18 December 2014

Shakespeare - A Celebration

Report for the HWS event of the 9th of December, 2014

‘Shakespeare Without Doubt’

The evening began with Her Grace Queen Elizabeth 1 (Barbara Large, most elegantly attired) greeting her subjects.  Her first assignment was to welcome the Titchfield Festival Theatre Group, under the stewardship of their chairman and artistic director, Kevin Fraser, who were to perform part of a new play 'Our Cousin Will' by Stewart Trotter.  Kevin then introduced the troupe, the performances that they carry out, and posited Titchfield as the location where Shakespeare wrote the play ‘Love Labour’s Lost’.  Stewart Trotter gave a brief outline as to why it was thought that Shakespeare could have spent a period in Titchfield as a teacher. 

Several scenes from the play were performed, and this involved the Lady Mary, the mother of the Earl of Southampton, engaging Will Shakespeare to teach her son Harry the art of writing sonnets, which she hopes will turn his attentions to women; instead of his dressing like one.  Will endeavours to do this, although his efforts with Harry appear futile.   Will is then drawn to Emilia, however, she resists his advances with a curt “Get lost, Baldy!”  Will is then involved in an affair with Harry himself, much to Lady Mary’s disquiet.  However, Will and she are eventually reconciled; and Harry’s own situation is accepted.  The dialogue was witty, lively, and the performances of the actors were highly amusing.

The Titchfield Festival Theatre Group
Barbara then invited Di Castle to give the HWS an account of her journey to getting a book published.  Di has been a member of the HWS and had also attended the Winchester Writers’ Conference.   She has written for years, often having a number of manuscripts on the go, but eventually, with fifty poems written on sixteen years of her life, decided to try to get them published.  Eventually, after finding the ideal illustrator in Denise Horn, “Grandma’s Poetry Book” was published by Matador.  The process had taken both time and money, but the book is now in its second print run, and shows that creativity and determination can win through.

Barbara then welcomed Professor Stanley Wells and the Reverend Dr Paul Edmondson, the main speakers for the evening.  She also welcomed Professor Mick Jardine, Head of the Arts Department at the University of Winchester, who was to act as adjudicator of the monthly completion. 

Professor Stanley Wells and the Reverend Dr Paul Edmondson were then introduced. 

The Earl of Southampton, Prof Wells, the Rev Dr Paul Edmondson and Queen Elizabeth I
Professor Wells was Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham, and is now Emeritus Professor, and he is currently Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  He also received the 2010 Sam Wanamaker Award for services to increasing understanding of Shakespeare, and in 2009, after years of research, he was one of a group who put the case for confirming that the Cobbe Portrait was of Shakespeare, and was painted from life.  The Reverend Dr Paul Edmondson is the Director of the Stratford-on-Avon Poetry Festival for the Shakespeare Birthplace trust.  He is Trustee of the Rose Theatre Trust and is co-editor of the Palgrave Shakespeare series.  Both scholars have, as individuals, published many books and have also collaborated on two.

Professor Wells and the Reverend Dr Edmondson used a screen presentation to emphasise the more important points of their proposition that it was “Shakespeare beyond doubt” who created the plays attributed to William Shakespeare.  They began with the funerary monument to Shakespeare that resides in the Holy trinity Church, Stratford, and which must have been dedicated before 1623.  There was a tremendous amount of reference to Shakespeare made by actors and playwrights, and many collaborations between Shakespeare and others.  Thomas Middleton collaborated on “Timon of Athens” and John Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare in the later years, making the proposition that Christopher Marlowe, who died in 1593 (his death verified by the coroner’s court), was the true author, most improbable.  Moreover, an analysis of writing styles reveals that the authorship of the plays would have required a deep knowledge of stagecraft, which would also disallow a number of other candidates.

The fact that Shakespeare was not highly educated is often brought up, but it is quite likely that a youth of Shakespeare’s background would have attended a grammar school since, by the time he was a boy, these were becoming widespread.  Attendance at the “Kynge’s new Scole” in Stratford is therefore a very strong probability.  There, Shakespeare would have learnt Latin and literature, which would have given him the basic skills of a playwright.  The subsequent evidence for his authorship of the plays is such that it would have required a conspiracy of a huge number of people to have succeeded in concealing this; none of whom ever gave the game away!

