: "Applying Shakespeare as Drama Therapy to Military Veterans with Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder". Current.
- Pankhuri Singh: "The adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays in Indian cinema and their rustic portrayal." Current.
External impact and engagement
As the PI for Digital Theatre Transformation, I have been interviewed for BBC Radio Devon and have done media work that has been published in The Daily Telegraph and The Observer. I have also published research findings in the trade Press, with articles in Equity Magazine and Quarto Magazine.
My current work as PI on The Pandemic and Beyond: The Arts and Humanities Contribution to Covid Research and Recovery involves public engagement work, including podcasts, social media, media work and webinars aimed at the general public and policy makers.
Contribution to discipline
Between 2012 and 2017, I was General Editor of Shakespeare Bulletin, the leading journal in early modern performance studies (http://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/shakespeare_bulletin/). I am still on the journal's editorial board and am furthermore on the editorial boards for Literature Compass and The Hare, as well as for Cambridge University Press' Shakesepeare on Screen and Cambridge Elements: Shakespeare in Performance series. I also review for some of the major presses and journals in the field of Shakespearean and early modern performance studies. In 2011-12, as part of an AHRC-funded research project, I took on the role of Higher Education consultant for Stage on Screen, a London-based production company (see www.stageonscreen.com).
I have contributed to workshops and debates that inform the reconstruction of Inigo Jones' and John Webb's designs for the Cockpit-in-Court as part of the Shakespeare North project in Knowsley and have worked with Callan Davies and Heather Knight at the Museum of London Archaeology to explore how Knight's excavation of the Curtain Playhouse shifts received narratives regarding the entertainment culture and architecture of playhouses in Elizabethan and Jacobean London.
In relation to the Digital Theatre Transformation Covid-19 rapid response project, I have talked about how theatres can use digital media to continue performing during lockdown on BBC Radio Devon and have commented on the Government's funding package for theatres in the Daily Telegraph.
I work in early modern performance studies, looking at the ways in which the plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries are redeployed in present-day performance, exhibitions, installations, digital media and criticism. There is an obvious connection between this research and my teaching, which concentrates on Shakespeare (Level 1), theatre history ('Theatrical Cultures: Renaissance to Restoration', Level 2), the wider early modern culture in which the plays are embedded ('Desire and Power', Level 2), and present-day performances of early modern drama across a range of media ('Spectacular Bodies', Level 3). I have also taught on the 'Staging Shakespeare' MA/MFA programme led by the Drama department and contribute to MA teaching in the Department of English. My current research on how performance technologies translate the spatial dynamics of early modern drama in present-day performance is intimately connected to the teaching I do for 'Theatrical Cultures' and to the work I do as General Editor of Shakespeare Bulletin.
Since the Student Guild's Teaching Awards were first introduced in 2009-10, I have been nominated for a range of awards every year. I was voted 'Lecturer of the Year' for English in 2009-10, 'Most Supportive Member of Staff' for English in 2010-11, and was shortlisted for the institutional award for 'Research-Led Teaching' in 2016.
I grew up in Bern (Switzerland), where I spoke French at home and Swiss German with my friends. I interrupted my Combined Honours degree in English and French Literature at the University of Bern for one year in 1990-91 so as to study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Performing Arts at the London Academy of Performing Arts. This experience inspired me to start a theatre company at the University of Bern and to celebrate the end of my degree with a staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
In 1996, I was awarded a Berrow Scholarship to allow me to study for an M.St and a DPhil at Lincoln College, Oxford. While there, I staged a production of the First Quarto of Romeo and Juliet with my fellow-students and took advantage of the proximity of Stratford-upon-Avon to spend a lot of time in the theatre and even more time in the Shakespeare Centre's archives.
Upon completion of my DPhil, I took up a Research Fellowship at Darwin College, Cambridge, with the support of a Research Fellowship for Advanced Researchers from the Swiss National Science Foundation. For the next three years, I combined work on Henry Green and on my first book with teaching the early modern syllabus for colleges in Oxford and Cambridge. In 2001, I also had the opportunity to work with colleagues at Anglia Ruskin University to organise Scaena: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries in Performance, a large international conference.
My first two years as a lecturer were spent in Leicester, which was tremendous fun and a very important stepping-stone towards my move to Exeter, where I've been since 2004.
Since arriving in Exeter, I've had two children and have written books on Jacobean drama and film adaptations of early modern plays. With the help of a research assistant (Callan Davies) and colleagues in the UK (Dr Paul Prescott, Warwick) and Canada (Prof. Kathryn Prince, Ottawa and Prof. Roberta Barker, Dalhousie), I edit Shakespeare Bulletin. I teach mainly for the Department of English but take a vivid interest in Drama and in the work of the Northcott Theatre.