Professor David Wiles

Personal profile

When asked my occupation, I describe myself as a ‘theatre historian’; but I always add that history has no purpose unless it helps us understand the world of today. I am currently coediting, with my colleague Christine Dymkowski, a Cambridge Companion to Theatre History. This will be published by the end of 2012 and will be an important contribution to the discipline. With two Scandinavian colleagues, I convene the Theatre Historiography working group of the International Federation for Theatre Research.

After beginning my academic career as a Shakespearean, I moved into the field of Greek theatre, which I regard as a living form. In its political engagement alongside concern with ultimate realities, its physicality as much as its language, Greek drama seems to me uniquely powerful in its ability to engage with the present.

My early work on the Elizabethan clown led me to an interest in the principle of the mask. I published a study of Greek ‘New Comedy’ masks in 1991, and of Greek tragic masks in 2007, using both ancient evidence and the insights of modern performers to understand a convention which defies the common sense of secular naturalistic theatre.

Performance space has always been a fascination, and my Tragedy in Athens (1997) was a study of space in ancient theatre. In A Short History of Western Performance Space  I surveyed the western popular and artistic tradition in order to see how actor-audience configurations create meaning.

I have always been interested in the way theatre interfaces with society, and Theatre and Citizenship: a History (2011) is an investigation of how theatre relates to citizenship. The concept of the citizen was shaped in Greece and Rome, and later generations have repeatedly referenced tensions between rights and obligations, or between individual and collective identities, back to that era. The main focus of my project, however, is the French Enlightenment. I address basic questions about how theatre shapes identities, not through ideas generated by playwrights, but through the social practice of theatregoing.

I first became interested in the phenomenon of time in writing my book Shakespeare’s Almanac, a study of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I am at the early stages of planning a book on theatre and time, assessing the different rhythms of time, from the solar calendar to the heartbeat, that have shaped theatrical activity. I mean current project, however, is to co-author with Willmar Sauter a book on the 18th-century theatre of Drottningholm, investigating the problems and possibilities of performing in a period style in an 'authentic' theatrical environment. Our book will be published by Iowa University Press in 2013

 I I have a broad-based interest in theatre and welcome approaches from potential research students interested in a wide variety of areas – contemporary and historical, theoretical and practice-based, international and local.

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