Scepticism comes from a number of sources.  Simple snobbery is one; that Shakespeare was simply too lowly a figure to produce works of such genius.  Some sceptics have made huge efforts to prove he was not the author, although these have often foundered spectacularly.  One such person was Delia Bacon, an American woman, who in the 1850s went to huge lengths to prove that the plays were written by a circle of gifted authors.  Despite her considerable efforts, her campaign eventually fizzled out.

The Committee joined in the spirit of the evening by appearing in costume
More modern efforts have taken place.  The 2011 film “Anonymous” told a complex tale of intrigue set during the reign of Elizabeth the First, with the Earl of Oxford being credited with being the true author of the plays, which were produced using Shakespeare merely as a frontman.  The film was, ultimately, unconvincing.

It is even possible to attend college courses that specialise in presenting the evidence for Shakespeare not being the true author, but such courses have failed to shake the available evidence for authorship.

In summary, there is simply too much contemporary evidence for Shakespeare being the author for this to be defeated by the arguments against.

The Earl of Southampton and Queen Elizabeth I
The Earl of Southampton (Gary Farnell, impressive in doublet and hose) then hosted the questions:

  1. How did Shakespeare collaborate?

Paul pointed out:

“Two Noble Kinsmen” has been attributed to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher.
“Henry VIII” has been identified as collaboration on stylistic grounds.

Fletcher used “ye” whereas Shakespeare used “thou”.

          Stanley pointed out:

          Thomas Middleton collaborated on “Timon of Athens”

  1. Which of Shakespeare’s plays were the speakers’ favourites?


“King Lear”
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”


          “A Winter’s Tale” (The final scene is especially touching.)

  1. How much input of the collaborators is in Shakespeare’s plays?


It cannot be estimated precisely.

  1. Any comment on any of Ros Barber’s arguments?

She made the point that one playwright had his hand cut off for a work that displeased the queen, and that Shakespeare might have been the ‘front man’ to protect others from punishment.

But her point that Marlowe may have escaped to Italy to write the plays is not probable since the coroner’s court had a full account of events; a huge deception would have been required.

Mick Jardine commented that although Ros Barber’s assertion that attacks on Shakespeare were not ‘classist’, many do appear to be.  Is the furore over authorship a real problem?  Perhaps, but at least it prompts discussion!

          Paul:            Ultimately, the attacks cannot be ignored.
          Stanley:        Young people are being fed untruths.

  1. Shakespeare had a somewhat spasmodic married life: was there really a will?

Stanley:        Yes, he did, and the famous second-best bed to a wife was actually a
routine bequest at the time!

  1. Was Shakespeare a happy man?

Stanley:        I would rather just think of him as ‘the man’

  1. What are the drivers for questioning his authorship?

Mick:            Snobbery, plus the opportunity for revealing a ‘new truth’, plus
perhaps sheer mischief.

Paul:            The feeling that Shakespeare lacked the knowledge for much of what he wrote, and that such knowledge could only come from personal experience.

          Stanley:        Ignorance, and a desire to topple a giant.

          Paul:            A parasitical urge to negate his success.

          Mick:            Disbelief that the quality and genius could belong to one man.

Paul:            The thought that not enough is known of Shakespeare’s life; it leads to frustration.

  1. A point from Ant; many people believe that disability also ‘disqualifies’ a person from being able to write.

Paul:            Yes, people will say such things…

Barbara Large thanked Professor Stanley Wells and the Reverend Dr Paul Edmondson for having so kindly travelled to speak to us all this evening, and reminded members that the next meeting would be on the 13th of January 2015, when the distinguished journalist Luke Harding would be the speaker.   Finally, she wished everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Report by David Eadsforth.

10 December 2014

Celebrating the 450th Anniversary of Shakespeare's Birth

Competition Report 9th December 2014

The Competition for December was to “Write the first three pages of an opening scene in the style of Shakespeare”. A big welcome was given to Dr Mick Jardine, Head of English, Creative Writing and American Studies at the University of Winchester who very kindly agreed to be the adjudicator.
Mick is no stranger to the Hampshire Writers’ Society. In November 2013, he was the Special Guest when Ross Barber presented her talk “Why is Shakespeare’s Authorship doubted. And does it matter” Therefore, It was fitting that Mick was with us again last night when the main speakers, Professor Stanley Wells and The Rev Dr Paul Edmondson presented “Shakespeare beyond doubt”, a counter to Ross Barber’s argument.
The prize for the winners of December’s competition was a signed copy of “Shakespeare beyond doubt”. And to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, the winning entry was enacted by the Titchfield Festival Theatre Group.

