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Newsletter archive, 8 April 2013

Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.

To start with, a snippet of Early Modern life from Professor Bernard Capp which seems appropriate in this season of Resurrection:

(April 1639) '...Perkins the host & vintener at the swan [inn, Northampton] was dead diverse times the last night, he havinge caught a surfeyt wth drinkinge'.
Robert Woodford's Diary, 1637-1641, ed. John Fielding (Camden Soc., 5th series, 42, 2012), 302.

We start with two news items from US partner universities.

From Boston University, Christopher Martin, associate professor of English and author of Policy in Love: Lyric and Public in Ovid, Petrarch, and Shakespeare, is the author of the newly-released book Constituting Old Age in Early Modern English Literature, from Queen Elizabeth to King Lear. He looks at how Shakespeare and his contemporaries viewed and represented old age, and contests the perceived social attitudes. You can read more about the book here .

Christopher has also been invited to the American Academy in Rome for a two-day conference in early May entitled Ovid Transformed: The Poet and the Metamorphoses, where he will discuss about other things Ovid and early modern English writers, Shakespeare in particular, with poets and scholars including Stephen Greenblatt, Ramie Targoff and Seamus Heaney.

Daniela Bleichmar, Associate Professor of Art History and History at the University of Southern California, is also the author of a recently-published book, Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment. Between 1777 and 1816 there was a huge project to survey the flora of much of the Americas, Caribbean and Philippines. More than 12,000 botanical illustrations were produced and these are used here to trace the history of scientific expeditions in the Hispanic Enlightenment, and the history of visual evidence in the early modern Spanish empire. You can read more here .

Daniela is also co-organising a conference entitled Objects in Motion in the Early Modern World which is taking place at the Getty Center in Los Angeles on May 9-10. There is more information here .

In other news, in the month of Shakespeare’s birthday, two controversial news stories:

The Observer ran an article about how 22 of the world's leading Shakespeare scholars have got together to produce a book that details what they consider to be definitive evidence that the Bard did write his own plays. Since the 1850s, 77 people have been suggested as the likely author. Cambridge University Press is publishing Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, co-edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, on 18 April, two days before the weekend Shakespeare birthday celebrations in Stratford. David Kathman, an independent scholar, writes on Shakespeare and Warwickshire, showing how the works are full of signs that the author came from around Stratford. Carol Chillington Rutter of the University of University takes issue with those who argue that Shakespeare was not educated enough to have written learned works, presenting evidence about Elizabethan grammar schools.

Researchers from Aberystwyth University are reported by the Independent to have carried out research to show that Shakespeare was a hoarder, moneylender and tax dodger, a ruthless businessman who got rich by dealing in grain during a time of famine. They plan to deliver a paper on this subject at the Hay literary festival in May. Jayne Archer, a lecturer in medieval and Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth, said critics and scholard could not handle the idea of a creative genius also motivated by self-interest.

The recent story of the discovery of the bones of Richard III underneath a car park in Leicester has taken another turn, reported in the Telegraph , with 15 living relatives of the last English king to die in battle threatening a legal challenge in an attempt to get him reburied in York Minster, rather than the proposed Leicester Cathedral.

Sarah Richardson, Associate Professor of History at the University of Warwick is the author of this article in the Telegraph about the discovery of a new document which shows British women of all classes voting in 1843, 75 years before they received the parliamentary franchise. Prof Richardson explains her work on the few scraps of parchment found in a box of solicitors’ papers in Lichfield which turned out to be a poll book for the election of the local office of Assistant Overseer of the Poor, in the parish of St Chad’s, Lichfield, in 1843.


A new TV series is looking at how royal illness changed history. In this article in the Telegraph Lucy Worsley writes about her BBC 2 series Fit to Rule: How Royal Illness Changed History, which starts with Henry VIII, and goes as far as Edward VIII in 1936.

Another new TV series, this time on BBC Four, is The High Art of the Low Countries , presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon, and reviewed in the Telegraph by Florence Waters. It covers the Northern Renaissance from Brussels in the mid-fifteenth century to Antwerp in the mid seventeenth, via Ghent, Bruges and northern France.


In art news, the government has placed a temporary export ban on an Italian Renaissance drawing, Raphael’s Head of a Young Apostle from around 1519, although it will cost nearly £30 million to keep it in the UK permanently. The drawing was in the Duke of Devonshire’s collection at Chatsworth in Derbyshre from the 1700s, and was sold in December for £29 million. Arts minister Ed Vaizey is hoping a UK buyer will come forward with the same amount to keep it in the country.

