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Name: Alexander Douglas Thom

PhD: Shakespeare Studies

Thesis Title: King Lear, sovereign power, and doctrines of identity


Thesis Description:

King Lear is premised on a split in the office of sovereignty: between the name of ‘king’ and the duties, potencies, and properties of that office. This disconnection, through the political and ethical crises that subsequently emerge from it, dramatises the conceptual faultlines that run through office, duty, and identity. Drawing on and responding to the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben, this thesis contends that King Lear is preoccupied by the fraught intersections between selfhood and politics. Kingship itself was doctrinally articulated as an office that mystically subordinates, and even obliterates, the selfhood of its holder. Finding himself beyond this supremely alienating sovereign office, Lear’s subsequent tribulations can therefore be read as a drama of self-recovery and, in that sense, as a philosophical drama in its truest sense. Alongside Lear’s personal trajectory, this thesis examines the play’s wider depiction of political selfhoods — the legitimate and illegitimate, the citizen and the outlaw, daughters and wives, masculinity and femininity — and contends that these frameworks for understanding self and other can be seen to constrain, and occasionally foreclose, more ethically responsible selfhoods. Lear earns the audience’s forgiveness partly by articulating a philosophical vision for a better life, one which transcends such political roles; and the play’s tragic climax generates much of its force by then terminating that possibility. 


Supervisors and Institution(s): Dr Erin Sullivan (University of Birmingham), and Prof Ewan Fernie (University of Birmingham).



Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

  • “‘Figures of Exclusion’ in Mucedorus, c. 1591.” Law & Literature, forthcoming.


  • With Martin Wiggins, et al., “Gismond of Salerne,” in Collections XVIII: Two Plays from the Decameron, Malone Society, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020.


Online Articles


Conferences and Public Presentations:

  • Public Lecture: "British Interwar Illustrators of Shakespeare's Plays," Research Conversations. 11 December 2019, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Seminar Discussion: "Officium: Office and Duty in Shakespeare's King Lear," Literature of the Early Modern and Medieval (LEMMae) Research Group. 20 November 2019, University of Birmingham.
  • Seminar Chair: "Actors Q&A." Philip Massinger's The Roman Actor, The Malone Society Conference. 6 July 2019, Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Conference Paper: "British Arms Sales as Neo-Colonial Strategy: Past and Present." New Voices in Post-Colonial Studies: Interdisciplinary Imaginations, Critical Conversations. 13 June 2019, University of Leeds.
  • Conference Paper: "On the concept of majesty." M4C Research Festival. 23 May 2019, Maple House, Birmingham.
  • Seminar Paper: "'Which of you shall we say doth love us most? — An ethical reappraisal of Lear's daughters." Postgraduate Research Seminar. 7 May 2019, Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Seminar Paper: "In Praise of Touchstone." Shakespeare Association of America Conference. 18 April 2019, Washington, D.C.
  • Seminar Discussion: "Wolfshead: Caput Gerat Lupinum, the Outlaw, and Agamben." Literature of the Early Modern and Medieval (LEMMae) Research Group. 25 February 2019, University of Birmingham.
  • Conference Paper: "Who is it that can tell me who I am?" Offices of the Jurist: Cardozo School of Law. 2 December 2018. Manhattan, New York City.
  • Seminar Paper: "'To liberty and not to banishment': Banishment, exile, and the wilderness on the Renaissance English stage." Royal Shakespeare Company Academic Briefing, 18 September 2018. Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Conference Paper: "The Prince and the Cannibal: 'Figures of Exclusion' in Mucedorus (c. 1591/1610)." British Graduate Shakespeare Conference. 1 June 2018, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Seminar Paper: "'Freedom Lives Hence and Banishment is Here': Banishment versus Exile in King Lear." Flight, Exile, Migration: Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft. 21 April 2018, Weimar.
  • Conference Paper: "'The Catastrophe of the Old Comedy': Edgar and the Playing of Banishment." Shakespeare at Play: ANZSA. 8 February 2018, Melbourne.
  • Conference Paper: "'There's no more to be said': Responding to banishment in Shakespeare's drama." British Graduate Shakespeare Conference. 3 June 2017. Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Conference Paper: "Reading the Forest: Ecological Legibility and As You Like It." Into the Woods Symposium, in Association with the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. 22 July 2015, University of Melbourne.


Academic Positions/Scholarly Engagement/Voluntary Positions:



  • Postgraduate Teaching Associate - Shakespeare's Theatre - Shakespeare Institute
  • Postgraduate Teaching Associate - Shakespearience - Shakespeare Institute
  • Trusts and Grants Fundraising Intern - Birmingham Hippodrome


  • Postgraduate Teaching Associate - Shakespeare's Craftsmanship - Shakespeare Institute
  • Birmingham Representative - New Voices in Post-Colonial Studies Research Network - WRoCAH and M3C


  • Research Advocate - Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
  • Postgraduate Teaching Associate - Research Skills - Shakespeare Institute
  • Facilitator - "Shakespeare's Emotions, Lost and Found" - Royal Shakespeare Company


  • Research Students' Representative - Student-Staff Committee - Shakespeare Institute


  • Research Assistant - English and Theatre Studies - University of Melbourne
  • Teaching Assistant - Shakespeare in Performance - University of Melbourne
  • Guest Speaker - Research Principles and Practices - University of Melbourne


  • President - Melbourne University Shakespeare Company

Prizes and Awards:


  • Louis Marder Shakespeare Centre Scholarship - Shakespeare Birthplace Trust


  • Bowen Prize - University of Melbourne
  • Shakespeare Scholarship - University of Melbourne


  • Louise Homfrey Trust Prize - University of Melbourne's Theatre Board


  • Burrows Drama Award - Devonport High School for Boys


Other Research Interests:

  • Political Philosophy
  • International Politics
  • Ethics
  • Banishment, Exile, and Displacement
  • History of Ideas
  • Commercial English Drama, 1580-1625
  • Performance as Research


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