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Archive newsletter, 1 May 2015

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

The 62nd Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America has opened its call for papers and panel sessions for its annual conference which will be held in Boston from 31 March - 2 April 2016. More information can be found here .

The Independent said a lost play once claimed to be by Shakespeare but then dismissed as a forgery is now “strongly” believed to be by him again, according to new research. The play, Double Falsehood, was published in 1728 by Lewis Theobald who said he had adapted it from three original Shakespeare manuscripts subsequently lost in a fire. After three centuries of dispute, researchers at the University of Texas say they have been surprised to identify it as Shakespeare’s work, using psychological theory and text analysing software. Their research was published in Psychological Science. The play was not included in Shakespeare’s First Folio and there is little written evidence to link it to the Bard.

Remains of more than 1,000 people, many thought to be struggling scholars from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries were discovered during excavations underneath the Old Divinity School at St John’s College, Cambridge. The site is thought to have been one of Britain’s largest medieval cemeteries. The 1,300 burials and 400 complete skeletons were found three years ago but news was only released at the start of April. Most of the burials were not in coffins and many did not even have a shroud, with the vast majority male. No evidence of the Black Death was found on any remains, and there were no signs of large burial groups from that part of the fourteenth century. The cemetery had had gravel paths, a well and seeds from flowering plants, suggesting people came to visit the deceased.


In the Guardian Robert Crum reviewed Nightwalking, A Nocturnal History of London, by Matthew Beaumont and found it an enthralling study of city life and creativity based on the discovery that for 1,000 years being on the street after dark was a crime. He said it was an “impressive, magisterial book”, encompassing lives as varied as pickpockets and poets. He looked at the slums where Daniel Defoe fled for safety when accused of sedition, and at the interplay of the nocturnal and literary in Shakespeare.

The book was also reviewd by Charlotte Runcie in the Telegraph, who found it “wonderfully mischievous” and captivating, with accounts of writers including Chaucer, Dickens, Blake, Samuel Johnson, Thomas De Quincey and John Clare who have drawn inspiration from nocturnal walks. The book also looks at the history of walking at night back to the thirteenth century. The reviewer did though find the book's foreword and afterword by Will Self unnecessary and irritating.

In the Independent, Mihir Bose reviewed The Tears of the Rajas by Ferdinand Mount, and said the brutality of British imperialism was laid bare. More than 20 members of Mount’s extended family worked in India between 1771-1909, and it was learning of them that led him to write what is described as one of the best histories of a time when the Raj “was made and very nearly unmade”. Family history is woven into the wider history.

Charles I and the People of England by David Cressy was reviewed by Noel Malcolm in the Telegraph who found it “'brimming with original details”, and welcomed a new take on the commoner’s view of Charles I. He said the author did not claim to offer a new explanation of the fall of Charles, but looked at how he impinged directly or via his policies on the 98 per cent of the population who were the ordinary people of England. This includes “purveyance”, where he could demand goods and services at below market value, and his staff often seized greyhounds for his recreation, but on the other side were thousands of petitions to him, many asking for jobs and favours. Malcolm said the overall picture that emerged was of a series of royal policies wearing down the patience of Charles’s subjects.

Revolutions Without Borders – the Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World by Janet Polasky was reviewed in the Independent by Jad Adams, who described it as a thrilling work of history about the pamphlets which ignited revolutions which swept through America and Europe at the end of the eighteenth century.

In the Independent, Nicolas de Jongh wrote about Stanley Wells’s new book, Great Shakespeare Actors: Burbage to Branagh, which examined approaches to performing Shakespeare and how it changed with the times. It also looks at what made certain performances stand out.

On the website, in their Reviews in History podcast series, Daniel Snowman talked to Lady Antonia Fraser about her work as a historian and biographer. There was also an interview with Professor Jan Plamper, author of The History of Emotions: An Introduction, which was also reviewed on the site.

Victoria County History: Shropshire VI Shrewsbury edited by William A. Champion and Alan Thacker, was reviewed by Dr James P. Bowen of the University of Liverpool. Shropshire has eight VCH volumes dedicated to it including this one, which focuses on Shrewsbury General History and Topography, Part I. Part II will look at individual topics and themes in greater detail. Dr Bowen said its publication is a triumph for all associated with it. History from the early medieval period until the 21st century is covered in chapters written by experts. There are chapters covering the economic, social, political and religious history of the town during the early modern period.


Martin Rowson wrote a long feature in the Guardian about fellow cartoonist from the eighteenth century, James Gillray, based around the fact that an exhibition of his work, entitled Love Bites: Caricatures by James Gillray is on at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford until June 21. He said Gillray adapted Hogarth’s satirical vision and honed it to respond to contemporary events in ways which have far more in common with journalism than with art. Gillray was, he wrote, without question a genius but he also died insane as a result of his alcoholism, but Rowson said he was also a hack trying to give his readers an opportunity for a giggle at his highly-politicised cartoons.

