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Kirsten Shepherd-Barr

Professor of English and Theatre Studies, University of Oxford

My research encompasses two main areas of interest: the interaction between theatre and science and the relationship between modernism and theatrical performance.

My most recent book, Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett (Columbia University Press, 2015) traces how the central ideas of evolutionary theory have made their way onto the stage, either directly or indirectly, since the 1820s. This work stems from my second book, Science on stage: From Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen (Princeton University Press, 2006), and from the session I organized and chaired on Darwin and the Theatre for the international Darwin Festival in Cambridge (2009).

My work on theatrical modernism began with my first book, Ibsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890-1900 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997), a comparison of the first British and French productions of Ibsen’s plays and the critical responses to them in relation to modernism and the avant-garde theatre. Since then I have continued to explore the role of theatrical performance within the modernist movement, for example looking at the use of scent in the Théâtre d’Art’s synaesthetic production of Song of Songs in 1891 (Theatre Research International), analyzing Edvard Munch’s set designs for Ibsen plays produced by Max Reinhardt (Nordic Theatre Studies), rethinking Ibsen’s “globalism” (Ibsen Studies), and reconsidering Joyce’s play Exiles within its theatrical context (Theatre Research International).

Alongside these very focused studies I have also published pieces that look more broadly the field and some of its methodological challenges, for instance discussing the historiography of modernism with regard to theatrical performance (in Modernist Cultures) and analyzing the emergence of the “new drama” of modernism (in The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms).

My book Modern Drama: A Very Short Introduction will be published by Oxford University Press in January 2016, and I have also published short guides to selected plays (A Doll's House and A Streetcar Named Desire).


  • –present
    Professor of English and Theatre Studies, University of Oxford