Dr Sophie Duncan

My major research interest is in Shakespeare performance history, and in how Early Modern drama has been used to explore issues of gender, race, and sexuality over the last four and a half centuries. I am interested in women’s creative networks, theatrical memory, theatre props, cognitive approaches to drama, and cultural memory. I work regularly with theatre companies to bring Shakespeare to the stage. Beyond the Early Modern period, I have longstanding interests in Ira Aldridge (the first African American actor to succeed in Europe); Shakespeare’s intersections with the transatlantic slave trade; the British suffrage movement;  the drama of Ibsen and Wilde, and the 1890s.

My first book, Shakespeare’s Women and the Fin de Siècle (OUP: 2016) examined iconoclastic performances of Shakespeare’s heroines by star Victorian actresses including Ellen Terry, Madge Kendal, and Lillie Langtry. The book roots fin-de-siècle Shakespeare in the exciting and complex world of actresses’ professional and creative networks, showing how Shakespeare in performance and fin-de-siècle culture inflected each other, from the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the suffragists’ struggles for franchise. My second book, Shakespeare’s Props: Memory and Cognition (Routledge: 2019) examines how Early Modern theatregoers, performers, and playwrights thought about, with, and through onstage objects, from Othello’s handkerchief to Hamlet’s “pictures in little”. My most recent book, Searching for Juliet: The Lives and Deaths of Shakespeare’s First Tragic Heroine (Sceptre: 2023) is a theatrical, literary, and cultural heroine of Shakespeare’s Juliet which tracks her reception and appropriation from the Elizabethan stage to West Side Story, and from Verona to Afghanistan.

I teach broadly across the period 1550–1760, and supervise undergraduate and postgraduate work on drama from the Early Modern period to the present day. I am particularly keen to hear from postgraduates interested in any aspect of theatre history, Shakespeare in performance, drama and slavery, or cultural memory.

  • Literary Manager for Ellie Keel Productions (London).
  • Textual advisor on Romeo and Juliet, Globe Theatre (2024).
  • National Public Programme academic lead for the National Trust on ‘Women and Power’ (2018).
  • Recent/forthcoming television and radio includes ‘Free Thinking’ (BBC Radio 3, 2024), ‘Shakespeare’s Shadows’ (podcast), ‘Velshi’s Banned Books Club” (MSNBC), BBC History Extra (podcast), ‘Equal As We Are’ (BBC Radio 4), ‘Women’s Hour’ (BBC Radio 4), ‘The Essay’ (BBC Radio 3).
  • Historical/textual advising for the Kiln theatre, the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company, the New Vic, BBC Radio 4.
  • Talks or lectures at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, British Film Institute London, Bath Literature Festival, Oxford Literary Festival, Cambridge Literary Festival, StonyWords Festival, Oxford Playhouse, et al.