SIL Book of the Week – The ‘stuff’ of early modern history

The latest addition to the Routledge Guides to using Historical Sources, Understanding Early Modern Primary Sources has been received into the Shakespeare Institute Library this week. Edited by Laura Sangha and Jonathan Willis, this book is an invaluable resource for the student of early modern history. Every student knows that primary sources are the lifeblood of the historian and without them, as the Introduction clearly states, history would be impossible to write. But where to start?!

understandingFor the student, the array of material ranging from state papers, printed books, literary sources, manuscript letters, diaries, wills and inventories, visual sources such as paintings, buildings, clothing etc. etc. can be daunting, if not overwhelming. The first part of this book offers a practical guide to approaching such sources, providing information on how the material was produced in the first place, how it has been preserved and how it can be accessed. There are pointers as to where to look at original material as well of course as how to access the vast and ever-increasing  digital resources now available. There are hints on the kind of questions to ask when approaching such sources together with case studies and examples.

The second part of the book approaches its subject thematically, examining what kind of sources can be used to explore a range of major themes such as popular culture, political culture, gender, science, warfare, religion and so on.

A must for the student of early modern history as well as the student of Shakespeare who is interested in setting the work of the bard within the wider context of the world in which he lived.

Dr Jill Francis, Library Support Assistant


‘Your great favour, thus oft and so far to send, to know how your poor @@ doth, is greatly beyond the reach of his thanks.’

So begins a certain love letter. The symbols @@ signify the pet name of the sender – they might almost be ‘text-speak’! But there was no Tudor microchip, and lovers might have to resort to code.Elizabeth_1524100cThe relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester lasted until his death. He was her @@ (Eyes) and sketched his own fine, dark pair in letters to the Queen. But the exact nature of their bond is a subject of speculation. Leicester’s father and grandfather had been executed for treason and he inevitably bore its taint. After resisting the accession of the Catholic Mary Tudor, he was imprisoned in the Tower and was fortunate to escape the block. It was here he met the young Elizabeth whose life also hung by a thread in the wrangle for succession which followed the death of Henry VII.

After Elizabeth became Queen, Leicester was swiftly marked out for her particular favour. Apart from important court positions and trading privileges, he was given estates, houses, manors, forests and ecclesiastical properties in both England and Wales. Among them was the estate of Kenilworth in Warwickshire, which was to become his favourite residence. He was made Baron of Denbigh and Earl of Leicester in 1564.


Leicester demonstrated princely style in his refurbishing of the grounds and castle which were run down and insignificant when he acquired them. He is estimated to have spent the enormous sum of £60,000  (millions in today’s money) in the first few years. A later survey reported that the estate extended to twenty miles around, while a detailed furnishings inventory described acres of luxurious carpet in crimson velvet and silver, embroidered with heraldic posies, bears and ragged staves. The same emblems and colour-scheme appeared in a sumptuous bed of walnut, embellished with painted roses, curtains of the finest satin and a quilt covered in silver lozenges. There were twenty other grand bedsteads and the quantities of top-of-the-range- bedding would have filled a warehouse, not excluding a selection of ‘close stooles’, some in quilted black velvet with pans of pewter.

Painting of Elizabeth dancing with Dudley c.1580

Painting of Elizabeth dancing with Dudley c.1580

Elizabeth visited Kenilworth in 1566 and 1572 whilst on Royal Progress, for Leicester’s position as undisputed favourite and reputed lover had endured. ‘The queen is in love with Robert’ wrote Philip of Spain after the failure of the latest  round of marriage negotiations on Elizabeth’s behalf. But the Queen had evaded marriage with her favourite or with any other suitor.

Leicester was distrusted for his ‘traitorous’ family, for his swaggering and ambition, for the power and wealth he had amassed through royal favour and for his influence over the Queen. The rumour was also rife that he had murdered his first wife, Amy Robsart, in order to clear his way to Elizabeth’s hand. He almost certainly nursed such an ambition whilst Elizabeth was presumably all too aware of how marriage would diminish her power and overthrow her iconic status as the Virgin Queen. She and Leicester may or may not have been lovers. Whatever the case, their association continued.

Her visit to Kenilworth in 1575 is regarded as the high watermark of Tudor culture. It was the social event of the age and, presumably, Leicester’s last attempt to impress and then gain his Queen. To say that no expense was spared in the preparation is an understatement: a new turreted Gatehouse was built and a 100 feet high tower- a sort of Tudor Shard – comprised the Royal Apartments. The third storey penthouse inevitably housed her bedchamber and, lacking the technology for an express elevator (plush lined in scarlet and silver, no doubt), Leicester installed windows so enormous that different vistas over the estate would delight Elizabeth as she ascended to bed.

