Shakespeare and the Idea of Authenticity

This year has been incredibly eventful in the realm of Shakespeare studies and performance. As the quaternary year of #Shakespeare400, we have been celebrating the legacy of Shakespeare as a playwright and re-evaluating his place in 21st theatre.

Amongst this period of reflection and examination, we had the appointment of Emma Rice to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where she began experimenting with amplified sound and dynamic lighting in their summer season of 2016 in the outdoor replica of Shakespeare’s own amphitheatre. Rice’s movement toward high production value shows in the Globe-style space received a mixed response, with some mourning the journey away from Sam Wanamaker and Mark Rylance’s ‘Original Practices’ toward something closer to our contemporary theatre style. As the summer season came to an end, the Board of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre announced that Emma Rice would be moving on from her new appointment as Artistic Director to another arts organisation in 2017. The board cited reasons of wanting to ‘stay true’ to Wanamaker’s ideal of an ‘authentic’ Globe experience, and foreseeable disparity between Rice and this model of performance.[1]

Rice’s dismissal received a similar level of mixed reaction to her summer productions. Some of the early pioneers of the Globe’s early style appeared to let out a sigh of relief on the Twitterverse, while others mourned the lost potential in Rice’s leadership of the Globe into a new era.[2]

Emma Rice will not be continuing at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on London's Bankside in 2017.  Image: The Guardian UK

Emma Rice will not be continuing at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on London's Bankside in 2017. Image: The Guardian UK

This move by the Globe board opens several questions: where does our value in Shakespeare’s theatre lie for audiences in the 21st century? Does a space like Shakespeare’s Globe in London deserve a special platform for staging a more ‘authentic’ Shakespearean style? Or is the pursuit of authenticity in performance a futile or perhaps an irrelevant/disengaging practice for modern-day audiences?

My thought about the latter two questions is that both have a ‘yes’ element and it is the navigation between these two truths that results in captivating performances for audiences in a replica Globe space.

On the one hand, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s bankside serves as a major tourist attraction and educational centre, focused on connecting audiences with early modern drama in a space that replicates the original performance conditions. As Penelope Woods writes in her case studies of Globe audiences, people respond to their first experience of a performance in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre with comments like, ‘quote’ and ‘quote’. This demonstrates that whatever misgivings academics may have about finding a truly ‘authentic’ experience of Shakespearean performance, audiences often see it this way.

So the question remains, where does our value in Shakespearean performance lie in the 21st century, or more importantly, what do our audiences value? Do we require the Globe in London to remain as a bastion of historical representation or do we need to strike a balance between this and a more modern performance style?

Perhaps only time can tell the answer.

Did you see a production at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in the summer season of 2016? If so I'd love to hear from you. Send me an email to


[1] To read the full BBC Article on Emma Rice’s dismissal, go to

[2] For an example of the kinds of conversations that followed on Twitter, see