Category Archives: Early Modern and Shakespeare

King’s English and the origins of South African liberation

by Gordon McMullan, Professor of English at King’s College London and Director of the London Shakespeare Centre

A little over a century ago, King’s English professor Israel (later Sir Israel) Gollancz –medievalist, Shakespearean and founding member of the British Academy – published a substantive commemorative volume to mark the Shakespeare Tercentenary of 1916. Grandly titled A Book of Homage to Shakespeare, it contains a hundred and sixty-six contributions – poems, essays, encomia – reflecting the pre-eminence of Shakespeare’s works in global culture: a poem by Thomas Hardy, a eulogy by John Galsworthy, a humorous ‘vision’ by Rudyard Kipling, a poem by a former New Zealand High Commissioner entitled ‘The Dream Imperial’, along with enthusiastic pieces by Shakespeare scholars and politicians from across the world.

Sir Israel Gollancz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certain contributions stand out as expressing less normative world views – two in particular. One is a poem in Gaelic by future Irish president Douglas Hyde, in which (in a passage mysteriously omitted from the English translation…) he describes ‘Albion’ as ‘deceitful sinful guileful / Hypocritical destructive lying slippery’. The other is a piece entitled ‘A South African’s Homage’ by an unnamed writer who writes in Tswana, a language spoken mainly in contemporary South Africa and Botswana, also in Namibia and Zimbabwe – in other words, someone very different from what you might, in light of the array of overwhelmingly white establishment figures named in the table of contents, have expected.

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The heterogeneous nature of manuscript recipe books in early modern England

by Kate Owen
Kate Owen has recently completed her MA in the English department at King’s College London. She has an interest in the medical humanities, the transmission of scientific knowledge in the early modern period, and is currently a volunteer at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum and Archive. 

In the second semester of my master’s programme, Early Modern English Literature: Text and Transmission, I took a module called ‘professing writing’. This module looks at a large range of literary and non-literary genres, such as poetry, devotional texts, travel writing and scientific writing. Through guest lecturers and trips to professional libraries, the module also introduced different approaches to academic research. It was on one of these trips to the Wellcome Library, that I first came across early modern women’s recipe books.

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Reflections from ‘The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text’ Conference

By Dr Romola Nuttall and Julian Neuhauser

‘The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text’ was one of the events supported by the King’s English Department and two of its research groups (the Text Histories and Politics Research Cluster and the Collaborative Seed Fund Partnership) in the academic year 2018-19. This ambitious two-day conference took place in Bush House on 14-15 June 2019. What began as a conference expanded to include a talk at Middle Temple by the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, (and Middle Templar) Lord Igor Judge, an event at Temple Church held in conjunction with the Inner Temple Historical Society and the Inner Temple Drama society, a Middle Temple Library exhibition of materials curated especially for the conference, and a professional revival of The Misfortunes of Arthur (1587) by the Dolphin’s Back theatre company in Gray’s Inn Chapel on 14 June 2019.

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Engendering the Stage in London

by Hailey Bachrach and Dr Romola Nuttall, King’s College London

An Apology for Actors: Early Modern Playing Then and Now, King’s College London, Friday 10 May 2019

Research in Action: Engendering the Stage, Shakespeare’s Globe, Monday 13 May 2019.

“Engendering the Stage in the Age of Shakespeare and Beyond” brings together scholars, actors and theatre practitioners to analyse the performance of gender in early modern drama and investigate the effects of women’s performance on the skills, techniques and technologies of the performance of femininity in the drama of Shakespeare and his English and European contemporaries. In May, the project held two events in London at King’s and Shakespeare’s Globe.

The workshop at King’s considered children’s companies and female performers at court as well as professional, more typical, “actors”. The Research in Action event at Shakespeare’s Globe used scenes which include gendered expressions of rage for public performance and audience discussion.

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Presenting the Early Modern Inns Of Court and the Circulation of Text

PhD researchers in the English department organise many conferences throughout the year. We asked current PhD researcher Julian Neuhauser, co-organiser of “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text” with newly-minted Dr Romola Nuttall, to reflect on what inspired the conference and the various other events that are set to take place this summer.

