Richard O'Brien

Richard O'Brien

Shakespeare Institute
Teaching Fellow in Shakespeare and Creativity
Birmingham Poet Laureate 2018-2020

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I'm a critical-creative practitioner interested in early modern theatre and its creative afterlives in the present day. My PhD was on Shakespeare and the development of verse drama. I won the 2015 Ben Jonson Journal Discoveries Award for an article on fictional representations of Jonson. I'm also a widely published poet, and the winner of a 2017 Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors.


  • PhD in Shakespeare Studies. Thesis: ‘Shakespeare and the Development of Verse Drama’ - The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham (2014-2017)
  • MA Shakespeare and Creativity - The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham (2013-14) 
  • BA English and French - Brasenose College, University of Oxford (2008-2012)


I grew up in Lincolnshire and took my BA at Brasenose College, Oxford, in English and French. After graduating in 2012, I spent six months working as a radio host for a live daily English language show. I returned to academia the following year to take up a place in the first cohort for the Shakespeare Institute’s MA in Shakespeare and Creativity, where I went to complete my PhD: a wide-ranging study of the development of verse drama from Shakespeare to the present day, incorporating elements of creative practice.

My academic interests span from the 16th century to contemporary poetry, and I am always looking for ways to bridge the gap between them, as well as the more significant gap between critical and creative practice. I am a specialist in early modern theatre, and the particular focus of my current research is on contemporary fictional representations of the early modern period. My work in this field has been published in the Ben Jonson Journal, and presented at international conferences including the International Federation for Theatre Research (Stockholm, 2016) and the Shakespeare Association of America (2017, 2018). In March 2017, I was Global Premodern Studies Visiting Professor at the University of Minnesota.

Alongside my academic work, I also write creatively. My poetry has been published in three pamphlets with UK-based independent presses, and has featured in magazines including Poetry London, The White Review and The Literateur, as well as a number of anthologies: a full list of publications is available on my personal website. I have performed at the BBC Proms for a Radio 3 broadcast, translated work from French and Latvian, and edited anthologies for the Emma Press, where I am currently a commisioning editor. In 2017 I was one of six winners of the Society of Authors' Eric Gregory Award. I also write for children and do school visits for Pop Up Projects. My first play for children, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Selfish Giant, premiered at the Arcola Theatre, London, in December 2016.


I teach on the Shakespeare Institute's unique MA course in Shakespeare and Creativity, leading the modules Shakespearience and Shakespeare and Society. My undergraduate teaching includes Shakespeare: Elizabethan and Jacobean, Songs and Sonnets, and the first-year modules in Poetry and Prose. Previously I taught in the Department of Creative Writing at UoB, and supervised creative dissertations largely in playwriting at undergraduate and Masters level.


The development of verse drama in Britain from the 16th century to the present day, particularly as understood in dialogue with Shakespeare; fictional depictions of Shakespeare and especially Shakespeare’s contemporaries, with a focus on Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe; incidental uses of Shakespeare in popular music and pop culture; the relationship between politics and poetic form; contemporary poetry; depictions of class in post-war British literature and music, including a project on the songwriter Jake Thackray (

Other activities

I am a Commisioning Editor for the Emma Press, a regional press of growing national importance (featured in The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC Radio 6 Music), developing poetry anthologies for adults and publications for children. I have also chaired three conferences — 'Poetry and TV', co-chaired with Dr Jenna Clake (University of Teesside) in July 2018, 'Out of Practice', an event showcasing practice led research, in collaboration with Tom White (June 2016), and the 2015 British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, the largest postgraduate event of its kind in early modern drama.

In 2016 I served as an academic consultant with Professor Ewan Fernie on ‘Our Shakespeare’ — the Library of Birmingham’s 2016 Shakespeare Exhibition, in collaboration with partners from the Library of Birmingham and the British Library. I have also produced schools resources for the Poetry Society, and participated in the Pop Up Festival arts programme in primary schools in Hackney and Telford to deliver writing workshops based around the CLiPPA-shortlisted children's poetry anthology Falling Out of the Sky (Emma Press, 2015) and my co-translation of the children's poetry collection The Noisy Classroom by Ieva Flamingo.


Journal articles

  • ‘Community and Conflict: A Practitioner’s Perspective on Verse Drama.’ Connotations Journal. Forthcoming late 2018.
  • "‘I will never play the Dane’: Shakespeare and the Performer’s Failure." Literature Compass.
  • ‘“Put not / Beyond the sphere of your activity”: The Fictional Afterlives of Ben Jonson.’ — The Ben Jonson Journal 23.2 (2016): 169–191. Winner of the 2016 Ben Jonson Discoveries Award ($500).

Book chapters

  • ‘Adapting Jonson: modern versions of Volpone and The Alchemist.’ Ben Jonson’s Afterlife. Edited by Martin Butler and Jane Rickard. Forthcoming 2019.
  • ‘Shakespeare Unbard: Negotiating Civic Shakespeare.’ New Places: Shakespeare and Civic Creativity — The Arden Shakespeare, 2017. Co-written with Hester Bradley.

Creative writing (selected)

  • 2018: Edited collection: Second Place Rosette: A Poetic Almanac of British Customs and Rituals. Published by the Emma Press. (Forthcoming)
  • 2018: Edited collection: Dragons of the Prime: Poems about Dinosaurs. Children’s poetry. Published by the Emma Press. (Forthcoming)
  • 2018: Translation: The Book of Clouds by Juris Kronbergs, edited and co-translated with Mara Rozite from the original Latvian. Published by the Emma Press.
  • 2018: Translation: Narcoses by Madara Gruntmane, edited and co-translated with Marta Ziemelis from the original Latvian. Published by Parthian Press. 
  • 2017: Translation: The Noisy Classroom by Ieva Flamingo (The Emma Press). Co-translated from the Latvian with Sara Smith and Zanete Pasqualini.
  • 2017: Edited collection: This is Not Your Final Form: Poems about Birmingham (The Emma Press). Co-edited with Emma Wright, also comprising winning entries to the inaugural Verve competition chosen by Hanna Silva.
  • 2016: Play. The Selfish Giant. Commissioned to adapt Oscar Wilde’s story for a family Christmas show at the Arcola Theatre.
  • 2015: Pamphlet, A Bloody Mess, published by Dead Ink/Valley Press.
  • 2014: Poetry pamphlet: The Emmores, published by The Emma Press.
  • 2009: Poetry pamphlet: your own devices, pamphlet published by tall-lighthouse press in the Pilot series.