2014 Anniversary Exhibition


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The tradition of celebrating Shakespeare’s genius in Stratford-upon-Avon with grand luncheons goes back to the Tercentenary festivities in 1864. In a huge pavilion, guests could attend balls, performances and, of course, lunches. 100 years later, official luncheon parties were still being given in honour of the Bard.

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This is the official menu for the 1964 Shakespeare Anniversary Luncheon held in a specially constructed Festival Pavilion on the banks of the river Avon. Originally, Queen Elizabeth II was scheduled to attend the official opening of the Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street that day; however in March 1964 she gave birth to her fourth child, Prince Edward. Her husband His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh participated in the official opening of the Shakespeare Centre in her place. Prince Philip was also the guest of honour at the birthday anniversary luncheon.


The menu served on this day consisted of smoked river trout with horse-radish sauce as starters; cold breasts of roast spring chicken, York ham, points of asparagus, fresh green salad, and hot buttered new potatoes for the main course; and fresh fruit salad or Warwickshire Cream for pudding; coffee was served later.


Compared to the usual sumptuous and lavish Elizabethan feasts, this luncheon appears meagre indeed. However, the social function of official dinners has remained very similar to what it was in Shakespeare’s time. They were an expression of social and political power not only for monarchs and nobles but also for people with social aspirations, like the gentry and wealthy merchants. No wonder that Shakespeare – like most of his contemporaries – makes good use of dinners and banquets in his works: in all of his 38 plays, nine banquet scenes are depicted on stage, a further four are mentioned but not shown.


One banquet you won’t forget is the one that marks the turning point in Macbeth’s development in Act 3 of the play:


[A banquet prepared. Enter MACBETH, LADY MACBETH,] [p]ROSS, LENNOX, Lords, and Attendants]


You know your own degrees; sit down: at first
And last the hearty welcome.


Thanks to your majesty.


Ourself will mingle with society,
And play the humble host.
Our hostess keeps her state, but in best time
We will require her welcome.
See, they encounter thee with their hearts’ thanks.
Both sides are even: here I’ll sit i’ the midst:
Be large in mirth; anon we’ll drink a measure
The table round.


My royal lord,
You do not give the cheer: the feast is sold
That is not often vouch’d, while ’tis a-making,
‘Tis given with welcome: to feed were best at home;
From thence the sauce to meat is ceremony;
Meeting were bare without it.


Sweet remembrancer!
Now, good digestion wait on appetite,
And health on both!


May’t please your highness sit.


[The GHOST OF BANQUO enters, and sits in] MACBETH’s place]


Here had we now our country’s honour roof’d,
Were the graced person of our Banquo present;
Who may I rather challenge for unkindness
Than pity for mischance!


His absence, sir,
Lays blame upon his promise. Please’t your highness
To grace us with your royal company.


The table’s full.


Here is a place reserved, sir.




Here, my good lord. What is’t that moves your highness?


Which of you have done this?


What, my good lord?


Thou canst not say I did it: never shake
Thy gory locks at me.
(Macbeth, Act 3, scene 4)


This is an example of a banquet gone horribly wrong, but by far the most gruesome of all banquets, however, is the concluding scene in Shakespeare’s early revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus. Titus presents his guests, the Roman Emperor Saturninus and his queen Tamora, with a pie made with the meat of Tamora’s own sons, Chiron and Demetrius. Here’s Titus before the dinner, explaining to his victims in all detail what he is going to do with them, the murderers of his son-in-law and the rapists of his daughter Lavinia:


Hark, wretches! how I mean to martyr you.
This one hand yet is left to cut your throats,
Whilst that Lavinia ‘tween her stumps doth hold
The basin that receives your guilty blood.
You know your mother means to feast with me,
And calls herself Revenge, and thinks me mad:
Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust
And with your blood and it I’ll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear
And make two pasties of your shameful heads,
And bid that strumpet, your unhallow’d dam,
Like to the earth swallow her own increase.
This is the feast that I have bid her to,
And this the banquet she shall surfeit on; […]
(Titus Andronicus, Act 5, scene 2)


As these examples show, feasts and banquets prove a welcome setting to stage power and status for Shakespeare. For most of us, however, feasting is nowadays predominantly concerned with good food and good times.


