Since 2015 John McGavin has been an Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Southampton, where he spent his career. He has just finished a spell as Chair of the Executive Board of Records of Early English Drama. He has written on Chaucer, medieval and early-modern Scotland, and his most recent book, co-written with Greg Walker (Regius Chair at Edinburgh), is Imagining Spectatorship: From the Mysteries to the Shakespearean Stage (OUP paperback, 2016).
He would like to use this occasion to draw together some thoughts on performance, performativity, and spectatorship. People make public statements about themselves and current matters of concern through their behaviour, dress, ceremonies, and other types of performance which they know will be seen by others. The language of such events thus helps us to understand the forces at work in society. This lecture will draw on a wide range of sources, medieval, early-modern, and modern to show how our understanding of the past is enhanced if we attend to its public ‘theatre’ – a concept which extends far beyond what we think of as literary theatre.