Dr Simon Smith

Photograph of Dr Simon Smith

Shakespeare Institute
Associate Professor of Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama

Contact details

The Shakespeare Institute
Mason Croft
Church Street
CV37 6HP

I’m an early modernist with particular interests in drama, music, playhouse culture, and historical sense-scapes. My most recent book is Musical Response in the Early Modern Playhouse, 1603-1625 (CUP, 2017; pbk edn 2018). 


  • BA, MA (Cantab)
  • PGCHE (Birmingham)
  • MA, PGCE, PhD (London)


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).


I mostly teach early modern literature (1500-1700), with a particular focus on Shakespeare and drama. 

I often convene MA modules on 'Shakespeare and Early Modern Playhouse Culture' and 'Shakespeare's Plays and Poems B', and contribute to BA courses on 'Renaissance Poetry' and 'Shakespeare: Elizabethan and Jacobean'.

Postgraduate supervision

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.

Find out more - our PhD Shakespeare Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


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.

Other activities

I am active as a Trustee of the British Shakespeare Association and as a member of Council and Orders Secretary for the Malone Society. I am UK Co-ordinator of the Royal Musical Association ‘Shakespeare and Music’ Study Group, and a member of the AHRC-funded ‘Soundscapes in the Early Modern World’ research network. Other recent activities include a seminar for the 'Mapping the Early Modern Inns of Court' research network in collaboration with Passamezzo, supported by the Sir Barry Jackson Fund. 

In June 2017, I organised a conference examining ‘Playing and Playgoing in Early Modern England’ with Emma Whipday (Newcastle) at Queen’s College, Oxford, supported by the Leverhulme Trust. I have also been involved with the organisation of conferences exploring ‘Shakespeare, Music and Performance’ (2013) and ‘The Senses in Early Modern England’ (2011), and have co-convened panels and seminars for the Shakespeare Association of America (2016) and the Renaissance Society of America (2015).


Highlight publications

Smith, S 2017, Musical response in the Early Modern Playhouse, 1603-1625. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316848333

Smith, S & Whipday, E (eds) 2022, Playing and Playgoing in Early Modern England: Actor, Audience and Performance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108773775

Smith, S 2017, 'Acting amiss: towards a history of actorly craft and playhouse judgement', Shakespeare Survey, vol. 70, pp. 188-99. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108277648.020

Smith, S 2023, 'Approaching playhouse song in the archive: the case of Dekker, Ford, Middleton and Rowley's "The Spanish Gypsy"', English Literary Renaissance, vol. 53, no. 1, pp. 35-61. https://doi.org/10.1086/722730

Recent publications


Smith, S (ed.) 2020, Shakespeare/Sense: Contemporary readings in sensory culture. Arden Shakespeare Intersections, 1st edn, Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, London. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474273268


Smith, S 2019, 'Song', Textual Practice, vol. 33, no. 8, pp. 1471-1473. https://doi.org/10.1080/0950236X.2019.1648422

Smith, S 2017, 'Reading performance, reading gender: early encounters with Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Scornful Lady in print', Early Theatre, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 179-200. https://doi.org/10.12745/et.20.2.3255

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Smith, S 2023, A taste of sweet music: Writing (through) the senses in early modern England. in A Kern-Stähler & E Robertson (eds), Literature and the Senses. Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 302-319. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780192843777.001.0001

Smith, S 2022, Early Encounters with Shakespeare Music: experiencing playhouse musical performance, 1590-1613. in CR Wilson & M Cooke (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music. Oxford Handbooks, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 315-335. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190945145.013.10

Smith, S & Whipday, E 2022, Introduction. in S Smith & E Whipday (eds), Playing and Playgoing in Early Modern England: Actor, Audience and Performance . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108773775.001

Smith, S 2022, Rethinking early modern playgoing, pleasure, and judgement. in S Smith & E Whipday (eds), Playing and Playgoing in Early Modern England: Actor, Audience and Performance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 122-141. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108773775.009

Smith, S 2020, Hamlet's visual stagecraft and early modern cultures of sight. in S Smith (ed.), Shakespeare/Sense: Contemporary Readings in Sensory Culture. Arden Shakespeare Intersections, Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, London. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474273268.ch-005

Smith, S 2020, Introduction. in S Smith (ed.), Shakespeare/Sense: Contemporary Readings in Sensory Culture. Arden Shakespeare Intersections, Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, London. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781474273268.ch-00I

Smith, S 2017, The many performance spaces for music at Jacobean indoor playhouses. in D Lindley & B Barclay (eds), Shakespeare, Music and Performance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 29-41. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316488768.003

Book/Film/Article review

Smith, S 2023, 'Harry R McCarthy. Boy Actors in Early Modern England: Skill and Stagecraft in the Theatre. Pp. xviii+244. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022. Hardback, £75.', The Review of English Studies. https://doi.org/10.1093/res/hgad065

Smith, S 2023, 'Laury Magnus and Walter W. Cannon , eds. Shakespeare's Auditory Worlds: Hearing and Staging Practices, Then and Now. Shakespeare and the Stage. Vancouver: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2021. Pp. 306. $110.00 (cloth).', Journal of British Studies, vol. 62, no. 2, pp. 525-527. https://doi.org/10.1017/jbr.2023.20

Smith, S 2022, 'Amanda Eubanks Winkler. Music, Dance, and Drama in Early Modern English Schools. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. Pp 258.', Early Theatre, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 161-4. https://doi.org/10.12745/et.25.1.5179

Smith, S 2018, 'Allison K. Deutermann, "Listening for Theatrical Form in Early Modern England" (2016)', Studies in Theatre and Performance, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 209-210. https://doi.org/10.1080/14682761.2016.1256112

Smith, S 2017, 'Annette Kern-Stähler, Beatrix Busse and Wietse de Boer (eds), "The Five Senses in Medieval and Early Modern England" (2016)', Renaissance Quarterly, pp. 1127-8. https://doi.org/10.1086/695208

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