If you want to know more about Tudor feasting, why not check out our blog post on Finding Shakespeare about a spice plate (http://findingshakespeare.co.uk/shakespeares-world-in-100-objects-number-42-a-spice-plate) or posy trenchers




Or, if you want to try your hand at an Elizabethan recipe for Mince Pies, take a look at our Collections team’s Shakespearian Christmas post (http://findingshakespeare.co.uk/a-shakespearean-christmas-with-traditional-minced-meat-pies#sthash.Apro4l7R.dpuf).



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This vase was designed and made by John Hutton to commemorate the opening of the Shakespeare Centre in 1964. It is the largest example of blown glass currently known.



The etching depicts the ‘Dance of the Reapers and Nymphs’ from Act 4, Scene 1 of The Tempest. In this comedy, the last play Shakespeare wrote as a sole author, the character Prospero distracts his daughter and her lover Ferdinand from their amorous adventures with an enchanting spectacle or masque. Iris, who in Greek mythology represents the rainbow, calls forth nymphs, or mythical female deities which she calls Naiads who live in the ‘windring [sic] brooks’:


With your sedged crowns and ever-harmless looks,
Leave your crisp channels and on this green land
Answer your summons; Juno does command:
Come, temperate nymphs, and help to celebrate
A contract of true love; be not too late. (The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1)



Iris also calls forth the harvest reapers whom she bids dance with the nymphs, thereby bringing together two worlds: water and land, as well as myth and reality. Iris bids the reapers join the nymphs:



You sunburnt sicklemen, of August weary,
Come hither from the furrow and be merry:
Make holiday; your rye-straw hats put on
And these fresh nymphs encounter every one
In country footing. (The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1)

Shakespeare includes the stage direction ‘Enter certain Reapers, properly habited: they join with the Nymphs in a graceful dance’. There are no preserved notes on stage dancing in the period, but it is likely that it resembled the fashions and tastes at the time.

 Dancing in the 16th Century


Dances were inspired by the music that accompanied them, whether at court or in rustic revels. Rhythms or ‘measures’ were very important, helping participants to keep time. Fashionable dances came from Italy, such as the Galliarde, and France, like the Saraband, and were invariably to be found in court. Queen Elizabeth was famed for her love for and skill in dancing at social occasions.


Country or rustic dances originated from festivals such as May day dancing, and were therefore performed in circles or lines. Such dances were accompanied by tabors (snare drums) and pipes. Dancing was a very energetic affair, and people often considered it a form of exercise. Country jigs were extremely popular, and they involved jumping and leaping. Some country dances had amusing names such as the ‘Petticoat Wag’, ‘The Friar and the Nun’ and the ‘Bear Dance’.


In the theatre, both music and dance were extremely important. Actors and musicians would play, sing and dance together during and after performances, constantly entertaining their audiences. Shakespeare includes dancing in plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labour’s Lost and Henry VIII. In these situations, when the characters are dressed in their finery, there is so much dramatic excitement and possibility. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, the lovers meet at a grand ball during a dance when Romeo is disguised with a mask. Similarly, Anne Bullen (based on Anne Boleyn) is wooed by King Henry during a dance in which he disguises himself.


Dance was also an exciting way to end a theatrical performance. At the close of As You Like It, Duke Senior asks everyone to take part in ‘rustic revelry’, after which the instruction ‘a dance’ appears. Notice how the Duke plays with the word ‘measure’ to highlight the importance of the rhythms of the dance music:


Meantime, forget this new-fall’n dignity
And fall into our rustic revelry.
Play, music! And you, brides and bridegrooms all,
With measure heap’d in joy, to the measures fall. (As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 4)



How many Tudor dances do you know? What about Tudor dance music? Join the discussion and let us know.


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Tibor Reich

The design that you see here was produced by Tibor Reich for the Birthplace Trust in 1964. Reich depicts the kingship, battle and heraldry that resonate throughout Shakespeare’s history plays.



