Shakespeare, Catholicism and pre-Reformation festive culture

It is hard to overstate the volume and variety of entertainers whom one might have encountered on England’s roads in the early 1500s. But then, it’s a phenomenon that we’re viewing through the filter of what occurred later, around the turn of the century and after, when theatrical and performance culture was forcibly narrowed, shaped … Continue reading Shakespeare, Catholicism and pre-Reformation festive culture

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Travelling players, minstrelsy, Shakespeare and spies

Sometime in the early 1600s, the Warwickshire antiquarian Sir Simon Archer transcribed a document dated St Matthew’s Day – 21 September – 1444 and signed by John Talbot, second earl of Shrewsbury (and the hero of 1 Henry VI). In it, Talbot confirmed the rights of all Shropshire minstrels to gather in Shrewsbury each year … Continue reading Travelling players, minstrelsy, Shakespeare and spies

The death of Anne Boleyn: a correspondent writes to Elizabeth I

It is impossible to know what Elizabeth I thought or felt about the fact that her father, Henry VIII, had executed her mother, Anne Boleyn, on charges of adultery with, among others, Elizabeth’s uncle and Anne’s brother. It is entirely possible, given that she was not yet three when her mother died, that she had … Continue reading The death of Anne Boleyn: a correspondent writes to Elizabeth I

Sir Thomas Smith and covetousness in history

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about Sir Thomas Smith, late in life and in poor health, complaining about how difficult it was to work for Elizabeth I. (I also quoted his trenchant observation on the implications of the Ridolfi plot here.) Smith is a fascinating example of those apparently minor figures in Tudor … Continue reading Sir Thomas Smith and covetousness in history

Richard Tarlton: the greatest star of the Elizabethan theatre

I have written elsewhere – see for instance my post on the life of Thomas Kyd – on the way in which the more or less arbitrary survival of documentary evidence distorts our ideas about the shape and richness of Elizabethan culture. And for us, looking back, the theatre of the period looks like a … Continue reading Richard Tarlton: the greatest star of the Elizabethan theatre