Professor Ewan Fernie MA, PhD

Photograph of Professor Ewan Fernie

Shakespeare Institute
Chair of Shakespeare Studies and Fellow

Contact details

The Shakespeare Institute
Mason Croft
Church Street
CV37 6HP

I’m interested in the life in Shakespeare and other literature, and in exploring the ways in which it can inform, enhance and challenge life now.   I'm also interested in the way standard critical forms (such as the essay and approved styles of critical prose) reveal but also limit the kind of experience reading is held to be, and I'm committed to experimenting with those forms in the hope of revealing more of literature and its possibilities.

I believe in 'big-picture Shakespeare': in putting the plays and poems into dialogue with other art and thought from different periods and cultures - I’m particularly interested in German Shakespeare.  I believe in a potentially vital reciprocity between art and criticism; I also write creatively. And I'm all for taking Shakespeare and other art into the world beyond education; I believe art is and should be political. I’m currently writing a book about nineteenth-century culture and society and I am Director of the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project, a major collaboration with Birmingham City Council, which aims to revive the world’s first great Shakespeare library, and Birmingham’s broader reputation as a pioneering modern city, in time for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.


I won the James Elliott prize for my 1994 first-class degree from the University of Edinburgh, where I was also awarded a medal in aesthetics and a number of other prizes. I took my PhD from the University of St Andrews in 1998, and from 1998-9  was the Caroline Spurgeon Research Fellow at Royal Holloway. I was Lecturer in English at the Queen's University of Belfast from 1999-2003, and returned to Royal Holloway as a Lecturer in Shakespeare in January 2003.  I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2005 and Reader in 2007 before taking up my Chair at the Shakespeare Institute in January 2011.


All my teaching is informed by a desire to vivify, explore and extend literary experience and, increasingly, to unlock the potential for political creativity in Shakespeare and other historical literature. I devised and co-convene the new MA in Shakespeare and Creativity.  I teach on the undergraduate Shakespeare course at Birmingham, and on various postgraduate programmes at the Institute.

Postgraduate supervision

I have supervised PhDs on a range of subjects, including Shakespearean narcissism and existentialism; Stephen Greenblatt and the subjectivity of criticism; Shakespeare and the American imagination; androgyny in Renaissance drama; undressing in early modern literature and culture; Shakespeare and the Bible; Shakespeare and Wagner; forgiveness in Shakespeare and early literature; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and immortality; and the fortunes of verse drama after Shakespeare.

I would be very pleased to hear from students interested in working with me on Shakespeare and nineteenth-century culture and politics, particularly in Birmingham.


I am the Director of the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project, which aims to re-connect Birmingham’s communities with the city’s pioneering and politically progressive Shakespearean heritage.

My latest book (co-edited with Paul Edmondson) is New Places: Shakespeare and Civic Creativity (Arden, 2018).

My latest authored book is Shakespeare for Freedom: Why the Plays Matter (Cambridge University Press, 2017).  Ranging across the breadth of the Shakespeare phenomenon, it offers a new interpretation not just of the characters and the plays, but also of the part they have played in theatre, civic culture and politics. 

In 2016, I published Macbeth, Macbeth, an experimental fiction written with Simon Palfrey. This exemplified an alternative and more primary and creative form of literary response, making a whole new world and story in the image of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy, and featured original artwork by Tom de Freston. 

In 2015, I published Thomas Mann and Shakespeare: Something Rich and Strange, co-edited with Tobias Döring. This first ever volume devoted to the always interesting if sometimes disturbing connections between these two major authors was the clearest indication to date of my interest in bringing powerful German perspectives and ideas to bear on English literature.

In 2013, I published The Demonic: Literature and Experience, a wide-ranging investigation of the demonic theme in western literature and philosophy. This linked demonic to psychological, sexual and more positive religious experience as well as to revolutionary political creativity, and sought a more experientially honest and intense way of doing and writing criticism.  

I am currently working with Katharine Craik to create a new play, Marina, based on Shakespeare’s Pericles, as a Research and Development project for the RSC.  Marina explores themes of female depression and radical chastity, in Shakespeare’s time and today. 

As part of my work as Director of the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project, I am researching the career and ideas of Birmingham’s remarkable ‘lost prophet’: George Dawson (1821-76).  Dawson pioneered a new ‘Civic Gospel’, which included founding the world’s greatest Shakespeare Library for all the people of Birmingham, regardless of class or creed.  He exemplifies a lost, Birmingham-based form of Englishness, which presents a salutary challenge to contemporary culture. 

I am writing a book called Lost Prophets, which offers a new interpretation of the Victorian period as the unfinished nineteenth-century, making exciting, under-appreciated connections between a range of remarkable historical figures and reassembling the forgotten story of the trailblazing humanitarian project they collectively initiated. 

I am also the author of Shame in Shakespeare and the editor of Spiritual Shakespeares and Reconceiving the Renaissance.  I am also General Editor (with Simon Palfrey) of the ‘Shakespeare Now!’ series of short, provocative books in the Arden Shakespeare imprint.  

In 2011 I co-authored Redcrosse, a new Spenser-inspired liturgy for St George’s Day, which has been performed in major UK cathedrals and by the RSC and was published by Bloomsbury.  Redcrosse was one major outcome of the AHRC / ESRC funded project, The Faerie Queene Now: Remaking Religious Poetry for Today’s World, for which I was Principal Investigator.  It was additionally supported by grants from the Arts Council, the PRS Foundation for Music, LCACE, Awards for All and the Church Urban Fund.

