“Directorless Shakespeare” means an ensemble staging of a Shakespeare play with no single external authority to interpret the play for the actors, where all decisions in the rehearsal room are made collaboratively by the actors, including casting, cutting, design and interpretation of characters. This PhD research posits that the heteroglossia (Bakhtin) of Shakespeare’s texts, its myriad mindedness (Coleridge) and its dialogical forces, are better served by the centrifugal force of the collective ensemble, rather than the centripetal force of the single director. It considers critically the contemporary mindset and cultural bias towards leadership that needs to shift in order to reconsider possibilities of working without a director when we stage Shakespeare’s plays, and the philosophical conundrums when trying to give actors a sense of what the existentialists termed “autonomy”. It examines the power imbalances in the rehearsal room with director-led, conceptual contemporary Shakespeare and looks at the distributed mindset evidenced in the actor-led, historical practice of English renaissance theatre.
As well as doing research into the practice of two major Shakespeare playhouses -- The London Globe, The American Shakespeare Center -- this thesis does original practice-based research as a form of Embodied Literary Criticism (ELC), detailing the process and reception of three directorless Shakespeare plays -- a History, a Comedy, a Tragedy -- with different acting companies, different performance spaces, and in different countries. These directorless Shakespeare productions, by Anərkē Shakespeare and V.enice S.hakespeare C.ompany, released aspects of the plays and offered alternative conclusions to the currently accepted academic theories on the working process of English Renaissance theatre concerning cue scripts and rehearsals. This research gathers evidence that demonstrates directorless Shakespeare as ELC has revelatory potential, supports and empowers the acting process, and can produce great and moving art.