A full account of the visit is ascribed to a letter of Robert Laneham (or Langham), a court servant. The Castle is praised for being situated in;

‘ayr sweet and hollsum, rayzed on an eazy mounted hill…with sweet springs bursting foorth…and plentifully well sorted on every side into arabl, meado, pasture, wood, water (and) a goodly Pool of rare beauty’

The pool, stuffed with ‘great and fat fish’, embraced the castle on three sides below a ‘faire Parke’ where the Renaissance ideal of nature improved by art was expressed in

‘delectabl, fresh and umbrageous Boowerz, arberz, seatz, and walks…tall and fresh fragrant treez…also by great…cost…sweetnes of savour…fragrant earbs and floourz, in forme, cooler and quantities…deliciously variaunt’

Sir Walter Scott in his 1821 novel Kenilworth imagined the scene as Elizabeth’s procession approached:

‘the acclamation…ran like wildfire…and announced to all…that (the Queen) had entered Kenilworth. The whole music of the Castle sounded at once, and a round of artillery was discharged…the Queen herself, arrayed in the most splendid manner, and blazing with jewels, formed the central figure…Leicester, who glittered like a golden image with jewels and cloth of gold, rode on her Majesty’s right hand.’

Gascoigne presenting his book Hemetes the Heremyte (c.1579) to Elizabeth.

Gascoigne presenting his book Hemetes the Heremyte (c.1579) to Elizabeth.

Scott turns for his information to Laneham’s letter and the verses of poet George Gascoign, who wrote and organised festivities designed to go on for a full twenty-one days. The whole region was aroused and, among huge crowds, might well have been John Shakespeare, alderman of Stratford, and his eleven year old son, William. Onlookers stood for days hoping to catch a glimpse of the Queen, and of spectacles which included fireworks, bearbaiting, hunting parties and an elaborate water pageant.

The latter was overwhelmingly theatrical, featuring Triton riding a mermaid, nymphs on floating islands and a mechanical twenty-four foot long dolphin (possibly the precursor of Speilberg’s shark). This beast was benign, however, for Arion, the classical poet and master of the lyre, himself preserved by music-appreciating dolphins, sat astride and sang:

‘a delectabl ditty of a song…compounded of six severall instruments al covert, casting sound from the Dolphin’s belly.’


Image of Arion from Vesalius, 1543

The scene may well be echoed in Twelfth Night when the ship’s captain tells Viola that her brother has survived drowning, riding the waves ‘Like Arion on the dolphin’s back.’ Other striking references appear in A Midsummer Night’s Dream which Elizabeth is thought to have seen acted. An allusion to Leicester’s designs on the Virgin Queen appears in Oberon’s speech:

‘Cupid all armed: a certain aim he took / At a fair vestal throned by the west.’

Like Leicester, however, Cupid misses his mark and the ‘imperial votaress’ passes on ‘in maiden meditation, fancy-free.’

Oberon twice stresses that he is speaking of visual and auditory memories, and the music and fireworks of Kenilworth are evoked in:

‘Since once I sat upon a promontory

And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back

Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath

That the rude sea grew civil at her song,

And certain stars shot madly from their sphere

To hear the sea maid’s music.’

Leicester’s flair for drama and entertainment had important implications for Elizabethan theatre. He was the first to take into his service the group of private players who became ‘Leicester’s Men’. This set a precedent for other companies to seek rich patrons and, to some extent, improved the popular perception of actors who were widely regarded as rogues and vagabonds. In response to a petition from some of his household, he also procured a royal patent allowing them to perform plays. Among the signatories was James Burbage, father of that very Richard who, at the Globe, was the first to create the roles of Hamlet, Macbeth and Coriolanus.

Shakespeare achieved his theatrical effects mainly through the power of words; Leicester via massive capital outlay. He is reckoned to have spent £1000 per day on the ‘princely pleasures’ at Kenilworth leaving himself virtually bankrupt for the rest of his life. If a reasonable annual income at the time was £40, he must have expended some tens of thousands of pounds.

Elizabeth departed the Castle after only nineteen days, still unbetrothed and, according to some stories, in ‘dudgeon.’ What  had gone wrong? We do not know.

It had been the last throw of the marital dice.

