By Professor Grace Ioppolo, English Literature professor at the University of Reading, and 2017 Sam Wanamaker Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe
Although the Sam Wanamaker Fellowship Lecture was scheduled several months ago, for Thursday 8 June, the timing is now auspicious, for it will take place on the evening of the General Election.
Whilst my subject will be how Shakespeare viewed his audiences, I will now be obliged to work in a few Shakespearean quotes and puns on elections (at least from Hamlet and Julius Caesar, not to mention All’s Well that Ends Well (‘thy frank election make; / Thou hast power to choose, and they none to forsake.”).
We know how we feel about Shakespeare, but we don’t really know how he felt about his theatrical audiences and readers. My talk will look at evidence that still exists in archival records and in play texts from the late 16th and early 17th century about how Shakespeare and his colleagues viewed public and private audiences.
I assume that Shakespeare liked us as much as we liked him, although he knew that
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
So, it’s the poet who gives the audience the power to use their imagination. Whether they accept that power is up to them.
Digital archive teaches us about Shakespearean theatre production
I was invited by Dr Patrick Spottiswoode to serve as the 2017 Sam Wanamaker Fellow at Shakespeare’s Globe and present the Fellowship Lecture after I gave the inaugural SAM Talk (the Globe’s equivalent of a TED talk) on the 400th anniversary in 2016 of the very theatrical death of 16th century theatrical entrepreneur Philip Henslowe.
I am one of the world’s leading experts on Henslowe and his son-in-law Edward Alleyn, one of the two most famous actors of Shakespeare’s time, as I digitised 2000 pages of their theatrical archive (housed at Dulwich College, which Alleyn founded in 1619) in the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project.
Unlike Shakespeare and his colleagues and co-investors in the Globe, and the Lord Chamberlain’s (later the King’s) Men, Henslowe and Alleyn managed to keep together their entire archive of deeds, theatrical contracts, leases, account books, receipts, letters and other documents, and Alleyn ensured the archive’s survival at Dulwich College by stipulating in the College’s foundation document that his papers remain intact there.
Shakespeare’s papers did not survive, nor did the theatrical records of the Burbage family and their colleagues. So almost all that we know about theatres and theatrical production in Shakespeare’s age comes from the Henslowe-Alleyn archive.
I have no doubt whatsoever that Alleyn and Henslowe, who also built the Fortune playhouse in 1600 as a rival to the Globe, knew that their papers were not simply legal documents but the foundation for a theatrical archive that would document for centuries the finest age of English theatre.
Henslowe, who in 1597 built the Rose playhouse on London’s Southbank, at which the plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare were staged, has been in the news again recently. The Rose Trust announced that they had received a development grant of £248,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for The Rose Revealed Project to expand the archaeological excavations of the Rose site and build a visitor and theatre centre.
The Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project plays an integral role in these archaeological excavations, as the Project contains digital images of all the documents relating to the planning, building and maintenance of the original Rose from 1587 through the early 17th century.
The Sam Wanamaker Fellowship Lecture takes place on Thurasday 8 June at 8pm in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, part of Shakespeare’s Globe in London. For more information, and to buy tickets, visit the Shakespeare’s Globe website.