Mick’s Adjudication:

1st Prize: Joan Robinson-Harris, Seeking Love Late
“This prose drama, set in an apothecary’s shop, effectively captured the style of Shakespeare; character, plot and setting are economically established, the language has energy and verve and the play has a strong sense of both the theatrical and the dramatic. It invites the audience in and whets the appetite for what is to come.”

2nd Prize: David Lea, First Do No Harm
“This scene is Shakespearean in its powerful sense of drama, exploiting to the full the inherent tension of the courtroom setting and fashioning some memorable lines of blank verse. The play suggests a modern Faustus dilemma and taps into a topic of urgent contemporary significance, what to do with aged bed-blockers (otherwise known as parents and friends).”

Highly Commended: Anne Eckersley, Apologies to Henry and Others
“Written with comic zest, this culinary tour de force is highly entertaining and transports something of the Elizabethan kitchen into the world of Nigella Lawson; an all-round Christmas treat!”

Prize winners, David Lea, Joan Robinson-Harris and Anne Eckersley

Prizes and Awards:
The prizes were signed copies of “Shakespeare Beyond Doubt”, together with a signed Certificate of Adjudication from Dr Mick Jardine. The winning entries are shown below:

1st Prize: Seeking Love Late - Copyright © Joan Robinson-Harris, 2014

                                                     Dramatis Personae

Lord Burgoigne Pawley, general to the King.
Sir Cecil Seamin, his lieutenant
Eleanora, the Countess of Rotherford
                                      SCENE- Partly in England and partly in Italy.

                                                         Act I
Scene I : An apothecarie’s shop. Enter the Countess veiled.

Countess: This is the shop, matching in every detail Lady Oakhampton’s description. If this apothecarie has a potion I seek, all will be well.

                                             Enter Apothecarie

Apothecarie: Greetings, good madam! What ointment or tincture may this humble apothecarie provide thee?

Countess: My mistress bid me seek a potion recommended to her by my mistresses cousin’s friend, that was effective for my mistresses cousin’s friend’s husband.

Apothecarie: (aside ) Methinks this maid hath too many mistresses, and is no maid at all, but the lady herself. (to the countess)Pray tell me, in what way was this potion efficacious for your mistresses cousin’s friend’s husband?

Countess: (aside) This man is like a needle, he pierces the tapestry and makes his stitch clear. (to Apothecarie) It was a delicate matter, a matrimonial matter, a husband and wife matter.

Apothecarie: Pray, mistress, how does this man make his way in the world, that way I might understand how he presents himself?

Countess: In plain speech, he is a soldier.

Apothecarie: Forsooth, experience teaches me such men are people of direct action, whose sword rusts not in its scabbard?

Countess: Your wit, good sir, does credit to the world that tutors your knowing. A straight forward approach is a courageous path, much lauded on the field of battle, however, domestic life, nay bliss, needs something of the imagination of the poet.

Apothecarie: Ah, I comprehend you quite. The unlocking of the fantasies of the mind requires a potent brew. (Bringing forth a tincture) This tincture, composed chiefly of mushrooms and other wild and delicate roots gathered and assembled by my own hand, must be taken one hour before commencement, the party must forgo all alcohol for twelve hours, else the effects will be too strong, the speech becoming rambling and the movements madlike. Therefore, administer with all good care.

Countess: (Paying) Good apothecarie, I thank you for your pains
               (Aside)   With careful risk, much happiness may be gained. (Exit)

SCENE II.  The same

Enter Lord Pawley and Sir Cecil

Cecil: Good my Lord, here is the very apothecarie’s shop Lord Oakhampton bid us seek out.

Pawley: Cecil, you have been my loyal lieutenant these two decades past, I am glad of your presence now.  These matters of the heart are beyond my compass. I’d rather face the raving Berserker hordes than make sweet moves to Countess Eleanora, as every lover does, even though she be my heart’s desire, and our marriage set for two days hence.