Bettina Harris, Library Support Assistant


Where Are We Now? Exhibition on the Alumni of the Shakespeare Institute

This month’s Library exhibition showcases the careers of some of the Institute’s alumni. They are an eclectic bunch, pursuing a variety of illustrious paths in all corners of the globe including Australia, Japan, South Korea as well as those who have remained closer to home. The exhibition features information written by the individuals themselves on where they are now as well as a selection of the significant body of work that they have produced between them over the years.

Looking at the paths our alumni have taken is of interest for many reasons: it is good to see the many ways in which an academic career can pan out; it is great to see how everyone still maintains their links with the Institute, across the world and across the decades and how they remember it with affection; and of course, it is just lovely to hear again of people we remember ourselves, either as fellow students, colleagues and library users.

For instance, for me, Dong-ha Seo stands out as a fellow student as, back in 2004, we found our ‘Shakespeare feet’ with Drs Wiggins, Jowett , Richardson et al on the now much-missed and late-lamented  MASSACHRE course. So to see pictures of his growing family and to hear where he is now, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Korean Army teaching Shakespeare to English major cadets I found especially interesting. Look forward to your promised visit next year Dong-ha!

Dong ha and the Shakespeare Institute Players

Dong-ha (back-left next to man in hat) and the Shakespeare Institute Players










Pete-OrfordPete Orford (who completed his PhD in 2006 and – I think also features in the photo above along with Don ha and other members of the Shakespeare Institute players) is a great example of how time spent working – and playing – at the Shakespeare Institute can be usefully transferred to other areas of academia. Although now returning to his Shakespearean roots, since leaving the Institute Pete has worked extensively on Charles Dickens, editing several volumes and leading a highly successful  on-line project investigating Dickens last, unfinished novel, The Drood Inquiry. For more information – come and look at the exhibition!

Robert SmallwoodRobert Smallwood has been associated with the Institute since 1963 and is well-known to us library staff if for no other reason than that we are constantly re-shelving his books, including, among others, the six well-thumbed volumes of the Players of Shakespeare. And as editor of the MRHA Style Guide he must surely have made a vital contribution to many a PhD thesis – including my own. However, what I was surprised to learn from the exhibition was his vital role in history of the Shakespeare Institute itself, being a prime instigator in relocating the University of Birmingham’s postgraduate programmes in Shakespeare studies back to Stratford and Mason Croft. At the same time, he petitioned for the building of the new library in the gardens of the Institute, which is of course about to celebrate its 20th Anniversary later this month and we hope he will be here to help us celebrate.

Anyone who provides a cartoon of himself in lieu of a photo, refers to his latest academic rob conkietome as ‘groovy’ and ‘cool’ and whose over-riding memory of his time at the Shakespeare Institute is Marco’s sandwiches has got to be worth meeting. Unfortunately (for us that is), Rob Conkie is in Australia, slightly more than a hop, skip and jump (there must be some kangaroo related pun in there somewhere!) away from Stratford upon Avon, so we have to make do with his book on Shakespeare and Authenticity: The Globe Theatre Project, a chapter on ‘Australian Campus Shakespeare’ in a brand new volume edited by Andrew Hartley, Shakespeare on the University Stage – and of course to the groovy new book Writing Performative Shakespeares to which we look forward with eager anticipation.

Soko TomitaSoko Tomita took two leave of absences from her job in a college in Japan to study at the Shakespeare Institute – once as an MA student and then again, several years later, to undertake her PhD. Overcoming many difficulties, including working away from home, bringing up a young family and adjusting to a new way of approaching the study of literature – as well of course as adjusting to living in a new country – Soko published her first volume of A Bibliographical Catalogue of Italian Books Printed in England 1558–1603 in 2009 and the second volume, covering the period 1603-1642, in 2014.

The final alumnus to feature in this exhibition is Akihiro Yamada, born in 1929 in Nagoya in Japan. He first came to England to study at the Institute in Stratford in 1959 as an MA candidate. Upon completion, he returned to Japan but was back in Birmingham in 1974 to work on his PhD on the plays of George Chapman. In between these two periods at the Institute, Akihiro also spent a year in the United States as a Fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where he edited an edition of Chapman’s The Widow’s Tears for the Revels Plays.  Since returning to Japan, he has held three academic posts at Japanese universities, spanning forty seven years. He has published fifteen books on Elizabethan and Jacobean topics in Japanese and English, including editing The First Folio of YamadaShakespeare, a transcription of the extensive contemporary marginalia in a copy of the First Folio now held at Meisei University Library.  Professor Yamada has been a great benefactor to the Shakespeare Institute Library over the years, donating many items including an extensive (and unique) microfilm collection of early English drama. Among the numerous books also gifted from Professor Yamada’s library are some early printed editions, a selection of which are currently on display as part of this exhibition. These valuable treasures include a 1611 edition of Spencer’s Faeirie Queene, a 1700 edition of The Works of Abraham Cowley and a 1725 edition of Alexander Pope’s Odessey of Homer.

