Simon Smith


Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

I am always pleased to hear from prospective students interested in working on Shakespearean and early modern topics, especially drama; playhouse culture; music and literature.

I am supervising or have supervised PhDs on: 1580s drama; Shakespeare and Robert Southwell; early modern dramatic epilogues; objects and memory on the commercial stage, 1580-1642; plague, space and early modern drama; disguise on the early modern stage; crowns in late Elizabethan drama; Shakespeare's representations of rape; the Blackfriars lighting; early modern apprentice culture; the stationer John Danter; non-English maternity in Shakespeare; twenty-first century folk music.


Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research interests

I am interested in all aspects of early modern culture, but work particularly on drama, music, playhouse culture, and historical sense-scapes. One common thread is my interest in overlooked or obscured voices and perspectives, be those everyday opinions about music, or playhouse engagements with drama pursued by those not themselves professionally involved with the theatre. Such investigations often involve recourse to overlooked, partial and even tangential sources that might collectively serve to suggest the contours of historical practices and attitudes not conveniently preserved in more explicit archival accounts.

I began my research career thinking about music and playhouse performance, a topic that I continue to explore. My first monograph, Musical Response in the Early Modern Playhouse, 1603-1625, investigates non-specialist ideas about the experience of hearing music, and the influence of those ideas on playhouse music use. The book argues for a widespread and thoroughgoing musical dramaturgy in Jacobean drama that depends upon these non-specialist ideas. Published by Cambridge University Press in 2017 (paperback 2018), it won the Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award and the University English Book Prize, receiving praise for taking ‘a new approach in [its] analysis of how music was thought of, in both theoretical and popular terms, and how audiences, offstage and on, respond to it’, as well as for its ‘lucid, poised and graceful critical prose’. I’ve also written a number of shorter articles and chapters on music, including pieces for Shakespeare Survey (2014), for Bill Barclay and David Lindley’s Shakespeare, Music and Performance (Cambridge, 2017), and for Mervyn Cooke and Christopher R. Wilson’s Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music (2021). Topics range from inappropriate trumpets to the multi-sensory experience of music, via musician placement at indoor Jacobean playhouses. 

My interest in sensory studies has led to much collaborative work, including two edited collections, The Senses in Early Modern England, 1558-1660 (Manchester, 2015; co-edited with Jackie Watson and Amy Kenny), and Shakespeare/Sense: Contemporary Readings in Sensory Culture (Bloomsbury/Arden, 2020), the latter inaugurating the 'Arden Shakespeare Intersections' series.

I’m now working on a monograph examining Playgoing, Pleasure and Judgement in Early Modern England; the project will offer a new account of playhouse engagements with drama and was funded by a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship. Related publications include articles for Shakespeare Survey and Early Theatre (both 2017), respectively exploring audience attention to actors’ technical craft, and the relationship between print- and performance-based encounters with drama, and a chapter on Hamlet's visual stagecraft and early modern cultures of sight, in Shakespeare/Sense (2020). I have also recently co-edited a volume with Emma Whipday (Newcastle), examining Playing and Playgoing in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2022), which follows on from a 2017 conference on the same topic funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The volume identifies and advocates a set of emergent methodologies in Shakespeare and early modern drama studies that draw eclectically upon literary-critical, theatre-historical and other approaches, showcasing such work and suggesting future directions for the field.

Future research plans include some scholarly editing, investigation of Shakespeare’s musical afterlife in the repertory of the King’s Men, and some thinking about playhouse music’s archival traces (and the nature of the early modern archive itself).

I put my research into practice whenever possible by providing historical music research, arrangement and direction for productions of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. As Early Modern Music Research Associate of Shakespeare’s Globe I contributed to the design of – and practical experiments in – the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and provided historical music research for various productions including 'Original Practices' stagings of Richard III and Twelfth Night. As a musical director I have collaborated several times with Emma Whipday on research productions of early modern plays and masques, including one performance from actors' parts. I have also provided music research and arrangement for a fistful of 'Read Not Dead' staged readings at Shakespeare's Globe, most recently for Thomas Jordan's Tricks of Youth, chosen for performance by public vote following a pitch by director Nicola Pollard and myself in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in 2015. In 2014, I provided historical music research and historical theatre research for the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall.


I joined Birmingham in 2016, having worked previously at Oxford, Shakespeare’s Globe, Central School of Speech and Drama, and Birkbeck, University of London. My degrees are from King’s College, Cambridge (BA), King’s College London (MA) and Birkbeck (PhD), and I went to my local comprehensive school in Berkshire.

I held a Junior Research Fellowship and Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at Queen’s College, Oxford from 2014 to 2016, and have had various roles at Shakespeare’s Globe including Early Modern Music Research Associate. Before beginning my PhD at Birkbeck in 2010, I taught Secondary English in state schools in south London, also completing a PGCE at the Institute of Education.

For the avoidance of further confusion, please be aware that I am neither the professional violinist Simon Smith (although it is true that I used to play the violin non-professionally), nor Newcastle United Football Club’s Head of Goalkeeping Simon Smith (although it is true that I used to play in goal non-professionally).

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, English Research, Birkbeck, University of London

Award Date: 1 Apr 2014

Master of Arts, Shakespearean Studies: Text and Playhouse, King’s College London

Award Date: 1 Oct 2008

Bachelor of Arts, English, King's College Cambridge

Award Date: 1 Jul 2006


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