Dr Jennifer Waghorn
Meet Dr Jennifer Waghorn, our Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies (Digital Education)
What is your job title?
Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies (Digital Education)
What kind of things does your job typically entail?
It’s a veritable smorgasbord of activities! As a lecturer I give talks, teach classes and chair discussion sessions for secondary school, undergraduate and postgraduate students from all over the world, as well as leisure learners of all ages and backgrounds. I also chair Q&As with a range of experts, from actors to archivists. Behind the scenes, I help to run various courses and events, coordinate our team of actor-practitioners and performance workshops, research historical printed texts and manuscripts, and share knowledge with other teams (including Collections, Guides and Events). I also work on developing our digital Learning resources for a range of audiences, expanding the ways people can access and engage with Shakespeare both in and outside our historic spaces. Finally, I’m always on hand if somebody needs a Shakespeare quotation on a particular theme, musical advice – or a spontaneous hurdy-gurdy performance! (They never do, for some reason.)
Why do you think learning about Shakespeare and his work is important to us today?
(Brace yourself for some mixed metaphors/similes here.) Shakespeare’s works are like a giant magical suitcase: anybody can open them up and pull out an endlessly rich range of things. Sometimes they’re things that resonate with lots of different people, sometimes they’re things that perhaps nobody else has spotted before, but the ‘infinite variety’ is really rewarding. Because so many people over time have opened up this suitcase, we can explore a plethora of different topics through the lens of Shakespeare: from astronomy and neuroscience, to pop music and sculpture. As a theatre historian, I also see Shakespeare as the tip of a really exciting iceberg when it comes to the world of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, and it’s fantastic to open up this historical world for different audiences. And finally, Shakespeare was a creator and a collaborator: a writer, actor, theatre manager, dad, son, husband... the list goes on. We can explore our own joys of collaboration and creativity in the ways we connect with him and his work.
What is your favourite Shakespeare related experience- at SBT or elsewhere?
I have too many, I’m afraid! Falling in love with Shakespeare aged 17 because I found an incredibly rude joke in Twelfth Night. Watching Henry IV Part I at the Globe and getting lost in Hal and Falstaff’s theatrical world, then directing the play myself a few years later. Composing for and performing in a perspective-shifting production of Pericles, experiencing incredible friendship and camaraderie with the cast and crew. Having my first academic journal article (on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death) approved for publication with no corrections. Realising I’ve taught and connected with hundreds of people from all over the world after a year in this wonderful job.
What are the challenges, do you think, in bringing Shakespeare to life for contemporary audiences?
Knowing that people can bring a lot of negative assumptions with them when they think about Shakespeare’s works: that they’re boring, difficult, like a medicine you’re supposed to take, or that it’s just not for them. Once you’re aware of those assumptions and why they arise, it’s finding gentle ways to encourage people to see a different perspective. Shakespeare can be complex but doesn’t have to be difficult; it doesn’t just have to be an exercise or a proof of intelligence, in school or out of it. Once you unlock the language, the imagery and the hidden meanings, there’s so much open to you to play with. You can engage with Shakespeare on your own terms and find what works for you. Sometimes just laughing at the jokes about bums is enough! Finally, it’s also about accepting that not everybody has to get on with Shakespeare. His works don’t have to be universally loved and admired, and there are flaws and perspectives within them that we have to be prepared to scrutinize and have critical conversations about too. We’re fans, but not fanatics – we want to share our enthusiasm without forcing anybody to join in!
Finally- what is your favourite joke? Doesn’t have to be Shakespearean…
I love spoiling the plot of Dorian Gray for people. Never gets old.