All of the former students featured in this exhibition are a wonderful demonstration of the affection in which they hold their years at the Shakespeare Institute and the connections which have been maintained, in some cases, over many decades. For those of us who have not been around for quite so long, it is a great opportunity to learn a little about the history of the study of Shakespeare at the Institute and to put a face to the names that we see so often on the Library shelves. It goes without saying of course, that all of the books mentioned above are held in the Shakespeare Institute Library collections.

Dr Jill Francis, Library Support Assistant



Is this a hop leaf I see before me? Worcester’s libraries & the history of beer.

A couple of weeks ago, the staff of the Shakespeare Institute Library enjoyed an Away Day in the historic city of Worcester, visiting the ultra-modern Hive, an innovative new venture in the provision of public/University library facilities and also, by contrast, the medieval Cathedral library, housing monastic texts dating back to Anglo Saxon times. The library was founded with the establishment of Worcester Priory in 680 and some of the earliest material there includes fragments of a bible given by King Offa of Mercia in the 8th Century. However, the first known instance of the Cathedral’s ecclesiastical and legal documents being organised and recorded in a systematic way was under Bishop Wulfstan in the 11th century.


Amongst the many fascinating texts held in the library are two official volumes of the charters and letters relating to Worcester Cathedral Priory, written in the various hands of the chaplains to the priors. Volume II covers the period 1301 – 1446 and, as well as all the expected documentation, it contains a ‘mystery’ drawing of a leaf, which has been the subject of much debate and conjecture in the past few months since it was discovered by trainee librarian, Tom Hopkins. The image is drawn in ink, on a full page of parchment, but is little more than a hand-drawn sketch. It looks as though the artist had the actual leaf in front of him and is trying to produce a faithful image – it is possible even that he has drawn around the leaf to make an outline, with the veins and other details infilled afterwards. There is an accompanying inscription under the drawing, indicating that the (unidentified) leaf was presented as a gift to the church, by one Thomas Hawkins of Icomb, in 1448. The presence of this drawing in an official record raises a number of interesting questions:

  • Why would someone make a gift of the leaf to the church?
  • Why was it considered important enough to record its image in the official record? There are no other images in the 479 pages of this volume, or, as far as it is known, any other similar volumes.
  • What kind of leaf is it? Was it presented as part of a living plant or simply as a single leaf? Initial research has led to the suggestion that this might be a leaf from a hop plant. However, if this is the case, it would pre-date the growing of hops in England by almost 100 years and would suggest that the leaf (or plant) had been brought from the continent. But this would have been quite a journey in 1448 – even by sea, the quickest route, the voyage from Flanders to Worcester via Bristol and the River Severn would have taken several weeks. Again, one has to ask the question – why would anyone do this? What was the significance of this plant?

Reynolde Scot 1574Although ale, brewed from barley and malt, had been a staple in England since at least the first century AD, beer brewed with the addition of hops, which improved both the flavour and its keeping qualities, was not introduced until around 1400, when it was first imported from Flanders. Such was the demand for this new improved beer that the hops themselves began to be imported from Holland around the middle of the 15th century. But, as far as we know, it was not until the 16th century that hops were first grown in England and indeed, one of the very first gardening texts to be written in English was a practical guide to setting up and maintaining a hop garden, published in 1574.
So again, one wonders, why is there a drawing of a hop leaf in the Worcester Cathedral records? According to John Gerard’s Herball (1597), hops also had medicinal properties and this does present an alternative hypothesis – that the plant was introduced as an addition to the Priory’s herb garden.

The other possibility of course, is that it is not a hop leaf at all! Comparison with images in 16th century herbals and books confirm, I would say, that it is some kind of a vine (botanically, the hop is a vine) – possibly a grape vine. But these were common in England at this time, so why painstakingly record it on expensive parchment in the Priory records? There are many avenues still to be explored and hopefully current lines of enquiry, including engaging the expertise of organisations such as the Royal Horticultural Society, may shed further light on the mysteries surrounding this drawing and its significance.
In the meantime, it has provided a very interesting adjunct to what was already a fascinating and informative Away Day!

(For the latest news on this and other treasures at Worcester Cathedral Library check out their Blog).