Cecil: Courage, my Lord. This apothecarie will have some liquid remedy that will ease your path to wedded communion.

Pawley: Pray god you are right. Lead on.

(Entering in military fashion)

Cecil:  Good morrow, Apothecarie. As quartermaster to our needs, we require something of your skills.

Apothecarie: My skills and knowledge are at your Lordships’ service. (Aside) Forsooth, this be the very soldier the maid spoke of, his military bearing distinguishes him as such. (To Pawley and Cecil) What ointment, pill, potion or tincture, may it please your Lordships to command?

Cecil: The general here must confide in you his manly difficulty, which is no difficulty at all but the merest trifle, only this merest trifle weighs somewhat on the generals mind and mars the prospect of his forthcoming nuptials.

Apothecarie: My Lord general, are you able to say, man to man, in strictest confidence, what this trifle is that so disturbs your future satisfaction?

Pawley: I perceive you have much of the intelligencer about you, you hear the words and understand the story that is not stated.

Apothecarie: The general flatters my humble learning.

Pawley: I however am a man of plain speech, and I give you good notice that should you speak one word of our conversation to any living soul, that very moment will mark the end of your apothecarie-ing days. Do you take such orders.

Apothecarie: Your words have a Trapist of me in this business.

Pawley: Then herein lies the problem. I am to marry these two days a lady. Though she be an acknowledged beauty and a lady of great virtue, I cannot fill that husbands part which is to be a lover to his lady. From a youth I was always in barracks and on battlefields and have always conducted myself as a soldier, which fits well for government and the world of men. With the soldiering life one must needs associate with characters of low morals, and women of low morals also. So to be brief, having spent all my time with prostitutes and bawds, I do not know how to make love to a virtuous lady, I would therefore, have you give me some subtle potion to administer to my good lady that, within the secret confines of our bedroom, renders her more loose, and less virtuous, for our mutual enjoyment.

Apothecarie: Your Lordship makes all clear. I have a potion here that must be administered one half hour before use in water, it has the effect of  making the person most affectionate in every way. Take care however to always keep the lady in your sight, for should she see another man, she will be affectionate to him, whether he be stranger or no, for one hour.

Cecil: Thanks good apothecarie, I salute you.

Pawley: The battle of the bedchamber must be fought with this
               Ere my lady and I are brought to wedded bliss.

2nd Prize: First Do No HarmCopyright © David Lea, 2014

A Tragedy

CHARACTERS:         CHORUS 1 Female   Very elderly, masked.
                              CHORUS 2 Male                 Very elderly, masked.
                              DR WISE                            In his fifties.
COUNSEL FOR THE  (PROS)                              Middle-aged. Could be
PROSECUTION                                                 male or female. 
Photographs of Dr Wise’s thirteen ‘victims’ are projected onto a back-cloth with their printed obituaries. Nine are already there. As the CHORUS figures read the last four obits, the images of the dead join the others. (Alternatively, given the resources of the R.S.C, thirteen masked old people appear out of the gloom from deep Upstage: the thirteen chorus members are Dr Wise’s ‘victims’.) Dr WISE is Centre Stage, confined and lit by a single spot. The Counsel for the Prosecution (PROS) is able to move about the stage at will. The dialogue is written in blank verse.

CHORUS 1:    Rachel Vivienne Colebrook
                    Died aged 73 years.  After a long battle with cancer, she left us                                         peacefully at the end.
                    A wonderful wife, mother and friend
                    Donations to Cancer Research

DR WISE:       Diamorphine.

CHORUS 2:    Victor Charles Stanley Forester
                    Passed peacefully to his rest aged 89 years
                    Beloved husband of Margaret and a loving grandfather.                                               Thanks to Winnie and staff at Oakwood and to Dr Wise

DR WISE:       Insulin

CHORUS 1:    Monica Hilda Easterby
                    At Oakwood Nursing Home after a short illness aged 78
                    Mum and Dad are together again at last
                    Always in our memories – Keith, Sheila, Theo and Jade

DR WISE:       Nembutal

CHORUS 2:    Eric Leslie Thorogood, “Les”
                    Will be much missed by family and friends, particularly those in                                         the golfing and racing fraternity.
                    Donations to Battersea Dogs’ Home

DR WISE:       Nembutal
PROS:           Dr Wise, your memory is most precise:
                    The victim and the means of death, the place
                    The time and the device by which you hid
                    Your crimes from prying eyes are carried still
                    In mind so subtle and so cunning that
                    Thirteen lives have ended at your hand.
                    But why recall in such particularity
                    The endgame of the souls you part
                    From bodies at your will, if not to hold
                    Them still for later satisfaction and delight,
                    To examine them at leisure and to take
                    A future pleasure in the snuffing of the light?

