This lecture was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint – your chairperson was ecstatic, being almost a lifelong Shakespeare fan and a regular visitor to Stratford-upon-Avon.
Kate’s view of the world that Shakespeare inhabited was fascinating. The transition from a world dominated by religion to a more secular one was the pivot on which her lecture was built. The development of the theatre in Tudor times was crucial to Shakespeare’s success. How did the son of a glovemaker (his father skirted the law somewhat shyly) become the legend? We must always remember that he was not alone. In fact, his greatest rival, Ben Jonson, sought to outdo Shakespeare on every point. Playwrights became as popular as sportsmen are today, and their theatres and companies were boosted by their fans.
With the Renaissance the focus of life shifted from religious stories and scenes – for example the Miracle plays – to man himself. This Renaissance man sought to impress upon the world his feats and achievements and recorded himself for posterity in the pre-photographic portraits which adorned the walls of his home. Shakespeare himself is often recognised by a rather pompous portrait of a balding, middle aged man with no trace of the wicked humour that characterised him.
He left Stratford and his wife and family to seek his fortune in London, sending home money to sustain the family. The plays he wrote were drawn from sources around him, many from tales told by sailors or popular news stories of the day. Who could think of Shakespeare and not remember Richard III, Bottom, Malvolio or the star crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, in the first of modern day ‘weepies’? Who could forget the Roman plays with the horrific scenes of punishment of Titus Andronicus’ daughter or the spoilt magnificence of Cleopatra?
Shakespeare’s plays were published after his death and that folio is still in existence though not in England unfortunately. They were so popular they survived the destructive Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan ways. The plays have survived for nearly five hundred years, never waning in popularity. Many a producer has ‘modernised’ Shakespeare’s plays but the scripts are still as fresh as ever.
We look forward to hearing more from this very popular lecturer. Thank you, Kate O’Leary, for a highly entertaining afternoon!