Jill Francis, PhD – Library Support Assistant

Art at the SIL: John Uzzell Edwards

You may have noticed the two impressionistic oil paintings in the Stanley Wells Room and wondered about their connection with Shakespeare and the Library. They are the work of artist John Uzzell Edwards and were specially commissioned for the Shakespeare Institute Library by Doreen Brockbank, in memory of her husband Philip Brockbank, Director of the Shakespeare Institute 1978-88.

John Uzzell Edwards (1934-2014) was a Welsh painter who specialized in the industrial landscapes of South Wales early in his career before exploring Celtic forms and taking inspiration from medieval tiles, Pictish knots and illuminated manuscripts. You can see some of his paintings at the BBC site

His Welsh patriotism explains his choice of Owain Glyndwr as the subject for our first painting – ‘When I was born…’ (next to the AV Room door) which was created for the new Library in 1995. It refers to the line ‘I say the earth did shake when I was born’ from Henry IV, part 1.

Painting When I was bornIf you look carefully you can see words hidden in the paint including ‘Philip’, ‘Doreen’, ‘Owain Glyndwr’, ‘When I was born’, ‘The earth did shake’ and ‘For Phil’.

The second painting – ‘Once more unto the breach’ was also donated by Doreen Brockbank to hang in the newly opened Stanley Wells Room in 1999.

Painting Once more unto the breachPhilip Brockbank founded the English Department at the University of York before coming to Stratford to become the Institute’s third director. He began the series of volumes of actors’ essays – Players of Shakespeare – and founded the New Cambridge Shakespeare series and the New Mermaids. A portrait of him hangs in the Reading Room.

Kate Welch, Information Assistant

Typing up for Shakespeare: The Shakespeare Institute Library and the New Oxford Shakespeare

The story of the Oxford Shakespeare is, of course, a well known one. In 1986, after years of painstaking work, a team of scholars under the general editorship of Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor published a new edition of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare with Oxford University Press. The edition would be followed a year later by William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion, a landmark study of the bibliographic aspects of the publication of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. The edition was a radical rethinking of the Shakespearean text, based on a fresh reformulation of the principles of scholarly editing. This included an innovative and consistent approach to the modernisation of spelling that soon became the standard. The final product of the enterprise was threefold: a modern-spelling one-volume Complete Works (1986, revised in 2005), an old-spelling text (1986), and an electronic edition issued as a set of ten 3.5-inch disks ‘for the IBM PC’ (1989). The project would be directly connected to the Shakespeare Institute through two people: Stanley Wells became the Director of the Institute shortly after the publication of the Oxford Shakespeare; and one of the two associate editors was John Jowett, who had just completed his doctorate at the University of Liverpool with an edition of Henry Chettle’s The Tragedy of Hoffman, and who was appointed Fellow of the Institute in 1993.

oxford worksAs in any modern critical edition of a Renaissance text, an important part of the editorial work that the 1970s-80s team did for the original Oxford Shakespeare was to prepare a full commentary of the plays and poems. Each work was carefully glossed and annotated by the editors, who recorded their work in sets of index cards. The plan was to send those cards to Oxford University Press to be subsequently typeset to accompany the text. However, it was finally decided that, in order to keep the volume within a manageable size, the commentary would be substituted by a glossary appended at the end of the volume, illustrating those words and phrases that a modern reader may find difficult to understand. So those valuable footnotes, much to the dismay of a whole generation of readers and students, were discarded.

But the sets of index cards, fortunately, survived. And now they may finally be an important part of a fresh project, heir to the 1986 enterprise. John Jowett, now Deputy Director of the Institute, and one of the world’s leading authorities in textual editing and bibliography, is now the General Editor—with Gary Taylor and Terri Bourus, and the co-editorship of Shakespeare Institute alumna Eleanor Lowe—of the forthcoming New Oxford Shakespeare, scheduled to be published in 2016, in the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. As its pioneering predecessor, this new edition will appear in several formats, both printed and digital, taking advantage of the latest available technology. It aims at becoming the most flexible and authoritative tool for reading and teaching Shakespeare in existence, and an invaluable new resource for research.

A team of library support assistants at the Shakespeare Institute Library—Jill Francis, Margaret Roper, Cathleen McKague and myself—collaborated with John Jowett in transforming those index cards into a useable digital resource. Each card, representing a single commentary footnote, has been formatted to be fully machine-readable, adopting the following appearance:

<APP 1.3.167><LEM breathing native breath> speaking its native language

The first item indicates the act, scene and line in which a certain word or phrase appears; the second is the lemma, or head-word/phrase, of the annotation; and the third is the main body of the annotation, in the form of a brief gloss or paraphrase, or a longer explanation of context, characterisation, cultural references or textual issues. In a number of cases, we also tried to verify some of the information given on the cards using the Oxford English Dictionary, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and other online and on-site resources, when we thought that the information was unclear or incomplete, and have recorded these modest findings on post-it notes on the cards themselves.

