Shakespeare, Spectatorship and the Technologies of Performance

April 23, 2020
By Pascale Aebischer

This book investigates the intersection between the production of early modern drama and experimentation with technologies of performance that came to a peak between 2009, when the National Theatre launched its NT Live broadcasts, and 2016, the year that saw an explosion of creativity centred on the quatercentenary celebrations of Shakespeare’s life. In that short period, experimentation with technologies of performance in British mainstream performances of early modern drama changed how audiences see and access those plays, whether through the integration of live video, social media, or performance capture in stage productions, the advent of theatre broadcasts in UK cinemas and online streams, or the exciting experimentation with the power of candlelight and architecturally determined sightlines at the newly opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Resisting a polarising opposition between a conception of ‘Shakespearean’ stagecraft as centred on the technology-free interaction of performer and spectator and the disruption of intimate human relations associated with technologies of performance, I propose a historically grounded spatial theory of technologically mediated spectatorship. I argue that present-day performance technologies enable the re-activation, for twenty-first-century audiences and in the context of their increasing everyday enmeshment in digital information technologies, of dynamic and fluid performer–spectator relationships that characterise the performance and spatial technologies of the early modern playhouse. Shakespeare, Spectatorship and Technologies of Performance therefore reorients current thinking about modes of spectatorship in present-day performance by embedding them in the history of spatial relations in the theatre.

In proposing a historicised theoretical approach to digital and analogue performance technologies that has implications for present-day performance more widely, the book complicates the focus on interactivity and immersion as the be-all and end-all of postdramatic performance in the digital age. It shows how these ‘new’ performance modes are related to and adapt the spatial configurations and modes of spectatorship that govern early modern dramaturgies. The book investigates productions of Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, The Tempest, The Changeling, Edward II, Volpone, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Measure for Measure and Hamlet in which technologies are deployed as a means of creating intense, and sometimes disturbingly visceral, individual and collective experiences that adapt the types of relationships possible in the early modern theatres for the digital age and a stratified neoliberal social environment. The book reveals how the intense years of experimentation with rapidly evolving technologies between 2009 and 2016 have shaped the next generation’s expectations of how engaging with Shakespeare and early modern drama through performance requires that we adopt an ethical standpoint as we decide how to look, where to look, what medium to look through and how to take responsibility for looking.

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic in which so much of our experience of watching Shakespeare is digital, this book reveals the interconnectedness between socially distanced and communal viewing experiences. More importantly, it carries out the groundwork for understanding how we interact with these digital performances, how we can take responsibility for what we see, and helps understand how the technology is mediating our engagement with Shakespeare at a time when so many of us are turning to online streams for solace and a sense of community.


Due to the ongoing travel restrictions and disruption caused by Covid-19, a number of book launches and other events of interest to our members have been cancelled or postponed. In what the SRS hopes will become a regular series, we have invited Pascale Aebischer, author of Shakespeare, Spectatorship and the Technologies of Performance to discuss her work with friends, colleagues and well-wishers. The online book launch will take place on 28 April at 4.00pm BST. Do join us by registering for the book launch, if you can! If you are unable to make the live event, you may watch it on catch up.


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