Mary Anderson, an American actress abroad

Mary Anderson as Rosalind

Mary Anderson as Rosalind

On the 29th August 1885 a special performance took place at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The famous Mary Anderson and her Company staged As You Like It as a Benefit for the Shakespeare Memorial Fund.

Although her name is now almost forgotten, Mary Anderson was a young actress who had caused a sensation both in her native USA and in England, and demand for tickets was high. The benefit performance raised £100 that paid for two of the three terracotta panels representing Comedy, History and Tragedy facing the theatre from Chapel Lane. The new Library and Picture Gallery wing of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was to be beautified with these panels.

The terracotta panel of Mary Anderson playing Rosalind

The terracotta panel of Mary Anderson playing Rosalind

The two she paid for showed, appropriately, Mary Anderson herself playing Rosalind, and the graveyard scene in Hamlet, while the History scene, from King John, was paid for by the architect of the building, W F Unsworth. All three panels were made by German sculptor Paul Kummer. They are beautifully detailed, much finer than those on the Old Bank, for instance, but currently covered in netting to prevent the attentions of pigeons, are difficult to see. On the As You Like It panel is shown the tree on which the love-lorn Orlando has been carving Rosalind’s name.

Mary Anderson as Juliet

Mary Anderson as Juliet

Mary Anderson was born in California in 1859 and took up a theatrical career at the tender age of 16 with a performance as Juliet in Louisville, Kentucky. In spite of having barely any training in acting she became an instant success, with a melodic voice and as the photographs show she was a great beauty. She went on tour in this role and in 1877 also took on Lady Macbeth.  Her success continued and she travelled to Europe in 1879, and again in 1883-5 when she undertook the role of Rosalind which she performed in Stratford-upon-Avon. Her Orlando was Johnston Forbes-Robertson, who was later, at London’s Lyceum Theatre, to become one of the finest of Hamlets, with a beautiful voice and exquisite elocution.

Mary Anderson as Hermione

Mary Anderson as Hermione

In 1887 she was back in the UK again, with The Winter’s Tale. In an innovation that has since been repeated a number of times she doubled the roles of Hermione and her lost daughter Perdita, while Forbes-Robertson played Leontes.  The production was successful artistically, but it was also seen as a vehicle for the celebrity actress. For their first performance, on April 23, Shakespeare’s Birthday, it was reported that “Three thousand persons…filled the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, from floor to ceiling”. The production had an amazing run of 164 performances, and was taken back to the USA. Here she took it on tour until in March 1889 she collapsed during a performance in Washington, DC suffering from nervous exhaustion.

After just fourteen glittering years, and at the age of 30, Mary Anderson announced her retirement from the stage.  The following year, 1890, she married Antonio Fernando de Navarro, an American sportsman, and they settled at Court Farm, in the beautiful Cotswold village of Broadway in Worcestershire, only a few miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. Although from then on she rarely appeared in public, she did take part in some special performances during World War 1. In Stratford she was persuaded to come out of retirement for two star-studded special performances on 5 and 6 May 1916 for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death.

These special events were compilations of great scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, and Anderson played Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene. On 5 May, the first and grander of the two shows, the Doctor was played by Ben Greet, who had also brought his company to Stratford in the early years and was by 1916 the director of the Old Vic in London. After her retirement she published two volumes of autobiography, A Few Memories (1896) and A Few More Memories (1936). In 1940, aged 80, she died in Broadway, fifty years after she had given up the stage.

The terracotta panel, showing her, dressed as Ganymede in a forest scene in As You Like It, is a lovely, if much-overlooked reminder of Mary Anderson’s glittering career.

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Keeping Shakespeare’s spirit alive at New Place, his final home

Part of New Place Garden

Part of New Place Garden

In August 2014 a further consultation is taking place on the future of New Place, Shakespeare’s last home, the final public consultation day being 30 August. Since the first consultation last year, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about how we in Stratford have celebrated Shakespeare’s life and works.

New Place itself has an interesting history. The original house was built towards the end of the 1400s, being purchased by Shakespeare around a hundred years later in 1597, though it’s thought he moved into it much later, perhaps as late at 1610. It had been built by the Clopton family who acquired it again towards the end of the 1600s and rebuilt it around 1702. It was this second house that was demolished by Rev Gastrell in 1759. The only thing we know for sure about Shakespeare’s occupation of New Place is that he died there.

Reading up about the history of Shakespeare celebrations I found documents written in 1861 when the whole site was acquired by J O Halliwell, who saw it as his role to save it. He “made [it] over in trust to the Corporation of Stratford-on-Avon, on the condition that the Gardens of the great National Poet shall never be built upon, and that the public shall for ever have free access”. Another document repeats that it is “for the free use of the public for ever…and that no building should ever be erected on it”. Halliwell’s intention that the Corporation would take over the site stalled, but when in 1876 the property was formally made over to the Trustees of Shakespeare’s Birthplace his hopes must have been the same.

