Richard Burbage died #OTD 1619

In 1598, in the last days on the year, a group of men tore a building down in Shoreditch. Giles Allen, who owned the plot of land had claimed that the building being dismantled belonged to him, since the lease on the land had expired. The men disagreed, and when Allen went off to his country home for Christmas, they picked the building apart, and transported it, timber by timber, to a warehouse in Bridewell. That spring they rebuilt that building, the Theatre, and adorned it with a new, more imaginative name. The Globe had come into being.

870px-British_-_Richard_Burbage_-_Google_Art_ProjectRichard Burbage was 31, already a successful actor, when he rebuilt his father’s Theatre. When he played a part in creating the Globe, Burbage erected a stage he would come to rule. If the marble slab to his – and James Burbage’s, Cuthbert Burbage’s, William Somers’, Richard Tarlton’s, Gabriel Spencer’s, William Sly’s, and Richard Cowley’s – memory in St Leonard’s is to be believed, his most memorable thespian achievements took the form of Richard III and Hamlet.

He was a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who would become the Queen’s Men, and then, with James’ ascension, the King’s Men. Shakespeare left him money in his will, alongside John Heminge and Henry Condell, for mourning rings. Burbage overtook Shakespeare on the final stretch of road, while Heminge and Condell went on to become the driving forces behind the First Folio in 1623.

When Burbage died, in early March 1619, the sorrow that enveloped London and particularly the theatrical world of the capital was so all-encompassing it became the subject of an anonymous mocking verse, punning on the opening lines from Henry VI part 1:

Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
Comets importing change shoot through the sky:
Scourge the foul fates that thus afflict our sight!
Burbage, the player, has vouchsafed to die!
Therefore, in London is not one eye dry:
The deaths of men who act our Queens and Kings,
Are now more mourn’d than are the real things.

A second Globe stood where the Theatre’s timbers had turned to ash in 1613, but it was a hollow world, the poet complained:

Hereafter must our Poets cease to write.
Since thou art gone, dear Dick, a tragic night
Will wrap our black-hung stage

 

For more information on Richard Burbage check out these books:

C.C. Stopes Burbage and Shakespeare’s Stage (PR3095)

Bart Van Es Shakespeare in Company (PR2957)

Evelyn Tribble Early Modern Actors and Shakespeare’s Theatre – Thinking with the Body (new)

 

Sara Westh, Library Support Assistant

Shakespearean Popcorn: Snacking in the Playhouses of London

popcorn_jf10_310After a recent performance of Doctor Faustus, theatre producer Richard Jordan was an unhappy man. Writing in The Stage, he declared the West End audience to be:

‘Possibly the worst…I have ever encountered…Many of them… (were) talking, eating…often vocally commenting…There was also…an interval for bar and ice-cream sales – here was a Friday night commercial audience out for entertainment.’

With rising outrage, he continues:

‘A couple saw nothing wrong in producing…a box of … Chicken Nuggets and a large side of fries…Munching certainly seemed to be the order of the day. The couple to my left ate their way through a large tub of popcorn…while the couple on my right chomped through a packet of crisps. It was like listening to eating in Dolby stereo.’

References to ‘fast’ food and technology aside, Mr Jordan might almost have been in a 16th century playhouse.

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We know from contemporary records that Elizabethan audiences could be unruly and raucous. In our century, recent excavations of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and, more comprehensively, the Rose, have uncovered a wealth of historical and archaeological information about the structure and organisation of the playhouses. The discovery of huge quantities of food detritus reveals what was eaten there and, to some extent, by whom.

By the 1590s, the commercial theatre as we know it, was firmly established in London. It was an innovation in mass entertainment as radical as television in the 1960s and, for the first time, dramatic productions took place in purpose-built, permanent and secure venues. London’s commercial life was thriving and an increased population meant large audiences and large takings, which sustained both actors and the fabric of the buildings .The new genre was assisted by the flowering of the talent of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

theatrePublic playhouses were usually circular or many-sided in shape, and open to the air. A roofed stage jutted out from the lowest of three galleries, with standing room in front of it. This cost a modest penny and accommodated the ‘groundlings’: Hamlet’s word, and uncomplimentary, since it referred to the small fry who feed on sludge at the bottom of streams and rivers. Superior positions in the galleries cost more while the ‘Lords’ Rooms’ were closer to the stage and catered for more prestigious playgoers.

