A statue for Aphra Behn in Canterbury

Aphra Behn. Engraving based on Peter Lely’s portrait

The city of Canterbury has many literary connections. It’s the end-point for Chaucer’s pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, the setting for the murder of Thomas a Becket as dramatized by TS Eliot in Murder in the Cathedral, and the birthplace of Shakespeare’s contemporary writer, Christopher Marlowe.  Aphra Behn’s connection is much less well-known, but see this post for information about her. Born in Canterbury, she was the first professional writer in the English language, and it’s great news that she is to be commemorated with a full-size statue.

There are already statues highlighting the city’s literary heritage. In 2016 a statue of Geoffrey Chaucer was unveiled. It shows Chaucer, tired at the end of his pilgrimage, on a circular plinth depicting some of his pilgrims. Christopher Marlowe’s statue was dedicated in the late nineteenth century and currently stands near the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. At the time the portrait now generally  accepted as Marlowe had not been identified, so the statue depicts not him but a female figure, the Muse of Poetry. This semi-naked figure is familiarly known as Kitty and characters from his plays are beneath.

Fortunately Aphra Behn’s appearance is known. She was painted by court painter Sir Peter Lely in the 1670s when she was a famous writer, and many engravings were published based on the painting. She died at the relatively young age of 49, in 1689, and such was her renown that she was buried in Westminster Abbey. After that time, though, she was largely forgotten and it’s only relatively recently that her plays have been widely performed  and studied and her reputation as a trailblazer for women re-established. It was only a few years before she started writing, in the 1660s and 1670s, that women were allowed to act on public stages, and women would have enjoyed playing the vibrant roles that she wrote for them. In The Rover, her most famous play, the clever, inventive women run rings around the men.

The Canterbury Commemoration Society is responsible for organising the new statue of Aphra. They have held a competition to design it and have whittled the entries down to a shortlist of four. The maquettes have been on a little tour and on 27 and 28 June they were on display in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. It was a great opportunity to see them and vote on a favourite, but of course all the information, including videos of each maquette and the artist’s comments on their work, are available online. If you have read or seen any of Aphra Behn’s work, and loved it, do vote for the statue you would like to see represent her in the city of her birth.

The maquettes of Aphra Behn

A fundraising dinner is also being held in Canterbury on 16 July 2022. Speakers will include actor Alexandra Gilbreath who starred in the RSC’s most recent production of The Rover, academic and poet Charlotte Cornell, and theatre director Matthew Townshend. In a special auction, the maquettes themselves will be sold off. But most importantly, get voting!

Share
Posted in Shakespeare's World | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Princes in the Tower: new evidence

John Everett Millais, The Princes in the Tower

Shakespeare’s play Richard III has always been one of his most popular dramas. And no wonder: it features a compelling protagonists in a great story. Many people accept Shakespeare’s version of the history of the end of the Plantagenet and the beginning of the Tudor period without question, and historians who have spent years trying to unpick the truth regarding this period are not surprisingly annoyed by Shakespeare’s casual approach.

I wrote a few years ago about the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton and its burial in Leicester Cathedral. The work devoted to this subject at last enabled Richard’s life to be examined in a more balanced way.

Now a new documentary reopens the question of Richard III’s villainous reputation. The series Lucy Worsley Investigates takes the most scandalous story of the time, the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. The programme is available on I-Player.

Lucy Worsley Investigates

It was an event of national significance. The 12 year old son of the late king Edward IV and his young brother disappeared during the summer of 1483 after being put in the Tower of London allegedly for their protection. Their uncle Richard had been appointed Protector and when their legitimacy was called in question Richard took the throne for himself. Shortly afterwards they disappeared.

There are many gaps in the historical record: reliable witnesses and evidence are in short supply when it comes to this story, one of the reasons why there is still so much disagreement.

One contemporary report that has survived was written by Dominic Mancini. Mancini happened to be in London for the first half of 1483. On his return to France just before the coronation he wrote a report for his Patron the Archbishop of Vienne. Mancini had no particular axe to grind and praised Richard’s military record and his popularity as a leader in the north of England. But he repeats the rumours he had heard while in London that Richard had murdered the princes. The document is not a new discovery as it was found in Lille in 1934, then published in an English version in 1936, but it shows that there may still be other documents waiting to be uncovered. David Crowther’s The History of England podcast and blog contains lots of quotes and information.

