Mary, Countess of Pembroke: poetry, patronage and power

This is, more or less, the text of the talk I gave earlier this month at the Wilton History Festival. Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and her sons William and Philip, were the most influential patrons of the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. Let’s begin with a story to illustrate that assertion. For the moment, we will... Continue Reading →

Of God and Jonson: theatre history, new things and non-events

I was fortunate to be able to attend some of the superb Before Shakespeare conference at Roehampton last week. I came away with a range of thoughts and ideas, some of which I hope to pursue in one form or another. Perhaps the thing that struck me most, however, was Bill Ingram’s opening talk. Ingram... Continue Reading →

Wilton History Festival: the Countess of Pembroke and her circle

Just a brief post to say I will be speaking at Wilton History Festival on 17 September about the literary circle around Mary Sidney and the power of patronage. For those who don't know, Mary Sidney was the younger sister Philip Sidney and is the Countess of Pembroke for whom he wrote the Arcadia. However,... Continue Reading →

History Today: Shakespeare in London by Hannah Crawforth, Sarah Dustagheer and Jennifer Young

The world might be forgiven for rolling its eyes at the prospect of another book on Shakespeare. Does Shakespeare in London, the latest addition to the Bloomsbury Arden list,  have anything new to say? The answer is a confident yes. Shakespeare in London is a short book with big ambitions. It weaves together various narratives... Continue Reading →

History Today: Shakespeare, the Blackfriars and the theatre of experience

It has always bemused me that there is so little formal – or, for that matter, informal – dialogue and collaboration between historians and literary scholars. Each are aware of the others’ work, certainly; but the intellectual, cultural and administrative inheritances that maintain the academic silos of schools and faculties surely seem increasingly outdated in... Continue Reading →

John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship: an interview with Andy Kesson

Last week saw the launch of Andy Kesson’s brilliant new book John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship, which makes an eloquent and powerful case for both the quality of Lyly’s work and its importance to early modern literature as we understand it. It is full of fascinating insights into literary and print culture and commerce... Continue Reading →

The Dutch Church: the dissolution and its tragic aftermath

It is convenient for historians to conceive of history in neat discrete categories, but all too often that approach both obscures continuities and suggests that events are less brutally random than they are. There are, for instance, many ways of writing about the influence of the English Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries on... Continue Reading →

Review: The Hollow Crown: Richard II

The BBC’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad quartet of history plays, broadcast under the title The Hollow Crown, began with Richard II, directed by Rupert Goold and adapted by Goold and his longstanding colleague in the theatre Ben Power. There is a saying - I associate it with John Huston, but I have seen it... Continue Reading →

Ben Jonson: his early life and how it shaped him

Contrary as always, Ben Jonson could cast horoscopes – but didn’t believe in them. What, then, would he have made of his own? In some ways, perhaps, he was born lucky: winter offered the worst chances of survival for an Elizabethan baby; Jonson was born in midsummer. Even so, he was fortunate to survive. One... Continue Reading →

Shakespeare’s England: Stratford Journeys #2

Coming out of the birthplace I looked across the street, trying to imagine stepping across the threshold to see a row of late medieval or Tudor houses and workshops. It’s not too difficult: England is full of such survivals, after all. But of course it’s futile to try to dredge much meaning from the attempt,... Continue Reading →

Reflections on Shakespeare’s birthplace, Tudor aesthetics of scent and the invention of identity

Shakespeare's birthplace is a wonderful Tudor survival and we are, of course, lucky to have it. But I can’t help but wonder if the emphasis on Shakespeare’s birth itself is taken a little too far in Henley Street – at the expense of other aspects of his life here. Clearly it’s significant and interesting that... Continue Reading →

Street theatre and survivals of the ritual year in Shakespeare’s Stratford

The Guild Hall was the principal venue in Stratford for visiting troupes of players, who would perform beneath the room where Shakespeare and his fellow schoolboys laboured. But at many Elizabethan schools, performing plays formed part of the curriculum. It was true of prestigious schools such as Westminster, where Ben Jonson studied, Merchant Taylors in... Continue Reading →

Shakespeare’s England: Stratford journeys #1

I’m outside the As You Like It café on Henley Street in Stratford, two doors up from the entrance to Shakespeare’s birthplace, sitting with a cup of hot pale tea in my hands, its steam drifting listlessly upwards, fading into nowhere. Before me, uneaten, sits a slice of white half-warm toast buttered just too late... Continue Reading →

Shakespeare, the lost years and the London stage

It is usually said that Shakespeare re-emerges from ‘the lost years’ with Robert Greene’s flighted asides in Groatsworth of Wit, published in 1592 (and possibly the work of its editor, Henry Chettle), and which I quoted in an earlier post. Although it has sometimes been argued that Greene may not be having at Shakespeare here,... Continue Reading →

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