This provision for all classes of society underlines the fundamentally commercial nature of the new theatres, some of which could accommodate up to three thousand people at a time. If theatre shows us to ourselves, then the new professional playwrights drew audiences by peopling their dramas not just with Kings and nobles, but with ‘ordinary’ folk: servants, door-keepers, porters, constables and young blades on the street. So do soap operas in our own century.

The playwright, Thomas Heywood, recorded:

‘Playing is an ornament to the Citty, which strangers of all Nations repairing hither, report of in their Countries, beholding them here with some admiration;  for what variety of entertainment can there be in any Citty of Christendome, more than in London?’

The church and the authorities did not agree: a part of Southwark and its highway, Bankside, which ran beside the river, was already the site of inns, gambling dens, animal baiting rings and brothels. It was, however, outside the city limits and its laws. Not surprisingly, the building of the new theatres was only permitted in that area. They were generally regarded as dens of vice: actors had traditionally been seen as dubious individuals, but now cut-purses and prostitutes were attracted to mass audiences who were already held responsible for spreading the Plague. Heywood, having praised the theatre, also admitted, ‘Pay thy tuppence to a player (and) in (the) gallery mayest thou sit by a harlot.’

Julian Bowsher of the Museum of London Archaeology, the moving force for the playhouse excavations, describes the procedure for going to the play:

‘You entered through a main door and paid a one penny entrance fee to the ‘gatherer,’ who would have a little money box rather like a piggy bank with a bright green glaze on it and a slot through which to put a penny…they were smashed open when they were taken back stage.’

Thousands of fragments of these money boxes were found on site. But having entered the playhouse, the buying and consuming of food became a major part of the experience.

The importance of readily available snacks was made clear by one Thomas Platter (no pun intended) who wrote that ‘during the performance food and drink are carried round the audience, so that for what one cares to pay one may also have refreshment.’ Many theatres had tap rooms attached to them and, at the Rose Theatre, surviving accounts reveal that a grocer by the name of John Chomley purchased what we might now call a ‘catering franchise.’  Chomley’s house, at the south-west corner was ‘to keepe victualinge in’ to sell to theatre goers.

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Many samples collected on site indicate the consumption of native species: walnuts, hazels, almonds, elderberry, blackberry, raspberry, plum, pear, peach and cherry. That huge amounts of shellfish were eaten is evidenced by the remains of cockles, mussels, periwinkles, whelks and cuttlefish. It was the popcorn of the day. The standard dagger, carried by every man, was as much a tool as a weapon, and was used to winkle out the cheap shellfish. Oysters were a popular cheap treat and were associated with the groundlings.  Cheap food equalled cheap standing room and was identified with those at the bottom of the social scale.

A visitor to London, Paul Hentzner, recorded seeing apples, pears and nuts on sale according to season. The cores might be hurled at the stage by unruly audience members unimpressed by the play, and there are references to ‘pippins’ and nuts being used as missiles. With the opening of new trade routes, much fruit was imported into London and raisins, dates, currants, figs and prunes were popular. Oranges from southern Europe arrived in large quantities but were expensive and regarded as exotic. Numerous pips were found at the Rose excavations. While the privileged in London might afford to buy them, they had also reached other areas. I am indebted to my colleague Dr Jill Francis for informing me of accounts which show that oranges were given as gifts in the provinces, reiterating their status as luxury items. The seeds of marrow, pumpkin, squash and gourd represent relatively early evidence of contact with the New World.

