Actor. Playwright. Social Climber

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.234  Friday, 8 July 2016


From:        Michael Luskin <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 30, 2016 at 7:39:13 AM EDT

Subject:    Shakespeare Coat of Arms 


[Editor’s Note: From The New York Times. Use link to see photographs associated with the article. –Hardy]




Shakespeare: Actor. Playwright. Social Climber.

By Jennifer Schuessler

June 29, 2016

Shakespeare biography has long circled a set of tantalizing mysteries: Was he Protestant or secretly Catholic? Gay or straight? Loving toward his wife, or coldly dismissive?


That the man left no surviving letters or autobiographical testimony has hardly helped, ensuring that accounts of his life have often relied on “one halfpenny worth of fact to an intolerable deal of supposition,” as the scholar C. W. Scott-Giles once lamented.


Only a few scraps of new material relating to Shakespeare in his lifetime have surfaced over the past century. But now, a researcher has uncovered nearly a dozen previously unknown records that shed clearer light on another much-discussed side of the man: the social climber.


The documents, discovered by Heather Wolfe, the curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, relate to a coat of arms that was granted to Shakespeare’s father in 1596, attesting to his and his son’s status as gentlemen.


Considered with previously known records, Ms. Wolfe argues, the documents suggest both how deeply invested Shakespeare was in gaining that recognition — a rarity for a man from the theater — and how directly he may have been drawn into colorful bureaucratic infighting that threatened to strip it away.


The new evidence “really helps us get a little bit closer to the man himself,” Ms. Wolfe said. “It shows him shaping himself and building his reputation in a very intentional way.”


James Shapiro, a Shakespeare scholar at Columbia University who has seen Ms. Wolfe’s research, said her discoveries help illuminate what mattered to Shakespeare. “It’s all about trying to figure out, what was he like?” Mr. Shapiro said. “Anytime we can substitute something solid for speculation, that’s significant.” 


The new documents, Mr. Shapiro added, also come with a nice bonus: they clearly refute skeptics who continue to argue — to the deep exasperation of most scholars — that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was not actually the author of the works attributed to him.


“It’s always been clear that Shakespeare of Stratford and ‘Shakespeare the player’ were one and the same,” Mr. Shapiro said. “But if you hold the documents Heather has discovered together, that is the smoking gun.”


Ms. Wolfe’s discoveries began in the archives of the College of Arms in London, home to 10 heralds who are still charged with researching and granting coats of arms — arcane territory where many literary scholars might fear to tread.


“Looking through the minutiae of the College of Arms is, even for Shakespeare scholars, almost unbearable,” Mr. Shapiro said. “We really owe Heather a debt of gratitude for wading in.”


Ms. Wolfe said she began wondering if there wasn’t fresh material to find there when she looked through a book edited by Nigel Ramsay, a historian at University College London, with whom she curated an exhibition on heraldry at the Folger in 2014. On one page, she was startled by something she had never seen before: a sketch of the arms with the words “Shakespeare the player,” or actor, dated to around 1600.


similar image with the same text — a copy dating from around 1700 — has long been known to Shakespeare scholars (as well as to authorship skeptics, who generally dismiss as unreliable any evidence dated after 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death). But this earlier one, from the College of Arms, seemed to have gone unremarked on.


Ms. Wolfe started digging there and in other archives, and so far has gathered a dozen unknown or forgotten depictions of the arms in heraldic reference works called alphabets and ordinaries. “I just started finding them everywhere,” she said.


Scholars have long known that Shakespeare’s father, John, a businessman and justice of the peace in Stratford, had first made inquiries about a coat of arms around 1575. They have speculated that it was William who renewed the effort in 1596, on his father’s behalf.


The new depictions Ms. Wolfe has gathered are all from the 17th century. More than half associate the arms with “Shakespeare the player,” or with William, not John.


This material not only proves “that Shakespeare was Shakespeare,” as Ms. Wolfe wryly put it. It also, she argues, underlines the degree to which contemporaries saw the coat of arms as, in effect, being for William.


“It makes it abundantly clear that while Shakespeare was obtaining the arms on behalf of his father, it was really for his own status,” she said.


Mr. Shapiro said he agreed. “All evidence suggests this was not about the father,” he said, “but about how Shakespeare wanted to be seen.”


Alan H. Nelson, a retired professor at University of California, Berkeley, who has contributed to Shakespeare Documented, an online project curated by Ms. Wolfe, said he also found her case persuasive.


The new material, he added, “helps to confirm everything we know about the arc of Shakespeare’s career and the way he understood himself in the context of his society,” he said. 


But not all of Shakespeare’s contemporaries took his newly minted status at face value. Ben Jonson mocked his arms in his 1598 play “Every Man Out of His Humour,” in which a country bumpkin is advised to purchase arms with the motto “Not without mustard,” a dig at Shakespeare’s motto “Not without right.” (Shakespeare’s arms were yellow.)


