Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr

Professor of English and Theatre Studies


Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr is Professor of English and Theatre Studies in the Faculty of English and Tutorial Fellow at St Catherine's College.

Professor Shepherd-Barr's research encompasses three main areas of interest: the interaction between theatre and science; the writings of Henrik Ibsen; and the relationship between modernism and theatrical performance. Amongst her recent publications are The Cambridge Companion to Theatre and Science (2020), Modern Drama: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2016), Twentieth-Century Approaches to Literature: Late Victorian into Modern (OUP, 2016, co-edited with Laura Marcus and Michele Mendelssohn), and several book chapters and articles in all three of these research fields.

Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett (Columbia University Press, 2015), which was supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2011-12, traces how the central ideas of evolutionary theory have made their way onto the stage, either directly or indirectly, since the 1820s. This work on theatrical engagements with evolutionary ideas stems from her second book, Science on Stage: From Doctor Faustus to Copenhagen (Princeton University Press, 2006; paperback 2012), and from a session Professor Shepherd-Barr organised and chaired on Darwin and the Stage for the international Darwin Festival in Cambridge (2009).  

Professor Shepherd-Barr has also published articles on theatre and science in Women: A Cultural Review, American Scientist, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Physics World, Nature, and Gramma, and together with Carina Bartleet has co-edited two special issues of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (December 2013 and September 2014) on 'New Directions in Theatre and Science'. A chapter on 19th century theatre's engagements with mechanisms of transmission appears in Theatres of Contagion, ed. Fintan Walsh (2019). 

Professor Shepherd-Barr's work on Ibsen and on theatrical modernism began with her first book, Ibsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890-1900 (Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press, 1997), a comparison of the first British and French productions of Ibsen’s plays and the critical responses to them in relation to modernism and the avant-garde theatre. Since then she has continued to explore the role of theatrical performance within the modernist movement, for example looking at the use of scent in the Théâtre d’Art’s synaesthetic production of Song of Songs in 1891 (Theatre Research International) and analysing Edvard Munch’s set designs for Ibsen plays produced by Max Reinhardt (Nordic Theatre Studies). Her chapter on gender and theatricality in Hedda Gabler appears in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler: Philosophical Perspectives, ed. Kristin Gjesdal (OUP, 2017).  It looks closely at Elizabeth Robins, actress, novelist, playwright, feminist writer and activist, who played the first Hedda in London and was one of the key figures in Ibsen's reception in Britain. 

Professor Shepherd-Barr also works regularly with theatres as a consultant on productions and on outreach, including the National Theatre, the Old Vic, Theatre at Chipping Norton, Pegasus Theatre Oxford, the Oxford Playhouse, and Theatre for a New Audience, New York. She has co-founded and co-convened several TORCH research networks: the Nordic Network and the Ibsen Phenomenon Network, both offering a space for discussion of Scandinavian research interests here at Oxford, and the Theatre and Performance Network. 

She has been serving as a Humanities Innovation Champion for the university since 2018 based on her digital innovation project LitHitswhich aims to break down barriers to reading and encourage wider engagement with literature. 


  • Modern drama, theatre, and performance
  • The plays of Henrik Ibsen
  • 19th century British literature (including American)
  • 20th century literature (British, American, European), especially Modernism
  • Literature and science
  • Theatre and science
  • Scandinavian/Nordic literature and culture, especially Denmark and Norway
  • Entrepreneurship and innovation (based on her founding of the spinout LitHits)

Media experience

Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr has extensive experience of working with the media including numerous interviews for the BBC. In addition to the examples opposite, Professor Shepherd-Barr was a guest panellist on BBC Radio 3: Proms Extra for a discussion about Carl Nielsen (2017), was a guest on Material World, hosted by Matthew Sweet, talking about 'the science play' and Science on Stage (2006) and on Night Waves with Mark Lawson, discussing science plays (BBC Radio 3, 2006).


English, Danish, Norwegian (intermediate French)