For each play the team compiled a document presenting the full annotation as a list, taking up typically 30 pages of single-spaced text. Each of these documents were passed on to the editor of each particular play to be used as reference for the new annotation.

One of the problems that we found early on in the process was that we did not know which edition of the plays was used as the basis for the annotations. The commentary was compiled before the actual text of the Oxford Shakespeare was finalised, and therefore the spelling of lemmas, and most importantly the line numbering, differ from the final edition. Though the New Oxford will be a completely fresh approach to the Shakespearean canon, radically re-thinking the text and its possible uses by a twenty-first-century readership, the editors will be using the line numbers in the old Oxford Shakespeare as place holders until the new text is typeset and the line numbers are more stable. For this reason, after consulting John Jowett, we decided to re-number all the notes on the cards to the 1986 text to make the new editors’ work slightly easier. The problem now seems to be that for certain plays the commentary refers to an edition that, unlike the 1986 text, was not based on the 1623 Folio: there are lines in, for example, 2 Henry IV or Richard II that appear in ‘Additional passages’ in the Oxford Shakespeare, rather than being part of the main body of the text, and that are therefore impossible to renumber accordingly.

Our work was an interesting exercise in inverse reading: if one normally reads the main text of a play, referring to the annotations occasionally, we experienced the opposite process. And exciting insights have actually resulted from this: while typing up the commentary to 1 Henry IV, I observed that I would spend much less time with the scenes at Henry IV’s court than even with the shortest passages in Eastcheap involving Falstaff and Hal, which would take up most of my time—there is so much to annotate, such a rich and varied use of figurative language, so many cultural references that need to be explained, and so many puns (mostly sexual) than need to be clarified.

41wuZBcg9eLThe LSAs at the Shakespeare Institute Library did a wonderful job and were proud to take part in this project, which will surely become one of the major scholarly achievements of the first half of the twenty-first century. The New Oxford Shakespeare, alongside other huge accomplishments in recent scholarship like Martin Wiggins’s British Drama 1533-1642: A Catalogue, are bound to confirm the status of the Shakespeare Institute as a world-leading beacon of Renaissance studies.

José A. Pérez Díez, PhD student (and former Library Support Assistant at the SIL)

Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare

This month’s library exhibition focuses on the subject of teaching Shakespeare and includes summaries and ephemera from teaching staff who have either taught, or are currently teaching Shakespeare at different levels.

Pericles Headshot-125Those featured in the exhibition include alumnus Peter Malin who started his teaching career at the Cherwell School, a state comprehensive in North Oxford, in 1974. Peter says in his random, anecdotal musings “If your Shakespeare teaching goes pear-shaped, as it certainly will from time to time, don’t despair. Re-think, re-try, re-group, re-learn. Above all, never, never, ever lose faith in yourself, your students or Shakespeare”.


Laura Photo (2)Another alumna sharing her thoughts on the subject is Laura Nicklin, who has experienced teaching Shakespeare on many platforms, ranging from school based classroom English lessons and extracurricular groups, to informal work with children. Laura’s current doctoral research is with young offenders, considering courses that use teaching Shakespeare as an alternative method of criminal rehabilitation.


Group Spaces photoCameraWith his particular interest in the teaching of Shakespeare ‘active approaches’ i.e. the application of dramatic and theatrical methods at all levels and with all abilities is James Stredder. Many will know James from his book: The North Face of Shakespeare and his input in the Teaching Shakespeare journal.


Eoin PriceOur final alumnus is Eoin Price newly graduated from the University of Birmingham and lecturing at Swansea University where he convenes the Shakespeare in Context module. The course introduces Shakespeare by considering his inextricable historical, literary, and theatrical contexts.

The exhibition in currently on until Friday 6 February 2015.

Anne Phillips, Information Assistant

Henry V and the Boys of King Edward VI School, S-u-A


This time in November is an emotional one in any year but especially in this 100 year anniversary of WW1. At the Shakespeare Institute Library we thought it important to mark this centenary commemoration in some way – and what better way than to connect with our neighbours.

Our exhibition this month focuses on a production of Henry V staged by Frank Benson and the King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon in 1913. The play was restaged a century later by the Edward’s Boys under the direction of Assistant Headmaster, Perry Mills. The theme of the exhibition provided us with a great way of linking our subject specialism with our local community and this important anniversary.