The foundations of New Place

The foundations of New Place

The next year the Trustees issued a series of regulations regarding admission to the house and gardens, allowing paying visitors to the house access to the gardens, with the public having free access to the gardens on Saturdays through the Chapel Lane gates. Householders could pay 5s (25p) a year, ten times the cost of a visitor’s ticket, for a key. This system must have been a nightmare to administer, but wasn’t uncommon for people to pay for access to gardens: 1n 1933, before  the Gower Memorial was moved  to its current public spot, people were charged a shilling (5p) to view it, a cause of local resentment.

The foundations of New Place and its gardens, especially including the Great Garden, have been seen for many years as the place in which the spirit of Shakespeare lives on. There is nothing to distract the visitor in the gardens, which are beautiful in an old-fashioned, relaxed English style, with clipped hedges, old trees, flower beds and the ornamental Knot Garden. Only the Knot Garden has a formal air, plants confined within their allotted spaces surrounded by low box hedging, full of colour in the summer.

The Knot garden, looking towards the Guild Chapel and Falcon Hotel

The Knot garden, looking towards the Guild Chapel and Falcon Hotel

In 1927 the young writer J B Priestley visited Stratford. Here is an extract from the essay, Seeing Stratford, which he wrote as a result.
And there was one moment, the other afternoon, when I really did feel I was treading upon his own ground. It was when we were in the gardens of New Place, very brave in the spring sunlight. You could have played the outdoor scene of Twelfth Night in them without disturbing a leaf… The little Knott Garden alone was worth the journey and nearer to Shakespeare than all the documents and chairs and monuments…I remember that when we left that garden to see the place where Shakespeare was buried, it didn’t seem to matter much. Why should it when we had just seen the place where he was still alive?

Having looked at the plans it seems to me that the best way of preserving Shakespeare’s spirit at New Place is to keep it natural, remembering that Shakespeare loved gardens, flowers and plants. After years of working in the noise of London he chose to come back to the small country town. Opening up the existing garden gates to allow free access to people during the property’s opening hours would be a great act of generosity for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust,  providing a haven of peace in what is itself nowadays a very busy town. For visitors from abroad, and even from our own cities, it’s the lawns, flower beds, trees and birdsong that are unusual, and the beautiful River Avon, better than any artificial water feature, is only yards away.

So I would say honour the intentions of J O Halliwell, to whom we owe the preservation of the site and give the Great Garden back to everybody. Vandalism has been said to be an issue, but could surely be solved by better supervision. Remember the words of  J B Priestley, and tread softly in this special place full of echoes of the past and overlooked by buildings imbued with centuries of history.

If you wish to take part in the consultation, go to Stratford’s ArtsHouse (Civic Hall) on Saturday 30 August from 11-2, or look at the website.

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The pioneering Flowers of Stratford-upon-Avon

Edward Fordham Flower in 1864

Edward Fordham Flower in 1864

Today there are few places where you will see the name of Flower in Stratford-upon-Avon apart from in a pub, but a hundred or even fifty years ago Flowers Brewery was one of the major employers in the town with a large building along the Birmingham Road, before being taken over, after which the making of beer ceased.

The brewery in Stratford was founded in 1831 by Edward Fordham Flower and by the 1860s two of Edward’s three sons, Charles and Edgar, were running the brewery in partnership with their father. It was a hugely successful business that made the Flower family wealthy. But the influence of the Flower family in the town has been much more wide-ranging, indeed without the Flower family the Royal Shakespeare Theatre would probably not exist.

I’m going to confine myself to Edward Fordham and his eldest son Charles Edward, the key figures in enlarging the Shakespeare industry in the town. Soon after founding the brewery Edward began to be involved in the running of the town. He must have been a man of extraordinary energy. He became Stratford’s mayor four times, the final time coinciding with the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1864, when the most magnificent of celebrations were planned including the building of a massive pavilion and over a week of events including performances of plays by Shakespeare featuring some of London’s famous actors.

Celebrations were also planned in London, with committees of well-known men behind them, and the Stratford organisers felt under pressure to put on a good show despite their inexperience in staging theatrical events. In the end they need not have worried. The Times, writing about the London committee commented “in various circulars which we have all seen the committee is described as made up of 400 persons, some of high status and repute. But these are mere names”. When it came down to it the London celebrations were greeted with “utter apathy”, with theatres merely putting on Shakespeare productions already in their repertoire, and a note that “even the proposed banquet has fallen through”.

For many in Stratford, the celebrations were seen as successful, but the jollifications came at a price. It had been hoped sufficient money would be raised to pay for a memorial to Shakespeare, but in fact Flower ended up having to cover the considerable deficit himself. James Cox, who followed Flower as the next mayor, wrote a retrospective complaining that the festival had been too ambitious, and should have limited its aims: “the erection of a monumental memorial was the one thing the committee should have striven for”. An additional aim had been to fund scholarships for worthy students, but this too had to be abandoned.

Charles Edward Flower, painted in 1891

Charles Edward Flower, painted in 1891

The Tercentenary also planted the seed of the idea for a permanent theatre for Shakespeare, not merely a temporary pavilion or the small theatre that stood, almost unused, in Chapel Lane. And it was Edward’s son Charles who took it upon himself to do something about it. The proposal to found a permanent theatre in such a provincial place was greeted with scorn. Just before the foundation stone of the theatre was laid in 1877 the Daily Telegraph wrote: “We beg distinctly and indignantly to protest against the whole paltry and impertinent business… They have no mandate to speak in the name of the public or to invest with the attribute of a national undertaking …[what is] to be half theatre and half mechanics institute… The Governors and Council are respectable nobodies”.

