Cognitive approaches to audience and emotion: historical perspectives

A colloquium sponsored by

The Centre for Cognition, Kinesthetics and Performance and The Beacon Institute

Department of Drama and Theatre,

University of Kent

October 28, 18:00 – 20:00

Jarman 1



Angeliki Varakis-Martin (Lecturer in Drama)

Positive emotion and cognition in the spectating of Aristophanic comedy

What can positive psychology tell us about the ancient audience’s experience of Aristophanic comedy?

Drawing on research in the field of cognitive science which has shown that ‘thinking’ is not detached from emotion I shall argue that comic laughter, as an embodied experience, does not disrupt concentration but instead facilitates a different and more broadened mode of attention which affects the way in which theatre audiences perceive their surrounding environment. In the context of Aristophanic theatre, a broadening of attention would have facilitated audiences to experience the comedy of Aristophanes as an expansive and unpredictable world.  This was in tune with the ‘openess’ of Aristophanic comedy as expressed through its discontinuous narrative, multiplicity of action and ‘re-creative’ characters.

Angeliki Varakis-Martin is Lecturer in drama at the University of Kent since 2007.  Research interests include masked acting, the theatre of Aristophanes and 20th century approaches to the staging of Ancient Greek drama on the Modern Greek stage. She has published work on the Greek mask, the Aristophanic body and on Greek director Karolos Koun.  Past essays and articles include ‘The use of Masks in Koun’s stage interpretations of Birds, Frogs and Peace ‘ in Hall, Wrigley Aristophanes in Performance 421 BC-2005 AD, (2007), ‘Body and Mask in Performances of Classical Drama on the Modern Stage’ in Hardwick, Stray A Companion to Classical Receptions (2008)  ‘Body and Mask in Aristophanic performance’ BICS-53-1 (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies) 17-38 (2010) ‘Aristophanic Performance as an all-inclusive event: audience participation and celebration in the modern staging of Aristophanic comedy Classics in the Modern World: A democratic turn?  (2013). She is currently co-authoring a book on Greek director Karolos Koun and his work on Ancient Greek theatre.


Robert Shaughnessy (Professor of Theatre)

Connecting the Globe: actors, audience and entrainment

One of the least anticipated aspects of the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside since it opened in 1997 has been its radical redefinition of the actor-audience relationship. The Globe’s characteristic mode of buttonholing give-and-take between actor and spectator, in the context of a visible, demonstrative and collectively-minded audience, is generally agreed to be its most involving, challenging and, much more debatably, ‘authentic’ feature.  More than that, performers testify to the experience of feeling at once ‘as one’ with their audiences and deeply challenged by them, to extraordinary levels of arousal coupled with potentially overwhelming levels of exposure and risk. My paper addresses this aspect of Globe performance as a theatrical example of group entrainment, involving both behavioural synchrony and emotional contagion. In particular, I examine actors’ accounts of their work that explore how the Globe experiment is not only a shared game but also a struggle for control.

Robert Shaughnessy has been Professor of Theatre at the University of Kent since 2004, having previously taught at the University of Roehampton.  He has published extensively in the areas of contemporary and early modern theatre, including work on a wide variety of playwrights (ranging from Edward Bond and Howard Barker to Ben Jonson and Shakespeare), practitioners (from Tyrone Guthrie to Complicite), and performers (from Margaret Woffington to Johnny Cash). His books include The Shakespeare Effect (2002), The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture (2007), the volume on Margaret Woffington in the Lives of Shakespearean Actors series (2008), and The Routledge Guide to William Shakespeare (2011). Recent essays and articles include work on backstage theatre tours, the performing prosthetic body, the predicament of the Shakespearean understudy, Hamlet and the art of the British political cartoon, and the politics of Shakespearean silences.  He is currently writing a performance history of As You Like It, and developing a collaborative investigation of Relaxed Performance.