I am the Director of the Everything to Everybody project. The University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council are collaborating on a £1 million plan to revive the city’s almost-forgotten Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library, housed in the iconic Library of Birmingham - and the first, oldest and largest Shakespeare collection in any public library in the world as well as one of the UK’s most important cultural assets. This major project aims to re-connect Birmingham’s communities with the city’s Shakespearean heritage, re-stablish the West Midlands as the world’s ‘go-to Shakespeare centre’, and recover Birmingham’s once proud reputation as the most democratic and progressive cultural centre in the world has won National Lottery support.
My latest 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.
Shakespeare for Freedom presents a powerful, plausible and political argument for Shakespeare’s meaning and value. It shows why Shakespeare has mattered for four hundred years, and why he still matters today.
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.
I have also embarked on a major new project with the Library of Birmingham: ‘To Give Everything to Everybody’: Recovering George Dawson’s Legacy for Birmingham Now.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Birmingham pioneered progressive civic culture for the modern world. Key to this was George Dawson (1821-76) and his comprehensive ‘Civic Gospel’, which extended from cleaning the sewers and tearing down the slums to saving Birmingham's historic built heritage (Aston Hall) and founding the world's greatest Shakespeare Library, one which, moreover, belonged to all the people of Birmingham, regardless of class or creed. As a heterodox preacher and lecturer, Dawson reclaimed and reimagined for new times all of English literature, history and religion. A large-minded internationalist, he brought the Hungarian freedom fighter, Louis Kossuth, to Birmingham in 1851 and many, many thousands of Brummies celebrated in a city centre festooned with the Hungarian tricolour. His monument stood in Chamberlain Square till 1951, surmounted with images of Shakespeare, Carlyle, Bunyan and Cromwell. I am researching his extraordinary range of intellectual and political activities to exemplify a lost, Birmingham-based form of Englishness, and as a salutary challenge to contemporary culture.
I am also the author of Shame in Shakespeare and the editor of Spiritual Shakespeares and Reconceiving the Renaissance. I am editing a new book with Paul Edmondson titled New Places: Shakespeare and Civic Creativity. And I am 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.