Flower kept silent, but he did not forget this insult. When he rose to speak at the ceremony for the opening of the theatre over two years later he referred directly to this article: ” A new line of criticism has been taken up by some who say we are presumptuous in undertaking it. They say we do not represent literature, science, scholarship, clergy or law; they say we are not inhabitants of that great metropolis which ought to monopolise such great works. They say, in fact, we are a set of Respectable Nobodies! All I can say is that, the “Nobodies”, having waited three hundred years for the “Somebodies” to do something, surely blame ought not to attach to us; rather let criticism  be given to those great social and literary “Somebodies” who have done nothing.”

He continued: “It is quite true we are nobodies. We know that, and therefore do not despair because we cannot accomplish great things at a single effort. We shall be ready to go on quietly and patiently with our work, knowing that we do so in a true spirit of love and reverence for the great man for whose memory we do it”.

“Many of the great somebodies would have been willing enough to have joined our ranks, only that we desired to admit those only who were willing and able to give some real assistance: we don’t want names only. How many similar projects have been started, with long lists of committees, and patrons, and presidents – great and illustrious names, and names only – which have collapsed because the real hard-working element has been overwhelmed by the ornamental superstructure”.

An early plan of the SMT (in the end some of the details, especially the tower, were changed)

An early plan of the SMT (in the end some of the details, especially the tower, were changed)

Anybody who feels for the underdog couldn’t help but cheer at this dignified but powerful speech. But even this did not stop the comments. Flower himself had to dip his hand into his own pocket again to ensure the theatre was completed, and the it became known, again disparagingly towards the business in which Flower had made his money,  as “The theatre built on beer”.

Today, we are likely to feel rather differently about someone with such philanthropic aims. Flower was true to his word. although he contributed massively to the theatre, it was always for Shakespeare’s benefit, not for Flower’s. I particularly like the way that in the portrait of Charles Flower above, just by his elbow on the right of the picture is part of an image of the 1879 building which he had been responsible for. Within the RST there are barely any references to the family that made it all happen. Without them Stratford might never have got anything more with which to celebrate its most famous son than a memorial statue. Instead Shakespeare got the memorial that he needed, a theatre devoted to the performance of his plays, a tradition that has carried on ever since 1879 and shows no sign of failing.

There is more about the history of the Flower family’s involvement with brewing in this blog .

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Remembering Bosworth and the death of Richard III

The 2013 re-enactment of the cavalry charge at Bosworth

The 2013 re-enactment of the cavalry charge at Bosworth

22 August marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth at which in 1485 the ruling king of England, Richard III, was killed. With Henry VII taking the throne it was the end of the Plantagenet era and the beginning of the reign of the Tudors. In 1548 Edward Hall described the scene in his book The Union of the Two Noble Families of Lancaster and York:
For when they which were next about his person saw and perceived at the first joining of the battle the soldiers faintly and nothing courageously to set on their enemies,… [they] determinedly advised him to save himself by flight: and when the loss of the battle was imminent and apparent, they brought to him a swift and a light horse to convey him away. He which was not ignorant of the grudge & ill will the common people bare toward him, casting away all hope of fortunate success & happy chance to come, answered (as men say) that on that day he would make an end of all battles or else there finish his life. Such a great audacity & such a stout stomach reigned in his body, for surely he knew it to be the day in the which it should be decided & determined whether he should peaceably obtain & enjoy his kingdom during his life, or else utterly forgo & be deprived of the same, with which too much hardiness he being overcome hastily closed his helmet, and entered fiercely in to the hard battle, to the intent to obtain that day a quiet reign & regiment or else to finish there his unquiet life. 

Shakespeare’s fictionalised version is slightly different of course, but his Richard too fought bravely on the battle field before being savagely killed. Even without the distortions that were later introduced, which Shakespeare repeated, the details of the battle and the death of Richard have long been disputed. For more information about Richard III take a look at Matthew Lewis’s blog post written in 2013.

The boar badge

The boar badge

In the last few years a series of events have provided us with much more information. In 2010 archaeologists discovered weapons, armour and cannon balls in a field about a mile away from the assumed site of the battle. It was confirmed as the correct site when a silver badge in the shape of Richard’s emblem, the boar, was discovered. The brooch would have been worn by one of Richard’s knights who fought with him and may well have died with him. This article goes into more detail. The existing Bosworth Battlefield heritage centre remains where it was, and visitors walk the mile to the actual site.

The present memorial to Richard III in Leicester Cathedral

The present memorial to Richard III in Leicester Cathedral

Then came the dig in Leicester in 2012 which, almost unbelievably, discovered a skeleton under a car park, followed in February 2013 by evidence that showed beyond reasonable doubt that the remains were those of Richard III. Then the “Plantagenet Alliance” challenged the agreed site in which Richard was to be buried, suggesting this should be in York rather than Leicester. This was eventually over-ruled and the reburial will now take place in Leicester Cathedral on 26 March 2015 following several days of events in Leicestershire.

