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Mind the gap: Making meaning in the theatre

Drama, in Martin Meisel’s neat definition, is the ‘management of audience expectation’. This lecture explores some of the ways in which Shakespeare’s plays cue and manage audience expectation, response, and understanding. Laurie Maguire looks at how audiences process plot and emotions, how they interpret character and language, and how Shakespeare and his contemporaries train audiences to ‘read’ plays. A key component of the lecture is the changing status of character criticism in the 20th and 21st centuries. Considering Shakespeare’s characters as if they are real people with motivations has long been outlawed in academic circles; yet character remains a consistent point of entry for audiences. One aim of the lecture is  to effect a rapprochement between these two constituencies.

About the speaker:
Laurie Maguire is Professor of English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford. She specialises in Shakespeare but her dramatic interests are wide: from ancient Greece to contemporary theatre. In the Renaissance her particular passions are Christopher Marlowe and the period's most prolific playwright, 'Anon'. She has been a judge on the Laurence Olivier Theatre panel, and reviews theatre for the TLS. She is the author or editor of seven books, the most recent of which is Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood (2009).


Shakespeare Lecture, delivered by Professor Laurie Maguire, on 9 May 2011 (venue: The UnderGlobe, Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, London), as part of the British Academy's 2011 Literature Week.

This lecture was published as ‘Audience‐Actor Boundaries and Othello’ in Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 181, 2010-2011 Lectures.