Palfrey was born in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, grew up in Australia and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He is known for his approach to Shakespeare's work, in which he discusses the dynamism of the playwright's language, its psychological effects and the actorly and bodily decisions generated by word-use.
His book Doing Shakespeare has been called "an original and long-overdue resource for theatre scholar-artists." It was listed as an "International Book of the Year" in 2004 by the Times Literary Supplement. In the TLS, Jonathan Bate said that although the work was "sometimes wayward," the book was 'always provocative of serious thought'. Bate could think 'of no critic since Empson who has teased out so much so lucidly and (usually) so persuasively from the intricacies of Shakespearean language." Palfrey's earlier book, Late Shakespeare: A New World of Worlds was described by Ann Jennalie Cook as 'among the most significant books of the year', 'a sweeping vision of these plays' language...indispensable for its subject', and as "a valuable contribution to the political reading of Renaissance literary forms" which challenged the traditional reading of Shakespeare's four romances. Russ McDonald writing in Shakespeare Quarterly described Late Shakespeare as "original, quirky, occasionally brilliant, and almost always demanding."
Palfrey's 2007 collaboration with theatre historian Tiffany Stern, *Shakespeare in Parts*, takes as it subject the actor's part, consisting of the bare cues and speeches of each individual role, and shows how this technology influenced the style of Shakespeare's writing and the lifelike immediacy and layers of his characters. The book has been widely lauded as 'undeniably of major importance' (Paul Dean English Studies ): an 'elegantly written...ground-breaking study, which shows how Shakespeare the technician sought always to expand the mental possibilities for the actors. (Ralph Berry, Contemporary Review); 'a groundbreaking new study...The consideration of characters and their textual construction is a revelation. ..The book is exactly as scrupulous and thorough as the subject deserves...For professional Shakespeareans in the theatre or the university, it is required reading. (Tom Cornford, Around the Globe); 'a lucid and persuasive study that successfully infuses academic Shakespeare with the vibrancy and insecurity of live performance: "Shakespeare's actors had to play their parts now, perilously in the present." (Peter J. Smith, THES); 'Rarely has so much new and exciting information about Shakespeare been gathered in a single study. The challenges of this book for how we conceive of, teach, write about and perform Shakespeare will surely be felt for years to come. (Douglas Bruster, The Review of English Studies)
- Shakespeare in Parts* was awarded the 2009 Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society's David Bevington Prize for best new book.
- Late Shakespeare: A New World of Worlds, Oxford University Press, (1997), ISBN 978-0-19-818689-2.
- Doing Shakespeare (Arden Shakespeare Third Series), Thomson Learning EMEA, (2004), ISBN 978-1-904271-54-3.
- "Macbeth and Kierkegaard" in Shakespeare Survey, Volume 57: "Macbeth and its Afterlife," (2004), Cambridge, Edited by: Peter Holland.
- 'The Rape of Marina', *Shakespeare International Yearbook 2007*
- Shakespeare in Parts, co-written with Tiffany Stern (2007, by Oxford University Press). ISBN 978-0-19-927205-1
- Poor Tom: Living King Lear, University of Chicago Press, (2014), ISBN 978-0-226-15064-2
- Shakespeare Thinking by Philip Davis, (2007).
- Shakespeare Inside: The Bard Behind Bars by Amy Scott-Douglass, (2007).
- Godless Shakespeare by Eric Mallin, (2007).
- To Be or Not to Be by Douglas Bruster, (2007)
- Shakespearean Metaphysics, by Michael Witmore (2008)
- Shakespeare's Modern Collaborators, by Lukas Erne (2008)
- Shakespeare's Double Helix, by henry S. Turner (2008)
- Academic Staff: Dr Simon Palfrey
- English at Brasenose College
- Review by Adrianne Adderley, Theater History Studies January 2006
- Review copied from the Times Literary Supplement, October, 2004, with other reviews
- Stephen Cohen, review in Sixteenth Century Journal 29.4 (1998), pp. 1166-68.
- McDonald, Shakespeare Quarterly, 5.2 (2001), pp. 298-300. (Project MUSE (subscription))
- Product Guide: Doing Shakespeare - Arden Shakespeare
- Shakespeare Survey, Volume 57: Macbeth and its Afterlife
- Shakespeare Now!