The design for Richard III's tomb in Leicester Cathedral

The design for Richard III’s tomb in Leicester Cathedral

The remains, currently at the University of Leicester where the research has been carried out, will be put in a lead-lined coffin and taken by hearse to Bosworth where events to mark the king’s last day will be carried out. A service will then take place at Bosworth and the coffin will be taken to Leicester cathedral where it will lie for three days so that members of the public can pay their respects before the actual reinterment. They are anticipating a great deal of interest in this “fitting, dignified and memorable ceremony” which will be strictly by invitation only, and broadcast live on Channel 4. The Visitors Centre in Leicester is now open and the City of Leicester has already devised a number of Richard III-themed walks and events. The University of Leicester has been central to the discovery and recently ran its FutureLearn MOOC (free online course), England in the Time of Richard III. It has now finished but it’s to be hoped that it will be repeated in early 2015 given the intense interest in the subject. If you want to find out more, the link above includes a trailer for the course. My husband has just completed the course and greatly enjoyed it: a visit to Leicester and Bosworth is now a priority. Shakespeare may have got some of the details wrong, but the interest in Richard III in the twenty-first century is at least partly the result of the brilliance of Shakespeare’s Richard, one of the most compelling dramatic characters ever created.

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Holy Trinity’s American tributes to Shakespeare in glass

The American Window in Holy Trinity Church

The American Window in Holy Trinity Church

The affection that Stratford is held in by Americans has been demonstrated in a number of buildings and monuments: the American Fountain in Rother Street, opened in 1887, for example.

Less well-known is the American Window in the south transept of Holy Trinity Church. The first sections of this magnificent stained glass window were dedicated on 23 April 1896, and completed a few years later by the company Heaton, Butler and Baines. The subject is the Madonna and Child with the Adoration of the Magi at the centre, with figures on either side symbolising the links between England and America. The transept is often used for private worship or afternoon prayers, and the window is not easy to see in detail. Val Horsler, in her book Shakespeare’s Church: a parish for the world describes it: “English and American holy men [occupy] the outer lights, including Archbishop Laud, who was the first to suggest sending a bishop to America, plus Amerigo Vespucci, Christopher Columbus, William Penn and the Pilgrim fathers landing at Plymouth Rock. Also depicted are St Eric, Bishop of Greenland, and Dr Samuel Seabury, first Bishop of Connecticut. Underneath is inscribed “The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and the Kings to thy brightness. AMDG The Gift of America to Shakespeare’s Church”.

The Seven Ages of Man window in Holy Trinity

The Seven Ages of Man window in Holy Trinity

Even though a little inaccessible, the American Window is well-known, but I only recently realised that there is another, older window in Holy Trinity Church which was paid for by Americans. This one is the window on the left of Shakespeare’s monument on the north side of the chancel, the third one from the east end. It must be looked at and maybe photographed by thousands of American tourists every year without them realising its significance. All the windows on this side of the chancel depict old-testament scenes, while those on the other side illustrate stories from the new testament. It illustrates the Seven Ages of Man speech from As You Like It, personalities from the bible being used to represent each of the different ages. Designed by Lavers and Westlake, It was “Dedicated to Holy Trinity and Shakespeare by a great number of New World inhabitants in 1890″ While the American Window was the gift of America, presumably in the form of a single gift, it took twelve years to raise the funds from individual visitors to the church in order to create this tribute to Shakespeare.

The first four ages

The first four ages

I wrote over three years ago about the stained glass windows in the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre that depict this speech, dating from the 1880s. I mentioned other windows from around the world that take the same popular subject, without realising there was another set so close. These windows have suffered from fading, so some of the details, especially the faces, have disappeared. As is so often the case with monuments in churches, they are also so high up that it’s hard to see exactly what is depicted, but the window for the infant depicts Moses in the bulrushes and the second window, the schoolboy, shows the child Samuel being taken by his mother to the temple

The last three ages of man

The last three ages of man

The scene for the Justice is the judgement of Solomon, and in the final window I assume the old man “sans everything” is Methuselah. I’m sure somebody has identified all the scenes and if anyone has them I’d be delighted to hear. These windows, and the story of their creation, deserve to be better known.

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Jeremy Irons and Shakespeare

Jeremy Irons as Henry IV in The Hollow Crown

Jeremy Irons as Henry IV in The Hollow Crown

Jeremy Irons is one of our most distinctive and charismatic actors, who has distinguished himself in a whole range of films and TV series. In recent years he’s helped to bring new audiences to Shakespeare with his depiction of Henry IV in the TV mini-series The Hollow Crown, and presented a programme on the Henry IV and Henry V plays in the Shakespeare Uncovered series. In this clip he performs the “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” speech from Henry IV Part 2. 

In a 2013 interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail Irons talked about his work, and the characters he chooses to play, “people who are covering pain, from childhood, relationships, whatever it may be, and getting on with it,” he says. “I’m attracted to characters who are covering. I’m not interested in characters who wear their hearts on their sleeves. I like the tension. I think of my characters as an advent calendar. The life is inside all those closed windows. Scene by scene you open and allow the audience to see in, just a little bit, and then you move on. That’s what I like to do.”
It’s easy to see why he agreed to play Shakespeare’s guilt-ridden, disappointed Henry IV.

