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Archive Newsletter, 22 April, 2014

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

April 23 marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, and in the Independent Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College Oxford, looked at how the Bard became a global icon

Charles Nicholl in The Guardian wrote about how in a series of sheds in Sussex, a Shakespearean scholar and collector, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipp s in the late 1870s hoarded his collection of Shakespearean rarities, about 1,500 papers, parchments, early quarto editions, maps and playbills. He tells the story of the cataloguing of the collection, which is now in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

In the Independent, there is a feature about Rory Kinnear, entitled My life on stage with Shakespeare , adapted from the book Shakespeare and Me, edited by Susannah Carson.

In other news, unsurprisingly, doubt has now been cast on whether the remains found under a Leicester car park were in fact those of Richard III. Maev Kennedy in the Guardian said leading archaeologists had challenged the discovery and said there was no proof the remains were those of the last Plantagenet king. Martin Biddle, emeritus professor of medieval archaeology at Oxford, and Michael Hicks, head of history at Winchester University, claim the DNA, radiocarbon dating and other tests, don't mean the bones are Richard's as they could be those of one of his many cousins or a contemporary who died of similar injuries. Professor Lin Foxhall, head of Leicester University archaeology and ancient history department, said the identification was based on a combination of evidence which would be clear when the full research was published.

The Coventry Telegraph reported how a letter signed by Queen Elizabeth I which ordered Mary Queen of Scots to be taken to Coventry for her own safety at the start of the 1569 Northern Rising was among artefacts being auctioned off by the Duke of Northumberland.

Andrew Brown in the Guardian paid tribute in an article and an obituary to Margaret Spufford, who died at the age of 78. She concentrated on the ordinary lives of English village communities in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


In The Observer, Laura Cumming reviewed The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760 , which is on show at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, until October 12, and found it ‘strange, vivid and unexpected’, and a brilliantly curated exhibition. She thought the exhibition about Georges I and II would be dull, but said it includes odd objects, and paintings by artists including Holbein, Rubens, Van Dyck and Canaletto, with life outside the palace also emerging, including Canaletto’s Thames and St James Park painted in 1745.

In the Telegraph , Richard Dorment gave the exhibition five stars out of five, and described it as ‘nothing less than a revelation’, confounding his expectations with the quality of its exhibits, despite the few portraits of George I and II.

In the Independent, Amanda Vickery wrote an article entitled Why we’ve got the Georgians all wrong , and said although the period is associated with elegance and good taste, it was a gaudy, bloody time a long way from the Jane Austen world it is imagined as.

In the Telegraph, Alastair Smart reviewed Zurbarán , at Bozar, an exhibition at the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels. He said the artist’s intense imagery of martyrs and saints, created with Counter Revolutionary purpose, was scorned in much of Northern Europe as too devoutly and dangerously Catholic. Now it can be better appreciated on painterly terms, but he said credit to the Brussels curators who are staging the first Zurbarán exhibition outside Spain in 27 years. It is displayed in almost complete darkness and he said in the case of the 1635 painting Christ on the Cross the result is stunning. The exhibition is on until May 25.

In the Observer, Laura Cumming also reviewed Veronese : Magnificence in Renaissance Venice, and found the exhibition of 50 ‘breathtaking masterpieces’ on show at the National Gallery, showed the artist’s ‘life affirming talent’.


Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution by James P Byrd was reviewed on by Professor Benjamin M Guyer of University of Kansas, Lawrence, who said it is ‘short but potent’ and the ‘first work to investigate the interpretation and application of the Bible in revolutionary America’. Prof Guyer said the book ‘will be foundational for all future studies of the Bible and the American Revolution, and it will be of great interest and relevance for broader studies of religion in late colonial America’.

God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England by Jessie Childs was reviewed by Simon Callow in The Guardian, who said never had the actual experience of the recusants been rendered with so much ‘searing detail’. The author concentrates on the noble Vaux family, and Callow said the impact of the Reformation on the working and middle classes is ignored, though the records left about the Vauxes are able to show their descent into nightmare, whether Protestant or Catholic. He found it a ‘richly packed, absorbing’ book.

The Empire of Necessity: The Untold History of a Slave Rebellion in the Age of Liberty by Greg Grandin was reviewed by Michael Moorcock in the Guardian, who said the tale of revolt on a slave ship explored ‘the interdependency of liberty and slavery in the US’. It includes the story of an 1805 incident off the Chilean coast where some slaves overcame their captors and tried to take over another ship, later being caught and punished or sold. Moorcock said it is a superbly argued and richly detailed account ‘of the interdependencies of slavery and revolution throughout the Americas, as well as the religious traditions of Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam’.

Visions of Science : Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age by James Secord was reviewed in the Guardian by Rosemary Hill, who said the author looks at seven works that were controversial and influential in the early nineteenth century. She said the book in a ‘wonderfully lucid account of a complex and often misuderstood era’, and poses questions about how we understand science and history.


The Roaring Girl , at The Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon until September 30, was reviewed by Susannah Clapp in the Observer. She said the 1611 play by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton was based on a real cross-dresser, Moll Cutpurse, but this version, updated to Victorian times, did not work. The Thomases are edited out, some phrases are simplified, and despite praise for Lisa Dillon in the main role she said moving it through time is a ‘wretched decision and a muddled one’, making the play a ‘strangled mew’ rather than a roar.

However in the Independent , Paul Taylor gave the play four out of five stars, and said it was a vibrant production, with Lisa Dillon ‘utterly arresting’ in the title role.

Michael Billington in the Guardian found that updating the Jacobean play to the 1890s diminished some of its impact, but it was still a rousing performance, and a spirited start to the season. The Roaring Girl is on until September 30.

Susannah Clapp in the Observer found Henry IV Parts I and II at Stratford showed what the feminist Swan season was up against, with the first part particularly testosterone-drenched. The staging is traditional, robust and with lots of running about. Michael Billington in the Guardian found Antony Sher magnificent and magnetic as Falstaff, and said the plays embraced the whole range of human experience, with the RSC production, directed by Gregory Doran and on until September 6 and then on tour, ‘rich in psychological insight’. Paul Taylor in the Independent found the Henry IV Parts 1 and II spacious and vivid, is somewhat uneven. He said they are performed on the thrust stage of the RSC’s main house in Stratford, and have an ‘admirably assured grasp of the plays’ panoramic sweep’.

Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph said Sher proved he could do jolly as well as tortured, in a solid, hard-working ensemble.

Much Ado About Nothing , which is on at the Royal Exchange in Manchester until May 3, was reviewed by Clare Brennan in the Observer, who said the director Maria Aberg’s decision to play with gender roles added nothing to Shakespeare’s comedy. In the Guardian , Alfred Hickling, said the play was set in post-World War Two times, and described the watch with a helmet-mounted system playing the Cagney & Lacey theme – which was only funny the first time.

In the Guardian, Michael Billington reviewed The School for Scheming , at The Orange Tree, Richmond, until May 17, and said the lively revival of Boucicault’s 1847 play started off promisingly, but his attack on speculative capitalism soon turns into a convoluted comedy about upper class marriage.