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


SI Old Stager on New Blood & a New Academic Year

Then nightly sings the staring owl.

A time of change is upon us here at the Shakespeare Institute Library.

I know it’s part of the academic year, as sure as the seasons roll on, and a great deal more punctual for that matter. Yet I’m always surprised by it. My inbox is flooded with good advice to new students – the system doesn’t seem capable of differentiating between the new and the continuing learner – who to write, what to write, how to find a housemate, where to file supplications for council tax exemption.

I knew it was coming, and it caught me completely unawares. It always does.

waitingLast Sunday saw the new MA students gather for the welcome tea, and from behind my desk at the Library entrance I hardly noticed. The old academic year has come to an end, and the new one is about to kick off. I haven’t met any of them yet. I haven’t met enough of the old MA’s yet, and they’re leaving this little, little stage, bowing out with Rosalind and Prospero.

It’s strange; the old MA students don’t seem so very old to me, and I find it hard to believe they’ve been here a year. I find it equally hard to believe that even younger students are about to embark on the same journey through Shakespeare scholarship I undertook not that long ago. The whirligig of time brings in more students.

I know they’re here in all their ripeness. I’ve seen a few of them in the library already. At least, I think I’ve seen them. They have the slightly overwhelmed, preoccupied look of people finding their feet on new ground. They pull at doors that should be pushed, and fumble with the card readers. Each of them reminds me a bit of Ferdinand and Viola, looking at the Institute island and trying to decide where they fit into it all.

Perfectly timed to coincide with the hurly-burly of seasonal scholarly change, we have implemented a new loans system across the University of Birmingham Libraries, which should, hopefully, make things run a little smoother all around. Loans will now automatically renew, to be recalled only when someone else requests the book. This will give our patrons the liberty to use our material with the greatest amount of freedom possible, restrained only by the needs of their fellow scholars. To the new students, this will not be a change. To them, this will be the system that always was.

Change is a natural part of the business of learning – when early career scholars are told to publish or perish, this is as much born of the necessity to contribute something preferably measurable to an academic field that often deals with things boundless as the sea, as it expresses the need for movement and for change. The day we stop moving is the day we become a museum. I feel a deep nostalgia for the past year, but I wouldn’t want to relive it.


I will miss the old ones. I look forward to meeting the new ones.

I was new once, too.

Tu-whit, tu-whoo! – a merry note.

Sara Marie Westh, LSA and PhD student at the Shakespeare Institute

‘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


Wartime Amateur Theatricals in Northampton

My father found this photograph among his father’s papers. Unlabelled, as these things so often are, he only knew that it was probably from the 1930s-1940s in Northampton and shows the cast of an amateur production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with his father among the company.


A small amount of online research revealed more photographs, images of the programme and more details about the production.



The photo shows the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by the Northampton Drama Club in Abington Park in 1945. The production was directed by Osborne Robinson from the Northampton Repertory Company. The Club performed a variety of plays throughout the war including Twelfth Night in 1942 which featured a young Richard Baker, evacuated to Northampton, who later became a television newsreader.

Founded in 1931 as the Northampton Town and County Drama League, the club eventually became the Masque Theatre in 1951 on moving into their new premises. In 1955 they achieved notable success with Cardenio, the first known performance since 1613.

The Masque Theatre continues to flourish and will be presenting Henry V in July 2016. They have an impressive website at with an archive of production photos dating from the 1930s to the present.

Richard Foulkes wrote an article on Shakespeare performances in Northampton, writing mainly about the professional Repertory Theatre, and claimed ‘There was no Shakespeare during the war. The difficulties of assembling a sufficiently large and well-balanced company were too great and with clothing materials rationed it would have been impossible to produce costumes in house.’ (‘A fairly average sort of place: Shakespeare in Northampton 1927-1987’ Shakespeare Survey, 47, 1995).

These photos would suggest otherwise.


Abington Park has two further connections with Shakespeare: the museum in the park is on the site of the manor house which once belonged to Elizabeth Bernard, Shakespeare’s granddaughter, who is buried in the local church. In the eighteenth century the house was owned by John Thursby whose wife Anne was a friend of David Garrick who visited the house and planted a cutting allegedly from Shakespeare’s New Place mulberry tree in the garden in February 1778. The plaque marking the event is now in the Abington Park Museum.

