Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel 2022

On Thursday 22 September 2022 the great British writer Hilary Mantel died unexpectedly. The many tributes have spoken about her gifts as a writer, about her intelligence, her humour, and about the new books that she still planned to write. There is an obituary here, and some remembrances here.

Publishing success and the renown that followed came late to her, with her trilogy on the unlikely subject of the life of Thomas Cromwell set in the reign of Henry VIII. She enjoyed her fame:  I heard her speak at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival (of which she remained Patron until her death) after the first two books had been adapted for the stage by the Royal Shakespeare Company and for BBC TV, and it was clear that she loved the process of collaboration with other creative people. She took part in a number of events at the RSC and was invited to become a Governor of the Company, another honour she undoubtedly enjoyed.

She endeared herself to historians, writers of fiction and craftspeople by her meticulous research.  Quite by chance a friend shared this blog a couple of days ago explaining how a calligrapher created a few stunningly beautiful pages in the style of a medieval book of hours, a prop used in the TV series of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.  She must have enjoyed this attention to historical accuracy.

Hilary Mantel

I’ve revisited some of the posts  I wrote about her and her devotion to the craft of writing:

This one was written during her presentation of the Reith lectures, on the subject of writing historical fiction as opposed to historical fact.

Here she writes about the art of poetry as exemplified by Thomas Wyatt,  On the Wolf Hall trilogy and their connection with Shakespeare, and On the stage adaptation of her novels.

As one of those remembering wrote, she was the Queen of Literature. She has a unique voice, and we shall not look upon her like again.

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“The long day’s task is done, and we must sleep”

Buckingham Palace on the evening Queen Elizabeth 11 died.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth II today, 8 September 2022, we’re now going to live through something that few British people alive can remember as a new monarch succeeds to the throne. Tributes are flooding in, crowds carrying flowers gather at Buckingham Palace, at her favourite and most historic home Windsor Castle and at Balmoral Castle where she died.  And the second Elizabethan era has come to an end.

Like her namesake and another long-lived monarch, Elizabeth 1, the Queen died peacefully. Lawyer John Manningham wrote “This morning, about three o’clock, her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from the tree”. When she died in 1603 Elizabeth 1 had reigned for 45 years, which must have seemed an unimaginably long time.

Commentators on TV are saying it is a moment of change and transition that will take some time for the nation to adjust to. And so it must have been in 1603. Shakespeare lived through that change, and  must have felt it keenly, both professionally and personally. In his earlier plays he wrote repeatedly about the life and death of kings, and the turbulent times in which they lived. Some of his most memorable speeches relate to what it means to be a monarch, and although Richard II’s reign and death were very different from Elizabeth II’s, this wonderful speech has been going through my mind this evening, a reminder of the transience of power and the impermanence of life:

                 of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills:
And yet not so, for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?
Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke’s,
And nothing can we call our own but death
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable.

 

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First Folios for sale

 

The First Folio being sold in 2022

On 7 July 2022 a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio will be sold in New York. It’s estimated that it will sell for “only” $2.5 million. The record-holder is the copy sold, again in New York, in October 2020 which went for $8.4 million (£6.4 million). This was complete, and in exceptional condition. It was bought by a private collector. The one being sold now is not complete, lacking the portrait of Shakespeare, and shows signs of being read over a long period. The book has spent most of its life in Scotland. The Gordon family acquired the copy soon after its publication in 1623 then it passed through several other hands before being sold to a bibliophile in Chicago in the 1960s.

Fine Books Magazine’s informative article includes information about the volume:

there are 17th-century manuscript annotations, doodles, ink spills and markings across over 30 pages in at least five different hands, mostly from the Gordon family… Three members wrote their names: John Gordon (at least five times), Joan Gordon (twice) and Alex Gordon (once), a common practice throughout history. There are fragments of prayers, verse and even mysterious lines from a a “John Frasere”, a speech asking for Herculean strength “to beat him That let my love be stolen away when I was sliping”.

Modern readers might be surprised to find that these manuscript additions in such a valuable book only rarely relate directly to Shakespeare’s work.

Public collections are unlikely to have sufficient funds to purchase First Folios so it is likely that this one will remain in private hands. Around a third of existing copies are in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, purchased by wealthy oil-man Henry Clay Folger before the foundation of the Library. In recent years the Folger Shakespeare Library has made its collections of Folios available to more people by sending copies out on tour around the USA.

Andy Jaggard with the projected image of his father Gerald in the Shakespeare Press

Folger was obsessed with collecting Shakespeare-related material including Folios, and from the 1890s spent over thirty years chasing them down. Book dealers knowing of his interest must have been thrilled to acquire a First Folio. The Shakespeare Club of Stratford-upon-Avon’s May meeting was a dramatized presentation on the subject of Captain William Jaggard who opened a bookshop, The Shakespeare Press, in Stratford, and his son Gerald who continue to run it after William’s death. I’ve written before about Jaggard. The organisers of the event were Jaggard’s grandchildren Andy Jaggard and Anthea Carter who are now working on a book that will tell the story of their “remarkable, difficult and eccentric” ancestor and his shop. Jaggard became well known to professional Shakespeareans including Sidney Lee though he fell out with locals. One of the many stories they told was about Jaggard’s attempt to sell Henry Clay Folger a copy of the First Folio. Andy and Anthea had no proof of the truth of this story that they had been told until recently when the Folger Shakespeare Library uncovered a series of letters between Henry Clay Folger and William Jaggard shedding light on the negotiations which, sadly for Jaggard, came to nothing.

The Shakespeare Press, Sheep Street, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Shakespeare Press, managed by William, then by his son Gerald, was a notable element of the Stratford-upon-Avon scene from 1910 to 1964. The building in Sheep Street remained empty for several years before being completely restored, and it is now the Vintner Restaurant.

I’ve written posts about various aspects of the First Folio before:

This about copies of all four Folios found in a Warwickshire house

This about the issue of selling Folios in general

This about the catalogues that have been created of all the copies of the First Folios

This one about the importance of Libraries holding copies of the Folio

Finally, In this video you can see the copy of the Folio being sold in July 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

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A sad farewell to Peter Brook

Peter Brook

The death at the age of 97 of the great theatre director Peter Brook has been announced today, 3 July 2022. He burst on the theatre scene at the age of 20 in 1946, coming from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre to direct Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon. His production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1970 changed Shakespeare onstage for ever.

There’ll be no shortage of tributes to him  but here are a few links from The Shakespeare blog looking at different aspects of his work. Lots of links are included to talks, videos and websites and I haven’t had a chance to check if they still work so apologies if you find a link leads nowhere.

This one reports on a symposium I attended in 2015 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, attended by Brook himself.

Here is an examination of his 1955 production of Titus Andronicus starring Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, that proved that this bloodthirsty play was not unstageable, and was in fact worthy of its place in the repertoire.

The actor Alan Howard played Theseus and Oberon in Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This post looks at a collection of essays he wrote in 2013 at the age of 88.

In it he showed he never lost his admiration for the work of Shakespeare: “The uniqueness of Shakespeare is that while each production is obliged to find its own shapes and forms, the written words do not belong to the past. They are sources that can create and inhabit ever new forms… There is no limit to what we can find in Shakespeare”.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

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