It’s not often I get emotional putting out an exhibition but in this case it is impossible not to be deeply moved by the stories and images of the KES boys involved in this display. The loss inflicted by the First World War is too unbearable to contemplate. In our exhibition we tell the story of 4 boys, Victor Hyatt, Herbert and Henry Jennings and Albert Whately who only a few years after performing in the 1913 production lost their lives in the war. Their loss is brought painfully home to us – four of millions that died in that war.

When putting together this exhibition it struck me that, considering how Henry V has been used to represent conflicts following WW1 it’s almost as if Frank Benson had some dreadful premonition of the significance of the play to our country at War.

The production, we can tell from the prompt book was very heavily edited and reduced to key scenes and a series of tableaus. The 2013 revival of the play, directed by Perry drew on this 1913 production and the tragedy of war that followed. From the accounts and descriptions of the 2013 production it was an incredibly moving affair, fitting to the memory of those boys. A clip and more details of that production are available via their web site.

Indeed The Edward’s Boys seem to go from strength to strength under Perry Mills’s guidance and we’re very pleased to house copies of the DVDs of their productions in our collections. The standard of the productions and indeed the art work for these by local artist David Troughton is equal to many professional productions.

KES HViiiThe archive material kindly loan from KES Archivist Richard Pearson, is complimented beautifully by material from our own collections: books, theses and other material written about Shakespeare and War. Our sincere thanks to KES and Richard for sharing this archive and this story with us and enabling us to alert our students to a very long tradition of performance at the school – there’s a theses in there!

The exhibition will continue until the end of the month – do come along and catch it if you can.

You can find out more about the 2013 production on Sylvia Morris’s excellent Shakespeare Blog.

Many thanks to Anne Phillips, Information Assistant at the SIL for all her work on this exhibition.

Karin Brown, Shakespeare Institute Librarian

Integrated Casting

Adrian Lester as Rosalind

Adrian Lester as Rosalind

In the Shakespeare Institute Library, a plethora of information about Shakespearean production can be found – on the shelves, in the newscuttings collection and in the archive. I recently stumbled across what are essentially remnants of the 1991 Cheek By Jowl As You Like It from 1991, which brought back very fond memories of one of the best productions of Shakespeare I have ever seen. It was an all-male production in the post-feminist era (before Propeller and the Globe made it “fashionable”), with Adrian Lester as Rosalind and Tom Hollander as Celia. Although I had a few productions under my belt by then I had never seen a finer Rosalind in Lester.


RSC Troilus & Cressida 1990

Paterson Joseph as Patroclus & Simon Russell Beale as Thersites (Troilus & Cressida, RSC 1990)

In the newspaper cuttings collection, I also found a small piece on the 1990 Ian Charleson award nominees, one of whom was Paterson Joseph, being nominated for his classical work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1990, Joseph made his mark on my theatre-going by producing memorable stints as Oswald in Nicholas Hytner’s King Lear, an outrageous fop in Nick Dear’s adaptation of Tirso de Molina’s The Last Days of Don Juan (directed by the then-unknown Danny Boyle) and a subtle and complex portrayal of Patroclus in Sam Mendes’s production of Troilus and Cressida. For the latter, memories also flooded back of the four months Joseph took over the lead when Ralph Fiennes left the company, eventually to do Schindler’s List, and produced a remarkable Troilus of his own. It went by without fanfare, but he was the first black actor to play an eponymous character in a Shakespeare play at the RSC that was not Othello.There is obviously a reason I’ve singled out these two particular performers – Lester and Joseph – for this piece, but at the time I saw those shows what I saw were two incredible actors giving brilliant performances in Shakespeare which I went back to time and time again. Never mind that Lester has never worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Never mind that Joseph didn’t return to the Royal Shakespeare Company for nearly twenty years. Shockingly, Adrian Lester has only been cast in five Shakespeare theatre productions – granted, the past two have been leads at the National Theatre. Amazingly, since 1990, Paterson Joseph has been in four Shakespeare productions.

