A group for those interested in reading William Rowley’s The Birth of Merlin! Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time through the weird and wonderful world of this fabulous play, you are welcome here to discuss (asynchronously) with friends.

Welcome! Introduce Yourself

20 replies, 18 voices Last updated by  Anna Kamaralli 1 year, 4 months ago
  • Author
  • #30289

    Nora J Williams

    Hi everyone! Thanks for coming. This is a general discussion thread, and a great place to say hello and introduce yourself before we jump into act-by-act discussions next week.

    To kick things off: I’m Nora, I’m interested in twentieth- and twenty-first-century performances of early modern drama, and particularly in representations of sexual violence. I have loved The Birth of Merlin since I first read it as part of an early modern reading group several years ago, and it’s one of my life missions to get more people on this particularly fun train. My pronouns are she/her/hers, and when I’m not doing early modern stuff I love to cook, bake, and read science fiction and fantasy.

  • #30296

    Eoin Price

    Hello. My name is Eoin and I am pleased to join this group. It has been a very long time since I read this play.

    I’m interested in the politics of printing and performing 16th and 17th century plays and in reprints and revivals of early modern drama in later centuries, including our own. My pronouns are he/him/his. When I am not doing early modern stuff I like to watch sports, especially football, or to complain about sports, especially football (or soccer, if you prefer).

  • #30301

    Brandi Adams

    Hi everyone! My name is Brandi and I’m a first time reader of the play.

    I am interested in the history of the book and reading–including spaces of reading such as libraries, studies, and the university– as they are performed in 16th and 17th century early modern drama. I’ve also recently become very interested in the politics of editing early modern drama (who gets to edit these plays, why, and how).  My pronouns are she/her/hers.  I also enjoy photography–although most of my photographs are of my cat right now.

  • #30302

    David Nicol

    Hello, I’m Dave! I have read this play more often than I care to admit, although I can never remember exactly what happens in it. My general perception is that the first three acts are fantastic and then it goes off the rails. But I look forward to being corrected.

    I once wrote a book about Middleton and Rowley’s collaborations. Birth of Merlin didn’t feature in it much, but I touched on it in the chapter on Rowley’s clown roles. It is my opinion that the Clown and his sister in this play are among the funniest characters in English Renaissance drama. I love them!

    I’m currently editing Rowley’s All’s Lost by Lust for Digital Renaissance Editions and more generally am working on the drama of the Bohemian Crisis (1618-24). I’m turning Henslowe’s Diary into a blog. Pronouns are his/him. When I am not doing this kind of thing I am usually planning walking holidays, watching weird films, or peering through a telescope.

  • #30306

    Sally Barnden

    Hello! My name is Sally. I’ve never read this play before, but I’m interested in early modern drama and its afterlives.

    My work is on archives of mostly-Shakespeare performances since the Restoration–I’ve worked on performance photography, and I’m currently working on a project with the Royal Collections and trying to think about letters, commonplace books and diaries as kinds of performance archive. My pronouns are she/her/hers. When I’m not doing this kind of thing I like hiking and (like Brandi above!) I’ve been taking a lot of cat photos lately.

  • #30307

    Charlene Smith

    Hi, everyone! I’m Charlene and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I’ve not read this play before but I am a big proponent of early modern theatre not by Shakespeare. I’m the artistic director of Brave Spirits Theatre of Alexandria, VA, and we produce more of Shakespeare’s contemporaries than any other theatre company in the DC metropolitan area, including what was to our knowledge the first modern professional production anywhere in the world of Middleton and Dekker’s The Bloody Banquet. Before coronavirus hit, I was in the midst of producing Shakespeare’s two histories tetralogies, directing all four plays of the Henriad.

  • #30308

    Eleanor Rycroft

    Hi everyone, I’m Ellie and an early modernist with a special interest in gender, politics, and the practice-based/staging side of things. I’m also Nora’s colleague right now which is a) how I know she’s awesome and b) how I know about The Birth of Merlin! I’m very grateful to her for setting up a structured way for me to finally read this play. Really excited to do so alongside you all.

