On 14 February 2023 the members of the Shakespeare Club of Stratford-upon-Avon met for a real treat of a lecture. Roger Pringle, former director of the SBT, and for many years Director of Stratford’s Poetry Festival, talked about his lockdown project, investigating the visit of Thomas Hardy and his wife Emma to Stratford-upon-Avon in the summer of 1896. The visit came at a time when Hardy was changing direction, from novelist to poet, and Roger speculated that visiting the town may have been a catalyst in this change.
One of my first blogs was about Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare, after Radio 4 had broadcast a birthday tribute on June 2 2011. I skated over the surface whereas Roger has plumbed the depths. He has scoured the seven volumes of Hardy’s published letters, examining visitors’ books from Stratford’s Shakespeare buildings, and tracing the complicated publication history of Hardy’s 1916 poem To Shakespeare After Three Hundred Years. He told a fascinating story, noting many parallels between Hardy’s own life and Shakespeare’s, from humble rural beginnings to final years living in a large, impressive house. Recognised during his lifetime as the greatest of writers, and sometimes known as “The Shakespeare of his generation”, Hardy craved anonymity, recognising a parallel with Shakespeare’s retirement to Stratford. He attempted to control the public perception of his life by destroying his diaries, and writing his own third-person autobiography to be published under his wife’s name after his death.
Roger Pringle hopes that his research will be published: the visit of the great writer Thomas Hardy to the town certainly deserves to be more widely known. My blog can be found here though the internal links no longer work. To read Hardy’s 1916 poem, though, just click the link above.
The minutes of the meeting including a more detailed account of the lecture will appear on the Club’s website in due course.