By Julian Neuhauser, PhD candidate in the English Department

Since their establishment in the 14th century, the Inns of Court have been at the centre of legal scholarship and practice. Thought of as the ‘third university’, the Inns attracted graduates of Oxford and Cambridge who wanted to professionalise as lawyers and politicians. These student members of the Inns brought with them the habits and forms of sociability that they learned at university, including their socio-literary activities.

Grays Inn
Grays Inn courtyard

In order to investigate the literary history of the Inns of Court, I have been co-organising, along with Romola Nuttall (who defended her thesis at King’s in 2018), a conference called “The Early Modern Inns of Court and the Circulation of Text”. The conference will pull together cutting edge, materially-grounded, and culturally critical literary scholarship about the Inns, and we are also arranging a whole host of events around the papers and keynotes.

Romola was keen that we think about how to incorporate the Inns’ tradition of holding revels into our program. Revels were opulent and mirthful events, held annually around Christmas. They included lavish dinners, student run plays, and flyting – that is, combative (though usually well-spirited) extemporaneous oral jousting.

On the occasion of a particularly riotous Middle Temple revel in 1598, the poet and Middle Temple man Sir John Davies smashed a cudgel (like a Quidditch beater) over the head of fellow poet and lawyer Richard Martin. The event resulted in Davies’ ban from Middle Temple, but it also prompted him to return to New College, Oxford and, perhaps as an act of self-reflective contrition,[1] compose his poem Nosce Teipsum (‘Know Thyself’, check out an excerpt here.) Continue reading Presenting the Early Modern Inns Of Court and the Circulation of Text

Shakespeare at war

By Amy Lidster, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of English, @amy_lidster

Productions of Shakespeare’s plays have been regularly used to comment on the political and public affairs of their performance moment – occasionally provoking heated responses. In 2017, for example, the Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park prompted a media furore (led by Fox News), because the presentation of Caesar bore a striking resemblance to Donald Trump.

The Public Theatre, other news media, and Shakespeare scholars (such as Stephen Greenblatt) were quick to point out that Shakespeare’s play hardly condones the assassination of Caesar and that it explores, instead, the conspirators’ flawed and extreme reactions to a democracy under threat. But audience responses cannot be contained by a careful reading of the text, and, while a production may clearly announce its relevance to contemporary politics, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific application or to control public responses to it.

Shakespeare in the Park/ ‘Julius Caesar‘, New York, 2017.

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‘Yours Truly, Lady Macbeth’

The Shakespeare Academy has been running at King’s for the past three years as a Widening Participation project. In 2017-18 we reached over 350 students, continuing to develop close partnerships with teachers and pupils at eight London state-funded secondary schools, from Key Stage 3 to GCSE. We run workshops with the students that investigate Shakespeare’s plays through seminar-style sessions, readings, and creative writing activities. Read more about the Shakespeare Academy here.

Below you can read some examples of creative writing by Years 9 and 10 students from our summer 2018 workshops. We asked them to imagine what Lady Macbeth might have written if she had left a suicide note. As you can see, the pieces are inspired by the imagery and language of the play, but re-imagined for a modern audience.

I was particularly encouraged by the ways in which students engaged with the gender politics of Macbeth. Their writings express the limitations of Lady Macbeth’s agency within early modern patriarchy with a subtlety that I found truly impressive. The entrants showcased below were chosen for their originality, insight and imaginative engagement with Shakespeare’s text.  They express the individual poetic and creative voices of the students, while maintaining close adherence to the characterisation, imagery and tone of the play.

Dr Gemma Miller, English Department and Globe Education Continue reading ‘Yours Truly, Lady Macbeth’

Stimulating student interest in Shakespeare with the King’s Shakespeare Academy

By Dr Gemma Miller, Department of English and Globe Education

The Shakespeare Academy has been running at King’s for the past three years and I am very proud to have been involved from its inception. In 2017-18 we reached over 350 Widening Participation students, continuing to develop close partnerships with teachers and pupils at eight London state-funded secondary schools, from Key Stage 3 to GCSE. We’ve also run Teachers Days with the London Shakespeare Centre.

