Dr Erin Sullivan

Dr Erin Sullivan

Shakespeare Institute
Reader in Shakespeare

Contact details

The Shakespeare Institute
Mason Croft
Church Street
CV37 6HP

I am a cultural historian and literary scholar interested in the nature of emotional experience and its relation to art - in particular Shakespeare’s. My research splits into two distinct but nonetheless related strands: the cultural history of the emotions, especially sadness, and the performance of Shakespeare today.


  • PhD (UCL)
  • PGCert in Academic Practice (Open University)
  • MA (Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham)
  • BA (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)


I studied for a BA in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, after which I moved to England on a Fulbright postgraduate scholarship to study for an MA in Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute. I completed my PhD at University College London, where I held the Roy Porter Memorial Studentship and was jointly affiliated with the English department and the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine. I took up my post at Birmingham in 2010 and became a Senior Lecturer in 2015.


Both my teaching and my research interests are broadly interdisciplinary, weaving together historical, cultural, and aesthetic concerns. I regularly convene modules on Shakespeare’s cultural legacy and theatre historiography, and I also teach on the University's undergraduate Shakespeare course.

As Tutor for Distance Learning at the Shakespeare Institute I oversee the distance learning (DL) options we offer through our MA Shakespeare and Theatre and MA Shakespeare and Education programmes, and I also help develop digital teaching opportunities across our institution. In 2016 I received a University of Birmingham Teaching Academy Award for my work in this area, and in 2018 I became a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Association for my contributions to online education. My teaching has also influenced my research interests, leading me to write about the pedagogy of distance learning and, more recently, Shakespeare and digital culture.

Postgraduate supervision

I currently supervise students working on Shakespeare and legal theory, Shakespeare and corporeality, the performance of Shakespeare in minority languages, conceptions of time in the Renaissance, the relationship between Shakespeare and the Jesuit poet Robert Southwell, the live broadcasting of Shakespearean performance, and the cupio dissolvi tradition in Shakespeare and Donne.

I would be happy to hear from prospective research students interested in working on Shakespeare and the emotions, Shakespeare and the body and/or soul, Shakespeare and twenty-first-century performance, and Shakespeare and digital culture. In 2018 I was very fortunate to receive University of Birmingham's Award for Excellence in Doctoral Researcher Supervision for the College of Arts and Law.

Further information about the PhD application and funding is available on the University of Birmingham website: students should read through this information before contacting me. Strong candidates for a PhD place will typically have an MA with distinction in a relevant subject area and a well-developed sense of their proposed research project.

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


I am interested in the intersection of culture, identity, and the arts, chiefly in the Renaissance and early modern periods, but increasingly in more modern contexts too. Most of my research to date has dealt with this broad field of interest through the lens of the history of emotion and psychology. My first monograph, Beyond Melancholy: Sadness and Selfhood in Renaissance England (OUP, 2016), explores the understanding and experience of sadness in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, paying particular attention to the way literature and drama offers access to the emotional life of the past. My edited collection with Richard Meek, The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (MUP, 2015), considers the central role feeling played in early modern religious, political, and cultural life. In 2013 I held a six-week Universitas 21 Fellowship at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of the Emotions, where I pursued research on both of these book projects, gave a public lecture at the UQ Art Gallery, and talked about my work on Australian national radio.

In recent years I have also become interested in Shakespeare's performance and celebration today, especially in relation to the experience of identity and community. In 2012 I led an AHRC-funded project with Paul Prescott and Paul Edmondson that investigated Shakespeare's role in the London Olympic Celebrations, resulting in an open access festival archive, www.yearofshakespeare.com, and two edited collections for Bloomsbury's Arden Shakespeare series: A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival (2013) and Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year (2015).

My next book project is a study of Shakespeare and digital performance that looks at how technological innovations such as live theatre broadcasting, the staging of digital media, and audience participation through social media are reshaping how we encounter and experience Shakespeare as performance. I am particularly interested in how we respond to such work emotionally, and I blog about these issues at digitalshakespeares.wordpress.com. In 2017 I held a one-month fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, to develop this project.

Other activities

Outreach and public engagement

I am committed to nurturing a wide audience for humanities research. To that end I have spoken at the Cheltenham and Hay Festivals on Shakespeare and on representations of madness in literature, have been featured on Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ talking about Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy and Shakespeare's The Tempest, have worked with theatre companies including Stan's Cafe and Elastic Theatre on productions exploring Renaissance psychology, and have discussed child mortality and parental grief with Michael Wood for his BBC documentary on the life of Shakespeare's mother. My research on Shakespeare and the 2012 Olympics, which involved working with theatres, museums, and their audiences and patrons, was the subject of a REF 2014 Impact Case Study for the School of English, Drama, and American and Canadian Studies.

