Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’


26 APRIL 1564

   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in Events in History

Baptism of William Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford on Avon.  He was the third child of John Shakespeare and his wife Mary Arden.  His exact birthday is not known, probably either 21, 22 or 23 April.  In the 18th century the story became wide-spread that he was born on 23 April, but there is no contemporary evidence supporting this assumption.

William became later the famous playwright, who to a certain extent is responsible for the bad reputation Richard III “enjoys” to this day.  We must never forget that he wrote a play for the theatre that had to be riveting enough to get ‘bums on seats’, his intention was not to write a historian’s essay.  By all accounts, Richard III is not the only one who suffered this fate – Macbeth was apparently also a perfectly good man.

More information: Peter Holland, ‘Shakespeare, William (1564–1616)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011.



Guest Post by Helen Cox

   Posted by: Helen Cox    in News

History Matters: Shakespearean Battles at Towton

Helen Cox, author of two excellent books on the Battle of Wakefield, here tells us about her meeting with the Bard at Towton.  We are very grateful to Helen for making this article, which was first published on her blog, Helen Rae Rants!, available to us.  You can find out more about Helen on Herstory Writing & Interpretation.

On Sunday 14th July, history was made again on the battlefield at Towton in North Yorkshire, when the world-renowned Globe Theatre company performed a Shakespearean marathon – all three parts of Henry VI, at the site where some of the action in Part III actually took place in 1461.

I went with some trepidation, I confess; Shakespeare can be hard going, so the prospect of three plays back-to-back, (starting at 12.30 and finishing at 10 pm, with an hour’s break between them), was slightly daunting. However, thanks to Nick Bagnall’s superb direction and an equally superb cast, it was a joy – beautifully interpreted, easy to follow and altogether riveting. I boggled in amazement at what they achieved with imaginative use of a very simple set; no fancy backdrops or painted scenery, just scaffolding towers and a few bits of cloth – but it became everything from the gates of Orleans to Wars of the Roses killing fields to the Tower of London, and much more besides. (You’ll find some pictures of it, and a link to BBC 1′s Breakfast News item about the plays, on the News page of Herstory Writing & Interpretation).

The way the fighting was rendered was also massively impressive. How will they recreate Towton, (a battle where more than 20,000 men are said to have died), with a cast of 14, I’d wondered beforehand. Well, now I know: with the beating of enormous drums, the clash of swords on scaffolding poles, and a handful of actors facing the audience, performing slow-motion, stylised movements with their weapons. It worked beautifully – as did the well-choreographed one-on-one fight scenes that crop up throughout.

Although all the actors were marvellous, Henry VI, played by Graham Butler, was possibly my favourite. I particularly enjoyed his appearance in Part I; as an infant or young child while much of the action takes place, he naturally does not speak; but he was a dominant, silent presence in his central tower, reacting to the dialogue, shrinking in horror from the violence, studying his book or twiddling his thumbs. It was a clever, subtle, very effective way of evoking this hapless king’s character; and sometimes very funny, as when the juvenile Henry reaches down for an important scroll, only to have it whisked away from his groping fingers. Wonderful. But Mary Doherty also played a corking Margaret of Anjou, especially in Part III when she gleefully slays Richard of York. Simon Harrison’s Richard, Duke of Gloucester was another real treat, portrayed as the classic limping, withered-armed hunchback (archaeology has proved that he wasn’t really like that, but the acting had to fit Shakespeare’s script!). And he made a delicious, gloating villain; also very funny, and (not surprising!) warmly received by a Yorkshire crowd.

The performance ended with a sprightly dance on stage and a standing ovation from the audience – and by heck, those actors had earned it. But I wasn’t sorry to go home, because Part III (featuring the Battle of Towton) had given me the heebie-jeebies. As a member of Towton Battlefield Society, I’ve studied, written about and talked about that battle ad infinitum. I’ve ‘met’ some of the battle dead – at least, their poor mutilated skeletons. And as one of the Society’s Wars of the Roses re-enactors, I’ve been on that field (the site of the Lancastrian camp, close to the location of the mass graves made famous by Channel 4′s documentary, Blood Red Roses), at all hours of the day and night. I’ve even slept there on numerous occasions, waiting, hoping, wanting to feel some frisson of atmosphere – but it never really happened until Sunday. Maybe it was listening to the hours of near-contemporary language that did it… for the first time, I felt the full horror of Towton not just intellectually but physically. Yes, it had really happened, right where we were sitting… and as the evening wore on I kept tensing, expecting a rout of exhausted Lancastrians to come panting over the hill, pursued by screaming Yorkists on horseback, cut down and hacked to pieces; expecting to see blood and body parts around my chair; becoming deeply unsettled.