Thomas More’s account established Richard III as a villain,  and was printed in sources known to have been used by Shakespeare. Another document under discussion has been discovered by Professor Tim Thornton. It offers a solution to the mystery of where Thomas More got his account of the murder. Shakespeare too picked up some of the details in a speech by James Tyrrel:

The tyrannous and bloody act is done;
The most arch deed of piteous massacre
That ever yet this land was guilty of.
Dighton and Forrest, who I did suborn
To do this piece of ruthless butchery –
Albeit they were flesh’d villains, bloody dogs –
Melted with tenderness and mild compassion,
Wept like two children, in their deaths’ sad story

One of the pieces of evidence considered in Lucy Worsley Investigates

21st century science has sometimes cast doubt on the findings of earlier researchers. In the 17th century bones thought to be those of the princes were discovered, accepted as genuine, and buried in Westminster Abbey. The urn was opened in the 1950s and results published in an academic paper, but the findings are now in doubt. Professor Turi King, one of the scientists who worked on the identification of Richard III’s skeleton, agreed that the research was flawed. But even with DNA profiling and carbon dating she concluded there was no legitimate reason to reopen the urn and ethical concerns prevent further research being undertaken. There’s a parallel here with Shakespeare’s tomb. Every so often someone suggests opening it, but it’s good to know that curiosity alone would not justify this action.

Worsley is Joint Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, and her visits to libraries, museums, archives and historic buildings make this a delightful series. Her interviews with the enthusiastic researchers and painstaking specialists show how incremental gains in knowledge can built up a case. And it’s good to see so much cross-disciplinary work going on.

Her conclusion is that Richard was indeed guilty. Detectives always look for a person with the motive and opportunity, and he had both. And In the violent dog eat dog world of the late 15th century there was little space for moral scruples.

If you want to catch the play live, Shakespeare’s Richard III is about to be produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and in a first for the Company the actor playing Richard is himself disabled.

Share
Posted in Plays and Poems, Shakespeare's World, Sources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Music and dancing for Queen Elizabeth

Buttercups in a Warwickshire field. By Phil Mills

We’re just reaching the end of the merry month of May, and about to embark on a weekend of celebrations for the Platinum Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. Events, many of them outdoors, will be taking advantage of the long days and good weather is forecast for much of the time. The UK’s outdoor spaces, whether gardens, public parks or countryside, are looking fresh and beautiful. And after two difficult years, people are ready to enjoy them.

Although much has been made of the eating and drinking part of the festivities, it wouldn’t be a proper celebration without music and dancing. Shakespeare-lovers will remember the sheep-shearing festival in The Winter’s Tale,  which onstage can turn into riotous, bacchanalia. That party takes place later in the summer, after the hard work of shearing the flock is over. This week has more the feeling of one of the songs in As You Like It, looking forward to the summer and better times ahead:

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green corn-field did pass
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding.
Sweet lovers love the spring.

A courtly Elizabethan dance

Shakespeare loved music, using it to create all kinds of mood in his plays. He also often staged dances, but I hadn’t realised until I listened to a recent radio programme quite how many references to dances, often courtly ones, there are. The programme was The Early Music Show on Radio 3 on 29 May 2022 (a repeat from 2019).

In this, choreographer and dance historian Darren Royston and Lucie Skeaping take a look at the 16th-century dancing manual, Orchesographie, published in France in 1589. It was as a result of this publication that many of the dances described became familiar across Europe. It’s a fascinating listen that includes many references to Shakespeare, including recordings of some of his songs.

Jigs were so popular they were performed at the end of each play staged, and Shakespeare mentions morris dancing and the hobby horse so casually it’s clear they were known to all. One of the sections they focus on in the programme is a discussion in Twelfth Night between Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek. Andrew hopes to make an impression on Olivia by his skill in dancing, egged on by Toby. He delights in masques and revels, claims he can do a kickshaw, and they go on to use a whole series of terms to describe more courtly dances:

Toby Belch: What is thy excellence in a galliard, knight?
Andrew Aguecheek: Faith, I can cut a caper.
Toby Belch:  And I can cut the mutton to’t.
Andrew Aguecheek: And I think I have the back-trick simply as strong as any man in Illyria.
Toby Belch:… Why dost thou not go to church in a galliard and come home in a coranto? My very walk should be a jig; I would not so much make water but in a sink-a-pace… Is it a world to hide virtues in? I did think, by the excellent constitution of thy leg, it was formed under the star of a galliard.