There are ten English history plays published in the First Folio, not counting the anonymous Edward III. Shakespeare wrote about English kings from the incompetent King John all the way through to the majestic Henry VIII. In all of these plays, Shakespeare is fascinated by kingship and the way in which leaders are torn between duty and conscience. In King John, the king has to decide between pleasing the Pope of Rome or claiming his lands in France. In Richard II, the rebel Bolingbroke has to decide whether it is better to live in banishment and injustice or to rise up against his own cousin the king to take the crown. Such decisions are momentous, and Shakespeare allows his audiences to explore the humanity of these great historical figures.




This is an extract from Henry IV, Part II. Henry is plagued by his conscience after having deposed his cousin, Richard II. In this moving and desperate speech, Henry feels envious of his subjects who are able to escape from their troubles through sleep, whilst he suffers with insomnia. His guilt and melancholy lead him to make one of the most quoted observations about kingship in Shakespeare’s plays, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’:



How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ‘larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. (Henry IV, Part II, Act 3, Scene 1)



Reich’s design emphasises the grand display of monarchy. They have striking crowns, shields and flags, all of which would have been recognisable symbols of particular kings and queens. Shakespeare loved to write about battles in his history plays. He takes a look at the honour and pride felt by kings in fighting for their country.


The following extract is the most quoted, recognisable and even iconic battle cries from Shakespeare’s canon. It comes from Henry V, when Henry and his army are about to siege Harfleur. Henry calls on his men to ‘stiffen the sinews’ and to overcome any anxiety and fear with courage and fortitude. He speaks directly to the noblemen, and then addresses the ordinary men or ‘yeomen’ whom he claims have every right to fight for and be proud of their cause. This speech represents great courage in the face of war, and it shows how a great king can become one with his subjects:


Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’ (Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1)


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(c) Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Portrait


Sixteenth century portraiture is our key to understanding how Elizabethans wished to be perceived by their peers, subjects and descendants. Prosperous individuals and families often used portraits as a way of communicating wealth, morality and education to the public. Hence every detail, such as clothing, jewels, ornaments and even pets, is significant in a portrait. In practical terms, portraits were ideal because they could be displayed easily or even sent overseas to foreign lands, particularly miniatures. Henry VIII famously dispatched his artist, Hans Holbein the Younger, to Germany to produce a miniature portrait of his future bride, Anne of Cleves, in order to determine whether or not she was attractive enough to marry. Portraits were essential to the monarchy as a way of displaying power, leadership and prosperity to their subjects.


Noble and middle-class families found portraits useful to communicate their stations and wealth to others. If you couldn’t afford to commission a portrait of yourself or family, it was considered respectable to own an image of a nobleman or woman, because it proved that you and your kin aspired to wealth and nobility.

Materials used in portraiture varied according to artist preference and, crucially, financial means. Pigments depended on the availability and cost of materials, and the canvas itself could range from wooden panels to vellum or calf skin.


This copy of the Cobbe portrait of William Shakespeare, supposedly the only one to have been painted during his lifetime, was made in 1615. It was previously known as the Ellenborough Portrait. Now, however, it is referred to as the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Portrait. While we do not know the name of the artist, painter anonymity is often the case for paintings at this time. Consider how carefully the artist has painted Shakespeare’s face and clothes. His skin looks clear and his eyes look bright and alive. The beautiful lace collar was very fashionable and expensive, and shows us that, at this time in his life, Shakespeare was successful and wealthy. This portrait was painted on oak panels. The wood was left to ‘season’ or dry so that it would be in good condition for painting. The paints were made from pigments, or coloured earths, mixed with linseed oil.


Since portraits reveal so much about their subject, Shakespeare referred to portraiture when characters struggle to explain or understand something vital about another person. In the tragedy of Hamlet (1600), for instance, Hamlet directs his mother to two portraits: one of his father, and the other of his uncle who is now his step-father. In this passage, Hamlet refers to his father’s appearance: his brow, hair, eyes and his stance in the portrait:



Look here, upon this picture, and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion’s curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Here is your husband; like a mildew’d ear,
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?
You cannot call it love; for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it’s humble,
And waits upon the judgment: and what judgment
Would step from this to this?
(Hamlet, 3.4, 2445-63).




Hyperion = A Greek god relating to the sun
Jove = Jupiter, the king of gods
Herald Mercury = Mercury was the Greek messenger who had wings
Heaven-kissing hill = high reaching