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Apart from ‘water-bearers’ in the playhouse yard, the only other beverage seems to have been ‘bottled ale.’ This made a loud fizzing noise when opened and, along with the continual cracking of nuts, formed what may have been a disturbing accompaniment to the play. ‘When (a playwright) hears his play hissed, hee would rather thinke bottle-Ale is opening’ wrote a sardonic commentator. Ale did, however, fulfil a practical purpose when, on the occasion of the burning down of the Globe Theatre, it was used to extinguish the burning breeches of an unwary man.

forkThe privileged, meanwhile, brought their own more glamorous food along with their own wine, glasses and cutlery. An iron fork found at the Rose excavations bore its owners initials inlaid in brass, and would have sported an elegant wooden handle. This was upmarket cutlery identified as a ‘sucket’ fork, used to spear sweetmeats such as marchpane (marzipan), sugar-bread and gingerbread – the equivalent of a box of quality chocolates today. Its owner must have been someone of sophisticated tastes and some social status for such an item would not have been associated with the groundlings.

The variety of foodstuffs available in the playhouses was remarkably wide. It was also organic, and packed with the antioxidants, vitamins and enzymes which we are encouraged to consume today. The mass-produced, ‘fast ’food of our own century, laden with artificial colouring and chemically-derived flavourings may, in nutritional terms, be far worse for our health.

Bring on the whelks!

Bettina Harris (Library Support Assistant)

Mexico’s marvellous I Henry IV

On Tuesday 20 May we were privileged to a screening of the National Theatre of Mexico’s I Henry IV at the Shakespeare Institute. Translated by Alfredo Michel Modenessi, the production was performed at the Globe in London in May 2012 as part of the Globe to Globe Festival, where it was deemed a ‘deliciously muscular’, ‘technically bravura performance’ by its critics.

Henry IV

Dr Erin Sullivan introduced the production which she first heard about when she was working on the Year of Shakespeare project in 2012 – a project which documented the Globe to Globe and World Shakespeare Festivals through a series of audience reviews and responses. The response to this I Henry IV was remarkable and overflowing. Comments included:

Under Hugo Arrevillaga’s exhilarating direction, the performance of I Henry IV by the Compañia Nacional de Teatro Mexico managed possibly the best of what theatre can do: break down the barriers between actors and audience and engage the provocative realities of our shared and disparate histories. (Dr David Ruiter, reviewer) – See more at: http://bloggingshakespeare.com/year-of-shakespeare-henry-iv-part-one#sthash.R2SWM96a.dpuf

In the standing ovation while crying my heart out of pride for being Mexican and seeing a superb performance today #G2G @The_Globe #HenryIV (Twitter response)

This was one of the best productions of a Shakespeare play that I have seen in a long time, by any company. It was obvious from the play and the talk on Monday night that the translator, Dr. Alfredo Michel Modenessi, loves and respects Shakespeare’s poetry. He rendered it into a dazzling Spanish that caught the dynamics of HIV1, a play that so wonderfully blends high and low language. (online commenter)

As Alfredo explained in the Q&A after the screening, the production was designed for street theatre therefore needed to make it work for the crowd. The first 15 performances were played in The Zócalo, Mexico City’s Main Square – a very large public and very political space. With lots of noise, movement and people going about their business one can only imagine what a tough space that was for the actors to work. One could also appreciate that a completely different approach to the text was needed to engage such a crowd.

What struck those viewing the production was the intense energy of the production and the actors’ visible enjoyment at having the opportunity to perform at the Globe. Despite the difficulties of outdoor performances being visited upon them – rain, hail, low-flying aircraft – the production won out. Indeed at the moment when Falstaff declared “I want life” in a downpour of rain, nature’s impromptu stage design seemed incredibly well-timed. That electrifying moment emphasised that, in this production, Falstaff as performed by the marvellous Roberto Soto, was a force of nature that stood for life and the end of violence.

