Rediscovering Anthony Burgess on Shakespeare

A new research project uncovers Burgess’s 1973 lecture series at City College, New York through a collection of rare audio recordings.

Postgraduate Researcher Samuel Jermy has started a research project with the International Anthony Burgess Foundation – working to catalogue a series of lectures that Burgess gave on Shakespeare at City College, New York, in 1973. His research is supported by a White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities Research Employability Project training grant.

Anthony Burgess was continually interested and engaged with the writing, world and life of William Shakespeare as both a writer and a teacher. This creative engagement was sustained throughout his life and includes a major novel, speculative biography, short stories, an unproduced TV series and musical, a variety of journalism, as well as a full ballet suite.

He would write about Shakespeare in his published student introductions, worked as a schoolmaster in Bamber Bridge, Banbury and Malaya, and lectured at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Princeton University. Among these engagements, Burgess also gave a series of 17 lectures about Shakespeare to a diverse student body while working as a visiting professor in 1973 at City College, New York.

Recordings of the 1973 lecture series, originally reel-to-reel tapes and now digitised, are part of the extensive material on Burgess and Shakespeare held within the Burgess Archive. However, the lectures have not yet been listened to in full nor made widely accessible.

That is, until now. In May, Sam began a research and cataloguing project with the Anthony Burgess Foundation focussed on the 1973 Shakespeare lectures. This research involves cataloguing the collection to make the collection fully accessible to researchers for the first time, as well as creating new web pages, podcasts, and other materials to bring these lecture recordings to new audiences.

Outside of this project he is currently completing his doctoral research at the University of Leeds on one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries and collaborators, Thomas Middleton. Interestingly, Burgess borrows the name Beatrice-Joanna from Middleton’s darkly sexual tragedy The Changeling (1622) for the protagonist of his 1962 novel The Wanting Seed. This project is all about Burgess’s wide-ranging and fascinating engagement with Shakespeare and the Renaissance world he wrote in, and Sam is excited to see how it can illuminate how we think about the relationship between these two writers and dramatists.

While the Covid-19 lockdown means that much of his archival research is on hold, he is still able to engage with the digitised recordings and continue to work on this exciting project. An example of Burgess’s entertaining lecturing style can be found in the current exhibition, Anthony Burgess on Tape.