Welcome to the Forum newsletter for our latest round-up of news and cultural events from the Early Modern period.
To start, a bit of news about history re-found. Rare books dating back to the early seventeenth century have been returned to Lambeth Palace almost 40 years after they were stolen, the Guardian reported. The books include an early edition of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2 and illustrated accounts of the first expeditions to America. The theft was discovered in the early 1970s, and in 2011 a solicitor for the deceased thief got in touch to say where they were – and it turned out there were 1,400 and not the 90 the library thought were missing. Many were damaged, and about 10 per cent have now been restored.
Paper Memory : A Sixteenth-Century Townsman Writes His World, by Matthew Lundin is reviewed by Dawn Jackson Williams from the University of Cambridge. She writes that Lundin sets out to write a work of microhistory by interweaving the story of Weinsberg’s life and the problems of his accounts with the broader history of wider issues affecting sixteenth century Germany. Weinsberg was a ‘middling burgher’ of Cologne who left a diary and a chest full of other documents. Williams says a few flaws do not detract from a ‘highly cogent and admirable work’.
Poor Relief in England, 1350-1600 by Marjorie Keniston McIntosh is reviewed by University of Hertfordshire Professor Nigel Goose. He writes that it is a broad general study unlike her recent books, and offers new perspectives in a number of respects. She argues that the Old Poor Law was introduced earlier than others have claimed, and puts more weight on the poor man’s boxes introduced in Edward VI’s reign Prof Goose says McIntosh also argues there was more to poor relief than statutory parish-based provision. He concludes that while he is sceptical about one of the key conclusions of the book it is a vital contribution to the historiography and one no historian of social welfare could ignore.
In the Independent Susan Elkin reviews The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy, which she says takes the reader chronologically and speedily through familiar history from a slightly unusual perspective. The book includes letters between Henry and all four of his acknowledged children, and says John Guy has a read gift for bringing Tudor history to life. Domestic and, where relevant, international politics are dealt with.
Europe by Brendan Simms is reviewed by Noel Malcolm in the Telegraph, who praises it as a provocative analysis of the great powers of Europe. The book looks at the history of Europe over the past 550 years, driven by the ideas of “the primacy of foreign policy” and that the central role has always been played by Germany. Malcolm concludes it is a book worth disagreeing with, but above all worth reading.
There seems to have been lots of Bard-related news this month.
Raphael Lyne, a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, reviews three new publications of Shakespeare’s The Tempest . One is The Tempest edited by Alden T Vaughan and Virginia Mason Vaughan, a revised edition of the Arden Shakespeare containing 22 page which are an account of the latest scholarship, and survey recent performances in the theatre and on film. They are judged a worthwhile addition, but not worth making someone with the original buy another copy.
Virginia Mason Vaughan is also behind The Tempest in the Manchester University Press Shakespeare in Performance series, which is described as offering myriad images.
The Tempest for iPad, created by Elliott Visconsi and Katherine Rowe is also reviewed, including its ability to play the lines spoken by actors, with more than one version of some scenes, judged a significant enhancement. There is a note-making facility but a lack of video.
Also in the TLS, Shakespeare’s Local , Six Centuries of History Seen Through One Extraordinary pub by Pete Brown, is a book reviewed by Norma Clarke, Professor of English Literature at Kingston University. She says Brown admits the George Inn in London may never even have been visited by Shakespeare, but writes a beer-lover’s selective history of Southwark, loosely linked to the history of the George. Prof Clarke finds exclamatory twists in the narrative and invented dialogues irritating, but says the book is also entertaining and informative.
In his blog in the Guardian, Jonathan jones criticises plans by the Globe theatre in London to illuminate its performances with candlelight. He says an all-male cast is also being recruited for Twelfth Night, and he asks how much further it will go in trying to recreate Shakespeare’s England – and suggests bear baiting before the play?
Othello at the National Theatre in London until late September is reviewed in several papers. Michael Billington in the Guardian says to call it eagerly awaited would be an understatement, with Adrian Lester playing Othello and Nicholas Hytner directing. To him the performance confirms that for all its brilliance the more naturalistic it is, the more Iago becomes the play’s focal figure. He finds Rory Kinnear giving a stunning study of a sociopath as Iago.
Charles Spencer in the Telegraph finds it shows the director at his best, with a gripping production of a tragedy which is also a painful psychological thriller, holding attention for more than three hours. The action moves from a London emergency cabinet meeting to a British military based in Cyprus, with authentic grim staging, which Spencer finds makes Shakespeare fresh and accessible. He says the relationship between Lester’s Othello and Rory Kinnear’s Iago is exceptional.
Paul Taylor in the Independent finds this Othello is a glorious tribute to Hytner’s decade at the National, and that is is an “unoperatically terrifying take on the play and no easy debunking exercise”.
Charles Spencer also reviews As You Like It at Stratford in the Telegraph, and describes it as a winning new production with a “hippy-dippyish Glastonbury Festival vibe about it” , with “delightful” music composed by Laura Marling. He finds this production has reignited his love for the play, being fresh, funny, sexy, and deeply touching. Pippa Nixon as Rosalind is described as a rising new star of the RSC. The production is on until the end of September.
Also on at Stratford is Hamlet, and Titus Andronicus launches on May 16.
The Independent made Two Gentlemen of Verona, a the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol, their play of the week, though it runs only until this weekend.
Opera and classical music
Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park has been turned into an opera, and Michael Church reviews this new production at the Hampstead Garden Opera, at the Gatehouse Theatre, London, which features 10 singers in period costume performing in what appears to be a Regency drawing room big enough to accommodate a ball and amateur play, with an upstairs platform for Fanny’s room. Church, writing in the Independent, finds it a sparkling show.
In his Classic 50 in the Telegraph, Ivan Hewett concentrates on Schubert’s Moments Musicaux No 4 in C sharp minor, finding Schubert’s music has a piercing sadness which is also strangely filled with joy.