Shakespeare and Modern British Opera: Into The Knot Garden

Michael Graham

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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To date, the scholarly literature has not sufficiently examined the extent to which Shakespeare’s plays helped to develop a national operatic tradition within the ideological context of modern Britain. This thesis is a contribution towards rectifying this oversight. Chapter 1 outlines the development of Shakespearian musicology, and emphasises the importance of music analysis to the elucidation of opera. Chapter 2 then presents a series of short analyses of modern British Shakespeare operas, and highlights how several of these works depict issues of gender and sexuality in a remarkably frank and sometimes subversive fashion.

Chapter 3 explains this thesis’s particular focus on Tippett’s The Knot Garden, a psychoanalytic, operatic version of The Tempest from the late 1960s. It posits a number of reasons why both literary scholarship and musicology have overlooked this composer and his Shakespearian work, and explains the pressing requirement for a detailed close reading of Tippett's Tempest opera that simultaneously situates it within broader musical, cultural, and historical narratives. It particularly contends that Tippett’s works require further exploration from the perspectives of gender, sexuality, and autobiography, after the fashion of recent scholarship on his friend and contemporary, Britten. The production of such work will allow a more balanced, nuanced, and constellatory understanding of British music from recent decades.

Part 2 of the thesis offers a comprehensive, interdisciplinary exploration of The Knot Garden, which combines musical and textual analysis with biographical information, critical theory, literary and theatrical history, and Lacanian and Jungian psychoanalysis. Through a series of character sketches, this case study considers Tippett’s interrogations of contemporary gender, sexuality, and psychology. The conclusion questions current ideas of ‘British’ and ‘Shakespearian’ opera. It furthermore highlights The Knot Garden’s deeply personal nature, its Shakespearian, ‘revolutionary universality’, its blend of Jungian humanism and Lacanian posthumanism, and the radical, ‘hysterical’ personality of Flora-Miranda.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Harper-Scott, J. P. E., Supervisor
  • Ryan, Kiernan, Advisor
  • Downes, Stephen, Advisor
  • Ellis, Katharine, Advisor
Award date1 Jun 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • Shakespeare
  • Opera
  • Tippett
  • The Knot Garden
  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • Lacan
  • Jung
  • Psychoanalysis

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