Kate Welch, Information Assistant (and Philostrate’s granddaughter)

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



The China Institute & The Shakespeare Institute: guest blog by Prof. Michael Dobson

2015 has been designated a year of Anglo-Chinese cultural dialogue, and it has already seen the Royal Shakespeare Company, with a certain amount of help from the Shakespeare Institute, embarking on a project to produce a new, theatre-friendly translation of the Complete Works into Mandarin; April 2016, the month that sees the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, will see the RSC taking Gregory Doran’s productions of Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V to Beijing and Shanghai; indeed the whole of next year will find the British Council co-ordinating Shakespeare-related events all over the world under the slogan ‘Shakespeare Lives.’ All in all, if a Shakespearean scholar with an interest in the work of the RSC can’t get flown to China by the British Council in 2015 or 2016, he or she should probably give up all hope of it ever happening.

China Dobson posterI was one of the lucky ones, this year, invited to spend the last week before the autumn term touring China to give a series of what are called ‘Smart Talks’ – mildly evangelistic lectures about key aspects of British culture and education, in my case Shakespeare. I was delighted to accept, for a number of reasons. One is that I have cherished a side-interest in the intersections between Shakespeare and China ever since I was a PhD student working on early stage adaptations of the plays, when I first encountered the 1695 semi-opera The Fairy Queen – a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with wonderful music by Purcell, in which the play’s culminating marriages are adorned not by the mechanicals’ performance of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ but by the fairies summoning a spectacular vision of Chinese landscapes and culture, complete with silks, ceramics, and oranges. In the autumn of 1999, moreover, my wife Nicola Watson and I held visitorships at PKU – Peking University, an elite institution sufficiently conservative to have clung to the older English way of spelling the city’s name – and I have tried ever since to keep in touch with the faculty and students we met during that eye-opening and enriching encounter with the city and its intellectuals.

Coriolanus, Beijing People’s Arts Theatre, 2013

Coriolanus, Beijing People’s Arts Theatre, 2013

Since then, Chinese participation in the international Shakespearean theatre has become much more conspicuous. In 2013, for instance, the Beijing People’s Arts Theatre brought their production of Coriolanus to the Edinburgh Festival, an event for which I was commissioned to write a programme note, and I revisited their home city that autumn to teach a guest class on Othello at PKU — at a time when our best man, conveniently, held the post of British Ambassador to China, and thus had a very comfortable prime ministerial suite at his disposal on Guang Hua Lu. In collaboration with my Singapore-based colleague Li-Lan Yong, moreover, I am at present designing an online MA module about recent performances of Shakespeare in China, Japan and Korea, so I was more than happy to have the chance to get over there again.

After contributing a short on-line interview to the British Council’s Voices website sketching some of the themes I would be exploring in my lectures – I reported for duty at the arrivals hall of Beijing airport on the morning of September 20th. In 1999 Nicky and I were among the last arrivals to pass through the small, battered, state-poster-adorned 1950s terminal which Mao and Nixon had known: today the airport buildings, connected by a swish internal rail system, are vast, sweeping, cosmopolitan spaces covered in the usual large shiny advertisements for international brands. In 1999, similarly, Nicky and I stayed at a wonderfully old-fashioned hotel opposite the PKU campus, the Changchungyuan, known as ‘The Intellectuals’ Hotel’, which provided only pot noodles and jasmine tea for sustenance, and which boasted a diagram of its fire escapes labelled in English as ‘Sketch of Urgent Scattered’: in 2015, my British Council organizer Fraser Deas had me driven to the Chaoyang Westin, an almost embarrassingly luxurious American chain hotel near the embassy district. Beijing’s polluted smog, however, turning the clear blue skies through which my flight had passed over Mongolia to a muffled not-exactly-grey, hadn’t changed at all – in fact my first lungfuls on stepping off the airliner, tinged with the same distinctive local nchina8otes of coal, sulphur and charcoal, transported me at once to the city of my first arrival. That jetlagged Sunday afternoon and evening were about the only free time I had for a week, and I spent them with a former PKU student and her family, exploring Chaoyang Park and its fairground attractions, talking with the kite-flyers I was pleased to find still plying their hobby in commercialized, built-up, internationalized post-Olympics Beijing, watching the personal ads and patriotic videos projected on the immense TV screen in the roof of the Place shopping mall, and eating an exceptionally good meal.

Chinese internet company Net Ease

Chinese internet company Net Ease

The Monday offered a more representative glimpse of how the rest of the week would be: in the morning, a drive to the familiar Haidian district, near PKU, to record a video interview for the huge Chinese internet company Net Ease; around lunchtime, a press conference at the hotel, conducted, via a translator, with the Beijing Evening News and representatives of three other local media organizations (as curious about the current state of British education as about Shakespeare); in the afternoon, a drive to Beijing Middle School Number 4 to give a Smart Talk to a packed hall of 14-17 year-olds; and in the evening, a return to PKU to give a paper on Hamlet to Zheng Xiaochang’s Shakespeare seminar group, including PKU graduate and former Institute visiting scholar Jia Xu.

