Folgerpedia: a new resource for Shakespeare

Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Shakespeare Library

Washington D C’s Folger Shakespeare Library has just announced an exciting new initiative.   “Folgerpedia is the Folger Shakespeare Library’s collaboratively-edited encyclopedia of all things “Folger.” Articles address each topic as it relates to the Folger and the Folger collection. Folgerpedia began in 2014, and runs on the MediaWiki platform (the same software as Wikipedia).”

This blog post explains in more detail, and here are a couple of extracts from the post that explain a bit more about how you can join in:
Folgerpedia presents a source for information generated by you: readers, researchers, scholars, and Folger friends who wish to share your knowledge, your research process and its results, data you have generated using our collections, and more. We encourage you to share information on your favorite topics and to collaborate with others who share your interests while also learning from users who generate content on Folgerpedia….

Along with providing strong scholarly content, Folgerpedia acts as a repository for the Folger’s past performances and special events, exhibitions, seminars, colloquia and conferences. We have archived past programs from Folger Theatre, Folger Consort, O B Hardison Poetry Series, Folger Institute, and much more in Folgerpedia.

Folgerpedia-The articles on these topics in Folgerpedia grant access to information that has long needed a useful home. Now, researchers of all types—from casual visitors, undergraduates, Institute attendees, docents, staff members, and advanced scholars—can approach and work with the Folger in an entirely new way.

It’s a great idea: organising and describing the varied materials within a collection is difficult enough: organising information relating to items within the collection is another challenge. Catalogues aren’t the place to put information about how different items link to each other, or where a particularly elusive bit of information was found. At the Folger, expert staff have created masses of material to build exhibitions, write lectures, deliver education programs or answer enquiries. Nobody should ever have to do all that work again. My own blog has been a place for me to put some of the knowledge I’ve gleaned over the years, and to find and pull together linked information on particular subjects using the internet. But blogs are organised in a linear way, and linking by subject is clumsy: an encyclopaedia format like Wikipedia where articles can change over time is much better. And allowing readers to contribute significant information themselves means that it can grow quickly. For anyone who’s done any work on Wikipedia (and I’ve done a little), the editing process will be similar but Folgerpedia contributors will have to be approved before they get going.

And having worked in another major Shakespeare collection, I know that there is a lot of crossover between collections. I’m aware, for instance, that the Folger has much material from the nineteenth-century antiquarian Halliwell-Phillipps including a set of research notebooks on the plays related to those kept in Stratford and a set of detailed sketches made to show the restoration work on the Birthplace, that it has American impresario Augustin Daly’s set of volumes relating to his Shakespeare productions, while he presented a similar set to the theatre in Stratford, and that the Folger has recently acquired the Gordon Goode photographic archive relating to RSC productions in the 1960s.

Researchers at the Folger have often done research at other major Shakespeare collections: the British Library, Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, Birmingham Shakespeare Library, Shakespeare Institute Library, V&A Library, Dulwich College Library and many others. There’s tremendous potential to bring knowledge of the collections together. But even if all you want to do is look, do follow the links above to find the resources that are already available.

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Shakespeare’s mulberry and New Place

Shakespeare's mulberry

Shakespeare’s mulberry

My current research on the development of celebrations for Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon has really focused my attention on the importance of the historic mulberry tree and the site of New Place in the story of the preservation of Shakespeare’s town.

Both the original tree and the house were destroyed in the 1750s. The story is well known. The Reverend Francis Gastrell who lived at New Place became increasingly impatient with “pilgrims” wanting to see the mulberry tree which, by tradition, Shakespeare himself had planted in his garden. Eventually Gastrell was so fed up that he had the tree cut down and sold the wood  to the entrepreneurial Thomas Sharpe who turned it into many souvenirs. Items made from the tree almost assumed the status of holy relics: goblets and cups of mulberry wood continued to be used for toasts during the annual birthday dinners up to the 1840s.

Then Gastrell got into an argument with the local council over taxes. Gastrell’s response to anything he didn’t like seems to have been to destroy it. And so Shakespeare’s last home, or what remained of it (his actual house had already been replaced in about 1700), was knocked down.

I’ve always been rather sceptical about the story that Gastrell was drummed out of town following this action: the house stood almost next door to the Guild Hall where Council meetings were held: if feeling ran so high why wasn’t the demolition stopped? But I’ve been surprised to find the fate of the mulberry tree and New Place mentioned as a source of shame and as a warning to townspeople about the need for them to protect Shakespeare’s heritage against exploitation.

Garrick's mulberry wood casket

Garrick’s mulberry wood casket

Only a few years later the town built an impressive new Town Hall, a symbol of its aspirations. In order to show its loyalty to Shakespeare it invited the great Shakespearean actor David Garrick to donate a statue to decorate it. To woo him, he was offered the freedom of the borough, presented in a box made of the wood of the sacred mulberry tree. Garrick ran away with the idea and created the famous three-day Jubilee in 1769.