All this and more is explained in this really enjoyable programme. While our present Queen isn’t going to be doing any dancing this weekend, remember the music and dances loved by her forbear, Queen Elizabeth 1.

Share
Posted in Legacy, Shakespeare on Stage, Shakespeare's World | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Music and dancing for Queen Elizabeth

Celebrating Gregory Doran and Sir Antony Sher

Gregory Doran at the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations 23 April 2022

The day before Shakespeare’s Birthday, 22 April 2022, Gregory Doran announced that he was standing down from his post as Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He’s held it for 10 years, a period of political unrest with issues like Black Lives Matter, of national change with Brexit, of worldwide chaos due to the Covid Pandemic which has hit theatres particularly hard, and of personal tragedy with the illness and death of his husband Sir Antony Sher in 2021.

The search for a replacement has already begun, but Doran will be a difficult person to replace. His relationship with the RSC goes back to the 1980s and his knowledge of all things Shakespeare is well-known, often being called on to discuss almost any Shakespeare-related issue. He was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 6 May. Here is the link: the interview begins at 2hrs44 mins 50 secs and lasts about 6 minutes. He described the leaving of the RSC as a wrench, but said it was also the right time. Keeping the Company functioning during the last couple of years has obviously been extremely challenging, but you can still hear in his voice his enthusiasm for Shakespeare and the excitement of directing his forthcoming production of Richard III. All they can do is “With our hearts and minds [to] experience the play new”. The production comes as Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues to invade its neighbouring country Ukraine. “You don’t have to make Shakespeare relevant. He just is”.

For the first time at the RSC a disabled actor, Arthur Hughes, will play the title role in his RSC debut. Talking about his late husband Antony Sher, Doran commented that “doing Richard III which has his fingerprints all over it is a great privilege and a pleasure”. Performing this role cemented Antony Sher’s reputation as a great Shakespearean actor and led the way to him playing many leading roles including Macbeth, Prospero, Iago, Falstaff and King Lear, often directed by Doran. They created an extraordinarily successful partnership, both personal and professional. Doran is not completely severing ties to the Company, remaining Emeritus Director, and taking part in celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio in 2023.

Sir Antony Sher

It’s not too late to sign up to a free online event taking place from 14.15 on Monday 16 May 2022 that will celebrate Sir Antony Sher’s life and many achievements. The Equality Festival, organised by the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon begins with Sher’s Shakespeare. It was recently announced that Gregory Doran will take part as part of a panel including Dame Harriet Walter, Amanda Harris and Alexandra Gilbreath.

Other speakers during the afternoon include Sir Stanley Wells, Professor Carol Rutter, Professor Russell Jackson and Professor Sir Jonathan Bate, and the Festival will go on until 15 June. It is free to register to take part in the virtual session, and here is the link.

 

 

Share
Posted in Legacy, Shakespeare on Stage, Stratford-upon-Avon | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Celebrating Gregory Doran and Sir Antony Sher

Happy 458th Birthday William Shakespeare

21st century William Shakespeare

A little late, I’m posting some photographs from the Parade on 23 April 2022, at Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon. There was a particularly celebratory feel to this event as people came together for the first time since 2019. It’s easy for residents of Stratford to forget to what extent their town is known around the world, but many nations are always represented in honouring the world’s most famous playwright. The conflict in Ukraine was not forgotten, with their flag flying at the top of Bridge Street, and many of the flowers laid at William Shakespeare’s grave were in the national colours of blue and yellow. I hope you enjoy the photograph gallery below.

All the photographs were taken by Charles Tompkins.

 

Share
Posted in Legacy, Stratford-upon-Avon | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Happy 458th Birthday William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Come Home – the story completed

The restored statue is revealed

On Friday 22 April 2022 the project to restore the 1769 statue of Shakespeare to the Town Hall was finally completed. I wrote recently about the process of conservation and placing the statue back in place. The money to carry out the work was raised through a community project that is also worth remembering. Rev Dr Paul Edmondson, Head of Research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, challenged local people to raise funds to restore the statue by a marathon reading of Shakespeare’s works entitled Shakespeare’s Coming Home!