I had long ago heard of Beijing Middle School Number 4, the most academically fierce secondary school in the capital, which according to its proud headmistress Chang Jing sends 100 of its 1400 students to PKU every year, and it did not disappoint: its architectural core is two former French Jesuit secondary school buildings just over the wall from Beihai Park, on the site of what was once the elite training facility of the Imperial Guard, and its ethos retains something of the place’s dual past. In the playground – or rather, exercise area — squads of goose-stepping students were competing to be chosen to take the salute during an impending sports day. As a prologue to my lecture, a fifteen-year-old male student performed Macduff’s speech on learning that his family have been murdered and a fifteen-year-old female student performed Lady Macbeth’s first speech, both of them fearlessly, with absolute commitment, and in near-flawless English.


As the British Council had requested, I rewarded the posers and answerers of questions with small trinkets selected from the gift shops of the RSC and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, in particular pin-on badges displaying short quotations from the plays. At that school I particularly gave out some which bear a phrase from The Tempest, ‘Thought is free’: may their wearers bear it out.
My audience in the evening at PKU were as well-informed and acute as always, but then that is a university which has a reputation for Shakespeare studies going back to the early days of Mandarin translation in the 1900s, and its English literature faculty never forget that in the late 1930s and 1940s it was the workplace of the great Cambridge-educated poet and critic William Empson. (When the Japanese invasion forced the university to abandon its campus and its library and try to teach what it still could in retreat, Empson is said to have typed the whole text of Othello from memory – though the typescript no longer survives to be checked for completeness). Zheng Xiaochang, Jia, one of the RSC’s translation team and I had dinner together in the seminar room itself after the session was over – possibly the best Chinese takeaway I have ever eaten.

Tuesday found Fraser, his colleague Diana and I flying down to the ancient rival of Beijing (‘northern capital’), namely Nanjing (‘southern capital’). Equally steamy and dirty in its atmosphere, and in the business district where we stayed overnight just as generically built-up (this time the skyscraper hotel was a Sheraton), Nanjing’s streets otherwise reminded me less of today’s Beijing than of the one I remembered from 1999, with fewer signs transliterated in pinyin and more bicycles and freight-bearing tricycles holding their own among the encroaching cars. Miles of medieval city wall survive, and there is a Forbidden-City-like palace complex fronting a famously beautiful lake, and temples and pagodas adorn the surrounding mountains, but we were destined to see none of this (nor did I so much as glimpse the Yangtse, save from the incoming ‘plane) – instead we were driven out to Nanjing University’s elegant, tree-planted new out-of-town campus some distance from the city centre. More diplomatic small-talk with deans and faculty; ritual exchanges of gifts; another superb meal (as always, our Chinese hosts were surprised by the visiting Britons’ ability to eat with chopsticks – the existence of a vast worldwide culinary diaspora seems to remain a secret in China itself); and a packed lecture hall of lively undergraduates and faculty to hear my Smart Talk. (These included, incidentally, the promising Shakespeare critic Xing Chen, recently back from Edinburgh, who presented me with a copy of her new book Reconsidering Shakespeare’s Lateness for the Institute library). I managed a swim in the hotel pool before getting to bed, but it’s not the same thing as a classical Chinese lake.

Wednesday: southwards once more, to Guangzhou. Given that Birmingham has an office in Guangzhou I was particularly curious to see the city formerly known as Canton, though my expectations weren’t high – the reports I had heard spoke of an overdeveloped, shapeless industrial conurbation which has supposedly sold its soul to international capitalism. In the event I was pleasantly surprised by a city which, though some of its downtown areas offer as arid an assembly of generic luxury shopping malls as does the Orchard Road district of Singapore (of which the lush vegetation and ubiquitous bougainvillea continually reminded me), has a real swagger and distinctiveness to its china28recent architecture (its skyscrapers somehow add up to a harmonious and imposing skyline, in a way which Beijing’s miscellaneous gigantisms never do) , and which retains a definitely and enjoyably southern atmosphere throughout. In what remained of the afternoon once we had checked into another immense corporate hotel, I took a cab to the silk market, and as the sudden tropical darkness fell I dined in the open air beside the Pearl River (on a local speciality, a superb hot and sour frog soup) before finishing the day with a viewing of the spectacularly-lit skyscrapers from a boat. The Canton Tower – a structure that resembles a giant tulip vase woven in a basketwork of glass and steel – is especially striking: lit in ever-changing combinations of blue and orange and red, it is quite beautiful enough to serve as a modern cathedral or as a monument to art itself, but around its summit all its revolving neon display is currently proclaiming is a series of advertisements, notably for Pantene shampoo.