The tree itself was replaced by a “scion” or cutting of the original tree, and this still stands in New Place Garden. References to it begin to appear when the celebrations of his birthday began in earnest. It was an essential part of the 1830 “Temple of Shakespeare” which was set up “embracing and canopying his Mulberry tree within his garden of New Place”. This structure was compared with the elegant pleasure gardens of Ranelagh and Vauxhall.

In 1833 the Warwickshire Advertiser announced that there were to be celebrations in Stratford again: “Several of the gentlemen of the neighbourhood, as well as several visitors from Warwick, Birmingham and other towns, with a few admirers of Shakespeare from the metropolis, mean to join the townspeople of Stratford”. Marking the day was almost a religious duty: “The worthy Mayor, Thomas Mills, Esq. [is] …one who remembers the sacrilegious down-cutting and up-rooting of Shakespeare’s mulberry tree…and his younger fellow-townsmen will need no exhortation from us to support him”. The tree-felling to which it refers had happened 70 years previously.

The following year Dr Conolly made a passionate speech linking the mulberry tree with the issue of honouring Shakespeare’s memory in his town.
The ruin of Shakespeare’s house, that house in which he lived and died, the sacrilegious destruction of his Mulberry Tree, the loss of almost every relic of him… are all melancholy proofs that for a long time after his death there was either an indifference to his immortal memory, or the want of a Shakespearean Club to concentrate individual regard and give it an honorable utility. You cannot raise his mansion from the dust, nor restore the original colours of his monument, you cannot make the mulberry tree put forth the green leaves and crimson fruit once more, but his works, his unrivalled works remain… they flourish with a perpetual spring, and of their precious fruits men will gather to the end of time. 

By 1835 the Shakespearean Monumental Committee had been set up chaired by Dr Conolly. The immediate aim was to preserve the chancel of Holy Trinity Church with its Shakespearean graves, but the Committee was already thinking beyond that “even to the purchase of the site of New Place…a spot which, being yet unencroached upon, they are most desirous of guarding from new erections and consecrating to the memory of him whose name has rendered it in their estimation, hallowed ground”.

The site of New Place

The site of New Place

When the estate of New Place became available in 1861 historian Halliwell-Phillipps acquired it specifically in order to protect it.  He aimed to make the estate over to the Corporation of Stratford-on-Avon, laying down conditions that “the purchase [was to be] for the free use of the public for ever, of property which formerly belonged to Shakespeare …upon Trust, that the Public should for ever have free access, and that no building should ever be erected on it”.  As so often in the long story of the Shakespeare properties, it didn’t quite work out like this, and the property was made over to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1875, after the small theatre that had been in the garden since 1827 had been demolished.

The site of New Place and its garden have indeed been left and remain almost unchanged. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is currently considering the future of the site. We may no longer see it as “hallowed ground”, but it is to be hoped that Halliwell-Phillipps’ intention to ensure the garden was  freely accessible to the public and the whole site clear of buildings will be honoured in this most atmospheric and historic corner of the town.

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Shakespeare and Stratford-upon-Avon in World War 1

Stratford's War Memorial

Stratford’s War Memorial

In Stratford, as in towns all over the UK, events are being held marking the beginning of the First World War. At Hall’s Croft, close to the peaceful garden containing the town’s War Memorial, a small exhibition has just opened that aims to connect memories of local events and people with Shakespeare, whose work was and still is used to encourage patriotic fervour, to rally troops in conflict, to comfort those in grief, and to bring harmony.

Among the sad photographs of young men in uniform, the medals, the telegram bringing the news of a soldier’s death, I was particularly struck by a book, Cecil Eldred Hughes’ 1904 compilation The Praise of Shakespeare. The book had belonged to Captain G P Tregelles, killed in action 1 July 1916. While an undergraduate, in 1912, the young man had visited Stratford and the Shakespeare Memorial Library where W Salt Brassington had shown him some of the “treasures” contained in the theatre’s collections. Captain Tregelles had left instructions that if he was killed, he wanted his book to be sent to the Library. He placed so much value on it that he wanted to ensure it would be enjoyed by others.

In his letter, his father summed up to terrible cost of war: “My boy had an active original mind and took a keen interest in literature… Had he lived he might have done some good work in that line”. So much promise, all lost.

Another Shakespeare book that had significance for soldiers in World War 1 was the Kitchener Shakespeare, a copy of which is also on display. After Lord Kitchener’s death in 1916 a fund was set up, the money raised to benefit those disabled during the war. Each man was to receive a collected edition of the works of Shakespeare, in the hope that they would be “a source of pride and satisfaction, a source of genuine and personal gratification, a source of genuine and personal solace”. It’s hard for us today to imagine how this could have seemed an appropriate gift.

The Dillen

The Dillen

George Hewins, a Stratford man who received a copy, was clearly not impressed. Handicapped after being seriously wounded in battle, and desperately short of money, he remembered the event years later: “He gave me a book: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: a book! Somebody had writ inside: “It is hoped that this will always keep you in mind of the true greatness and glory of the cause for which you have fought and suffered”.