So I have The Globe Theatre to thank for that – not only the most amazing day of drama I’ve ever enjoyed, but the deepest, most poignant connection with the true history I’ve ever experienced on that field. I commend it to you, if you get chance to go; the company are taking it to three more battlefield sites: Tewkesbury on 4th August, St Albans on 8th August and Barnet on 24th August. (It’s also on at various theatres round the country… but it won’t be quite the same indoors!).

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News, Richard III in the Media

My Google alert found for me an article in the Daily Mail, quoting the views of Mr Shakespeare’s plays from his “contemporaries”.  They also voice their opinion on Richard III.  Thank you, R.B. from Warwick, for putting the record straight!  Though I can also understand Mary P. from Worcestershire.

These opinions from “Ye Internette” are quoted in an article by Craig Brown,a British satirist.  According to his Wikipedia entry he “characteristically [combines] viciousness and honesty”, but don’t fear, he seems to have a good opinion of Richard III.

So if you need something a bit lighter on this grey winter day (at least here in Sydney), read all the opinions here.

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   Posted by: Julia Redlich    in News

I read this in the Sunday Telegraph today:  on the television page about the American remake of House of Cards, which premieres on showcase on Tuesday.

It is a remake of the English1990 Westminster-based drama of deceit and dissemblance. In the original Ian Richardson played Francis Urqhuart, who was nicknamed FU – his character was based on Richard III in Macbeth…

I know Richard did some pretty amazing things in Scotland, but going back a few hundred years to be part of the Macbeth saga is mind-boggling.  Of course, I expect all he wanted to do was show some support for another historical character grossly maligned by Shakespeare!  Perhaps we can ask Philippa to investigate any suitable car parks near Dunsinane where Macbeth may be lying.

PS. I sent a short note to the Sunday Telegraph about Richard and Macbeth. Very short, but never miss an opportunity to say something about ‘Good King Richard’.

Note:  Sydney’s other Sunday paper, the Sun-Herald , gets it right and says that the role of FU was “based on Shakespeare’s Richard III and Macbeth”.

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

Have you been lately to the Rocks?  I was there last Saturday.  As I had some time to spare before the general meeting of the NSW Branch, I had a short look around the Rocks Market.  And came across this big wooden windmill, which as far as I could remember I had not seen before.

Today, all was revealed when we received an email from Amber from The Nest in Surry Hills, who are partnering with the Sydney Foreshore Authority to work on their project, The Rocks Windmill.  The windmill opened on 12 April and will run to 12 May and promises a month of workshops, performance, film, music and more.

As part of the project, Bell Shakespeare is offering workshops during the school holidays, but also – and of more interest to us – an evening event, Theatre in The Rocks: Then and Now.  This includes scenes from Henry IV and Nicholas Rowe’s The Tragedy of Jane Shore.

Incidentally, the latter is one of the first plays ever performed in Sydney.  The earliest surviving document from Sydney’s first printing press is advertising the performance of this play at the Sydney Theatre on 30 July 1797 (9 years after the arrival of the first fleet).*

The idea behind this performance is to promote “the relevance of Shakespeare’s work to new audiences, understanding that his work was never meant to be a static representations of the time in which they were written.”

And by the way, I do enjoy Shakespeare plays, even if I copped quite some disbelief on social media when I revealed that I watched his Richard III.  Shakespeare’s plays are great on stage, that’s what they have always been intended for not for the non-fiction history shelves of a library.

Sounds like an interesting idea and well worth a trip into the Rocks area of Sydney.

More details here.

* Elizabeth Webby, ‘The beginnings of literature in colonial Australia’, in:  The Cambridge History of Australian Literature, edited by Peter Pierce, Cambridge University Press, 2009, p.34

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   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure to attend a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Genesian Theatre in Sydney.  A friend of mine, who has a subscription to this theatre, knew of a spare ticket and immediately thought of me and my interest in Richard III.

The Genisian Theatre is a non-professional group, named after the patron saint of actors, St Genesius, and is operating from a historic church.  The term ‘non-professional’ might be a bit misleading as the programme tells us that for example  Baz Luhrmann, Bryan Brown and John Bell are alumni of this theatre.

This production was directed by Gary Dooley, who had lately been working in Northampton in the UK.  Another example of  the serendipity we have seen in the whole project of finding Richard’s remains:  he was offered the position at the same time as Richard’s remains were found in Leicester.