A more threatening attack came in 1602 from Ralph Brooke, a herald in the College of Arms who had long been at war with his archrival, William Dethick, who held the title Garter King of Arms. (At one point, Brooke reportedly warned Dethick, himself a notoriously violent man, that the Star Chamber would punish him by cutting off his ears.)


That year, Brooke, drew up for submission to the queen a list of 23 “mean persons” who had wrongfully been granted arms by Dethick, including “Shakespeare the player,” as Brooke put it disparagingly. (Shakespeare was not the only one given a lowly job description: a man derided by Brooke as a mere “bookbinder,” Ms. Wolfe noted, was actually master of the Stationers’ Company, the prestigious body that regulated the publishing industry.)


Among Dethick’s records, Ms. Wolfe found letters from outraged people whose arms had come under attack, as well as notes indicating that some had withdrawn their claims.


While no record of Shakespeare’s response survives, Ms. Wolfe argues that the others’ intense reactions suggest that he must have known about the controversy, and likely took action to defend his status.


Some whose letters survive lived outside London, she noted. “They couldn’t just approach Dethick, as Shakespeare could have.”


Shakespeare may have held onto his arms, but the glory didn’t last. His son, Hamnet, had died in 1596. His last direct descendant, a granddaughter named Elizabeth Barnard, died in 1670.


Ms. Wolfe said that a colleague at the Folger recently pointed out something she has not seen any scholar discuss: the wax seal on Elizabeth’s last willshows a fragment of the Shakespeare arms, just barely visible.


“She’s dying, she’s the last in the direct line, and the arms have faded,” Ms. Wolfe said. “It just seems touchingly symbolic.”




Review: Doctor Faustus at the RSC

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.233  Friday, 8 July 2016


From:        Kirk McElhearn <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 27, 2016 at 4:32:36 AM EDT

Subject:    Review: Doctor Faustus at the RSC




Theater Review: Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe, at the Royal Shakespeare Company


A funny thing happened the first time I had tickets to see Doctor Faustus. My partner and I were all set to go to the theater one Tuesday evening in February, and I went to get the tickets and noticed that they were for the night before. We weren’t able to get to see this show at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre for a while, since we moved a few weeks ago, but finally had a chance last week.


Doctor Faustus is often a long, tedious play. The language isn’t as interesting as Shakespeare, and the plot meanders. In this new production, directed by Maria Aberg, the play is fast. It zips by in about 1:45, with no intermission, which is an excellent length for a play. But that tempo comes with risks.


One of the interesting elements of this production is the casting of the two main characters. Sandy Gierson and Oliver Ryan walk on stage and each one lights a match. The one whose match burns out first plays Doctor Faustus; the other Mephistopheles. This suggests that the two characters are both part of a whole, and it would be interesting to be able to see both actors perform each of the roles.


We got the chance to see Oliver Ryan . . . , who I recalled playing Jacques in As You Like It in 2013 (also directed by Aberg). His Faustus is manic, as if he’s on speed. His diction is fast, his movements often overexcited, especially in the first part of the play. Faustus leafs through all his books, looking for answers, and ends up drawing a white pentagram on the stage, and calling for the devil. During this long scene, Ryan acts as though he has little time, as though his life is a burning match about to extinguish itself.


The seven deadly sins scene changes the tone a great deal. Each of the “sins” is portrayed by an actor in a sort of Rocky Horror Picture Show outfit, and their lines are over exaggerated. There is music and singing, a bit of dancing, and from that point on, with more actors in a number of scenes, the tone changes, being less about a single character’s mania, but more about the mania of the world.


Orlando Gough’s music is some of the best I’ve heard at an RSC production, but it was too loud. With Ryan speaking quickly, and Gierson somewhat softly, I often lost the thread. While the play was visually stunning, I had trouble keeping up with the plot because of this. During the Helen of Troy scene at the end, I could barely hear what Gierson was saying, and had no idea how this scene linked to the rest of the play.


On the smaller Swan Theatre stage, this Faustus seemed a bit cramped, but, in a way, perhaps that was the right fit. Everything was compressed, concentrated, in space and in time, giving the entire production a unique feel. I didn’t dislike the play, but I would have enjoyed it more if the music were toned down a bit, and if the actors – particularly Ryan – spoke a bit more slowly. Perhaps the desire to keep the play short led to a decision to have Faustus speak fast; if so, I would have appreciated another ten minutes to allow his words to be more understandable. I’m not alone in this feeling. The Birmingham Mail called it incomprehensible gabble, giving the play one star out of five, and other reviewers noted the same problem.


It was certainly an enjoyable evening. I very much appreciate Aberg’s approach to theater, and found her As You Like It – the first RSC production I saw, back in 2013 – to be magical. It seems that, after running several months, and reading the reviews, she should have slowed things down a bit, and perhaps toned down the music. In spite of these criticisms, I would recommend seeing this play. It’s innovative and very visual, and, if you’re familiar enough with the text to be able to compensate for words you miss due to speedy delivery, you might even understand everything that happens.