My role as administrator and workshop leader involves liaising with the schools, creating the programme for the Academy study days, supporting my colleagues in preparing individual sessions and delivering workshops myself. I am particularly passionate about inclusive access to education: my brother and I were the first in our family to obtain degrees. I also  believe that engaging with Shakespeare in an interactive and creative way can help to break down perceived barriers by making the plays seem more accessible.

All ‘national curriculum’ students study Shakespeare (two plays at key stages 3 and at least one play at key stage 4). Many of the pupils we work with are from Black or Ethnic Minority backgrounds, or come from families where their parents or carers have not attended university. We give these students access to university-style learning to give them a taste of what they can expect. This makes Shakespeare’s plays a valuable common currency to reach groups who are under-represented in tertiary education.  Also, plays such as Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet deal with important social and political issues – power, love, inter-generational conflict, gang warfare –  that are still relevant today. The plays are  useful tools for thinking about wider social concerns that are universally recognisable.

The Weird Sisters (Shakespeare, MacBeth, Act 1, Scene 3) engraving by John Raphael Smith after Henry Fuseli. The Met. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/395662

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John Donne and the Jacobean Fake Media

by Melanie Marshall (Lincoln College, Oxford) and Daniel Starza Smith (English Department, King’s College London)

Every regime seeks to control the media. In the quest to dominate the official story, a repressive state might own the press outright (North Korea sits bottom of the 2018 World Press Freedom Index). It might sit tight with those who do (any British Prime Ministerial hopeful must bend the knee to Rupert Murdoch). It might restrict it (Google is making a limited search engine for China). Or it might simply undermine it: a racist tweet from Donald Trump is an effective distraction from ongoing scandals. Meanwhile, the American media’s ability to hold him to account is steadily eroded by accusations of fakery, disloyalty and partisanship.

Such tyrannical controls are hardly new, and early modern England faced its own media restrictions. Queen Elizabeth I famously claimed to want “no windows into men’s souls,” but with their reading material she proved less liberal. Throughout the last decade of her reign, her power waned and censorship tightened, until in 1599 the so-called Bishops’ Ban made the printing of satire a crime. Yet satire thrives on subversion, and the inflammatory material of the 1590s circulated away from the eyes of the state’s press-licensers. Handwritten copies of mischievous material passed from sympathiser to sympathiser, engendering more copies as they went.

Just such a privately circulated manuscript emerged in December 2016. Working through a tin trunk of scraps at Westminster Abbey, Matthew Payne, Keeper of the Muniments, uncovered a small booklet written in an early seventeenth-century hand, containing a work by the poet John Donne (1572–1631). It proved to be a copy of Donne’s Catalogus Librorum Satyricus, known in English as The Courtier’s Library, a satirical list of fake books whose composition we can now date securely to 1603 or early 1604.

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Figuring Gender Difference in Phyllida Lloyd’s Shakespeare Trilogy

by Hailey Bachrach, PhD candidate researching gender in early modern history plays in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, @hbachrach.

If you’ve heard of director Phyllida Lloyd’s Shakespeare Trilogy, which debuted at the Donmar Warehouse from 2012 to 2016 and was released in full on BBC iPlayer on 17 June,  you’ve probably heard of its premise: it is performed by a company made up entirely of women, and framed as plays put on by a group of female prisoners. The three plays—Julius Caesar, Henry IV (the two parts combined into one), and The Tempest—are all intimately concerned with questions of masculinity and male relationships—fathers, brothers, sons—and are all notoriously light on female characters.

The prison framing device means, however, that they are not devoid of a female presence. There is no attempt at prosthetics or illusion in the production’s costumes. The actors wear prison-issue grey sweatpants and t-shirts, with accessories to designate changes of character. When Henry IV opened in 2014, Harriet Walter, who stars in all three productions, wrote that  ‘our neuter prison garb … helps the audience put aside any questions of “Are they men playing women or women playing men?”… I would argue that when the cast are all women, we can look beyond gender to our common humanity’.

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