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Durham University

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Mr James Beckett

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My thesis considers the relevance of humour and laughter to the drama of the North East of England in the late medieval period, focusing particularly on performance in civic centres including York, Durham, Newcastle, and Hull. My research is funded by the AHRC through the Records of Early English Drama: North East project, based at Durham University's Department of English Studies, and I am supervised by Prof. Barbara Ravelhofer and Prof. John McKinnell. 

My research interests are broad and interdisciplinary, ranging from the study of late medieval visual culture(s) - manuscript illumination and incunabula, stained glass, wall painting and carvings - to judicial documents, sermon literature, and civic administration. Humour and performance provide the nexus for my study, as well as the relations of performers, producers, and spectators in the towns and cities of the late medieval North East. Beyond this work, I'm also interested in 'medievalisms', and the interactions of folk narratives with popular culture(s). 


I previously studied for a BA in English and History at the University of York, graduating in 2013 with first class honors, and winning the 'Oliver Sheldon Trust History Prize' for my undergraduate dissertation on humour in the York Corpus Christi Cycle. Following this, I was one of a small number of students be be awarded the ‘University of York 50th Anniversary Bursary’ to fund a masters in Medieval Studies, which I gained in 2014.


I'm one of two PhD students working on the 'Records of Early English Drama: North East' project, part of REED, an international scholarly initiative which is in the process of transcribing and documenting any evidence of drama, music, and other communal entertainment and ceremony in England from the Middle Ages to 1642. Together, the REED:NE team organized 'Theatrum Mundi: Durham Festival of Early Drama' in Summer 2016, an academic conference and public performance festival featuring contributors from around the world. 


Last year I was Outreach Officer for the Durham Medieval and Early Modern Students Association, convening an eight week not-for-profit 'community course' on 'Drama, Ritual, Storytelling, and People' in medieval and Early Modern Durham. I'm currently Reviews Editor for Renaissance Hub, an online magazine publishing articles and reviews targeted towards a non-academic audience. At Durham, I am a tutor for the undergraduate modules Classical and Biblical Backgrounds to English Literature and Chaucer. 

Select Papers and Talks Given

'"Whisht! Lads": The Lambton Worm, Medievalism(s) and Radical Jack the Earl of Durham', as part of ‘The Late Summer Lectures Series', October 2016, Durham. 

'The York 'Funeral of the Virgin': Performing and Re-working History in the Late Medieval North East', at SITM (Société Internationale du Théâtre Médiéval) Colloquium, July 2016, Durham. 

'The Drunken Patriarch: Parallel Narratives, Comic Potential, and Civic Ideology in the York and Towneley Noah Pageants', at Leeds International Medieval Congress, July 2016, Leeds. 

'Finding Wine in the Glass: Visual Culture and Late Medieval Narratives on Noah in St. Michael’s Spurriergate, York', at 'Urban Visual Culture(s): Productions and Perceptions of the Visual in Late Medieval and Early Modern Cities', May 2016, Durham.

'A Funny Kind of Devotion? Laughter in the Biblical Drama of Late Medieval Towns and Cities', as part of ‘The Festive Traditions in the North East' lecture series, Durham Cathedral, May 2016, Durham. 

'"Pendens super feretrum": National Identity, the Vita Aelredi and the York Funeral of the Virgin', at the Medieval English Theatre Meeting, March 2016, Canterbury. 

Select Publications

'Playful but Problematic: Medieval Humour and Contemporary Performance', Humours of the Past Network (Website), February 2017 (forthcoming).

‘“[H]ee which was not drowned with water, was drowned after with wine”: Noah, Nakedness, and the Perils of Intoxication’, Renaissance Hub, January 2017. <>

‘“Whisht! Lads”: The Rival Worms of County Durham’, Research in English at Durham, Durham University English Department Blog, September, 2016. <>. Republished as: ‘The History of the Lambton Worm and the Sockburn Worm’, Records of Early English Drama North-East: Website, REED:NE Blog, (December, 2016). <>

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