My own strongest impressions of wartime Stratford come from the book I’ve just quoted, The Dillen. It began as an oral history project in which Angela Hewins and her husband, the grandson of George Hewins, interviewed the old man over three years in the late 1970s. Angela went on to shape this mass of material into a chronological account. It presented a completely unknown side of Stratford. Hewins had been born in the workhouse, and was one of the poorest people in Stratford, a town undergoing gentrification. George and his family lived a hand to mouth existence, though he became a skilled bricklayer able to support his eight children. This didn’t stop him being sent to the front where he fought and was hit by a shell.
There was going to be a big battle. We could smell it. We could smell the ammunition coming up….As soon as they started to bring up jars o’rum for us, we knowed that we’d be in it… Half-past-five under cover of a barrage, we went…It was busting everywhere. There was only about a hundred yards between us as Jerry… I moved quick. It was hand-to-hand fighting. We wasn’t drunk, but we was awkward. They’d given us enough rum to make us awkward.

The RSC poster for The Dillen

The RSC poster for The Dillen

On returning home George suffered terrible nightmares: “I fancied I was still in the trenches, with the rats running all over: swarms o’rats with yella eyes and big fat bellies… I used to get off the seat and crouch underneath it, eyes shut, hands over my ears”. When he finally managed to get a job his pension was severely cut leaving him as badly off as ever.

In the 1980s, following the publication of The Dillen the RSC decided to stage the book as a play, using the town itself as a backdrop. Ron Hutchinson’s brilliant adaptation was staged in 1983 and again in 1985. Beautifully directed by Barry Kyle, the stroke of genius was to use 200 townspeople to act as extras, binding the town to the theatre as it hadn’t been for decades. It began and ended at The Other Place, but in between the cast and audience moved around the oldest part of the town, encountering pea pickers in a field, a scene with Half-Pint Ginny on a disused railway track, a music hall scene that moved George on from being a carefree lad to father of eight. After the interval the audience huddled in a tent as we saw and heard the explosions of WW1 across darkened waste land. Then we formed a torchlight procession, walking through the quiet streets where costumed figures stood on doorsteps, and as we passed the war memorial the names of the fallen were read out. It was eerily atmospheric.

Ron Cook as George Hewins

Ron Cook as George Hewins

The cast was led by the always excellent Ron Cook, with Peggy Mount playing his aunt Cal. The production came just in time – the disused land has since become a housing estate and the town’s Southern Relief Road. But I can’t be the only person who would love to see a revival of The Dillen in some form.

If you would like to read more, I recommend Nicholas Fogg’s book Stratford, A Town At War, 1914-1918, and the Hall’s Croft exhibition Cry “havoc!” And let slip the dogs of war continues all summer.

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Shakespeare in Love – the play

A scene from the stage version of Shakespeare In Love

A scene from the stage version of Shakespeare In Love

This evening, 23 July, is the official opening of the new London West End play Shakespeare in Love, Lee Hall’s new version of the much-loved 1998 film of the same name. Rumours have been circulating about this play ever since it began in preview a couple of weeks ago and the Daily Telegraph and a couple of others have got their reviews in already. The reviews are great – the Telegraph called it “the best British comedy since One Man, Two Guvnors and deserves equal success” and gave it five stars. Here’s the trailer.

A still from the film Shakespeare In Love, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes

A still from the film Shakespeare In Love, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes

Shakespeare in Love is one of my all-time favourite films, with a great cast and brilliant screenplay by Tom Stoppard, one of the cleverest writers around. This article from the New York Times explains how a few years ago Tom Stoppard was persuaded to rewrite the film as a play, that was subsequently scrapped, and looks at how they approached the adaptation of such a successful movie.

Despite the departure of the man who wrote the screenplay, the stage version remains a faithful adaptation: About 90 percent of the film script — full of witty banter and words of love — has been retained, Mr. Hall said. (The dialogue-heavy play is a relatively rare instance of a recent movie adaptation that isn’t a musical.) But in other ways the play feels a world apart from the film. Not only are there 30 minutes of added dialogue, lifted from Shakespeare,  written by Mr. Hall (a Tony winner for the book for “Billy Elliot the Musical,” another screen-to-stage work), but also an abundance of imaginative staging choices by the director, Declan Donnellan.

Lee Hall’s adaptation was created by closely working with Declan Donnellan and  designer Nick Ormerod, the great Cheek by Jowl partnership. The original film was very much about the business of getting a play into the theatre and they’ve carried this idea even further. Here’s a link to a video about designing the play, and another to an interview with the director about staging it.

It’s probably a sign of confidence that they’re opening the play in the West End without a provincial run first, and with a cast of twenty-eight, an almost unheard-of number in recent years. The cast is led by Lucy Briggs-Owen as Viola De Lesseps and Tom Bateman as Shakespeare. Anna Carteret plays Queen Elizabeth. Taking a cue from the film there is even a dog called Spot.

Booking is now open until 25 October. I’ve got my tickets already but a word of warning: if you want to buy tickets, get them from the official Delfont Mackintosh site rather than the very expensive ticket agency.

And if, like me, you’re a great fan of the film, here’s a link to the information about it on the Internet Movie Database. Whatever the stage play is like, there will always be the film to enjoy.