An exhibition in the National Portrait Gallery shows Cornelius Johnson’s seventeenth century paintings, including rarely-seen portraits of royal children. He was a largely-forgotten portrait painter who was commissioned by the English elite including Charles I, and become his official “picture-drawer” in 1632. Paintings featured in the exhibition include royal children who became Charles II (right) and James II. He was also one of the first British painters to sign and date his paintings which has helped dress historians date the fashions of the day. The free exhibition is on until September 13. The exhibition was also reviewed in the Telegraph, whose Alastair Smart wrote about the artist’s bad luck in being eclipsed by Anthony van Dyck, and then after the Flemish master’s death getting a second chance to shine, but the Civil War meant portrait painting had gone out of fashion. He said the artist’s strength was in his attention to detail.

In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones wrote about Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation, which is on at the British Museum until August 2, and said it does not shy away from its ownership of many controversial artefacts in its exploration of Indigenous Australian tragedy and triumph. Some of the items in the exhibition are from early modern times, and some of the earliest portable Aboriginal artefacts owned by the museum since the eighteenth century, which many people now want to be returned.

Jonathan Jones also wrote about Francis Bacon and the Masters at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, but found that beside works by artists including Velázquez, Titian, and the seventeenth century creator of clay nudes Gianlorenzo Bernini, Bacon was shown to have genius but no heart, and nothing to say. The exhibition is on until July 26. Alastair Sooke in the Telegraph also reviewed the exhibition and found it compelling, with Bacon coming off worst but said it was still a fine show of his works alongside the painters who inspired him.

For a review in the Telegraph, Florence Walters visited the Velázquez exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris, and said the major exhibition recognised his brilliance as an artist in and out of his time. She says the exhibition presents him as a sensitive portrait painter, “indebted to his contemporaries and deeply interested in the corruptability of man”. The exhibition is on until July 13.

Alastair Steward found Frames In Focus: Sansovino Frames, at the National Gallery futile, and said frames should be seen and not remembered, and certainly not exhibited. He said it was a pet project of outgoing director Nicholas Penny, who in the 1990s analysed every frame of every painting in the National collection, and in this show there are 30 frames, only two containing paintings. The focus is only on a Sansovino frame, from sixteenth century Venice, and they are exuberant pieces, but Steward said little context is provided and they should not be seen empty. The exhibition is on until September 13.

In the Telegraph, Richard Dorment found the exhibition Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden in the Queen’s Gallery unfocused, and flawed because its subject was far too broad and could not be covered even in the Royal Collection. One of its themes is the development of English royal gardens from Henry VIII to Queen Victoria, but the reviewer said organisers could not resist including the story all the way back to Eden, with Persian miniatures, Dutch flower pantings, botanical illustration, portraits of gardeners, designs for gardens, and old master paintings . A series of etchings after William Wollett and Joshua Kirby from the mid-1760s Kew when it was a royal residence feature. Other works include a painting of a gardener presenting Charles II with the first pineapple grown in England, and Gainsborough’s vision of the young Duck and Duchess of Cumberland. The exhibition is on until October 11.


In the Guardian, Susannah Clapp reviewed The Jew of Malta, which is on at the Swan, Stratford, until September 8, and said she wondered why Marlowe’s work was so rarely staged, as at his best his work was more exciting and easily grasped than a poor performance of a Shakespeare play. She said that Justin Audibert made this a striking RSC directorial debut, setting it in period, 1565, and “speeding the action with visual and sonic clarity, he makes the play look prescient, reverberating, immediate in its cultural clashes”. The play was also reviewed by Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph, who said it had the "the force and modernity of a missile", and that Marlowe’s dark, provocative and “wickedly funny” drama from 1589 was expertly rendered.

Love’s Sacrifice, at the Swan at Stratford, was reviewed by Michael Billington in the Guardian, who said it was the first professional revival of John Ford’s play since the 1630s. He found it derivative of Shakespeare “and full of Ford’s mix of sentiment and sensationalism, but it proves eminently stageable and gets a first-rate production from RSC debutant Matthew Dunster that challenges the prevailing Swan aesthetic”. The reviewer also found Anna Fleischle’s set design striking, profoundly Catholic and very different to the usual Swan severity.

However in the Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish described the play as ‘second-rate’ Shakespeare’ and said although the cast made a valiant effort it was still a messy affair. He said Ford’s view seemed to be “whatever you do in this life, be you noble or otherwise, the odds are against you and it ends unhappily”.

Measure for Measure at the Barbican was reviewed by Lyn Gardner in the Guardian, who said the Declan Donnellan directed, modern-dress, Russian-language production had “pleasing fluidity and some powerful moments”. She said it was set in a shadowy place which could be Putin’s Russia but might be any country where authority is misused. Its tour ends tomorrow, May 2. In the Independent, Paul Taylor found the Cheek by Jowl and Pushkin Theatre collaboration an excellent and stunning production, and also felt drawn to comparisons with Putin’s Russia. Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph found the production "like a punch to the guts", and said it had Putin-era parallels that really hit home.

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