Falstaff

This production played beautifully and viscerally with idea of what Alfredo called ‘the ebb and flow’ of life and the instability of a world stuck in patterns of destructive violence through internecine struggle. The stage was made up of movable wooden platforms that were rearranged for each scene by the actors which visually emphasised this instability. The Lady Mortimer scene was not played in a traditional way as a touching love sceneHenry IV Lady Mortimer but for full comic effect. Obviously, with being a Mexican production Welsh could not be the language used for this scene. The amazing actress, Gabriela Nunez (who played 5 other roles in the play, including all the women!) instead, spoke her own form of gibberish; which reminded me of J B Priestley’s line from Benighted – “Even Welsh ought not to sound like that!” Alfredo mentioned how this scene was criticised for its lack of refinement and for not being truthful to Shakespeare. However, the comedy of heightened emotion was important to the sense of the ebb and flow of action and emotion within the production.

Music was utilised extremely effectively with overarching drum beats and horns adding to the sense of energy. The players were given leitmotifs which also added to the emerging rhythms of the play’s characters and action.

The translation was incredibly faithful to Shakespeare’s text. Alfredo explained how he translated the whole play which was then cut around the number of actors and the time allocated – “a painful experience for the translator.” When translating The Comedy of Errors he had to write a version that could fit 7 actors because, he was told, “that’s all the van will take!” When translating Love’s Labour’s Lost the cast was cut from four lords and ladies to three of each. Let’s face it – there’d be little harm in losing a couple!

With this production of Henry IV what was clear was that the actors loved the stage at the Globe. The company came with the feeling that it was a special occasion – they kissed and slapped the stage with their hands in acknowledgement of the venue and the occasion. Laura Barnett in the Guardian related how: ‘The eight actors clambered down from the stage and stood among the groundlings, arms linked and held aloft, as if in communal prayer: a dramatic moment that set the tone for an engagingly energetic and inclusive performance.’

Our thanks to Erin, Alfredo and the company of Mexico’s Compañia Nacional de Teatro for an inspiring and refreshing take on a marvellous play.

Karin Brown, Shakespeare Institute Librarian

The Jasper Britton Script Collection

With Jasper Britton returning to the Royal Shakespeare Company to play the eponymous character in Gregory Doran’s productions of Henry IV, it seems a good time to delve into one of our newest collections in the Shakespeare Institute Library. Our intrepid leader, Karin Brown, is making great strides in expanding the SIL’s special collections, especially those items connected with the performance history of early modern plays. The Jasper Britton Script Collection contains five treasures from four of his Globe and RSC appearances: Macbeth and The Tempest from productions at the former and Gregory Doran’s productions of The Taming of the Shrew and John Fletcher’s The Tamer Tamed from 2003.

Jasper Britton in rehearsal for Henry IV

Jasper Britton in rehearsal for Henry IV
Photo: Kwame Lestrade

Britton’s association with the RSC begins long before our script collection, having appeared in A Jovial Crew, The Beggar’s Opera, as Meander in Terry Hands’ production of Tamburlaine  (which memorably had Antony Sher climbing up a rope and hanging upside down, just because he could I seem to recall – I’d be surprised if he did that again as Falstaff, although it’d be amusing with him reuinted with Britton in the Henry IVs) and as a Soothsayer in John Caird’s Antony and Cleopatra in the 1992-93 season. The first of Britton’s two ten year gaps between RSC Shakespeare appearances then occurred, during which time he (according to the World Shakespeare Bibliography) played Richard III for Brian Cox at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park in 1995 (incidentally, we also have the Open Air Theatre’s archive collection including material related to Jasper Britton’s Richard III; more of that another time), Theresites in Trevor Nunn’s Troilus and Cressida at the National Theatre in 1999 and Macbeth opposite Eve Best at the Globe in 2001. As a Troilus and Cressida addict, I’d love nothing else but to have a look through the script for that, but alas…

Jasper Britton's script for Macbeth

Jasper Britton’s script for Macbeth
The Globe, 2001

No sense in dwelling on what’s missing from Britton’s Shakespearean career, though. What we do have in the Jasper Britton collection is an unadulterated field day for the researcher of contemporary Shakespearean theatre. Unlike promptbooks, which record – with varying degrees of detail depending on the stage manager – the production as set when it reaches the stage, this collection of scripts details the actor’s rehearsal process through a mass of annotations written throughout Britton’s personal copies.