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HyperHamlet

Hamlet from the Gower Memorial

Hamlet from the Gower Memorial

Hamlet has got to be the most frequently quoted or alluded to work of literature ever written. People may not even realise they are quoting from the play when they say “Neither a borrower or a lender be”, “more in sorrow than in anger”, or “frailty, thy name is woman”. The play has supplied countless titles for books of all kinds, and it is quoted or alluded to in many plays, films and TV programmes, as well as interviews and news reports.

At the recent British Shakespeare Association conference Sixta Quassdorf from the University of Basel introduced us to a new project which she is working on in her paper : HyperHamlet – A database of Quotations from and Allusions to Shakespeare’s Most Famous Tragedy.

hamlet-vermicompostingThe database contains references to Hamlet from over four centuries, with 10,000 entries written by well over 3000 different writers. A huge variety of sources has been scoured for data including annotated editions, allusion books, and the work of writers like Dickens. It includes modified quotations, verbal and acoustic echoes. You can search by work, by author, by language or by period, or you can just scan the text and see what comes up. A full explanation is given here.

hamlet catAlthough Sixta used some images in her presentation, sadly the database doesn’t include pictures. But perhaps that’s just as well: as well as cartoons like the one above advertising the latest thing in worm composting they would have to include ones like this sour-faced cat.

So famous are the lines, the story line and images such as Hamlet with the skull, that it can be used for just about anything. I bought the teapot pictured below on Ebay some years ago. Shakespeare’s head is the lid of the pot, and the scroll is the spout. I was particularly taken by the label on the base that warns the owner not to use it as a teapot, and that the line which appears on it, “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well Horatio” is a misquotation. Both useless and wrong, brilliant!

Shakespeare teapot

Shakespeare teapot

To go back to the database: it is a lot of fun, but there is a more serious aim, which is to gather empirical evidence relating to Shakespeare’s influence over other writers over the centuries. Are some lines more popular at different times, or in different parts of the world? It hopes to provide material for future research, asking what has Shakespeare contributed to the work of other creative writers and to the language itself.

Best of all, the team at Basel are encouraging people to contribute quotations and allusions that they find for themselves. I have no idea of the source of the story, but in a paper I heard about David Garrick’s performance of Hamlet the lecturer explained it was so popular that young men would greet each other exclaiming “Angels and ministers of grace defend us” and do an impression of Garrick’s famous pose that he struck when the Ghost appeared to him on the battlements. Garrick so wanted to make a big impact at this moment that he used a mechanical device concealed in his wig to make it appear that his hair was standing on end. I have no evidence for either of these extraordinary bits of stage history except that I’ve heard respectable academics state them (so they must be true). I can’t help feeling that they should be represented somewhere on the HyperHamlet database though!

I’ve found it fascinating to read some of the quotations on the site – many by authors I’ve not even heard of. Do take a look at the website and if you know of a reference they’ve missed, the instructions for how to contribute are given on the site.

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W B Yeats and Stratford-upon-Avon

Frank Benson as Richard II

Frank Benson as Richard II

For the Spring Festival in April 1901 in Stratford-upon-Avon F R Benson put on a cycle of Shakespeare’s history plays that quickly became known as the Week of Kings. England’s turbulent history must have been a subject of great interest following the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January after a 63-year reign during which the country enjoyed decades of growth, reform and social improvements. Coming at the start of a new century it was also a time for looking forward.

The cycle consisted of six of Shakespeare’s plays, performed in historical sequence, at the time an ambitious programme that attracted a good deal of attention.

Among the interested visitors in April 1901 was the celebrated Irish poet and leading literary figure W B Yeats He came to see the Week of Kings, staying in the comfort of the Shakespeare Hotel. He wrote two essays for The Speaker describing his impressions of both Stratford and the performances, reprinted later as a single essay In Stratford-on-Avon. Click the link for the full essay.

W B Yeats

W B Yeats

Yeats was seduced by the whole experience. He disliked almost nothing in Stratford, and just now, in high summer, while the town and its river are looking particularly lovely, it’s interesting to read an extract of the essay considering how much has changed, yet how some things still remain:
One passes through quiet streets, where gabled and red-tiled houses remember the Middle Age, to a theatre that has been made not to make money, but for the pleasure of making it, like the market houses that set the traveller chuckling; nor does one find it among hurrying cabs and ringing pavements, but in a green garden by a river side.

Inside I have to be content for a while with a chair, for I am unexpected, and there is not an empty seat but this; and yet there is no one who has come merely because one must go somewhere after dinner. All day, too, one does not hear or see an incongruous or noisy thing, but spends the hours reading the plays, and the wise and foolish things men have said of them, in the library of the theatre, with its oak-panelled walls and leaded windows of tinted glass; or one rows by reedy banks and by old farmhouses, and by old churches among great trees.

It is certainly one’s fault if one opens a newspaper, for Mr. Benson gives one a new play every night, and one need talk of nothing but the play in the inn-parlour, under the oak beams blackened by time and showing the mark of the adze that shaped them.  

I have seen this week King John, Richard II, the second part of Henry IV, Henry V, the second part of Henry VI, and Richard III, played in their right order, with all the links that bind play to play unbroken; and partly because of a spirit in the place, and partly because of the way play supports play, the theatre has moved me as it has never done before.

