Meta-Play: Early Modern Drama and Metatheatre

Event Date: 
13 Jun 2015 to 14 Jun 2015

Meta-Play: Early Modern Drama and Metatheatre

University of Kent

13-14 June 2015


Now that over half a century has passed since Lionel Abel coined the term ‘metatheatre’ with particular reference to the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries and even identified a new genre, the ‘metaplay’, it is time for a conference that will bring together academics and theatre practitioners to re-assess the place of metatheatre in early modern drama studies. This interdisciplinary conference will invite literary scholars and theatre historians as well as actors and directors to consider metatheatre’s hugely influential role in critical theories, methodologies and lexicons, exploring its conceptual significance both in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and our own historical period.


In light of recent work in areas such as gender and cross-dressing, props and the materiality of the stage, and new character criticism, the term ‘metatheatre’ and its application need re-evaluating. The conference will initiate discussions on early modern metatheatre as a literary or dramatic effect, a critical paradigm, a historically contingent concept, a materially-manifested phenomenon, and even as a philosophical approach to drama. It will be an opportunity to address gaps in the field by focusing on metatheatre’s place in and between theory and practice, enabling scholars, actors and directors not only to engage productively with early modern examples of what Abel would call metaplays, but also to play with the meta- as a critical tool.


The conference’s focus on performance and theatrical practice will build on the strong development in recent years of interest in practice-based research into early modern drama. The reconstruction of early modern theatres, such as the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London (opened in early 2014), has created new resources and enthusiasm for this kind of research. The conference will facilitate new work through panels and plenaries, but also two creative sessions involving actors and directors of early modern theatre. 


Call for Papers

Paper proposals of up to 300 words, accompanied by a short biographical statement, should be submitted to Harry Newman ( and Sarah Dustagheer ( by Monday 4 May. There are three postgraduate bursaries available. Please specify in your proposal if you would like one of these. Early submissions will be preferred.


Papers might address the following:

  • Play within a play
  • Dumb shows
  • Asides, Prologues, inductions, Epilogues, soliloquies
  • Parody, imitation, iteration
  • Reconstructed theatres and metatheatre
  • Actor – audience interaction
  • Cross-dressing and the performance of gender
  • Lexicon/semantics of metatheatre
  • Metatheatre as a philosophical approach to drama
  • Metatheatre as methodology
  • Character post-Harold Bloom
  • Materiality of the stage
  • Boundaries between real world and play world
  • Metatheatre and genre
  • Performance and self-consciousness
  • Theatre and actor as subject matter
  • Metatheatre in modern Shakespeare/early modern performances
  • Relevance/value of ‘fourth-wall’
  • Metatheatre  in print cultureLevels of metatheatricality across genre, repertory and canon
Submission date for papers: 
04 May 2015