Harry R. McCarthy

Department: English, Humanities
Discipline: English
Research Centre/Unit: Centre for Early Modern Studies

Project Summary

My research sits squarely in the field of early modern performance studies and attends to the oft-neglected performances by 'boy' actors (aged from early adolescence to mid-twenties) on the adult- and child-company stages of London between 1576 and 1642. My PhD thesis, Boy Actors on the Early Modern English Stage: Performance, Physicality, and the Work of Play (submitted July 2019), offers a reconsideration of early modern boy actors as actors, focusing on their active, physical contributions to the plays in which they performed. It suggests that attending to the physical demands of performing as a boy on the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline stage can allow for a more thorough understanding not only of the way boy players performed, but also how plays were written for them in the first place. The thesis offers a recontextualization of the value and dramaturgical centrality of boys to the plays in which they performed through emphasis on the physical ‘body work’ of collaborative performance, often discernibly calibrated by the playtext, as well as building a case for the value of present-day performance practice in refining our understanding of this corporeal aspect of boy actors’ craft. Central to the thesis’s revisionist account of boy playing is the triangulation of historical research mapped onto early modern plays—through close study of discrete scenes and entire playtexts—with practical performance work which puts specific stagecraft to the test in a twenty-first-century rehearsal setting and, finally, with a sustained study of a twenty-first-century boy company (Edward’s Boys) in rehearsal and performance. This multifaceted approach builds a case for a mode of reading early modern drama which attends to the corporeal dynamics of a printed playtext—dynamics which are all the better understood through practice and performance observations. 

My work thus ranges across literary criticism, theatre history, practice-based research, and performance studies (including rehearsal ethnography). This has enabled me to work closely with amateur and professional theatre companies in the archive and rehearsal room, bringing this present-day work to bear on the study of the drama of the past. I remain committed to promoting the value of practical investigation into historical drama, and in 2018 I staged a Research in Action event on sport and games in seventeenth-century children's company theatre at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (Shakespeare's Globe). This work has got me thinking more carefully about the kinetic nature of early modern theatre and literature more generally, and alongside preparing my thesis for publication I am now pursuing a new project on movement and metre in early modern literary and dramatic culture. This work has obvious correspondences with the teaching I have contributed to English options at Levels 1, 2, and 3, including Rethinking Shakespeare, Desire and Power, Life and Death, and Spectacular Bodies. 


Chapters and Articles

  • McCarthy, H. R. “Fletcher and Field.” The Oxford Handbook of John Fletcher, edited by José A. Pérez Díez and Martin Wiggins, Oxford UP, c. 2021.
  • McCarthy, H. R. “The Circulation of Youthful Energy on the Early Modern London Stage: Migration, Intertheatricality, and ‘Growing to Common Players.’” Shakespeare Survey, vol. 73, forthcoming 2020.
  • McCarthy, H. R. “Men in the Making: Youth, the Repertory, and the ‘Children’ of the Queen’s Revels, 1609-13.” English Literary History, vol. 85, no. 3, 2018, pp. 599-629. Article.


  • McCarthy, H. R. “Summer’s Last Will and Testament, performed by Edward’s Boys at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.” Shakespeare Bulletin, vol. 36, no. 2, 2018, pp. 326-31. Performance review.
  • McCarthy, H. R. “Hamlet, performed by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre.” Shakespeare Bulletin, vol. 36, no. 1, 2018, pp. 151-55. Performance review.
  • McCarthy, H. R. “Preiss, Richard, and Deanne Williams, editors. Childhood, Education and the Stage in Early Modern England. Cambridge UP, 2017.” Early Theatre, vol. 22, no. 1, 2018, pp. 161-64. Book review.
  • McCarthy, H. R. “Ackroyd, Julie. Child Actors on the London Stage circa 1600: Their Education, Recruitment, and Theatrical Success. Sussex Academic, 2017.” Renaissance Studies, Early View, 2018. Book review.
  • McCarthy, H. R. “Tribble, Evelyn. Early Modern Actors and Shakespeare’s Theatre: Thinking with the Body. Bloomsbury, 2017.” Shakespeare Bulletin, vol. 35, no. 3, 2017, pp. 514-19. Book review.
  • McCarthy, H. R. “The Woman Hater, performed by Edward’s Boys at the University of Oxford Catholic Chaplaincy.” Shakespeare Bulletin, vol. 34, no. 4, 2016, pp. 719-23. Performance review.

Supervisory Team

Professor Pascale Aebischer (Exeter)

Dr Eleanor Rycroft (Bristol)

Wider Research Interests

Early modern theatrical culture; acting; sport and exercise; movement and metre; practice-based research; theatre archives; rehearsal; stage spectacles and special effects; the representation of children and youth in early modern literature; intertheatricality; performance and memory; education, schooling, and apprenticeship; twentieth- and twenty-first century adaptations of early modern drama; star performers from the Renaissance to the present.