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The James Shirley Project

The Complete Works of James Shirley (1596-1666) An Edition in 10 Volumes


James Shirley

James Shirley. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

James Shirley (1596-1666) is one of the most significant dramatic writers of the late English Renaissance. He had an easy command of tragedy, comedy, tragicomedy, masque, pastoral, morality, and neo-miracle genres. His non-dramatic works include poems and grammars. His style was admired by Thomas May, John Ford, Philip Massinger, and the actors Garrick and Kemble. Adaptations from the late seventeenth to the nineteenth century attest to Shirley’s lasting popularity. He also inspired great musicians such as William Lawes and Matthew Locke. Shirley’s famous poem “The Glories of Our Blood and State” from his entertainment The Contest of Ajax and Ulysses is said to have seized Oliver Cromwell “with great terror”.

Caroline drama would be unthinkable without Shirley. Charles I personally suggested the plot for Shirley’s highly successful 1633 comedy The Gamester. Shirley wrote for a wide variety of venues, ranging from the Blackfriars Theatre to Banqueting House, Whitehall, and the first public playhouse in Dublin. He was fond of strong yet nuanced female characters. Critics still appreciate his elegant craftsmanship, his fast-paced, witty dialogues, and his detached portrayal of social manners.


 *** NEWS ***


The Cardinal


now running at the Southwark Playhouse, London, until 27 May 2017!

The state of Navarre is in crisis. An unscrupulous Cardinal has the ear of the King and is hungry for power. The Duchess Rosaura longs to marry the Count D’Alvarez, but the Cardinal wants her for his brutish nephew. To tighten his grip on the Kingdom, the ruthless Cardinal will stop at nothing to secure the marriage. But in the Duchess it seems he has finally met his match…

Hailed as James Shirley’s tragic masterpiece, The Cardinal (1641) was one of the last plays staged in England before Oliver Cromwell’s ban on theatre. With remarkably lucid and fast-paced dialogue, it is the captivating story of a religious monster and his relentless pursuit of power.

Starring Stephen Boxer (King Lear, National Theatre) and Natalie Simpson (King Lear, Hamlet and Cymbeline, Royal Shakespeare Company), directed by Justin Audibert (Snow in Midsummer and The Jew of Malta, Royal Shakespeare Company) and produced by Troupe (After October, Flowering Cherry and The White Carnation, Finborough Theatre).

Stephen Boxer and Natalie Simpson in The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse (2017)

Stephen Boxer and Natalie Simpson in The Cardinal, Southwark Playhouse (2017)

Times: Mon-Sat 8pm until 27 May
Tue & Sat 3.30pm

Tickets: £20 / £16 concessions

book by phone: 020 7407 0234, Mo-Fri 10-6
book online: southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

The nationals have given it four stars, with very favourable reviews by Michael Billington and others. Review links below:






For more information about the following clips from Shirley’s plays, see our videos page.

This site is maintained by the Department of English Studies, University of Durham.