What slowly dawned on me during the course of my PhD was that Joseph and Lester had virtually disappeared from the Shakespearean stage. What I gradually began to notice in researching contemporary productions of Shakespeare was that while there had been prominent black actors playing leads twenty years ago there seemed to be fewer in contemporary theatre. I decided to collect simple casting data to test the observation to see if it held up, focusing on the ratio between ethnic minority and white actors in a cast and looking at the parts they were playing. The results can be found here: (or open access via )

There is a small but growing body of work on the contribution black and Asian actors have made to British theatre and film. Stemming from my research for the article above, I am creating a database of British black and Asian Shakespearean actors for the University of Warwick’s Multicultural Shakespeare project, which will be publicly available next year, so watch this space:

The Shakespeare Institute Library houses various other resources that have contributed to the presence of a multicultural theatre in twenty-first century Britain and America: Jonathan Holmes celebrates Adrian Lester’s work in The Routledge Companion to Actors’ Shakespeare; Claire Cochrane writes about changing demographics in the theatre in Twentieth Century British Theatre: Industry, Art and Empire; Ayanna Thompson’s excellent Colorblind Shakespeare and Passing Strange have provided the foundation upon which much of the current work rests; and Tony Howard’s article on Paul Robeson in Shakespeare Bulletin and the Robeson Project ( have kick-started a new phase in reassessing the contribution of British black and Asian actors to Shakespeare in the theatre. My contribution to this body of work – currently the article and the database in progress – began in the Shakespeare Institute Library.

Paul Robeson as Othello & Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona, Shubert Theatre, 1930

Paul Robeson as Othello & Peggy Ashcroft as Desdemona, Savoy Theatre, 1930

Jami Rogers

Honorary Fellow, Multicultural Shakespeare, University of Warwick

(and Library Support Assistant, Shakespeare Institute Library)

Olivier, Richardson and Henry IV, 1945

Richardson and Olivier

Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson, two mighty forces in the 20th century theatre performed together in John Burrell’s 1945 Old Vic production of Henry IV Parts One and Two. To mark the opening of new productions of Henry IV by the Royal Shakespeare Company, this month the Shakespeare Institute Library is holding an exhibition on this landmark production featuring Laurence Olivier’s script as Hotspur (held by the Cadbury Research Library).

Sketch from Olivier's script

Sketch from Olivier’s script of himself as Hotspur

These productions were considered by most commentators to be a momentous achievement in the plays performance history. Ralph Richardson as Falstaff disregarded the tradition of playing the character as the personification of lust and gluttony and instead endued him with intelligence and a quick wit. Laurence Olivier with his usual flair and daring took on the roles of Hotspur in Part One and Shallow in Part Two – an unusual double. Olivier’s Hotspur stammered on the letter ‘w’ (stammering Hotspurs had been prevalent from Matheson Lang’s portrayal in 1896 to this point). From hot-tempered rebel leader to subdued and wistful Shallow, his interpretation of both characters was considered a tour de force.

On Falstaff
Richardson as Falstaff… a Falstaff whose principal attribute was not his fatness but his knighthood. He was Sir John first, and Falstaff second… Richardson never rollicked or slobbered or staggered: it was not a sweaty fat man, but a dry and dignified one. As the great belly moved, step following step with great finesse lest it over-topple, the arms flapped fussily at the sides as if to paddle the body’s bulk along. It was deliciously and subtly funny, not riotously so: from his height of pomp Falstaff was chuckling at himself: it was not we alone, laughing at him. (Kenneth Tynan on Ralph Richardson’s Falstaff from He That Plays the King: A View of the Theatre, Longmans, Green & Co., 1950)

On Hotspur:
Olivier as HotspurLaurence Olivier’s Hotspur immediately possesses the audience. Odd, uncouth, now darting of mind and phrase, now almost stammering of speech, sour, fiery – the figure is unforgettable: you watch him at every moment, tenderly domestic, roughly discursive, baiting Glendower, dying with harness on his back and iambics halting his tongue… (Ivor Brown, ‘Theatre and Life’ in The Observer, 30 September, 1945: 2)


On Shallow:
Olivier as ShallowAs Shallow Laurence Olivier magically transformed from the valiant Hotspur to this rustic “cheese-paring”, acted with a quiet and cheerful senility…
Audrey Williamson, ‘The New Triumvirate (1944-47)’ in her Old Vic Drama: a twelve years’ study of plays and players, Rockliff, 1948: 212)





On the orchard scene:
Richardson and OlivierThe most treasurable scenes in these two productions were those in Shallow’s orchard: if I had only half an hour more to spend in theatres, and could choose at large, no hesitation but I would have these. Richardson’s performance, coupled with that of Miles Malleson as Silence, beak-nosed, pop-eyed, many-chinned and mumbling, and Olivier as Shallow, threw across the stage a golden autumnal veil, and made the idle sporadic chatter of the lines glow with the same kind of delight as Gray’s Elegy. (Kenneth Tynan, He That Plays the King: A View of the Theatre, Longmans, Green & Co., 1950)


Karin Brown, Shakespeare Institute Librarian