Dr Simon Smith

Photograph of Dr Simon Smith

Shakespeare Institute
Senior Lecturer in 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)
  • 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.

In 2019-2020 I will be convening my MA module, ‘Shakespeare and Early Modern Playhouse Culture’, in Stratford and via distance learning. I will also be teaching on various undergraduate and postgraduate modules in Edgbaston including ‘Songs and Sonnets: English Poetry from Wyatt to Donne’, ‘Shakespeare: Elizabethan and Jacobean’, ‘Plays and Performance’, ‘Evolutions of Popular Literature’, and 'Discovering Shakespeare'.

Postgraduate supervision

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; 'foreignness' and maternity in Shakespeare.

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.

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

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).

Recent conference and seminar papers include:

  • ‘Waxy Ears and Ungodly Itching: Retracing Musical Response in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse’, Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award Recipient’s Talk, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London, 2018
  • ‘Sweet Harmony?: The Taste and Smell of Early Modern Music’, Seminar – ‘Early Modern Cultures of Taste’, Shakespeare Association of America Meeting, Los Angeles, 2018
  • ‘Song, Singer and Audience in the Archives: The Case of Playhouse Music’, Panel – ‘Song in the Archives’, Renaissance Society of America Meeting, New Orleans, 2018
  • ‘Grave men’s profit and gallants’ delight?: playgoing, pleasure and judgement in early modern England’, ‘Playing and Playgoing in Early Modern England’ Conference, Queen’s College, Oxford, 2017
  • ‘The Taste and Smell of Early Modern Music’, ‘Embodied Senses’ Seminar, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, 2017
  • ‘Playgoing, pleasure and judgement in early modern England’, Early Modern Literature Seminar, University of Oxford, 2017
  • ‘Pleasure, Judgement and the Early Modern Actor’, London Shakespeare Seminar, Senate House, University of London, 2017
  • ‘Acting Amiss: Towards a History of Actorly Craft and Playhouse Judgement, Centre for Reformation and Early Modern Studies Seminar, University of Birmingham, 2017
  • Judging the skill of the early modern actor’, Conference – ‘Teaching and Learning in Early Modern England: Skills and Knowledge in Practice’, University of Cambridge, 2016
  • Considering the craft of the early modern actor: towards a history of playhouse judgement’, Seminar – ‘“A Taste of Your Quality”: Shakespeare and the Idea of the Actor, 1580-1660’, World Shakespeare Congress, The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford, 2016
  • Sensing Music in the Early Modern Playhouse’, Seminar – ‘Literature and History in Early Modern England’, Faculty of History, University of Oxford, 2016
  •  ‘Close harmony: locations for musical performance at Jacobean indoor playhouses’, Conference – ‘Conventions of Proximity in Art, Theatre and Performance’, Birkbeck Centre for Contemporary Theatre and Interdisciplinary Research in Media and Culture, 2016
  • Early encounters with Shakespeare’s music: writer, performer and audience in the early modern playhouse’, Conference – ‘Shakespeare’s Musical Brain’, The Musical Brain and Shakespeare400, King’s College London, 2016 [keynote]
  • ‘Reading Beaumont’s drama in the seventeenth century’, Conference – ‘Beaumont400’, King’s Shakespeare Festival, Guildhall Library and King’s College London, 2016
  • Playgoing, pleasure and judgement in early modern England’, Seminar – ‘The Shakespeare Audience’, Shakespeare Association of America Meeting, Vancouver, BC, 2015
  • ‘“Her lute flonge in a corner”: Instruments as domestic objects of femininity on the early modern stage’, Panel – ‘Objects of Femininity on the Early Modern Stage’, Renaissance Society of America Meeting, Berlin, 2015
  •  ‘Touching lutes in early modern England, Conference – ‘Objects of Early Modern Literature’, Queen Mary, University of London, 2014
  • ‘Notation errors and musical skill in printed music book paratexts’, Conference – ‘Error and Print Culture, 1500-1800’, Balliol College, Oxford, 2014
  • ‘Robert Armin on Shakespeare: The Two Maids of More-Clacke’, Conference – ‘Shakespeare 450’, Société française Shakespeare, Paris, 2014
  • ‘Sensing music in and around the early modern playhouse’, Seminar – ‘Shakespeare and the Senses’, Shakespeare Association of America Meeting, St. Louis, MO, 2014
  •  ‘What was early modern musical skill?’, Seminar – ‘Researching Skill’, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013
  • ‘Exploring kingship through musical spectacle in Richard III’, Globe/Leeds Conference – ‘Shakespeare, Music and Performance’, Shakespeare’s Globe, London, 2013
  • ‘“I know the lute” / “I know thee, lute”: Musical instruments as domestic objects on the early modern stage’, Conference – ‘Materialities of Urban Life in Early Modern Europe’, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, 2013
  •  ‘Music and court spectatorship: The case of The Winter’s Tale at the 1612-13 Christmas revels’, Conference – ‘Spectatorship and the Making of Early Modern Courtly Space’, Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt, 2012
  • ‘Exploring notions of musical ‘skill’ in the early modern theatre’, ‘Crossroads’ Conference – ‘Networks, Communication, and Exchange in the Early Modern World’, St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, 2012
  • ‘“Offring at an inward part out of their owne nature”: Fantasy, Engagement and Singing Characters in Early Modern Drama’, Conference – ‘Britgrad: British Graduate Shakespeare Conference’, The Shakespeare Institute, Stratford, 2012
  • ‘Early Modern Commercial Drama and the Creation of Delight’, Seminar – Cambridge Interdisciplinary Early Modern Seminar’, St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, 2011 (with Hannah August)
  • ‘Seeing Music in Antony and Cleopatra on the Early Modern Stage’, Globe/London Renaissance Seminar Conference – ‘The Senses in Early Modern England, 1485-1668’, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2011
  • ‘“I see no instruments, nor hands that play”: Seeing Music on the Early Modern Stage’, ‘Crossroads’ Conference – ‘Space in Early Modern Europe’, Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt, 2011
  • ‘“The sweet resounding of whose pleasing straines, / Delightes the sences, captiuates the braines”: The dramaturgical role of music in The Winter’s Tale’, Conference – ‘Work in Progress’, Birkbeck, University of London, 2011


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 & Whipday, E (eds) 2022, Playing and Playgoing in Early Modern England: Actor, Audience and Performance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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


Smith, S 2021, 'Approaching playhouse song in the archive: the case of Dekker, Ford, Middleton and Rowley's "The Spanish Gypsy"', English Literary Renaissance.

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

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 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 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 & 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.

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.

Smith, S 2022, Early Encounters with Shakespeare Music: experiencing playhouse musical performance, 1590-1613. in M Cooke & CR Wilson (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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 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. https://doi.org/10.1086/695208

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