Macbeth, Globe, 2001

Macbeth, Globe, 2001
Photograph Alastair Muir

The breadth of the comments can be seen on one page of Macbeth in 1.3 just as the witches vanish and leave him alone with Banquo. Next to his line to the Witches, Britton writes: “or witches, what’s in it for you?”; halfway down the page in between Banquo’s “That takes reason prisoner?” and his response, Britton has noted “PAUSE”; and next to Ross’s lines on entry to the scene (“The King hath happily receiv’d, Macbeth”), Britton writes, “Don’t cross legs”. From this one page, we glean a paraphrase, a technical note on line delivery, and a note on the physicality of the character. In other words, a treasure trove of material detailing the process by which Britton has created the character. The snag is having the finished script and not being able to unpack the timeline of the annotations, so we don’t know how this layering developed. What we do know is that it happened, of course, which is extremely valuable to the theatre researcher because so little investigation delves into process.

Taming of the Shrew, RSC, 2003

The Taming of the Shrew
RSC, 2003
Photographer: Jonathan Dockar-Drysdale

The acting process is (to completely simplify something complex) about adding layers to the character in order to create a living, breathing and believable human being from the clues in the text and the imagination of the actor. What Britton’s scripts beautifully capture is the creation of subtext in the margins, providing an insight into the characters Britton built on stage. For The Taming of the Shrew, it is apparent that he was creating a sympathetic character out of what is unrelenting brutality on the page, interpreting Petruchio in a fresh and inventive way against the grain of usual portrayals of the character as a swaggering braggert. Britton’s motivations – as shown in these scripts – are counterintuitive, as with the act four arrival of Kate and Petruchio at the latter’s home. Britton writes on the blank page adjacent to the text in his Applause First Folio edition of the play a note for this scene, saying “All that goes wrong is awful because it’s not good enough for Kate.”  Next to Petruchio’s line “Food, food, food, food!” Britton writes, “Ask for it! – for her – she’s starving,” which again implies his Petruchio is attempting to look after his new bride. Amusingly, Britton’s view of Petruchio as eager to please Kate extends to his dog, as his subtextual note corresponding with “Where’s my spaniel Troilus?” says, “he’s lovely – you’ll love him.” Those of you who are familiar with this scene are possibly shouting at your computer by now and saying what a beast Petruchio is to Kate, making her go to bed starving, picking fights with servants, etc. There’s a subtextual fix for that too as Petruchio is left alone to soliloquize “Thus have I politicly begun my reign” yet he’s thinking – according to Britton’s notes in the margin, “ F***ed that up, didn’t I?” These script annotations reveal an actor who takes risks in making choices by not going for the obvious reading, which translates into a three-dimensional and sympathetic character on the stage, as some reviewers noted:  Susannah Clapp in the Observer noted “Britton’s finely judged Petruchio is no demon: he’s troubled and perplexed” and, similarly, picking up on the fine detail and nuance of Britton’s performance, John Peter in The Times wrote, “His swagger is brilliantly aggressive, but it hides a slight sense of insecurity that makes him human.” The Jasper Britton Script Collection provides a wealth of information about the actor’s thinking about his character and how he created his unconventional reading through thinking clearly about the subtext, marking his thoughts in the margin of his script.

Dr Jami Rogers (Library Support Assistant and alumna of the Shakespeare Institute)

Other actors’ scripts held by the University include those belonging to Samuel West (SIL), Nigel Hawthorne (SIL), Norman Painting (CRL), John Gielgud (CRL), Laurence Olivier (CRL), and Noel Coward (CRL) (SIL – held at the Shakespeare Institute Library, Stratford-upon-Avon / CRL – held at the Cadbury Research Library, Birmingham)