I took advantage of £15 tickets the RSC offered through its Twitter account, @TheRSC. If you use Twitter, keep an eye out in case they have lots of empty seats again and have another such offer. I might take them up on it if they do so again; in spite of my reservations, I’d be willing to see this play again, perhaps getting to see Sandy Gierson as Faustus.








The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.231  Friday, 8 July 2016


From:        Stuart Manger <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 9, 2016 at 12:24:49 PM EDT

Subject:    Re: Refusal


Many thanks to Hardy for unflagging enthusiasm for what will eternally need to be supported with enthusiasm. 


Stuart Manger




Gale Researcher: Call for Contributions

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.232  Friday, 8 July 2016


From:        Kirilka Stavreva <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         July 7, 2016 at 9:04:08 PM EDT

Subject:    Gale Researcher: Call for Contributions


Dear colleagues,


Please consider contributing to the Gale Researcher British Literature series, as described in the call for contributions below:


Gale Researcher Query

We are looking for Early Modern and Shakespeare scholars who are interested in contributing to a series of eBooks for Gale, a division of Cengage Learning. We’re currently working to create two ten-volume series of eBooks (targeted at undergrads) on British Literature, both of which contain entries about Shakespeare and other Early Modern writers. Gale is interested in scholars who can write succinctly and clearly for an undergraduate audience. We are looking both for authors to write original essays and to revise essays currently owned by Gale.  Doctoral candidates are welcome, but must be currently affiliated with a college or university.  The deadline for essays is short: they would be due by July 30th, 2016. You would be credited as the author and/or co-author of the essay and there is a modest remuneration. 

If you are interested, please contact Peter Schumacher at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and send him a list of your areas of expertise and a brief (1-2 page) CV.


Available assignments:

Essay Title


Playwrighting and Playgoing in Elizabethan London


Translating the Sonnet: Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and Anne Lok


Sir Thomas More's Utopia


Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene


"Shakespeare Plus" (Shakespeare adaptations in literature, cinema and pop culture)


Shakespearean History


Shakespearean Comedy


Shakespearean Tragedy


"For Knowledge’ Sake": Aemilia (Bassano) Lanyer


Sir Francis Bacon, essayist


John Milton's Paradise Lost


George Herbert and the Sanctuary of the Troubled Soul


Tragicomedies [genre]: William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter


Tragedies: from the Renaissance back to the Classics


The Playwright as Historian [genre]: Christopher Marlowe to George Bernard Shaw


Patronage, Booksellers, Printers, and Publishers: The Case of William Shakespeare [history of the book]


Rome, Dismembered: William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (1592?) and Julie Taymor's Titus (1999)


Edward II: Sexuality and Politics in Christopher Marlowe's Play (1593) and Derek Jarman's Film (1991)




Best to all!

Kirilka Stavreva

Professor of English

Cornell College




Actors From The London Stage

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.230  Thursday, 7 July 2016


From:        Actors From The London Stage <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         June 21, 2016 at 6:29:50 PM EDT

Subject:    5 British actors walk into a Bard...


Now in our 41st year, Actors From The London Stage inspires with the power of Shakespeare. Each weeklong residency brings the Bard to life on the stage and in the classroom. Our British casts – veterans of the most respected theatre companies in the world – tour campuses from Maine to Hawaii with their innovative five-hand staging of Shakespeare’s most beloved works.


NOW BOOKING 2017 & 2018




Fall 2016 - Richard III

Spring 2017 - Romeo and Juliet 

Fall 2017 - Measure for Measure

Spring 2018 - The Taming of the Shrew


Visiting colleges and universities sized 400 to 40,000, we work with you to create a residency customized to your unique needs and venues. Our team can help you develop a funding strategy, assist in the coordination of on- and off-campus partnerships, and design a residency that perfectly supports your personal, departmental, and institutional priorities.


Explore our tour history, marketing resources, and residency guides at the AFTLS WEBSITE.


Availability is limited; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to request dates, rates, and details.


Founded in 1975 by Homer “Murph” Swander and world-renowned actor Sir Patrick Stewart, AFTLS is “an actor-driven tour de force.” Our actors hail from such prestigious UK companies as Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre, and the RSC. Uniquely, AFTLS actors not only perform a full-length Shakespearean play, but also visit dozens of classrooms during their weeklong residency.


In addition to enlivening theatre and English departments, the AFTLS experience can be tailored to enrich coursework across the academic spectrum. Our dynamic, hands-on approach will heighten each student's intellectual curiosity regardless of discipline. Whether coaching accounting students on successful presentation skills, or instructing law students in the art of persuasion, these workshops promote a campus-wide dialogue inspired by the works of William Shakespeare.



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