That strange procession of kings and queens, of warring nobles, of insurgent crowds, of courtiers, and of people of the gutter has been to me almost too visible, too audible, too full of an unearthly energy. I have felt as I have sometimes felt on grey days on the Galway shore, when a faint mist has hung over the grey sea and the grey stones, as if the world might suddenly vanish and leave nothing behind, not even a little dust under one’s feet. The people my mind’s eye has seen have too much of the extravagance of dreams, like all the inventions of art before our crowded life had brought moderation and compromise, to seem more than a dream, and yet all else has grown dim before them.

Frank and Constance Benson as Henry V and the Princess of France in the wooing scene from Henry V

Frank and Constance Benson as Henry V and the Princess of France in the wooing scene from Henry V

It is certainly still possible to feel that sense of immersion in Shakespeare that Yeats describes, conveyed powerfully by Frank Benson and his company. Looking at photographs of him in action, and even a short clip of silent move, it can be hard to take Benson’s acting seriously. He never had the star quality of Irving, and carried on playing leading roles much longer than he should have. But in 1901 he was performing well, and in a letter written at the same time as his essay, quoted in J C Trewin’s book Benson and the Bensonians, Yeats compared the Benson Company with their contemporaries:
They speak their verse not indeed perfectly, but less imperfectly, than any other players upon our stage, and the stage management is more imaginative than that of other companies…I thought Mr Benson’s Henry the Fifth nearly as good as his Richard the Second, and admired how he kept that somewhat crude King, as Mr Waller did not, from becoming vulgar in the love scene at the end when the language of passion has to become the instrument of policy.

So much did Yeats approve that later that year Benson’s company was to stage Yeats’ play Diarmuid and Grania, co-written with George Moore, at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. It was a story from Irish mythology, its dramatic scenes, some found, reminiscent of Wagnerian opera. A transfer to London had been intended, but after four performances the play was quietly dropped.

While it may have been appropriate for English actors to perform Shakespeare in Ireland, the time was past when they could present a tale so central to Irish culture. In 1904 Yeats co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Many years later in his history of the Abbey Theatre Gerard Fay noted that the play “had a place in Irish theatre history – that it was the last time Dubliners had to call in English actors before they could see a production of an Irish play.”

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Shakespeare and the Digital World

shakespeare and the digital worldAnd now, a plug. Last month saw the publication by Cambridge University Press of Shakespeare and the Digital World, Redefining Scholarship and Practice, edited by Christie Carson and Peter Kirwan, to which I have contributed one of the seventeen individual chapters. I’ve not had time yet to read most of the essays, but looking at the book as a whole my first thought was that Shakespeare is being given a book all to himself (as so often).  The way we do almost everything is being changed in the digital world, so what makes him a special case? Fortunately in their excellent introduction Carson and Kirwan begin by addressing this issue, suggesting that “The sheer volume of material that is published online or in print that refers to Shakespeare makes it a verifiable and distinct cultural entity of considerable weight [that]…positions it as a leader for other areas of the humanities.”  The editors also consider, when looking at the other element of the title “digital”, that in the area of Shakespeare studies, perhaps more than others, there is a battle going on between “strong established practice and innovation”.

One factor, then, is the amount of material, and this certainly led academics to bring the organisational power of the computer to Shakespeare studies. I’m a librarian rather than an academic, and one of the first computer projects I was aware of was a reference book, Marvin Spevack’s 1973 Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare,  listing alphabetically each word used by Shakespeare, giving the line in which it appears and a reference to where it occurs in the words. The Shakespeare concordance was by no means a new idea, but the computer made it reliable: for most people the printed concordance has now been replaced by a searchable online edition. One of Shakespeare’s other advantages for those wishing to undertake digital projects is that not only have Shakespeare’s original folios and quartos never been subject to copyright, many editions of his work, early critical studies, artistic and musical interpretations, are out of copyright. This frees up swathes of material work that isn’t available for more modern authors.

In my career as a librarian I worked on several projects that involved the digitisation of analogue material including artwork and photographs from the Shakespeare Centre Library. As it happens some of these were led by two of the contributors to Shakespeare and the Digital World. Christie Carson’s King Lear CD-ROM project and her later online Designing Shakespeare project used large numbers of images from the performance collections.  Meanwhile Peter Holland had worked on a commercial online site featuring material including designs and playbills documenting the history of Shakespeare’s plays. My own contribution to the book relates my experiences moving from being a “gamekeeper”, managing the commercial and intellectual exploitation of the collections, to a “poacher”, an independent blogger wanting, often, to discuss Shakespeare in the context of materials in collections. Organisations have to overcome difficult issues, but in the two years since I wrote my chapter several have opened up access to large image collections, including the British Library and Getty Images. It’s being realised that opening up offers potential benefits in increasing visibility for both the collection and the organisation as a whole. For both organisations it’s only a partial opening of the door: each retains its commercial licensing operations. Jonathan Jones has written a provocative article about this process,  and here’s an article on Getty Images.