Here too is a clip of him talking about the series, and another clip talking to him while on set filming The Hollow Crown.

He’s also been seen on our TV screens in the series The Borgias, and played Antonio in the 2004 film of The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock. He has one of the most distinctive of voices and one of his best-known film roles was as Scar in the animated movie The Lion King, and apparently has provided voiceovers for several Disney World attractions.

He made his name in 1981 when he starred in the film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman opposite Meryl Streep, as well as appearing as one of the leading characters, Charles Ryder in the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Within a year he was an established star. There’s a full biography on Wikipedia listing his many film and tv credits, and his numerous awards. He was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Actor for his role as Henry IV and has won BAFTAs and Golden Globe Awards.

Jeremy Irons in Richard II, 1986

Jeremy Irons in Richard II, 1986

He’s less well known for stage work, but in his early career he mixed TV work with theatre. He’s an accomplished musician, playing a variety of instruments: he did some busking before his career took off. One of his first successes was playing Judas in the musical Godspell that starred David Essex from 1971. I saw him in 1977 at the Piccadilly Theatre in London playing Harry Thunder in the RSC’s revival of John O’Keeffe’s joyous comedy Wild Oats, in a terrific cast that included Lewis Fiander as Rover, Norman Rodway, Zoe Wanamaker, Joe Melia and Lisa Harrow.

Then in 1986 he came to the RSC to play three roles: Richard II, Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, and Willmore in Aphra Behn’s The Rover.

Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack in The Rover

Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack in The Rover

I thought the one that showed him at his best was The Rover, a swashbuckling comedy in which he played opposite his real-life wife Sinead Cusack as well as the young Imogen Stubbs. Eric Shorter wrote “He sails through the amorous havoc and futility….with a beguiling swagger and a sense of ironical humour”, and Irving Wardle likened him to “an accident-prone Errol Flynn”. During the summer he and Sinead Cusack performed at Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival with a programme called Country Houses (obviously relating to Brideshead Revisited). I remember it being a tour de force, with Irons in particular making full use of his glorious voice, an impressive range of different accents and a terrific sense of humour.

Jeremy Irons is the President of the Stratford Shakespeare Club for the 2014-5 season, the Presidential Evening being on 11 November 2014 when he will be hosted by Roger Pringle who devised and directed the Poetry Festival programme mentioned above. The event is to be ticketed: members are guaranteed places and any tickets not taken will be available to buy on the night. It should be a wonderful evening. Details of membership are on the Club’s website

 

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Taking notes: Shakespeare and table-books

Edwin Booth as Hamlet

Edwin Booth as Hamlet

In the latest edition of Theatre Notebook, published by the Society for Theatre Research, June Schlueter* considers the connection between Hamlet’s “tables”, and the two exceedingly rare drawings that have come down to us showing us what the Elizabethan playhouse looked like, The De Witt drawing and the Peacham drawing.

She considers, first, what table-books were like, quoting an essay by Peter Stallybrass and others published in Shakespeare Quarterly in 2004. So completely have table-books disappeared from our world that the essay was necessary to explain how these once-common objects looked and were used. These were small pocket-sized notebooks, the pages waxed so that one could write or sketch using a stylus with a metal point. They were used for making notes while on the move – the contents would be transferred to a more permanent form later, when ink and paper, and something to lean on, were available. The wax surface could then be wiped over and made ready for re-use. Apparently one survives in the Folger Shakespeare Library, a rare survival.

A search for contemporary references yields many hits, including advice for a gentleman as he checked the state of his fields, to “take out his tables, and wryte the defautes” and an observation by John Aubrey that Sir Philip Sidney “was often wont, as he was hunting…to take his table-book out of his pocket, and write down his notions”. Hamlet, too, talks about how notes could be made in a table book and later erased once it had been copied:
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past
That youth and observation copied there…
O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables! Meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.

The Peacham drawing

The Peacham drawing

Hamlet’s is not the only mention of tables in drama: in Antonio’s Revenge for instance there is a stage direction “Balurdo drawes out his writing tables, and writes”.  Schlueter considers the role of the table-book in the evolution of the two drawings of the theatres. It’s been noted that the Peacham drawing does not illustrate an exact moment in Titus Andronicus, but so rare is it that the depiction of people wearing a blend of Elizabethan and Roman dress is taken as firm evidence for how actors were costumed. There are mysteries about the manuscript: the image appears above a passage from the play which does not match up with the 1594 quarto. Was it added later? The image, in ink, must have been copied either from memory or from a sketch made on the spot in a table-book. Henry Peacham who made the book made many drawings and even wrote a guide to how to draw.

The De Witt drawing

The De Witt drawing

The De Witt drawing has a convoluted history. The original, now lost, was made by De Witt, and the image we now have is a copy of it made by Van Buchell. It shows the Swan Theatre and there has been much discussion about its accuracy. Schlueter suggests again that De Witt may have made his first sketch while in the theatre on his table-book, transcribing it when he had writing materials available. De Witt too spent much time making sketches of antiquities and from the evidence of those it seems likely that he made a further copy that he sent to Van Buchell which his friend re-copied. While this complexity of this process removes the sketch even further from the existing copy it could also remove the possibility of De Witt’s memory playing him false by ensuring he had an accurate image made on the spot.