From 1 to 12 March 2022 readings took place in the beautiful ballroom of the Town Hall. Famous actors including Harriet Walter, David Troughton, Michael Pennington and Janet Suzman all took part but perhaps more significantly so did hundreds of local people from businesses, cultural organisations and educational establishments.

Members of the Shakespeare Club ready to read All’s Well That Ends Well

Examples included Pericles read by the Greek restaurant El Greco, Titus Andronicus read by Stratford Town Walk, Romeo and Juliet by Playbox Theatre, and Richard II led by St Andrew’s Church Shottery. Stratford’s own Shakespeare Club read All’s Well That Ends Well. The Club has links with the Town Hall going right back to its earliest days in the 1820s when it was the only Shakespeare organisation in the town.  The project was carried out in conjunction with Stratford’s leading jewellers, Pragnells, which matched the funding raised by local donations. In the end, the aim of £45,000 was raised.

Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh having received the Freedom of Stratford-upon-Avon 22 April 2022

So Stratford-upon-Avon’s first Birthday Celebrations since 2019 began in fine style with the official opening of the statue with Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh removing its temporary cover. Both actors also received the Freedom of the Town of Stratford-upon-Avon, an honour also given to David Garrick in 1769 who originally gave the statue to the town.  David Garrick, like Dame Judi and Sir Kenneth, was the most celebrated Shakespeare actor of his day. Asked what privilege she would like to exercise as Freeman of the Town, Judi Dench asked to be allowed to herd sheep up the Town’s Sheep Street. The sheep were friskier than anticipated as you’ll see if you watch the video created by the Stratford on Avon Herald. It was a charmingly entertaining part of the event, but I think we can be sure that David Garrick didn’t do anything so undignified.

Share
Posted in Legacy, Stratford-upon-Avon | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Shakespeare’s Come Home – the story completed

Shakespeare’s Come Home!

The restored statue of Shakespeare on Stratford’s Town Hall

In August 2021 I wrote a post about the project to restore the 1769 statue  of Shakespeare that has stood in its niche on Stratford’s Town Hall ever since David Garrick gave it to the people of Stratford. It’s the only object that directly relates to David Garrick’s Jubilee that effectively turned Stratford-upon-Avon into a destination for visitors from all around the UK and indeed around the world.

It can’t be said to have had a happy time in the intervening 250 or so years during which weather, pollution, and even a fire have had terrible effects on its appearance. I didn’t expect much of an improvement, but conservator Rupert Harris has done a spectacular job of returning the statue to its original state. I spent much of Wednesday 20th April 2022 watching a team of workers, under Mr Harris’s supervision, carefully and delicately replacing it ready for its official unveiling by Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh. This will take place at 1pm on Friday 22 April as part of the Birthday Celebrations. Watching this process take place was a real treat.

The statue of Shakespeare donated by David Garrick before restoration

While waiting around I was lucky enough to be able to meet the conservator himself who showed me the date, September 1769, inscribed on the statue, hidden ever since it was hoisted into place. It’s the only lead statue he’s ever seen with a date on it – but then this was an important object, and a significant date. It was fantastic to see the statue up close: wrinkles on the breeches, embroidery on the stockings, details on the costumes of the monarchs, and even needle-holes on the shoes. Who would have guessed from its former appearance that the head of Shakespeare himself would  be so full of life?

The most striking difference is the statue’s colour. Lead statues imitated carved stone, so were always painted. Apparently there were still traces of paint on the back of the statue though that at the front had long since disappeared. I think you’ll agree the statue now looks magnificent and is a fitting memorial to both our Shakespeare and to David Garrick’s Jubilee. This corner in Stratford, with the newly-cleaned Town Hall and the restored statue is now how it was intended to be, an imposing site worthy of Shakespeare’s town.

Special thanks to Richard Morris for taking the photographs.

Share
Posted in Legacy, Stratford-upon-Avon | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Shakespeare’s Come Home!