Carson and Kirwan’s introduction on the physical nature of the book as opposed to the website leads Erin Sullivan, one of the contributors, into a discussion on her own experience transforming the website A Year of Shakespeare into the book of the same name. Converting a website into a book is a fairly unusual concept in its own right, and in her 7 July post on her Digital Shakespeares blog, Technology and the book,  she makes interesting observations about the difference between browsing the book in its linear order rather than the more random organisation of a website.

She has been given the responsibility of ensuring that the website is archived, and I have been interested to read about her experiences. Archiving a book, she notes, is easy, because once it’s published the content is unchangeable. But books take ages to get into print. The book Shakespeare and the Digital World has taken two years to publish, during which time there was a real possibility that articles would become out of date. A website would have published articles as soon as they were written and been updated as new developments occurred. But as she comments, “The website … was faster and more responsive in its publication, but has been quicker to deteriorate”. Information professionals will probably not be surprised to read that in order to ensure that the website was properly archived “our archiving process has, perhaps paradoxically, involved printing out all of the website’s contents into a hard copy, and saving as much non-textual material as possible to CDs. In the process of doing so we’ve been surprised by how many of the website’s links, plug-ins, and videos have been broken or died in the 18 months since I stopped maintaining it regularly.” At the Society of Archivists conference in 2005 one speaker suggested digital files were a time-bomb, with problems of redundant formats and file corruption meaning that files had to be regularly recopied and updated to current formats. It was a sobering thought then, and remains so now, that the cost of archiving digital files makes buying physical books look cheap.

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From Warwick Pageant to theatre of war: the boy Shakespeare

The programme for the Warwick Pageant

The programme for the Warwick Pageant

In my post on 30 June I wrote about the Warwick Pageant, an extravaganza that took over the town of Warwick for a week in July 1906. It had taken months of planning, costume-making, and rehearsing, and around 1500 people appeared in the pageant.

As I mentioned in the post, the young Shakespeare was a key figure in the pageant, appearing in the episode showing Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth, and rounding off the whole performance. In the official programme, which kept all the performers anonymous, the player of this role is listed as “A boy from Stratford”. I was intrigued: who was this boy “of eight summers”?

The boys of Warwick School taking part in the pageant

The boys of Warwick School taking part in the pageant

I went to the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive to look up records of the pageant, and I found a collection of items that had belonged to Mrs Flower (of the Stratford brewing family). She had asked for a list of the Stratford people participating in the pageant, and the handwritten list is tipped in to the programme. The writer was Mr G W Everard, who I mentioned in my previous post, was himself a Stratford man, playing John Shakespeare. Among the items was a photograph of Mr Everard with the boy Shakespeare, on the back a pencilled note: M Bland. Who was he? He wasn’t listed among the pupils at KES, and although the archivist at Warwick School came up with the delightful fact that ALL the boys at Warwick School took part in the pageant, he was unable to help. I checked the Stratford Herald’s report of the Pageant. Referring to the boy Shakespeare it noted “Little Master Gordon Bland takes this part exceedingly well”. Stratfordians named Bland were few and far between, and as he didn’t appear on Mr Everard’s carefully-compiled list, maybe he wasn’t from Stratford at all?

I tried using online resources. The free Births Marriages and Deaths Online index found Malcolm Gordon Bland born in the Warwick district in the third quarter of 1898.  Census indexes found a Gordon Lyon Bland and his young family living in Leamington, but no child called Malcolm or Gordon.

The British Newspaper Archive’s free search supplies a tantalising line or two of content for each article, enough to show that Gordon Lyon Bland had been a wealthy brewer, part-owner of Lucas & Co. in Leamington. Mayor twice while in his thirties, he died in 1913 aged only 45. The description of the pageant itself names some of the participants, including, in the Kenilworth episode, Mrs Bland, the boy’s mother, a comforting presence for her son. Gordon Lyon Bland’s father James made a fortune in Liverpool importing timber, and built a mansion called Quarry Bank, later converted into a school attended by John Lennon, hence the name of his first group, The Quarrymen. So many distractions…

The chapel at Charterhouse School

The chapel at Charterhouse School

The 1911 census showed Malcolm Gordon Bland, from Warwickshire, living in Sussex. Was this the same boy, and what was he doing there? Then on a Google search I found a reference to the great public school Charterhouse, and a list of all the boys from the school who were killed in WW1. There was Malcolm Gordon Bland. It was a chilling find, and suddenly I wasn’t sure I wanted “the boy Shakespeare” to be Malcolm Gordon Bland.

To establish the facts I took out a 14-day free trial of Ancestry, and the information flowed. His christening record confirmed the names of his parents. The images of the census returns for 1901 showed the indexes were wrongly transcribed and he was there after all, age 2. The 1911 census showed him at Wellington House in Sussex, a prep school that specialised in training boys to shoot, with one of his brothers and a cousin. And an image of his army record showed that he had been a 2nd Lieutenant in the first battalion of The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, killed on active service on 23 March 1918. The document includes the name and address of his widowed mother who would receive the awful news of his death.