There is far more in June Schlueter’s thoughtful essay* that may help to explain the process by which we are still able to see these two early sketches of the Elizabethan stage and if you’re interested it’s worth chasing it up. Their survival is indeed something of a miracle given the fragility of the images, particularly if the first version of both was made on a wax tablet to be erased.

Hill's Commonplace book from the Beinecke Library

Hill’s Commonplace book from the Beinecke Library

The notes made on a table-book would have been transcribed, probably into a commonplace book, used for keeping all kinds of writings. Schlueter quotes one in the British Library that contains “autographs and dedications… a miscellany of jottings…[and] instructions on making inks of various colours”. In the last few days the Beinecke Library at Yale University has posted on Twitter an image from a wonderful commonplace book in the Osborn collection compiled by Englishman William Hill in the 1570s. This link leads you to the digitised images of this amazing survivor, battered and heavily-used. Hill used it for practicing different kinds of handwriting as well as for keeping verses and mottoes. He seems to have favoured proverbs that reminded him of the transience of life. One reads “And whosoe withered is with yeares/ may not be yonge againe”, a sentiment that Shakespeare would have agreed with.

*June Schlueter. “Drawing in a Theatre: Peacham, De Witt, and the Table-book”. Theatre Notebook 68 (2014): 69-86.

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Two American Shakespeareans: James Hackett, father and son

James K Hackett

James K Hackett

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre contains a little memorial that has always interested me. Just by the fountain at the base of the spiral staircase is a plaque dedicated to The American actor James K Hackett, 1869-1926, “a generous benefactor to this theatre”. At the bottom it lists two performances, Macbeth, in London in 1920 and Othello, in Stratford in 1922.

The James Hackett that I recognise from engravings was an actor playing Falstaff: the image of him in The Merry Wives of Windsor is very well known. But these are of a comic actor dating from the middle of the nineteenth century.

 

James H Hackett as Falstaff

James H Hackett as Falstaff

James Henry Hackett was a well-known actor, famed for his Falstaff which he performed in the US and then in the UK on many occasions between 1833 and 1851. He was the first important American actor to be a success in England. He is also remembered because he made extensive notes about Edmund Kean’s performance of Richard III in around1828 and h notebook is a unique piece of evidence for Kean’s acting. Other Shakespearean roles included Hamlet, which he studied for several years. He entered into correspondence about the part with John Quincy Adams and was so proud of this connection with an American president that in 1863 he published their letters. At the age of 69, in 1869, he fathered a child who was aged only two when his father died in his native New York.

This son, James Katelkas Hackett was born in Ontario but lived mostly in New York. Early in his stage career he performed in Daly’s productions of The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night and later, at different times, played both Romeo and Mercutio. From 1896, he performed regularly on Broadway, assisted by his matinee idol looks. He starred in The Prisoner of Zenda, which subsequently became a silent film using the original cast. In 1914 he toured with a production of Othello and in the same year inherited well over a million dollars from his niece, giving him financial independence. For the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916 he planned to stage three of Shakespeare’s plays with himself in the lead: Macbeth, Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor. The Macbeth received lukewarm reviews and he appeared in neither of the other plays. During the War (1917-18) he directed dramatic and musical entertainments for troops for the Catholic Knights of Columbus. Then in 1920 he made his London debut with a new production of Macbeth at the Aldwych Theatre with Mrs Patrick Campbell playing Lady Macbeth, and the following year played the same role at the Odeon in Paris for which he was awarded the Legion d’Honneur.

In 1922 he was offered the chance to play Othello at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. W Bridges-Adams’ letter, and Hackett’s reply, appeared in the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald of 21 April. Bridges-Adams suggested “You will be performing a valuable work in cementing still closer the bonds which unite the English-speaking races”, and Hackett accepted: “It will indeed be a great honour to essay Othello… on that hallowed ground”.

The plaque to James K Hackett at the RST

The plaque to James K Hackett at the RST

He pulled the American flag at the Birthday Celebrations, then gave just one performance, the matinee on Thursday 27 April. The play had already been performed in the Festival. Hackett’s wife played Desdemona and they were ably supported by Dorothy Green as Emilia and Baliol Holloway as Iago. The house was packed and “a great reception was accorded to the celebrated actor.” The Stratford Herald enthused “Mr Hackett is the possessor of a regal figure and noble presence. His voice is sonorous, mellow and of rich timbre, and is used with fine modulation – love, scorn and rage being all expressed without effort”. The Times agreed: “The great scenes are for him music to be played with every instrument at his command. His voice is rich and splendid: his every movement bold and full… [He gives] a full-blooded performance”.

The Birmingham Mail described how after half a dozen curtain calls for each of the principals, “Then the curtain rose once more to reveal the whole company grouped around the massive, picturesquely-garbed figure of Mr Hackett, who was supported also by Mr Archie Flower, chairman of the Memorial Governors, and Mr W Bridges-Adams, the director of the company. Mr Hackett carried two large wreaths of bay, while the arms of his wife (Miss Beatrice Beckley), were overladen quite with gorgeous bouquets… Followed a few moments of speech-making… during which the famous visitor remarked upon the consistent friendliness and appreciation extended to him in England”.