Sir Antony Sher:”thou’lt come no more”

Antony Sher as Macbeth, RSC

This morning, 10 December 2021 was bright and sunny in Stratford-upon-Avon. We headed for the river for a walk while the sunshine was strong at this, the darkest time of year. Approaching Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried, we heard the slow toll of a single bell. A funeral. As we neared the west entrance to the churchyard we could see people, including actors and people from the theatre, striding along the path to the church. Tony Sher.

It became a pensive walk. Passing the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatres we remembered some of those roles we’ve seen Tony Sher perform over a period of well over thirty years. His Shakespeare career at the RSC began with the Fool in King Lear in 1982, memorably wearing a red nose, and ending with King Lear himself. In between, so many extraordinary performances: Richard III of course, Shylock, Malvolio, Vendice in The Revenger’s Tragedy, Tamburlaine, Macbeth, Leontes, Prospero, Falstaff. More recently, in modern plays: Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Kunene and the King. I particularly remember his outrageously funny Tartuffe, performed at the RSC’s intimate theatre the Pit at the Barbican. I’ve heard several accounts over the past week of how much painstaking preparation he put into creating performances that sometimes felt on the verge of being out of control.

You will have your own memories, and since the RSC’s announcement of Tony’s death on 3 December there have been many tributes including this one. You don’t need me to tell you what a powerful presence he bought to everything he did. Hearing Judi Dench trying to define his quality, and clips of his King Lear have  reminded me how ephemeral and elusive theatre performance is.

Gregory Doran and Antony Sher

This afternoon, back from another walk before the light faded, I received a message from a friend that the BBC’s Last Word, coming on in minutes, was to include a tribute to Tony Sher from his husband, the RSC’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran. They have formed an extraordinarily powerful partnership in the world of theatre, and not just in the UK.

Hearing Gregory Doran speak about their life together was very touching, and the best tribute Tony Sher could have wished for. “He was my all the world, and I’ll miss him very, very much”.

Here is the link to the programme: It’s the first item, just twelve minutes. It ends with a wonderful bit of Tony performing “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” from one of his most powerful performances, Macbeth.

Share
Posted in Legacy, Shakespeare on Stage | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Sir Antony Sher:”thou’lt come no more”

Shakespeare, bonfires and climate change

Guy Fawkes procession

Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, celebrated in the UK on 5 November, marks the anniversary of an attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605 while Shakespeare was living and working in London. Macbeth was his strongest response to the shocking events, but the plot must have had a subconscious impact into the lives of Londoners in the years that followed, colouring political and social life. The Thanksgiving Act, passed by Parliament at the end of 1605, made sure it was not forgotten, with annual church services to commemorate the failure of the plot being held for the next 200 years. I wrote about some of the long-term impact of the Plot back in 2014

Even now the events of Guy Fawkes Night, or our way of celebrating them, are related to current events.  Checking back over my posts, I found that for instance in 2011 Guy Fawkes masks were worn by protestors trying to “Occupy Wall Street”, and a few years ago Donald Trump’s effigy was burned in London.

Gunpowder, treason and plot: Guy Fawkes and the Shakespeare connection

In the last couple of years global attention has shifted to the impact of COVID 19 and climate change.

Fireworks display at Alexandra Palace

Last year this article noted the spike in airborne pollution caused by fireworks. Most organised displays were cancelled in 2020 to avoid crowds gathering during the COVID 19 outbreak, but this may have resulted in more fireworks being let off in back gardens across the country.

This year, 2021, Bonfire Night coincides with the COP 26 conference in Glasgow. The pollution caused by fireworks is probably small compared with other sources but this article from 2018 notes that it’s often the most polluted night of the year, and in 2010 “estimated emissions from bonfires lit for Guy Fawkes celebrations were greater than those created by municipal waste incineration over the entire year”. It is suggested that the effects were not just short term, the extra pollutants in the atmosphere contributing to “the detrimental impact to the health of the planet”.

We might think this is a modern problem, but this post by Sarah Hovde from the Folger Shakespeare Library notes that even in Roman times there were concerns about the effects of fires on air quality, and that in 1661, just a few decades after Shakespeare’s time, John Evelyn wrote a treatise against air pollution called Fumifugium, and proposals to reduce pollution were discussed by Parliament. Shakespeare might not have recognised our twenty-first century problems associated with global warming, but he knew that “rheumy and unpurged air” was bad for our health, just as fresh air and the natural world was good for it.

