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 Mary, Countess of Pembroke: poetry, patronage and power

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

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 Ben Jonson: his early life and how it shaped him

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

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

Thomas Kyd: fragments of a life

The life and work of Thomas Kyd offer a perfect example of the problems posed by the erosion of evidence over time – see my post here – since what little we do know seems wholly arbitrary in its survival, yet also hints at the enormity of what we have lost. Kyd, a prosperous scrivener’s … Continue reading Thomas Kyd: fragments of a life

More on the Shakespeare authorship question

Many thanks to those who have taken the time to comment on my previous post on the Shakespeare authorship controversy. Since one of those, from Howard Schumann – sorry I can't work out how to link to it – is from an Oxfordian perspective, I thought I should reply more fully. My general point is … Continue reading More on the Shakespeare authorship question