On Thursday Fraser took me to the British Council’s Guangzhou offices to give another press conference (during which I waxed as lyrical as ever about the life-enhancing charms of Stratford and Edgbaston), and we than had lunch at a nearby restaurant, the menu chosen by the Council’s local driver. I passed the initial test of eating chicken feet with chopsticks (they were excellent), and all relaxed, and we were then told at great length about how the Cantonese way of preparing goose is self-evidently preferable to any possible recipe for Peking duck. After that, it was time to head out to Guangdong Foreign Studies University for the last of my lectures – this one prefaced by a formal session of diplomatic small-talk with the head of the university, in a magnificent reception room adorned with paintings and draperies.


One reason for this particularly marked welcome (at a university, founded by decree of Zhou En Lai, which trains future diplomats and others in over 20 different languages, a sort of Chinese counterpart to SOAS) was the presence of Duncan Lees, a distance learning student of the Shakespeare Institute who is an assistant professor at GFSU and a conspicuously inventive teacher of Shakespeare. In the few minutes that remained before I was due on stage Duncan showed me the university’s cherished statue of Shakespeare. It stands on the edge of jungle, among a canon of other state-approved artistic and philosophical worthies: Marx, Tolstoy, Confucius, Lu Xun, Beethoven – an intriguing counterpart to the more familiar pantheon of colleagues who flank Shakespeare above the main door of the Aston Webb building.

My horoscope in the China Daily that morning urged me to ‘undertake travel, and attend cultural events, for the more your own mind is enriched the more you will have to share with others,’ so though frustrated in my desire to see some Cantonese opera while in Guangzhou (apparently it mainly happens in the afternoons, when I wasn’t free) I happily accepted Fraser’s suggestion that he should put his fluency in at least Mandarin if not Cantonese at my disposal on an excursion to anything historical or cultural which I might fancy that night. I chose the Liurong Temple, with its celebrated Pagoda of the Six Banyans (1097), near which a taxi duly deposited us well after dark. The intricate surrounding streets and alleyways looked suspiciously like the venues for confrontations with gangs of pirates in a martial arts movie, but fortunately the locals we met during our protracted wanderings in search of the well-screened monument (especially a tailor, who drew an elaborate map) were universally friendly (unless you count the large rat we encountered near a fruit stall). When we finally found the temple gates they had been closed to the public for hours, but despite a disapproving Buddhist monk making a mobile-phone call in the background Fraser managed to persuade a guard to let us far enough inside at least to see the dim pagoda looming through the darkness between its sacred trees. Local culture that evening otherwise consisted of another excellent fish restaurant by the river.
I parted from the British Council on Friday morning at Guangzhou’s main railway station, and went through the surprisingly elaborate border procedures which nearly twenty years on from the 1997 handover are still required for anyone passing from the rest of China into Hong Kong.

Indeed, on arriving at Kowloon three hours to the south I not only had to deposit my suitcase in left luggage, but had to change my remaining Chinese yuan into Hong Kong dollars (discovering in the process, incidentally, that one of my 100 yuan notes, worth about £10, was a forgery, symptom of an increasingly widespread problem in the Chinese economy). I had an engagement to give a PhD supervision in the early evening to Miriam Lau, a split-site Shakespeare Institute student who works at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and is writing a thesis about Shakespearean performance in Hong Kong and its cultural valences since 1997, but I did manage take the Star Ferry across the harbour and the sometimes near-vertical Peak Tram to the island’s summit to admire miriamthe view before returning to Kowloon to see Miriam.
After our supervision there was just time for her to show me the arcade of wedding-accessory stalls she had patronized while making the preparations for her wedding last year (an event which for her had involved at least 3 entire outfits), and to share some street food as the garish neon lights lit up around us, before I took a cab to the airport to catch the 11.05pm British Airways flight back to London.
One last minor observation. Hours after my arrival home, it would be simultaneously the first day of term, my birthday, and the Chinese mid-autumn moon festival, so in order to mark this convergence – and a lunar eclipse to boot – I took a great deal of advice and stocked up, before my departure, on what I was assured were the best moon-cakes Hong Kong could provide. These are from the Kee Wah bakery, but they weren’t the brand I had seen advertised most conspicuously during the week, from Beijing through Nanjing and Guangzhou right down to Hong Kong itself. When Nicky and I first visited Beijing, in 1999, seven years after we had first tasted what was then a local brand of coffee during a visit to some friends in Seattle, the city had just seen the opening of China’s first branch of Starbucks. In 2015 the country which when I was growing up was filling TV newchina38s bulletins with images of the Cultural Revolution, and which is still a one-party communist state committed to a militantly secular materialism, is full of branches of a capitalist coffee-shop chain, all of them offering to adorn the ancient religious festival of the autumn moon with Starbucks’ own-brand moon-cakes.
Present-day China is palpably hungry for the jewel in the British Council’s crown, Shakespeare – international, exotically western in origin, but adaptable to local theatrical and cultural preferences – but its audiences seem to want American coffee in their theatre foyers too.