Share
Posted in Legacy, Shakespeare's World | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Shakespeare, bonfires and climate change

Judi Dench’s Shakespeare connection: Who Do You Think You Are?

Dame Judi Dench

For years now Who Do You Think You Are has been great TV, but the episode featuring Dame Judi Dench on 19 October 2021 was outstanding. The programme uncovers aspects of the family history of celebrities and has covered everything from destitution to connections with royalty. This one, though, revealed that one of Judi Dench’s ancestors probably saw a performance by Will Kemp at Elsinore, the castle setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

It was a complicated story, starting with Dame Judi’s already-known Irish heritage. One of her distant ancestors married and went to Copenhagen in Denmark and through this ancestor she is related to the great astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). In an age before modern scientific method, Brahe’s great contribution was to make accurate astronomical observations that could then be used by other scientists. One of these was Johannes Kepler, most famous for defining the laws of planetary motion,  who worked as Brahe’s assistant. This link alone would have made an interesting programme, but there was a lot more.

Astronomer Tycho Brahe, 1586

Brahe came from a prominent Danish family, ensuring that he received an excellent education and giving him enough influence with King Frederick II to be granted funds for an observatory where he could collect data. This was set up in the mid 1570s and attracted visitors from around Europe. But the reason why Brahe was part of Judi Dench’s story was really to do with two of his relatives, who feature on this engraving of Brahe published in 1586 showing him surrounded by the names and heraldic shields of his noble relations.

Among them are two families, Guldesteren and Rosenkrans, names familiar to anyone who knows Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. In the many sources for the play, the two devious courtiers who attempt to betray the protagonist are not named, and when Shakespeare came to give them names in his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the only characters with genuinely Danish names.

Does the picture itself help to solve the question of how Shakespeare arrived at these names? Did he know the picture? If so, how? The image has been known for many years. Harold Jenkins in his 1982 Arden edition of Hamlet refuses to get over-excited at the possibilities. He thinks it isn’t necessary for Shakespeare to have known about Brahe and his work, and it’s unlikely that Shakespeare saw the engraving in the house of English astronomer Thomas Digges as some have suggested. He notes that both were common names: several members of both families attended the court of Frederick II, and one in ten of the noblemen who attended the coronation of his successor Christian IV bore one of the names.

The programme then put forward another way in which Shakespeare might have heard the names Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

During the 1580s English performers went on tour to the Continent and the Earl of Leicester’s Men, including William Kemp, accompanied Leicester on his diplomatic mission to the Low Countries and Denmark in 1585-6. The document noting Kemp’s appearance before King Frederick II at court still exists and indicates that the King paid the players himself. This is not a new discovery but it is still thrilling to see the handwritten entry.

William Kemp

A few years later Kemp was employed as the Clown in Shakespeare’s company, and Shakespeare wrote the part of Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing and possibly the part of Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream for him. Kemp might have told stories of his foreign adventures in 1585 including the names of courtiers, and Shakespeare remembered them when he started to work on his own Hamlet story. By the late 1590s though there was a falling out and Kemp left the company. Perhaps Shakespeare no longer wanted to write plays in which Kemp would be the star of the show. It’s referred to in Hamlet itself in the Prince’s advice to the players.

And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them; for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too. (3.2.40-5)

Finally it was suggested that as Judi Dench’s ancestor was a lady in waiting at the court of King Frederick at Elsinore she almost certainly attended one of Kemp’s performances.

It’s quite a story. I read one comment complaining that the programme misrepresents historical research by making it look easy, and while this is undoubtedly true, it does a fantastic job of exploring the less obvious treasures held by our Library and Archive Collections. I’d like to congratulate too the archivists who explain the significance of documents and images for the lay person, whose pleasure in sharing the stories is always delightful. And I’m in awe of the amazing researchers who chase up obscure links and the writers who pull all the elements together to make a compelling piece of TV, in this case covering over 400 years.

If you have a British TV licence the whole thing is available on IPlayer here:

But if not, Who Do You Think You Are’s YouTube channel has clips from past episodes. The following four clips are all there:

The Irish connection

From the Danish National Archives

Elsinore and the Danish Royal family

William Kemp and Shakespeare

Share
Posted in Shakespeare's World, Sources | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Judi Dench’s Shakespeare connection: Who Do You Think You Are?