At the general meeting of the NSW Branch the day before I saw this Richard III, our speakers had talked about ‘Richard III in movies’, which had been serendipitous as well, as it allowed me comparisons.  Like the McKellan film version, this production was set in a 1940s England.  You can find a short YouTube clip of Gary Dooley talking about his production here.

The title character was played by Roger Gimblett, who dominated the stage, both physically – he was easily the tallest and most strongly built actor in the cast – as well in his performance.  He had all the attributes of Shakespeare’s baddie:  a substantial hump, one arm immobile and in a sling, and limping around the stage.  Of course, we now know that the real Richard was completely different, as well as younger.  And somehow I could not keep recent events out of my thoughts:  when Richard says in the evening before the Battle of Bosworth “Up with my tent.  Here I will lie tonight, but where tomorrow?”  (Act 5.3), I wanted to shout “Under a carpark!”

Another mentionable performance was that of Dominic McDonald, whose Buckingham was wonderfully flamboyant, complete with a cigarette nearly constantly in his fingers (which interestingly never seemed to get any shorter).

Surprisingly, the princes were played by actors with the upper half of life-size dolls strapped to their bodies.  I have to admit that I found this difficult to explain.  Possibly it was to symbolise that they are not individual characters, but just objectified obstacles in Richard’s way to the throne.

It might have been my Ricardian bias, but after all the killing and general deviousness Richard had displayed throughout, I could not help but feel sorry for him during his sleepless night before the Battle of Bosworth with a bottle of red wine and ghosts haunting him.

On the other hand Richmond (Patrick Magee) appears as the superstar, giving his rousing speech on a radio.  However, his speeches seemed not to reflect his true feelings, while his finishing speech in spite of all its conciliatory words – rather like Richard’s earlier speech to the Mayor and Citizens (Act 3.7) – appeared like spin and even had a certain menacing aura about it, as if there was really very little difference between the two.  Or was this just a bit of wishful thinking on my part?

As this is a relatively small theatre, many actors played two or more roles.  It was probably historically quite appropriate to have Patrick Magee play both Richmond and the Bishop of Ely, John Morton.  Earlier in the play, he had also played Dorset and it was amazing how different he was in each role.  Dorset was a lanky youth, Ely a churchman of some standing and Richmond the superstar.

Several of our branch members had attended an earlier performance on 10 March, which was followed by a panel discussion featuring the director, Gary Dooley,  the actor playing Richard (Roger Gimblett) and our branch secretary Julia speaking on behalf of the historical Richard.

The Genesian Theatre is well aware of the difference between the stage and the historical character.  Gary states in the programme that the play “was never intended to be a history lesson.  If you want to find out about the historical character, read a history book” – or you could give the Richard III Society a try!  In the foyer there is also an information board with information on the historical Richard, with a picture of the facial reconstruction.

A big thank you to Elaine for inviting to this memorable experience!

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Review of 13 April 2013 Richard III Society Meeting

   Posted by: Leslie McCawley    in Meetings, News, NSW Branch News

The NSW Branch of the Richard III Society met on 13 April 2013 at the Harry Jensen Centre in The Rocks, Sydney. Our Branch Chairperson Judith welcomed all the regulars, members from overseas, and a number of visitors, whose interest had been aroused by the recent discovery of the remains of Richard III in the Leicester carpark.

The Committee has been busy since the last meeting with Judith and Dorothea speaking to the Military Historical Society at Victoria Barracks, and Judith and Julia to students at Chifley College who were studying Richard III for their HSC. Julia was a member of a panel discussing the Genesian Theatre’s approach to Richard III in their current production. In addition, of course, the Committee has been finalizing the extensive arrangements for the July conference, with some last minute changes.

Julia presented the Secretary’s report and reminded us that although it is past the official deadline that it is not too late to get our registrations in for the upcoming conference in Sydney on the weekend of 12-14 July 2013. It is going to be a great weekend of learning and social activities with Ricardians, and not to be missed.

Julia also explained that because of full programs for the rest of the year no Scrabble Speakers will be needed. That means that all of our eager public speakers will just have to wait their opportunity next year!

The Minutes from the February 2013 meeting were taken as read. There was no Treasurer’s report as the Treasurer was away. Dorothea presented the Webmaster report. This branch website continues to receive many visitors. Dorothea has also extended the Branch online presence to Facebook, so everyone who has access to the internet should visit and “like” it! It can be found at

Lynne announced the arrival of the new pewter boar pins for those who had pre-ordered them. More may be obtained in the future if there is a demand from members.