James K Hackett’s vocal prowess is remembered by The Department of Education of the City of New York which still awards the annual James K Hackett medal to a student who demonstrates “the greatest proficiency in oratory, either verse or prose”.

Hackett died in a Paris hotel in 1926 aged 57. It seems he used his inherited fortune  to make many bequests to the arts, including the University and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.

James K Hackett as Edward II on the Marlowe memorial

James K Hackett as Edward II on the Marlowe memorial

There’s another monument to James K Hackett in England: it’s the one to Christopher Marlowe in Canterbury, his birthplace, which was unveiled by Sir Henry Irving in 1891. The bronze figure represents the muse of Dramatic Poetry, and the niches were filled only in 1928 with four small bronzes of actors in roles in Marlowe’s plays: Irving as Tamburlaine, Johnston Forbes-Robertson as Faustus, James K Hackett as Edward II and Edward Alleyn as the Jew of Malta. Strangely, as far as I can tell none of the actors apart from Alleyn ever performed the role in which they are portrayed. If anyone knows what the connection between Hackett and Marlowe’s play was I’d love to hear from you.

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Harvest time in Shakespeare’s England

A detail from Breughel's The Hay Harvest

A detail from Breughel’s The Hay Harvest

For once the English summer hasn’t let us down and until the last few days we’ve enjoyed weeks of fine, warm weather. August is harvest-time. In The Tempest, Shakespeare writes of the “sunburnt sickle men, of August weary”, and tell them to “Make holiday! Your rye-straw hats put on”.

Francis Bacon, in Of Gardens, writes “In August come plums of all sorts in fruit, pears, apricots, barberries, filberts, musk-melons, monkhoods of all colours”, and Nicholas Breton, in Fantasticks, written about 1600, defines the month:
It is now August, and the sun is somewhat towards his declination, yet such is his heat as hardeneth the soft clay, dries up the standing ponds, withereth the sappy leaves and scorches the skin of the naked: now begin the gleaners to follow the corn cart, and a little bread to a great deal of drink makes the travailers dinner: the Melon and the cucumber is now in request: and the oil and vinegar give attendance to the sallet herbs: the Alehouse is more frequented than the Tavern, and a fresh river is more comfortable than a fiery furnace…and in the fair rivers, swimming is a sweet exercise…the Furmenty pot welcomes home the Harvest cart, and the Garland of flowers crowns the Captain of the Reapers… In sum, for that I find, I thus conclude, I hold it the world’s welfare, and the earth’s Warming pan. Farewell.

Bacon and Breton both clearly enjoy eating the produce that ripens at this time of year: Breton’s salad sound very much like our own, and I like the way he likens this time a year to a warming pan – it’s a lovely image.

But to get close to the life and experience of the working Tudor, you can’t beat Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie, written in sometimes painful verse.

August from a book of hours

August from a book of hours

Under “Good harvest points” he suggests:
Reape well, scatter not, gather cleane that is shone,
  binde fast, shock apace, have an eie to thy corne.
Lode safe, carrie home, follow time being faire,
  gove just in the barne, it is out of despaire.

He offers advice about timing your harvest:
If weather be faire, and tidie thy graine,
  make speedily carrege, for feare of a raine:
For tempest and showers deceiveth a menie,
  and lingering lubbers loose many a penie.

Harvest is also a time for remembering the poor, who traditionally are allowed to glean or pick up grains that have been dropped in the field:
Corne carried, let such as be poore go and gleane,
  and after, thy cattle to mowth it up cleane.
Then spare it for rowen, till Mihel be past,
  to lengthen thy dairie no better thou hast.

And harvest is a time to be generous to all:
Once ended thy harvest, let none be begilde,
  please such as did help thee, man, woman, and child.
Thus dooing, with always such help as they can,
  thou winnest the praise of the labouring man.

Tusser’s book was published in 1573, and Geoffrey Grigson, in his introduction to the Oxford University Press edition sums up its charm: “We can, if pre-industrial country life interests us, savour the pure enjoyment of seeing how farms looked in these Tudor years, how farming and farmers’ wives proceeded. Here is the farmer sitting to his food, according to season…Allow our eyes a little extra vision and Tusser takes us to ploughing and fallowing, to weeding the growing crops in May and June, ridding them as much as the farmer can from poppies and corncockle and boddles (corn marigolds), from titchis (vetches), [and] bracken.

Iris’s speech in The Tempest comes to mind:
Ceres, most bounteous lady, thy rich leas
Of wheat, rye, barley, vetches, oats and pease;

And Lear, when mad, is found in fields full of ripening corn:
             Why, he was met even now
As mad as the vex’d sea, singing aloud,
Crown’d with rank fumiter and furrow weeds,
With harlocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo flow’rs,
Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow
In our sustaining corn. A century send forth.
Search every acre in the high-grown field
And bring him to our eye.

It’s harder for us to connect with these speeches than it would have been in Shakespeare’s day, but we’re helped by Tusser and the other writers describing the life and concerns of country folk.