Witches will be the subject of a major museum exhibition for the first time as the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh brings together more than 80 drawings, prints and paintings for an exhibition from 27 July – 3 November. It will include Albrecht Dürer's 1501 engraving of a shrieking hag flying backwards on a lustful goat, Salvator Rosa’s seventeenth century painting from the National Gallery in London, Witches at their Incantations, a 1762 engraving by Paul Sandby, showing a witch carrying two tatterdemalion men on a broomstick, and a work by pre-Raphaelite Frederick Sandys. The exhibition also aims to show how the iconography has developed from the mid fifteenth century when church reform was defining the boundaries of acceptable religious belief and practice, and when fear of, and intellectual interest in, witches grew.

At the National Galle ry an exhibition on until April 28 is Through European Eyes: The Landscape Oil Sketch, which focuses on landscapes by European masters from 1700-1900.

A new exhibition of works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-82) has opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery and in the Telegraph Andrew Graham-Dixon writes that Murillo was much loved of the Victorians, and disliked afterwards, his skill at observation and sympathy for the poor overlooked. However he says this “brilliant” new exhibition deserves to win him many new admirers. The exhibition runs until Mary 19.

The reopening of the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam after 10 years, at a cost of €375 million is examined by a number of papers. Adrian Hamilton in the Independent says British museums could learn a lot from its “tasteful, triumphant” makeover. The gallery is home to masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals amongst others, and the museum has been restored to its Victorian-era palace look from 1885.


The French publisher Laffont is on April 25 releasing the first of four volumes which plan to reveal Casanova in his full glory, based on his original 3,682 page manuscript which was bought by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in 2010 for about €7.5m from an anonymous seller. Giacomo Casanova wrote the story of his life in exile in Germany but the full details were either censored or harmed by wrong transcriptions. Jean-Christophe Igalens, a lecturer at Nice University and a specialist on Casanova, who has co-produced the book, said it would reveal Casanova to be a more complex character than he first appears. There is also more detail which may be of interest to historians, including a visit to a 1750 Parisien brothel. Histoire de Ma Vie will be published in four volumes.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of a dozen books on the Tudors and the Protestant Reformation in England and Europe has recently published Silence in Christian History, which is reviewed in the TLS by Lucky Beckett. The book was produced from MacCulloch’s Gifford Lectures and looks back over the entire Christian history and Judaism.

Two new books looking at the history of food in England are reviewed by Alex Burghart, Director of Policy as the Centre for Social Justice, in the TLS. Cooking and Dining in Medieval England by Peter Brears is described as captivatingly detailed, and exposing something of the brilliance of what Brears describes as “one of the longest, finest and best documented cuisines”. He also uses the example of Warkworth Castle to show how eating habits and rituals shaped architecture. The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History With Recipes by Hannele Klemettilä looks at the whole of continental Europe and is described as revealing the delicacy, craft and complexity that underpinned medieval food, as well as including familiar-sounding recipes.

Dr Aleks Pluskowski, lecturer in medieval archaeology at the University of Reading, reviews Medieval Pets by Kathleen Walker-Meikle on the BBC History Magazine website, and praises it as a comprehensive exploration, bringing together the fragmented sources into a novel and comprehensive story.

On the same website, John MacKenzie, professor emeritus at the University of Lancaster and the editor of Scotland and the British Empire, reviews Macaulay and Son : Architects of Imperial Britain by Catherine Hall, a biography looking at the lives of two members of a Scottish family and how they helped shape the British empire. He describes it as a “remarkably valuable and eminently readable book”.


Hamlet is being staged at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford- upon-Avon until September, and has been widely reviewed. Michael Billington in The Guardian ponders the use of Hamlet as a pathological case study, and wonders if it is our equivalent of nineteenth century melancholy. He sees many layers of interpretation for the staging of this Hamlet in a fencing room. Paul Taylor in the Independent puzzles over the action being trapped in the sports hall but finds Pippa Nixon’s Ophelia stunning. Charles Spencer in the Telegraph finds there is too much fury in this Hamlet and that it’s an annoying production, but Nixon’s Ophelia is touchingly vulnerable.

*We would also welcome news of your recently-published journal articles or books, and forthcoming conferences. You can email Newsletter Author Julie Chamberlain at with details.