An extra feature today was Dorothea reporting on her recent trip to the University of Leicester conference entitled “The Greyfriars dig: a new Richard III”. Dorothea had previously posted elements of her presentation on the branch website for online visitors to read.

The Guest Speakers were Yvette Debergue and Rachel Allerton from the University of Sydney Centre for Continuing Education and the WEA, where they teach medieval courses. Yvette recently completed her PhD at the University of Sydney on the area of Gender and Medieval Heresy. She has taught at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Medieval Studies as well as the Departments of History and Religion; her area of expertise being Heresy in the Middle Ages. For more information on upcoming her courses visit Their interesting presentation was on the different interpretations of Richard’s physical presence and character in several film versions of Shakespeare’s Richard III. They referred particularly to those featuring Lawrence Olivier, Ron Cook and Ian McKellen. Sadly the technology was not completely cooperative, so I have attached some of the YouTube clips from their presentation:

Olivier’s version of the soliloquy.

The BBC’s version with Ron Cook as Richard.

Horrible Histories Richard III Song.

The next meeting will be on Saturday, 8 June 2013, and the speaker will be Ben Cross on Medieval Thought and Philosophy.

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   Posted by: Christopher Puplick    in News

Fellow Ricardians may find a new play by Timothy Daly, Richard III (or Almost), of interest.  A special invitation for members of the Richard III Society is attached (Richard III Society Invite final_final24 3 13).

Timothy is one of Australia’s most successful playwrights (with more of his work done overseas than any other contemporary Australian playwright). This piece was originally performed in France and recently was one of only two Australian pieces at the world famous Avignon festival.

I’ve no doubt it’ll be a great evening in the theatre which our friends would enjoy.

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Richard III, the ‚Bösewicht‘

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in Greyfriars Dig, News, Richard III in the Media

The interest in the findings in Leicester is not limited to the English-speaking world.  One of the two main German TV station, the ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen), also reported on it as part of their news and interviewed John Ashdown-Hill for the short feature (approx. 2 minutes).  The dig in Leicester was based on John’s research, outlined in his book The Last Days of Richard III.

So far I had known John only through his books and from photographs, so this was the first time I met him ‘live’.  This was the highlight of the programme, as I was rather disappointed with the reporting around it.

The moderator introduces Richard III as the “probably most hated king in British history”, who also features as the “main character of a Shakespeare drama”.  This gives you a good idea on the line they are going to follow:  history as told by that great “historian”, William Shakespeare.

We learn that Richard had numerous people killed, two brothers and nephews, but also “at least one wife”.  Now, please, even Shakespeare doesn’t give him more than one wife!  It was only his great-nephew Henry VIII, who had the bad track record with multiple wives.

As there is no mention that any view of Richard but Shakespeare’s even exists, it comes as a bit of a surprise when the reporter finishes with “Richard, the villain.  Maybe this part of history now needs to be rewritten.”  Unfortunately finding Richard’s bones will not be not sufficient to change the popular opinion of this king.

And while I am on my rant, there is also a minor point.  In the beginning we see the sundial at the Bosworth Battlefield Centre and the voice over informs us that this is the spot where Richard was killed.  Well, not exactly, the actual battlefield was a bit away.

In my family, ZDF had been the broadcaster of choice, for its accuracy in its news coverage as well as for entertainment.  A pity, but even John Ashdown-Hill cannot make me overlook the shortcomings in this short programme.  I would have expected better!

Watch the programme at

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Listen to Richard

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis    in News

So far there is nothing new to report about the results from the dig in Leicester, as the results of the DNA analysis are only expected for December.  To keep our readers entertained while waiting, there are two podcast which you might enjoy.

The first is by Steven Berkoff.  He wrote a short and entertaining monologue “Richard III – My Car Park Years” for Broadcasting House.

The second podcast is on a somewhat more serious note.  Dr Huw Griffiths, Dept of English, University of Sydney, gave a talk on 702 ABC Sydney on “Shakespeare’s Richard III : Royal Propaganda or Political Satire?“, where he stresses the attractiveness of Shakespeare’s villain and puts him into his historical (Elizabethan) context.

And of course there is the very well-reasoned argument of the Bishop of Leicester, why the remains, which have been lying in Leicester for over 500 years, should be re-interred in Leicester.  If you have not seen and listened to this before, may be it is time to do so now.

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