NB Click here to go to the reference for the image of the Book of Hours above

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Stratford, the Shakespeare Revival and World War 1

Morris dancing on the Avon in The Shakespeare Revival

Morris dancing on the Avon in The Shakespeare Revival

I have on my shelves a book entitled The Shakespeare Revival: the Stratford-upon-Avon Movement, probably acquired by my father in a second-hand shop years ago.  It’s always puzzled me.

The book was published in 1911, and seems to expect the reader to know about something known as the Stratford-upon-Avon Movement, and to understand why Shakespeare needed a revival. But even after years of being surrounded by Shakespeare in Stratford it was a mystery to me. What was this movement, and what happened to it? And who was the author, Reginald R Buckley? As I’m researching the history of Shakespeare celebrations in Stratford I felt this was the moment to find out.

The book’s and message is evangelical. The introduction is written by the Director of the Shakespeare Festivals, F R Benson, in which he outlines his dream for the Stratford festival: “On to the green of the Bancroft dance the singing children of Stratford and the neighbouring villages. Young and old to the number of some thousands follow after to see the final ceremony, to tune their hearts to the rhythm of the final dance, and carry back to their homes the human harmony of the final song”.

He imagines Stratford becoming the centre of world reconciliation, based on Shakespeare and the Anglo-Celtic race. “the discipline of the Teuton, the primitive vigour of the Slav, the enterprise of the Scandinavian, the mystic reverence of the Oriental”.  The main part of the book is a section by Buckley entitled “The Nature of Drama”, with chapters on such subjects as “The Spirit of Shakespeare”, “A Temple of Dreams: a personal reverie”, “Wagner and his relation to Shakespeare”, and “Choral art and the Theatre”. The final section is by Mary Neal with chapters on The Stratford-upon-Avon Festival Movement and its Developments and The Revival of Folk Art. The book ends with advice on “How to take part in the Movement”.

Dedicated to the governors of the SMT it appears to have been a plea for them to throw their weight behind the movement. I consulted a recently-published book, The Celtic Revival in Shakespeare’s Wake, by Adam Putz, that suggests Buckley had a very political aim, based on the socialist ideas of Ruskin and Morris. Indeed Frank Benson’s foreword says as much, without actually mentioning politics: “I am very proud to be asked to write a Foreword to a work published by a firm so long associated with the name of John Ruskin. Proud that our work at Stratford should be regarded… as part of that campaign against the unloveliness of modern life”.

Putz also suggests that both Benson and Buckley use the language and celebration of Shakespeare to promote an “image of Britain’s imperial supremacy”. Benson certainly draws on the idealised image of Stratford as part of old England: “through a frame of rush and willow, yew and cedar and elm, the spire of the church looks down on the mill where Celt, Roman, Saxon and Dane, Norman and Englishman for centuries have ground their harvest”.

Since 1905 folk traditions had been part of the Benson’s Shakespeare festivals, with Elizabethan dancing, Morris men, Maypole dancing and wrestling. They reached a peak in 1911, the same year the book was published. A month-long Summer School of Folk-song and Dance took place between under the direction of Cecil J Sharp between 22 July and 19 August. Over two hundred participants came to Stratford from Scotland, France, Canada, England, the USA and Holland. The participants’ days were spent learning and performing folk songs and dances, listening to lectures, and exhibitions were given by a number of participants.

Rutland Boughton

Rutland Boughton

Searching for information about Buckley, I discovered he was a poet and author who often worked as a librettist with the socialist composer Rutland Boughton. Together in 1908 they co-wrote a book, The Music Drama of the Future and, much influenced by the Wagner and the Bayreuth festivals they collaborated on a choral drama entitled The Birth of Arthur. They first discussed setting up a theatre in Letchworth Garden City, and the Rutland Boughton Music Trust still exists. Their website contains a great deal of information about Boughton who was one of the most prolific of English composers, dying in 1960.

Stratford, with Benson’s enthusiasm for the folk movement and allied Celtic Revival, was another possible venue, hence The Shakespeare Revival. It appears, though, that Stratford-upon-Avon did not warm sufficiently to these ideas, and in 1914 Boughton instead founded the first ever Glastonbury Festival which continued annually until 1926, supported by Edward Elgar and George Bernard Shaw. Although Glastonbury didn’t then have its New Age reputation it was already a magnet for those interested in Arthurian legend. There is to be a celebration of the centenary in Glastonbury at the end of August.

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor

The biggest success of the Glastonbury Festival was The Immortal Hour, first performed just after war had been declared, on 26 August 1914. In 1922 the opera received 216 consecutive performances and was restaged in New York a few years later. In London the opera launched the career of the young Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies who went on to be a memorable Juliet in Shakespeare’s play. It’s a fantasy, in which magic and spirits play important parts. Fairies are not the mischievous imps of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but proud, immortal demigods. The Finborough Theatre in London is currently staging a centenary production of The Immortal Hour that will run between 10 and 26 August.

And remembering that this week we are commemorating the start of the First World War, here is a link to a poem by Reginald Buckley which he published on 13 August 1914, days after war had been declared.

And finally, since posting this I’ve been informed about two other books: Michael Hurd’s Rutland Boughton and the Glastonbury Festivals, and a book due to be published soon by Roger Savage on twentieth century music dramas.  I hadn’t realised when I began this post how much active interest there is in this subject.

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