    I’m currently working on walking in e.m. drama so will probably find a way to bang on about that repeatedly in the coming weeks. My pronouns are she/her/hers. Outside of work I watch a lot of television – especially at the trashier end of the scale – wrangle a toddler, and listen to true crime podcasts and music.


  • #30309

    Duncan Lees

    Hi everyone, I’m Duncan, and I’m currently in the final(ish) year of a PhD in Education and Applied Linguistics, doing a case study on teaching Shakespeare workshops at a Chinese university using ethnomethodology (the other EM I’m interested in). It was a surprise to find myself in the social sciences, as for many years I taught film studies, drama and literature in southern China – hence the current interdisciplinary, intercultural research. I’ve been incredibly grateful for how welcoming early modern folks have been online and in person – it’s lovely to see some familiar faces in this group already, and I look forward to getting to know some more of you through this. I’ve never read The Birth of Merlin, but from everything Nora has said it sounds wonderfully bonkers and I can’t wait to get started!

    My pronouns are he/him/his. Outside of the wonderful world of EM drama I enjoy travel, languages, cooking (especially Sichuan cuisine) and football, and – in what is definitely not a sign of an impending midlife crisis – I recently started picking up my electric guitar again.


  • #30317

    Kate Pitt

    Hi All – I’m Kate and I’m looking forward to reading this play for the first time.

    I’m an NYC-based dramaturg working in opera, new work, classics, the Good Tickle Brain comic…a little bit of everything. I worked in Public Programs at the Folger for four years and am interested in 19th c. Shakespeare performance. My pronouns are she/her/hers. I recently dug out my college fencing gear for properly self-distanced exercise and can highly recommend wall-stabbing and British murder mysteries for pandemic relief.


  • #30324

    Susanne Gruss

    Hi everyone, I’m Susanne – another first-time reader of the play.

    I specialise in (early modern) law and literature, and have a particular interest in genre (how do early modern genre politics/evolving genres influence the depiction of legal conflicts on the stage?), revenge, and non-Shakespearean drama. Oh, and pirates! Because the German university system is weird, I have a second research focus on contemporary literature (a PhD in feminist writing, a current interest in neo-Victorianism).

    My pronouns are she/her/hers. I have two daughters, who have monopolised most of my spare time – so I tend to do crafty activities with the kids when I’m not working, and rather than going to the cinema (which used to be a big hobby of mine), I now explore the Disney+ back catalogue.

    • #30325

      Nora J Williams

      Ooh Susanne, if you like genre, you’re going to have a LOT of fun with this play! XD

      • #30326

        Susanne Gruss

        All the better… genre, magic AND dragons 🙂

  • #30333

    Kim Gilchrist

    Hi All!

    Thank you, Nora, for setting this up.

    I’m Kim (he/him/his). I’m on a fixed-term lectureship at Cardiff. I’ve bored Nora with this before, but Birth of Merlin is a big play for me. Before getting into academia I’d read it in an old book of Shakespeare apocrypha. I was blown away by the weirdness, the extraordinary ideas (for someone who only knew Shakespeare): that a play have the audacity to stage dragons, falling rocks as plot device, a bearded child wizard, etc. etc. I couldn’t stop laughing, in amazement.

    During my MA, I was determined to write about it, so I worked it into a piece on ancient British mythic history. Later, looking for an idea for a PhD, I went back to that essay. Sadly, Merlin (along with all Arthuriana) was eventually exiled from the project. But my PhD would have been different, and less fun, without that initial inspiration.

    I haven’t re-read it for years, and I’m really looking forward to everyone’s thoughts and insights.

  • #30344

    Elizabeth E. Tavares

    Hi all, I’m Elizabeth (she/her), another first-timer for Merlin!

    My work focuses on theatre and history and performance on the late sixteenth-century. Attending specifically to playing companies and the repertory system, this work complements my other pursuits as a dramaturg. I’m in Portland, Oregon, for the moment, but will be starting as faculty in the Hudson Strode Program at the University of Alabama in the fall.

    So looking to chatting with friends old and new here!