Prof. Michael Dobson, Director of the Shakespeare Institute

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

It is my Content, wearied with studdye to solace my Selfe in the Garden…

‘It is my Content, wearied with studdye to solace my Selfe in the Garden And to see the spoourts of nature how in every several spetise she sheweth her workmanship.’ Sir John Oglander, 1632


It goes without saying of course that the Shakespeare Institute Library is the most  wonderful environment in which to study, but even the most industrious of students must sometimes take a rest. How lucky we are then, not only to have a fantastic library, but also a beautiful garden in which to spend time taking in the scents, colours and glories of the changing seasons or sharing lunch or conversation with friends. This photograph was taken at the beginning of March, as the garden awakes from its winter slumber with a glorious show of crocuses, daffodils and primroses. Later in the summer, there will be roses, viburnum, lavender and rosemary in the well-tended beds, a show of planted pots and tubs around the patio and in the autumn, a colourful display of turning leaves on the many shrubs. All of this is looked after by David Gould, the Institute’s gardener and caretaker, who mows and prunes and waters to keep the garden looking so special.

The garden is also visited by more than just Institute members: Puck the cat has recently taken up residence, clearly regarding the garden as his territory – he is however, quite happy to share it with suitably approved admirers!


The garden is also a place of memories and celebration. The friendship bench in the back of this photograph was placed there in memory of Lizz Ketterer, a former student of the Institute who tragically died in 2011, aged just 32, while another bench celebrates the Ruby wedding anniversary of a couple who met at the Shakespeare Institute in 1968.

The garden also houses a number of interesting architectural features. The ‘Elizabethan Tower’, actually an eighteenth century folly and now known as the gazebo, used to accommodate the Institute’s only computer and previous to that is reputed to have been where Marie Corelli did her writing – maybe looking out over the garden gave her inspiration!  The stone archway which links the front of the garden to the back has also been there since Corelli’s day. A more recent addition is a bust of William Shakespeare himself amongst the shrubs and flowers.

So if you find yourself ‘wearied with study’ and looking for a place of solace and rest, just take a stroll around the Institute garden and wonder at the ‘sports of nature’.

Dr Jill Francis, Library Support Assistant, Shakespeare Institute Library


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)

‘Come and take choice of all my library’

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Shakespeare Institute Library Building in 2015shakespeare-institute-library

Books in a hut in the garden, books in the Hall, books in sheds, books in nooks and crannies, even books in Birmingham. Before 1995 the Shakespeare Institute Library was crammed into the Institute building, Mason Croft, which was bursting at the seams.

Dr Susan Brock (former SI Librarian)

Dr Susan Brock (former SI Librarian)

After a tireless fundraising campaign lead by the Librarian, Dr. Susan Brock, which included a benefit performance at the Swan Theatre by John Moffatt, Richard Pasco and Dame Judi Dench as well as many financial gifts, the Institute received a very generous donation from architect V.H. (Johnnie) Johnson. He also created a beautiful new design for the Library, complementing the existing eighteenth-century buildings.

Work commenced in the autumn of 1994 and was completed in 1995, including landscaping the gardens which soon looked as if the building had always been there.

The Shakespeare Institute finally had a purpose-built Library, large enough to hold its entire collection of books, audio-visual material and archives.

SI Library

Sadly Johnnie Johnson died before the Library was opened but his generosity and talents have been appreciated by hundreds of students and academic visitors over the years and will continue to be for many years to come.

Throughout 2015 we’ll be blogging more about the history of our wonderful library in our anniversary year. Keep posted…

Kate Welch, Information Assistant (who assisted in the setting up of the current library 20 years ago!)