The War Memorial at Arras

The War Memorial at Arras

He’s remembered at the Chapel at Charterhouse, in Surrey, one of nearly 700 pupils who died in the Great War, and his name is inscribed on the great Arras Memorial in France.

Malcolm Bland had gone to France in August 1917, just after his 19th birthday. Just a few months later he was killed, probably at the Battle of St Quentin. There are very few records of his life, because it had barely started. He must have been a precocious child, performing in front of thousands at the Pageant at just eight. He had received the best education money could buy, and had he lived would probably have followed his father to university in Cambridge before pursuing a career in one of the professions. But being born into a wealthy, privileged family was no protection in wartime.

Malcolm Gordon Bland, The boy Shakespeare

Malcolm Gordon Bland, The boy Shakespeare

His name does not seem to be on any local war memorial, and in the official records of the famous Warwick Pageant he remains anonymous. A few days ago I was sent information about the Royal British Legion’s Every Man Remembered project which aims to ensure that “every single man and woman who fell in the First World War [should be] … remembered by someone alive today.” Participants can return a poppy, with a tribute, which will be planted in Mons, Belgium, on 23 August commemorating 100 years since the first British man of the First World War was killed.

I’m going to be writing my tribute to Malcolm Gordon Bland, who may not have been “a boy from Stratford” but whose short life should still be remembered.

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Stirling Castle’s links to Shakespeare

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle

On my recent trip to Stirling for the British Shakespeare Association conference I made a point of visiting the city’s historic castle. Although I knew of its importance at a strategic spot overlooking the crossing of the River Forth, I was unaware of its history and in particular its Shakespeare connections.

I didn’t realise, for instance, that this castle was lived in by so many Scottish monarchs. Much of the castle has been gorgeously restored following years of neglect, and is now decorated as it might have been around the time of James V’s death in 1542. In 1538 he began to turn Stirling Castle into a glorious Renaissance palace like those he had seen in Europe. He was the father of Mary Queen of Scots, the mother of the Scottish king best known to Shakespeareans, King James VI, who became James 1 of England in 1603. Shakespeare and his company became the King’s Men, and many of his plays are known to have been performed before him.

The castle had always contained a chapel, but, as it became clear that Elizabeth would bear no children, James VI was her most obvious successor. When his son was born, the old Chapel Royal was demolished and rebuilt in only six months in order to provide a chapel fit for the baptism. This child was christened Henry (a reference to the English kings of that name). The chapel was lavishly decorated with pictures, tapestries, sculptures and a golden ceiling, with the font occupying the centre of the space. The baby was carried into the chapel through the new triumphal arch by the English Ambassador, and the event was so significant that James had an account of the baptism published in both London and Edinburgh. From his birth, then, Henry was seen as the heir to the throne of England, so his death at the age of 18 must have been truly devastating.

Unfortunately little remained to show what the gorgeous ceiling might have been light, but the decorative frieze in the chapel has been painstakingly restored to its appearance when it was first added for the expected coronation visit of Charles 1. The frieze was painted in 1628-9, but Charles’s visit did not occur until 1633.

DSC04758unicornThe internal decoration of the castle has been restored to something like its appearance during the reign of James V. As well as being sumptuously painted, other decorative features are being installed or re-created. An inventory of 1539 records that the castle contained two sets of tapestries telling the story of the mythical Unicorn. In an extraordinary project, a set of sixteenth-century Unicorn tapestries now in New York are being copied using traditional techniques. It’s a great privilege to see the painstaking and skilful work of the weavers in a special workshop. Each tapestry takes between two and four years to complete: several are already in place and the final one will be finished by the end of this year. Their detail and brilliant colours remind you of why these tapestries were so hugely expensive to produce.

Stirling heads: Hercules and the Nemean lion

Stirling heads: Hercules and the Nemean lion

The other special internal features are the Stirling heads, carved wooden bosses, brightly painted, that cover the ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall. The ones in situ are all modern copies, but in a special exhibition many of the originals are beautifully displayed. There’s a real variety of subjects from portraits of known members of the court, through representations of the Nine Worthies (a truncated, comic version of the pageant of the Nine Worthies is staged in Love’s Labour’s Lost, showing what a popular subject this was), and several showing Hercules, the ultimate moral man, with whom James V associated himself.

Stirling heads: the jester

Stirling heads: the jester

One of the heads represents the court jester, a popular entertainer. James IV had a jester, as did James V, John Bute, known as ‘gentil John ye Inglise fule’. Archibald Armstrong became James VI’s jester who remained in royal service into the reign of Charles 1.  Touchstone in As You Like It and, particularly, the fool in King Lear are outspoken court fools who have an influence in Shakespeare’s plays.

It’s not spectacular like the state rooms or the Great Hall, but the Prince’s Tower is an important part of the Castle. It was built around 1500 and was traditionally the nursery of Scotland’s monarchs. From the time of James 1 of Scotland onwards, royal children were raised in the safety of Stirling Castle and seven successive monarchs began their reigns as children.

The Prince's Tower, Stirling Castle

The Prince’s Tower, Stirling Castle

The Prince’s Tower is where James VI was taught by the Protestant scholar George Buchanan, and Henry, his son, also received his education here before his father was declared king of England. James left the castle, and Scotland, in 1603, returning only once, in 1617. It’s said that he found he could rule Scotland from London, so found no need to go back to his native country.