  • #30345

    Nora J Williams

    Welcome all! This is shaping up to be a great crew 🙂

    Just a quick update to say that Charlene has very kindly created a clean PDF copy of the transcription text, so that it’s MUCH easier to read. She’s a star! You can now find that under ‘Files’ above.

    Looking forward to diving into Act 1 next week!

  • #30486

    Pete Kirwan

    Hi all,

    Latecomer, sorry, but very excited by this group! I’m Pete (he/him), I’m based in Nottingham, and I research the contemporary and historical performance and text of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

    I wrote a PhD and a book on the so-called Shakespeare Apocrypha, in which The Birth of Merlin only tangentially featured as it as a real outlier even in that group of misfits – so I have Unfinished Business with the play and am delighted to have the chance to rediscover it with learned folk. I also got to attend the Read not Dead performance of it at the Globe a few years back, so I may be able to chip in some insight from that if no-one else saw it!

    Away from all this I’m usually to be found walking, indulging an unhealthy obsession with film and TV, and indulging my cat.

  • #30488

    Ollie Jones

    Hi folks,

    another latecomer. I’m Ollie, based at the Uni of York. I try to work on travelling players, early modern theatres & architecture, 20/21st performance of non-Shakespeare, in between teaching everything from Directing to Design and Production and Approaches to EM Drama.

    Recently I’ve been running a project with my colleague Mike Cordner called Shakespeare’s Rivals, and directing short extracts from a variety of playwrights to investigate the different and distinctive challenges they present to actors.

    I’m not sure how much I’m going to be able to get involved here, as at the moment most of my time is being taken up by an almost-3-year-old and a 3-month-old, but I’ll do my best!


  • #30541

    Sawyer Kemp

    Hi folks! Latecomer hopping in to the Birth of Merlin party. I’m Sawyer (they/them/theirs or he/him/his). I’m finishing up my last dissertation year at UC Davis where I work on early modern drama, performance studies, and queer/trans studies. My research has mostly been on contemporary Shakespeare performance and how institutions negotiate making very old plays “accessible” to modern audiences.

    Frankly, I just thought this play looked bananas and I wanted in, but I also thought joining a reading group during the pandemic might give me some much-needed structure! Looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts.

  • #30594

    Andrew Loeb

    Hi everyone. I just learned this existed tonight, so I’m also a bit of a latecomer. I’m Andrew (he/him/his), and I teach and very occasionally do something like research at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario (kinda north-east of Toronto). My work centers on music in the early modern theatre and I am very slowly embarking (think, like, stepping into a rowboat and pushing off from shore really gently and just sitting for a minute and thinking “yeah, this is kinda nice” to get a sense of the sort of “embarking” we’re talking about here) on a book project on musical communities on the early modern stage. Anyway, I read The Birth of Merlin like fifteen years ago in a wonderful MA seminar taught by Helen Ostovich and I have since completely forgotten what it’s about besides the fact that I remember thinking it was totally bonkers at the time and, frankly, that’s kinda what I’m into. I sometimes write things about magic and witches, so Merlin is interest-adjascent. Anyway, I’m pleased to know this excellent group exists, I will plow through the first act tonight and look forward to an interesting discussion. Hello again, to those of you I do know (some from real-life and some from Twitter) and pleased-to-meetcha to those I don’t.

  • #30699

    Katherine Williams

    Hi all! I’m Kat (she/her), based in Toronto, and I’m sorry to join the group so late. I stumbled on The Birth of Merlin a few years ago while researching the chapter on monstrosity in my book (Unfixable Forms, forthcoming from Cornell UP–on disability, performance, and early modern English drama); a short section of this chapter thinks about how the play employs the tropes of monstrous births to characterize Merlin. But there is *so* much more to note in this weird and amazing play, and I am eager to return to it with all of you!

  • #31007

    Anna Kamaralli

    I’m sorry, I broke one of the three cardinal rules and forgot to introduce myself before we got started. I’m Anna, and I want to expand my reading of Early Modern plays by playwrights other than Shakespeare. This one sounds gloriously outré enough to shoot right up to the top of the list. I’m in Sydney, so will probably post at odd times, relative to everyone else.

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