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Literary Locations #35: The Playwright

John Baird
Fri 6 Sep, 2019

This week we look at Shakespeare in Notts.

William Shakespeare has a street here

One of our great literary streets, Shakespeare Street, is where D H Lawrence went to University College, and it was once home to our grand Central Library. There’s a carving of William Shakespeare on the front of this building (now NTU’s Arkwright Building).

And now his own pub

On 38 Shakespeare Street is The Playwright pub (formerly The Orange Tree). In a nod to ‘Hamlet’ there are lounges called Gertrude’s Gaff and Hamlet’s Hideout. Back in 1865 when it was the Clinton Arms, Nottingham Forest were formed here. There’s now a plaque stating as much.


Shakespeare was in Nottingham?

If William Shakespeare ever visited Nottingham it was probably in 1615, a year before his death. Nottingham’s old Guild Hall on the south side of Weekday Cross hosted The King’s Players - Shakespeare’s company - and the playwright may have joined the group, perhaps even playing a role on stage. The troupe were paid 13 shillings and 4 pence by civic leaders. The medieval building has long since been demolished.

The first black Shakespearean actor

The first black actor to perform Shakespeare did so in Nottingham. There’s an advertisement for a performance of Julius Caesar - which played here in 1827 - in which an extraordinary novelty is referred to. This ‘novelty’ was the appearance of Ira Aldridge who became known as the African Roscius.

(I once read a compelling case for William Shakespeare himself being a black man but there seems little support for the theory)

We had the best King Lear

Sir Donald Wolfit was one of the 20th Century’s great Shakespearian actors. Born in Balderton, near Newark, he attended the Magnus Grammar School before making his first appearance at the Old Vic Theatre in 1929 as ‘Claudius’. By 1937 he formed the Donald Wolfit Shakespeare Company for which he played most of the major roles. Wolfit was renowned for his portrayal of King Lear.

D H Lawrence critiqued the Bard

When I read Shakespeare I am struck with wonder

that such trivial people should muse and thunder

in such lovely language.

Lear, the old buffer, you wonder his daughters

didn’t treat him rougher,

the old chough, the old chuffer!

And Hamlet, how boring, how boring to live with,

so mean and self-conscious, blowing and snoring

his wonderful speeches, full of other folks’ whoring!

And Macbeth and his Lady, who should have been choring,

such suburban ambition, so messily goring

old Duncan with daggers!

How boring, how small Shakespeare’s people are!

Yet the language so lovely! like the dyes from gas-tar.

‘When I Read Shakespeare’ from D H Lawrence’s ‘Pansies’ (1929)

Our William, the Shakespearian Jester

In the mid-19th Century, a music hall star called William Wallett often included Shakespeare’s work in his performances. Having memorised vast sections of verse, Wallet would recite them with great gusto, earning himself the title ‘The Shakespearian Jester’. In 1844 Queen Victoria sent for Wallett and she was quite amused, so much so Wallett changed his name to ‘The Queen’s Jester’. He settled in Beeston and is buried in Nottingham’s General Cemetery.

The old Nottingham Shakespeare Society

Founded in 1904 the Nottingham Shakespeare society meet fortnightly (Sept to May) at Nottingham Mechanics to study of the works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. With readings and lectures the society enjoy much discussion and learning, with regular visiting speakers. Their upcoming events include:

September 10th, The President's Talk. "A Lass Unparallel'd" Shakespeare's strong women and the question of gender-neutral casting.

September 24th, 7-9pm, a Talk by Julia Pirie followed by readings and discussion. "And They All Lived Happily Ever After." A reading of scenes from "The Tamer Tamed", John Fletcher's riposte to "The Taming of the Shrew", and a look at some afterlives of other Shakespearean married couples.

October 8th, "Venus and Adonis": The Shakespeare Smash Hit You Never Heard About. Talk by Sarah Olive from The University of York

December 3rd, "The Merry Wives of Windsor". A talk by William Ruff.

The new Nottingham Shakespeare Company

There’s a new fringe/amateur company dedicated to producing quality Shakespeare in Nottingham. Through readings, workshops and full productions Nottingham Shakespeare Company @NottinghamShakespeare are worth checking out.

Shakespeare in University of Nottingham

In his lifetime Henry Thomas Hall amassed a large collection of editions of Shakespeare’s works, and related historical and critical works about the dramatist. Since 1960 this collection of over 1700 volumes has been at the University of Nottingham. ‘The works of Mr. William Shakespear’ is the earliest book in the collection. The first edition to be illustrated, it was destined for private reading as much as for stage performances.

Recent and Upcoming Performances

The Royal Shakespeare Company brought their production of 'Romeo and Juliet' to Nottingham earlier this year. Next year the RSC will tour three productions in repertoire to six regional theatres, playing for two weeks in each venue. 'As You Like It', 'The Taming of the Shrew' and 'Measure for Measure' will visit Nottingham's Theatre Royal from Feb 26 to March 7, 2020.

Nottingham Playhouse is showing Sh!t-faced Shakespeare on Oct 5th. It's a serious adaptation of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' with a strong cast along with a single drunk performer.

Nottingham's Lace Market Theatre produced 'The Merchant of Venice' this summer and their Youth Theatre performed 'As You Like It' back in March.

And finally…

Riviera Travel has added a new ship to its European fleet. The 140-passenger William Shakespeare sails seven-night itineraries on the Rhine. The Nottingham connection? It has a sister ship called The Lord Byron.


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William Shakespeare

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