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Name: Martin Higgins.

PhD: PhD Shakespeare Studies

Thesis Title: Idolatry, Iconoclasm and English Commercial Drama of the 1580s.

Thesis Description:

'Antitheatricalism' is a generic term often used to denote the work of certain early modern writers producing work at the end of the 1570s and the beginning of the 1580s (Stephen Gosson, Anthony Munday, Philip Stubbes). In the past, such generic labelling has led critics to characterise these writers as uniformly Puritan or representative of a homogeneous antitheatrical cause, often related to either the concerns of the state Church or competing commercial enterprises in the city of London. In fact, these men had disparate religious and professional backgrounds and produced their own antitheatrical works independently of each other. Furthermore, criticism of these writers often discusses their ideas in relation to the drama of the 1590s and the 1600s, despite the fact that all of the 'antitheatrical' work of Gosson, Munday and Stubbes had been through first and subsequent editions by as early as 1584. 

Therefore, my project will explore the way in which the drama of the 1580s responded to these popular works. Rather than proceeding on the basis of a supposed 'anti' and 'pro' theatrical divide (in which playwrights staunchly defend the humanist utility of the theatre), I will explore the way in which the same themes are treated by both playwrights and 'antitheatricalists'. By exploring the aesthetic and epistemological theories at play in the subtexts of the dramatic work of John Lyly, Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Lodge, I intend to show the way in which they auto-deconstructively implicate their own staging as an idolatrous, pagan enterprise. This topic is intended to find commonalities between dramatic and 'antitheatrical' work in order to argue that the thematic blueprints which the drama of the 1580s bequeathed to that of later (or 'major') dramatists are saturated in the concerns motivating 'antitheatrical' attack of the stage, i.e. idolatry, paganism, devil-worship, etc. 


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr. John Jowett, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.

Dr. Simon Smith, The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.


Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):

  • None.


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


  • 'Temptation in the Early Commercial Playhouse: A Discussion of Antitheatrical Ideas in John Lyly's Sappho and Phao', The EMREM Annual Symposium, University of Birmingham.


  • 'The Familial Church: Religious Interpellative Mechanisms in the Early Modern Period', British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • I served as a registrar on the British Graduate Shakespeare Conference board in 2017. I also chaired two panels and a plenary. 

Other Research Interests:

  • Religious ideology; epistemology; early modern drama and prose; literary reception histories; the relationship between art and belief; cultural materialism; Marxism. 



University email address:



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