Carole Heath joins the praise for Simon Russell Beale and we’re also thrilling with mighty expectation over Tom Hiddleston’s coming Henry V on the BBC. You can read our little running argument though about the ‘Oxford theory’ with knowledgable William Ray in the comments below, which will be linked in time. You can also read some research into Edmund Shakespeare and London’s Southwark above, although we confess to being more the creative writers, than the blinking scholars. With all due respect to blinking scholars, or ones coughing in ink.
Carole also mentions the soaring poetry of Henry V. To us and James Shapiro it was written at that critical moment in Shakespeare’s life and career, so wonderfully described in Shapiro’s 1599, when The Globe Theatre went up in Southwark and a troupe that stayed together for 20 years, among acting ffelowes that remembered each other with mourning rings in their wills, broke from the likes of more lowly entertainment and money-minded Phillipe Henslowe, driven on as the lease ran out in The Theatre. Though everyone could do with a decent amount of money, not least Phoenix Ark press! Henry V is about forging a language of national identity, a Royal propaganda too and also a consciousness of Self and Kingship. It begins in the absolutely brutal dismissal of Falstaff in Henry IV Part II, so devastating with Hiddleston and Russell Beale, only because you had come to love Falstaff’s flawed humanity, although precursored in the play within the play, the trying on of roles, in the Boar’s Head game. “Banish honest Jack and banish all the world.” “I do, I will.”
Carole also mentions the famous St Crispins’ Day speech of Henry V, that made the Laurence Olivier movie, facing the Nazis in World War II, so seminal, with its flags fluttering over that wooden theatre, as they were always raised to announce performances. As England had faced the Spanish Armada, but also the ‘invisible Armadas’ of renewed threat, or the rumour of it, in 1599. That rallying cry so limply quoted by young Rees Mogg in Parliament last year, as the UK goes on about being anti European, “imitate the actions of the tiger, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard favoured rage.” Shakespeare’s jewel of genius and insight though is not just about power and rhetoric, but a King who had the common touch and so was loved, but loved as a hero made myth, in that ‘little touch of harry in the night.’ The soaring power of the poetic chorus, as ‘fire answers fire’ in the flaming crucible of his own imagination.
The feast of Crispin Crispianus came out of that pre-Reformation tradition of Saints and though historically accurate that Agincourt was on the eve of that Saints Day, removed under Vatican II, it is an interesting footnote to the work on Edmund Shakespeare here, that Will Shakespeare makes so much of it. The legend is about two brothers, twins, who were the patron saints of shoemakers. The speech of course gives Henry the common touch, to connect with the ordinary soldiery, but to stir those hearts to the noble fight, despite all the ironies of life and death that surrounded it. Peter Ackroyd makes much of how Southwark was so involved in the stink trades‘ there though, on the edge of the Thames, like shoemaking and leather working. It was also a district of many Haberdashers, like William Smythe, who left us a list of London Lord Mayors, and ran an extraordinary local poor support system that was probably more like a local sweatshop. The Southwark people he gave poor aid to wore cloaks with his initials stitched in, WS (no, not William Shakespeare) but then everyone was aspiring to rule the roost. Some of the work of local nobility there, like Lord Montague, who owned the palace in front of Southwark Cathedral running to the Thames, strikes much of today’s charity political dinner syndrome, or ladies who lunch and launch.
Southwark, a very tough London district, including taverns, theatres and brothels, also gave the largest number of recruits to Elizabethan and Caroline wars. So again comes a speech talking straight out of a London area it was forged in, certainly performed in, and one which would have found direct relevance and appreciation among a local audience. That unknown Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption we mention in the Edmund Shakespeare work above (unedited), which had owned the tavern/brewhouse where Edmund was staying in the year of his death, 1607, The Vine, was founded under Henry VI by wardens of St Margaret’s Church in Southwark, including one John Le Hunte. The site of St Margaret’s is now the old town hall on Borough High Street, but with very Catholic leanings, as the area was such a fault line for London Reformation battles, it was thrown down in Henry’s dissolutions and turned into a local prison. The Puritans would later do that to the Bishop of Winchester’s palace too. Reading the records of St Margaret’s Church, where ‘pleyers‘ are mentioned a hundred and fifty years before Shakespeare, as we are aware also crucial new evidence, performing on St Margaret’s and St Lucy’s Days, suddenly stop, around 1545. Then all you have are six latin depositions of the wardens. They were the Henretian inquests, that also threw down local St Thomas’s ‘hosptial’ as a ‘bawdy house’. But the area was an area of tanners, leatherworkers and shoemakers, as well as Thames watermen. Southwark Cathedral, then St Saviours, formerly the monastic buildings of St Mary’s Ovaries, which took over jurisdiction for St Margaret’s parishoners, was also directly linked to the guild of leatherworkers. One prominent warden, Thomas Cure, who founded a local school in Southwark, was Elizabeth I’s saddler. Some of the material on record should be copied out to make a Shakespeare Southwark collection.
All good leather to chew on, in wondering who these real people were, in the forging of immortal art. Who they certainly were not, although he may have had talent, may have loved literature and theatre and may have been a patron, was Edward devere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Shakespeare lived and worked in Southwark, in a ‘Domus et Aliorium’, perhaps right next to The Globe, or part of a building complex that had tenements attached, like most taverns, as did his failed youngest brother Edmund. As did Philippe Henslowe and Edward Alleyn, and so many of the names associated with the London theatres, as writers and players. Also carpenters, prompters and the rest. That is the thrill of building up a true portrait of 16th and early 17th Century Southwark and Bankside, that we will try to blog in time. Look at the records of Southwark Cathedral, in burial and death registers, and you can literally feel the globe being built, with the baptism of joiners children, or the arrival of ‘men in bookes’.
Although, to take William Ray’s side on the ‘authority’ of establishment theorising, it is astonishing in today’s disastrous publishing climate, and what passes for culture, that we have not found backing for the work and story from major publishers. You, the reading public, will have to tell us then if there is interest in the work, by coming here and voting with your leather clad feet! We’d enjoy it if you do, there is really fascinating and unknown stuff, that wakes a world 400 years old. Indeed, if you don’t, you may find yourself accursed you were not here!
Phoenix Ark Press