I have also acted as a historical advisor for Wellcome Trust-funded arts groups dealing with the medical culture of Renaissance Europe and I have written on several occasions for the medical journal The Lancet, contributing pieces on the history of madness, the mind, grief, and literature’s engagement with medicine. I am happy to hear from media organizations and arts groups interested in pursuing projects related to my research interests. 

Professional service

I am a general editor of the journal Cultural History, a board member of the theatre company The Other Way Works, and from 2010-16 I was a trustee of the British Shakespeare Association. At the Shakespeare Institute I am Tutor for Distance Learning, Staff Library Representative, and Staff Liaison for the Student-Staff Consultative Committee. I previously represented the College of Arts and Law on the University’s Collaborative Provision Committee.

I have also acted as a peer reviewer for several journals, publishing houses, and funding bodies, including Shakespeare, Shakespeare BulletinMedical History, Routledge, Bloomsbury, and the Wellcome Trust. 


Recent publications


Sullivan, E 2016, Beyond Melancholy: Sadness and selfhood in Renaissance England. Emotions In History, Oxford University Press. <https://global.oup.com/academic/product/beyond-melancholy-9780198739654?cc=gb&lang=en&>

Sullivan, E & Prescott, P (eds) 2015, Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year. Arden Shakespeare, Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, London, New York.

Sullivan, E & Meek, R (eds) 2015, The Renaissance of Emotion: Understanding Affect in Early Modern Literature and Culture. Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Sullivan, E, Prescott, P & Edmondson, P (eds) 2013, A Year of Shakespeare: Re-living the World Shakespeare Festival. Bloomsbury Academic.


Sullivan, E 2020, 'Live to your living room: streamed theatre, audience experience, and the Globe’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream', Participations: journal of audience & reception studies, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 92-119. <https://www.participations.org/Volume%2017/Issue%201/7.pdf>

Sullivan, E & Herzfeld-Schild, ML 2018, 'Introduction: emotion, history and the arts', Cultural History, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 117-128. https://doi.org/10.3366/cult.2018.0169

Sullivan, E 2018, 'Shakespeare, Social Media, and the Digital Public Sphere: Such Tweet Sorrow and A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming', Shakespeare, vol. 14, no. 1. https://doi.org/10.1080/17450918.2018.1439092

Sullivan, E 2018, 'The role of the arts in the history of emotions: aesthetic experience and emotion as method', Emotions: History, Culture, Society, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 113-131. https://doi.org/10.1163/2208522X-02010006

Sullivan, E 2017, '“The forms of things unknown”: Shakespeare and the rise of the live broadcast', Shakespeare Bulletin, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 627-662. https://doi.org/10.1353/shb.2017.0047

Sullivan, E 2013, 'Doctrinal Doubleness and The Meaning of Despair in William Perkins’s ‘Table’ and Nathaniel Woodes’s The Conflict of Conscience', Studies in Philology, vol. 110, no. 3, pp. 533-561. https://doi.org/10.1353/sip.2013.0015

Sullivan, E 2013, 'The History of the Emotions: Past, Present, Future', Cultural History, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 93-102. https://doi.org/10.3366/cult.2013.0034

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Sullivan, E 2020, Shakespeare and the seven senses: Scenes from the twenty-first-century stage. in S Smith (ed.), Shakespeare/Sense: Contemporary Readings in Sensory Culture. Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 293-318.


Sullivan, E 2018, The audience is present: aliveness, social media and the theatre broadcast experience. in P Aebischer, S Greenhalgh & L Osbourne (eds), Shakespeare and the ‘Live’ Theatre Broadcast Experience. Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 59-75.

Sullivan, E 2013, A Disease unto Death: Sadness in the Time of Shakespeare. in E Carrera (ed.), Emotions and Health 1200-1700. Brill, pp. 159-183. <http://www.brill.com/emotions-and-health-1200-1700>

Special issue

Sullivan, E & Herzfeld-Schild, ML (eds) 2018, 'Emotion, History and the Arts', Cultural History, vol. 7, no. 2. <https://www.euppublishing.com/toc/cult/7/2>

View all publications in research portal


  • The intersection of culture, identity, and the arts
  • Shakespeare's performance and celebration today, especially in relation to the experience of identity and community
  • How technological innovations such as live theatre broadcasting, the staging of digital media, and audience participation through social media are reshaping how we encounter and experience theatre/Shakespeare