Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award 2023
By Grace Briggs-Jones, Maria Sadek and Clara Garnier-Barsanti
The Globe Theatre first opened in 1599, with historians believing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to have been his first play written specifically for the Globe, but was burnt down in 1613 after a misfired prop cannon, used in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, caused the thatch roof to catch fire. The second Globe was rebuilt within a year but was closed by parliamentary decree in 1642. The current Globe Theatre was opened officially by Her Majesty the Queen in 1997. Awarded last in 2020, the Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award, given biannually, supports the Globe’s mission to promote the work of new and emerging scholars. Not only does the winner take home £3,000 but is also invited to give a public lecture in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Previous winners include Simon Smith, Abigail Rokison-Woodall, and Emma Whipday. Twenty-five eligible titles from around the world were considered; the criteria: the book needs to be the author’s first academic monograph. Let’s dive in!
Let’s first start with our shortlisted books, kicking it off with Fictions of Consent: Slavery, Servitude, and Free Service in Early Modern England by Urvashi Chakravarty. This book takes an interesting look at the intersection of service and slavery in early modern England, using The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest to challenge modern notions of freedom and race in Shakespeare’s England.
Next on our list of shortlisters is Strangeness in Jacobean Drama by Callan Davies, a book that uses the plays of Shakespeare, Marston, Jonson, and Webster to explore the Jacobean definition of “strange.” At the time, this word was often used to label all things foreign, ambiguous, violent, or supernatural and Davies uses this exploration to provide an interesting and engaging look at Jacobean culture and society.
Ari Friedlander’s Rogue Sexuality in Early Modern English Literature: Desire, Status, Biopolitics is third on our rundown and is a novel that uses engaging and thrilling readings of early modern dramas to explore new ways history and culture can be understood.
Our fourth shortlisted tackles the power of theatre to “unfix” – which she uses as its power to challenge, break and upset – the stereotypes around disabled bodies. Katherine Schaap Williams argues that disabilities were “everywhere in early modern plays,” in a way that helped shape how the modernity of England was formed. Unfixable Forms: Disability, Performance, and the Early Modern English Theatre is a well-crafted book in which each chapter balances elegantly between literary analysis and medical and juridical sources to propose a historical view on the case.
Last but not least on the shortlist is Tasting Difference: Food, Race, and Cultural Encounters in Early Modern Literature, a book signed by Gitanjali G. Shahani, that explores the close and intertwined relationship between exotic foods, the self and the representation of ‘others’ in England during colonial times. The Cambridge Press review points out how “[a]t the heart of Tasting Difference is [the] powerful and overarching metaphor of eating the other. Exotic foods were cast as racialized others, while racialized others might be depicted as desirable or disgusting foodstuffs.” This metaphor, by Bell Hook, a contemporary Black feminist, along with Gitanjali G. Shahani’s work will give you material to feed your thoughts on the topic.
The first winner is Shakespeare’s Syndicate: The First Folio, its Publishers, and the Early Modern Book Trade by Ben Higgins. Higgins explores the “literariness” of the Folio, asking how stationers have shaped textual authority and arguing for the interpretive potential of the “minor” Shakespearean bookseller. This study demonstrates that despite four hundred years of history, Shakespeare’s canon continues to generate new stories. The judges “didn’t expect there was a whole new story about the First Folio” but Higgins “weaves an astonishing story of literary ambition and business acumen…and makes the bookish world of early modern London live again in the folio’s anniversary year.”
The second winner is Scripts of Blackness: Early Modern Performance Culture and the Making of Race by Noémie Ndiaye. Exploring the techniques of impersonation used by white performers to represent Afro-diasporic people in England, France and Spain, Ndiaye shows how early modern mass media of theatre and performance culture helped turn Blackness into a racial category, justifying emerging social hierarchies and power relations in a new world order. The judges “were uniformly astonished by the scope of [this book]” which “tells a vital new story about racialisation of Blackness and Afro-diasporic people.”
Chair of the judges, Will Tosh, sums it up perfectly: “it’s been a tremendous privilege to read the work of our shortlisted authors, who represent the best of the thriving field of Shakespeare scholarship. Huge congratulations to them all.”