DR WISE:       I remember them and what I did because
                    It is no small thing to be an agent
                    In another’s death. I do not take it
                    Lightly now; nor did I then. They live in me
                    And me in them.

PROS:           You speak as though a priest in holy orders:
                    As though their passing were a sacrament.
                    And yet we know that you believe in nothing:
                    In nothing that we recognize as God,
                    In nothing more than your own earthly power
                    To wield the tools of Chemistry and Science;
                    And exercise dominion for yourself.
                    You are a murderer.
                                                  “Thou shalt not kill,”
                    The bible says: the law of God on which
                    Our human law now stands.

DR WISE:       I had it in my hands
                    To ease another’s pain when I could see
                    The ways and means of medicine had so outstripped
                    Our moral sensibility as to allow
                    Indignity, and suffering and pain.
                    Science strives officiously to keep alive
                    Those who have by far outlived their natural span
                    And whose life is then a burden to themselves,
                    To those who love them and to those they love.

PROS:           And by what right are you to choose the manner
                    And the time at which these “burdens” shuffle off
                    Their mortal coils. You plead “Not Guilty”
                    To the charge of murder as ‘tis defined:
                    But you have killed “with malice aforethought,
                    When in sound mind and good discretion”
                    Fellow creatures that had not themselves the means
                    To choose the way that they were heaven-sent.

DR WISE:       I have had time to study my predicament
                    And how it stands in law while waiting for my trial
         And shall conduct my own defence. I do admit
                    That I have killed unlawfully, but still refute
                    The charge of murder. My “learned friend” will know
                    Full well the quote to which he now alludes:
                    “When a person of good memory and discretion
                    Unlawfully kills any reasonable
                    Creature with malice aforethought that is murder": *
                    Of those that perished by my hand, but three
                    Could be described as “reasonable”:
                    They had, long since been stranded and in
                    Need of constant care to stay alive at all,
                    Their reason long since lost beyond recall.

PROS:           And who appointed you the arbiter
                    Of life and death, omniscient, divine?
DR WISE:       The judgements and the actions were both mine,
                    Made from compassion, not from malice.
                    I knew my actions were against the law
                    I also knew the law was wrong.
                    I knew that I could face arrest and trial,
                    As I do now; the vilifying press; the bile
                    Of common gossip on family and friends,
                    My reputation’s ruin and a life in jail.

PROS:           (To the audience)
                    And be assured that we shall ask for “life”
                    And ask for it to mean exactly what it says.
                    Dr Wise, at least, does have a life.
                    His patients now have none: no pulse, no breath,
                    No choice about the manner of their death.

* William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England set out the common law definition of murder, which by this definition occurs when a person, of sound memory and discretion, unlawfully kills any reasonable creature in being and under the king’s peace, with malice aforethought, either express or implied.

The rest of the play moves between scenes of the trial and flashbacks, which illustrate the circumstances of some of the deaths. The final death that results in the arrest of Dr Wise is explored in scenes that establish a parallel time-line with those of the trial. The masked chorus figures comment on the action when in mask, but also play other parts in other scenes, unmasked.

The scenes in court are always written in blank verse, as are the lines of the chorus. Flashbacks are written in prose.

In Conclusion:
The competition secretary thanked everyone who had entered the competition, and invited members to enter next month’s competition, which is to write 300 words for a Magazine Article, entitled “A Secret place in Wessex”. Heidi King, editor of View magazine, will be the adjudicator. The winning entry may be featured in the magazine.

Please email to the Competition Secretary, Jim Livesey competitions.hwsAThotmail.com
by noon (BST)1st January 2015. (please replace AT with @)

Please read HWS Competition rules