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Name: Martin Higgins.

PhD: PhD Shakespeare Studies

Thesis Title: Idolatry and Iconoclasm in the Drama of John Lyly.

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):

  • '"Flower of this purple dye,/Hit with Cupid's archery": Lyly, Shakespeare, and Early Modern Cupid' in Critical Insights: A Midsummer Night's Dream, ed by. Nicolas Tredell (Massachusetts: Salem Press, 2020), pp. 118-135.

  • 'Review of Shakespeare and Middleton’s Timon of Athens (directed by Simon Godwin for the Royal Shakespeare Company) at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 8 December 2018' in Shakespeare, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 203-205.

  • 'Review of Sapho and Phao Presented by the RSC Next Generation Company' in Shakespeare Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 123-127.



  • 'Idolatry, Fetishism, and Nature in Lyly's Midas' submitted as part of the 'Money and Magic on the Renaissance Stage' panel at the Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting. Physical event cancelled due to COVID-19, web seminar to take place instead. (2020; forthcoming).

  • Participated in a panel discussion as part of the Malone Society's Symposium on Philip Massinger's The Roman Actor. Stratford-upon-Avon. 2019.

  • 'Rethinking The Antitheatrical Prejudice' British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, Stratford-upon-Avon. (2019). 

  • 'The Iconoclastic Dramaturgy of Timon of Athens'. Delivered as part of the panel 'Shakespeare and Religion' at the British Shakespeare Association Annual Conference (2018)

  • '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. (2018).

  • 'The Familial Church: Religious Interpellative Mechanisms in the Early Modern Period', British Graduate Shakespeare Conference, Stratford-upon-Avon. (2017)

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

  • 2020 - Worked as Administrator for the Royal Shakespeare Company's Education Department.

  • 2020 - Part of a Palaeography team transcribing a manuscript of James Shirley's The Court Secret for a Malone Society publication. 

  • 2020 - Awarded funding to organise a conference on the theme of 'Cynics and Cynicism in the Early Modern Period' at the University of Birmingham (postponed due to COVID-19; forthcoming). 

  • 2020 - Accepted to organise a Malone Society Symposium on John Lyly's Campaspe (postponed due to COVID-19; forthcoming).

  • 2019 - Served as the Orders Assistant for the Malone Society. 

  • 2018 - Part of a Palaeography team transcribing The Bugbears.

  • 2017 - Served as Postgraduate Research Students Representative (The Shakespeare Institute).
  • 2017 - Served as Secretary for the Shakespeare Institute Players.
  • 2017 - Served as Registrar for the British Graduate Shakespeare Conference board.

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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