Other activities

In the 2012 / 13 academic session I was Visiting Scholar at Eton College and Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies, LMU, Munich, where I worked with Tobias Döring, with whom I also convened a DFG-funded Anglo-German research group working on civic Shakespeare. I was a Visiting Professor at the University of Queensland, Australia in 2015, where I returned in 2017 as Lloyd Davis Memorial Visiting Professor.

I am a regular speaker and reader (from my creative writing) at national and international venues in Britain, Europe and America.  Recent and current engagements have included: the University of Verona; the Sorbonne; the University of Sydney; a plenary at the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association conference in Auckland, New Zealand; the UCD / Abbey Theatre Shakespeare lectures in Dublin; the Robin Dix lecture at Durham; a plenary at the 150th anniversary of the Deutsche Shakespeare Gesellschaft in Weimar; a centennial lecture at the University of Texas (El Paso); the A. C. Bradley Memorial Lecture, Cheltenham, 2017; a keynote at the Swiss Association of University Teachers of English, 2017; the Société Française Shakespeare, Paris, 2018.

I was variously involved in the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016.  Most saliently, I was part of a collaboration with Ex Cathedra Choir and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust which marked this important milestone with an historic revival of the original Garrick Shakespeare Ode, featuring the actor Sam West as Garrick, paired with the first performances of a new Shakespeare Masque for contemporary society by Carol Ann Duffy and the composer Sally Beamish.  I was also Academic Adviser for the highly distinctive ‘Our Shakespeare’ Exhibition that was mounted in collaboration with the British Library at the Library of Birmingham in the anniversary year.  And I was a featured ambassador for the British Council’s Shakespeare Lives campaign, as part of which I spoke to large audiences in Budapest and Belgrade. 

My creative and cultural engagement activities continue with Redcrosse and beyond.   I wrote a new poem for the celebrated choir Ex Cathedra's Candlelight concerts in Birmingham, London and elsewhere. I was an academic consultant for Lucy Bailey's  RSC productions of The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale, as well as for her celebrated King Lear in Bath. A major focus of my current activity is the University of Birmingham’s five-year collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company; this is dedicated to exploring the scope for cross-fertilising and fusing radical thought and theatre practice, and is based at the RSC’s newly reopened studio theatre, The Other Place. 

I have considerable media experience and have featured on radio or television in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia.   I have also been the subject of features for The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent.


Recent publications


Fernie, E & Edmondson, P (eds) 2018, New Places: Shakespeare and Civic Creativity. Bloomsbury Academic.

Fernie, E 2017, Shakespeare for freedom: Why the plays matter. Cambridge University Press.

Fernie, E & Palfrey, S 2016, Macbeth, Macbeth. Beyond Criticism, Bloomsbury Academic.

Fernie, E & Doering, T (eds) 2015, Thomas Mann and Shakespeare: something rich and strange . New directions in German studies, Bloomsbury Academic.

Fernie, E (ed.), Roberts, MS, Shanks, A & Shapcott, J 2012, Redcrosse: Remaking Religious Poetry for Today's World. Bloomsbury Academic.


Fernie, E 2015, ''Freetown!': Shakespeare and Social Flourishing', Shakespeare Survey, vol. 68, pp. 306-322.

Fernie, E 2013, 'To Sin in Loving Virtue: Desire and Possession in Measure for Measure', Sillages Critiques, vol. 15.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Fernie, E & Edmondson, P 2016, Afterword: 'What's past is prologue': Civic Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet and Beyond. in S Bigliazzi & L Calvi (eds), Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, and Civic Life: The Boundaries of Civic Space. Routledge, pp. 291-297.

Fernie, E & Palfrey, S 2013, The Weird Sisters (from the Life and Death of the Brothers Macbeth). in SA Brown, RI Lublin & L McCullough (eds), Reinventing the Renaissance. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp. 104-122.

Fernie, E 2012, Mea Culpa. in Shakespeare and I. Continuum.


Fernie, E 2015, 'Another Golgotha'. in D Loewenstein & M Witmore (eds), Shakespeare and Early Modern Religion. Cambridge University Press, pp. 172-190.

Fernie, E 2015, Afterword: 'Love's Transgression'. in S Chiari (ed.), The Circulation of Knowledge in Early Modern English Literature. Ashgate, pp. 227.

Fernie, E 2013, Redcrosse: Storytelling, Nation and Religion in England. in J Shaw, P Kelly & LE Semler (eds), Storytelling: Critical and Creative Approaches. Palgrave, pp. 241.

Fernie, E, Roberts, MS, Shapcott, J, Shanks, A & Motion, A 2013, Redcrosse: A New Celebration of England and St George. in E Fernie (ed.), Redcrosse: Remaking Religious Poetry for Today's World. Bloomsbury Academic.

Fernie, E 2013, Through the Red Cross. in E Fernie (ed.), Redcrosse: Remaking Religious Poetry for Today's World. Bloomsbury Academic.

View all publications in research portal


Shakespeare (especially Shakespeare Now: his importance and relevance to contemporary life); literature and religion; literature and philosophy; literature and creativity; Spenser; St George


  • The role Shakespeare has played in theatre, civic culture and politics
  • How Shakespeare impacts on literary and performance history, civic culture, politics and religion
  • Shakespeare and modern art, civic culture and politics
  • The relationship between criticism and creativity
  • Universities collaborating with cultural institutions and organisations such as the Royal Shakespeare Company