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Remembering Sir Laurence Olivier

The statue of Laurence Olivier outside the National Theatre, London

The statue of Laurence Olivier outside the National Theatre, London

Friday 11 July 2014 is the 25th anniversary of Laurence Olivier’s death in 1989. By chance I was in the RST that evening and before the performance artistic director Terry Hands delivered an onstage tribute to Olivier. At the end of his speech, Hands suggested that rather than stand for the usual minute’s silence, the entire audience should give Sir Laurence a standing ovation. It was an appropriate response to the extraordinary achievements of Olivier as an actor and director.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum on 11 July, at 18.30, there will be a talk by biographer Philip Ziegler, who will speak about some of the highlights of Olivier’s career while actors Maureen Lipman and Ronald Pickup, will recall their experiences of working with him.

Laurence Olivier as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, 1922

Laurence Olivier as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, 1922

It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole quarter of a century. Other actors of his generation have dropped out of popular consciousness, but Olivier’s name is still famous. His first performance in Stratford was as a 14-year old schoolboy in 1922 when he appeared at Kate in The Taming of the Shrew in a production featuring the boys of All Saints School in London. It received much attention and the praise of Ellen Terry and Sybil Thorndike, who described him as “the best Shrew I ever saw – a bad-tempered little bitch”.

His professional acting career began early, with a couple of seasons at that great cradle of talent, the Birmingham Rep. London soon beckoned, and although the energy and charisma of his performances were praised he was often unfavourably compared with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, both great stage actors. His career took him to Hollywood as well as London and he became the most famous and glamorous of English actors.

After the war he continued to cement his reputation, but was aware that theatre needed to move in new directions. In 1956 Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger shook the theatre world, but even before that Olivier had been involved in a minor revolution in the unlikely setting of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. In 1955 he joined forces to perform Titus Andronicus, directed by the young and revolutionary  Peter Brook. It was the only play in the accepted Shakespeare canon that had not been produced in Stratford, and when it had been performed at the Old Vic in London the horrors had provoked laughter. Brook sought to ensure this would not happen. Unsettling sounds were played, and in this bloodiest of plays there was no stage blood. Olivier’s own performance, though, was mesmerising. In his review Kenneth Tynan described his performance:

“Titus enters, not as a beaming hero, but as a battered veteran, stubborn and shambling…A hundred campaigns have tanned his heart to leather, and from the cracking of that heart there issues a terrible music; not untinged by madness. One hears great cries, which, like all this actor’s best effects, seem to have been dredged up from an ocean-bed of fatigue. One recognised, though one had never heard it before, the noise made in its last extremity by the cornered human soul”.

The programme for The Entertainer

The programme for The Entertainer

Olivier realised he could be left behind by the fundamental changes that were sweeping London theatre. Following this success this most heroic of actors chose to play Archie Rice, a failing music hall performer, in John Osborne’s play The Entertainer.

Two years later though he seemed to take a step back by appearing in Stratford in Coriolanus, in a season that deliberately celebrated the past with a host of famous older actors: himself, Edith Evans, Harry Andrews, Paul Robeson, Charles Laughton. But Peter Hall’s appointment as the new artistic director of the Memorial Theatre had been announced at the end of 1958, so the 1959 season was inevitably viewed as the swan song of the Tony Quayle and Glen Byam Shaw years. Hall had already gained a reputation for working with daring writers like Samuel Beckett, and was producing fresh and successful Shakespeares. He directed the Coriolanus, described by Sally Beauman: “His Coriolanus is remembered by all who saw it for Olivier’s electric, arrogant performance in the title-role, with its extraordinarily daring death-fall at the end.”

In 1962 Olivier became the first Director of the National Theatre, and when the current theatre was build in the 1970s the largest auditorium in the building carried his name.  The Society of London Theatre gave him their Special Award in 1979, and in 1984 he agreed to their awards being renamed the Olivier Awards.  He had been knighted in 1947 and received a Life Peerage in 1970, the first actor to do so. On his death in 1989 he was interred in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey, a rare honour for an actor. There’s a full biography here.

Laurence Olivier as Richard III

Laurence Olivier as Richard III

Olivier made several notable films of Shakespeare, the most famous being his 1944 Henry V. He made film history by being the first performer to win the Academy Award for best actor for a film he also directed, Hamlet. But if you want to see one film to remind you of the sheer brilliance of his acting take a look at his Richard III, released in 1955. Daniel Rosenthal describes how “stressing the darkness in Richard’s soul, Olivier is repeatedly shown as a humped shadow, limping across the floor”, and “Even when outlining his machinations to camera in conspiratorial soliloquy, Olivier can retreat into the background knowing that his extraordinary voice will still command the screen”. His delivery of the opening speech was famously parodied by Peter Sellers to the words of the Beatles’ song A Hard Day’s Night. Olivier was nominated for Best Actor Award by the Academy for it and although it now seems wildly over-acted, there’s still much to admire in his flamboyant performance.

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