Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds Well, hello learners, and welcome to our final summary, at the end of week 10, our long and fascinating journey together is over. And the range of comments that we’ve had on the website, the debate between all of you, shows how Shakespeare is still alive. People still care about Shakespeare. And of course, what we’ve been doing in this last week is just exploring that process of what I call Shakespeare’s afterlife, his continuing vitality even after 1616 when he was laid to rest in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, just around the corner from the birthplace. We’re going all the way back to that moment. Nobody knows how Shakespeare died, what killed him.
Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds But what do we know about what his death would have been like? Well, there’s a number of things we do know. We know that he made a will in February 1616. And on the whole, people only made a will when they thought they were going to die quite soon. And then he amended the will, put in the famous bit about the second best bed. So it looks as though he was ill. There’s a story that goes back a long way that his fellow dramatists, Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson, sort of came to see him, and he had a bit too much to drink and died the next day. I think that’s probably a myth.
Skip to 1 minute and 30 seconds But what we know for sure is that he died in Stratford-upon-Avon, his family obviously were there, and then he was laid to rest in the church.
Skip to 1 minute and 45 seconds Number of things that follow from that– the fact that he was buried in the church was a sign that he’s a respectable local figure. We can assume from both the language of the will and the fact of his burial that he was at least nominally part of the Church of England, that he was an Anglican, not a Catholic, even though there was a story that circulated later which said Shakespeare died a papist.
Skip to 2 minutes and 19 seconds And there would have been the customary rituals around his death and then the ritual of burial. And then pretty soon, a monument put up– his family mentioned and his greatness as a writer mentioned. I always find it odd that anybody could think that Shakespeare the actor and businessman from Stratford-upon-Avon didn’t write the plays when there on the monument above his grave, he’s described as one of the greatest thinkers since ancient Greece and one of the greatest writers since Virgil in ancient Rome. And he’s buried in Stratford, not London. Buried in Stratford, not London.
Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds Although he bought a property in London not so long before his death, and we do see him in London a couple of times in the last couple of years of his life. He has been unwinding his association with the acting company. He’s handed over the role of in-house dramatist to John Fletcher– although gives John Fletcher a hand with a couple of plays, kind of handover type plays. But most of his time in those last years spent in his hometown of Stratford, gets a little bit involved with local business, a local dispute about the enclosure of some lands and so on.
Skip to 3 minutes and 36 seconds Theatrical fashion changes very quickly. He was yesterday’s man in some ways. There was more fuss made in London about the death of John Fletcher’s former writing partner, Francis Beaumont, who was indeed buried in Westminster Abbey. But then Beaumont was from a higher class than Shakespeare. It has been suggested that it’s possible that the plan for the monument was originally for it to be in Westminster Abbey. But as it was, Shakespeare didn’t get a monument in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey until much later when his reputation really, really took off in the early 18th century. And this week, we’ve looked at quite a few depictions of what Shakespeare looked like.
Skip to 4 minutes and 20 seconds You mention the monument there which is considered to be one of the most reliable. And you mentioned the Chesterfield. A lot of these have similar features that have come to be very recognisable as Shakespeare’s– the bald head, the earring, that collar. Do we know if any of those would have been true? Well, we do. The starting point would be the monument and the engraving by Martin Droeshout that was the frontispiece of the First Folio where Ben Jonson who knows Shakespeare well– fellow writer, closely involved with Shakespeare’s acting company– says, it’s a really good likeness. And from that, the bald head, the black hair, that’s Shakespeare. There’s no doubt about it.
Skip to 5 minutes and 2 seconds Of all portraits of him, the one that has the best provenance– provenance going back to this man William Davenant who was Shakespeare’s godson, brought up in Oxford by Jane Davenant who kept the tavern that Shakespeare stopped at on the way to London. Davenant goes into the theatre, becomes a very important figure in the theatre. The portrait that he owns is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London, and that’s the one that has the earring, the ruff, the slightly cool Italianate look. The Chesterfield portrait and several of the other later 17th century ones are adapted and sort of developed from that.
Skip to 5 minutes and 43 seconds But we can attach a great deal of confidence to that picture which Davenant owned, and you can clearly see the resemblance of that to the first folio engraving and the monument. But of course, what’s happening with the Chesterfield portrait that we looked at is it’s beginning to sort of romanticise Shakespeare. It’s got the book, and it’s got the sort of inspired look, the sense of divine inspiration. And it is that process of Shakespeare sort of being turned into a sort of almost godlike genius that goes through the late 17th/18th century and into the Romantic period. We looked this week about the phenomenon and the development of the Shakespeare birthday celebrations, of course starting with the Garrick Jubilee. The Garrick Jubilee.
Skip to 6 minutes and 31 seconds Yes. Sort of five years too late. It should have been 1764, the 200th anniversary of his birth. But that, as we suggested, really was the moment that put Stratford on the map associating it with Shakespeare and sort of introducing this idea of a kind of annual celebration of Shakespeare. Though we need to remember that this celebration of Shakespeare has sort of become a global thing, and it was not so long after the Garrick Jubilee that the great German writer, Goethe, gave a birthday oration in Weimar in Germany. And that became a tradition as well.
Skip to 7 minutes and 12 seconds And one thing that happens particularly when you get to the Romantic period, the late 18th, early 19th century, you get German writers and thinkers and philosophers praising Shakespeare and the beginnings of a process of the kind of internationalisation of his fame. And how did that happen? How did Shakespeare travel around the world? Well, the travelling players began it. And so from soon after his death, travelling players went around Europe, and indeed further afield, performing the plays. But it was really in the late 1700s and then the early 1800s that the plays began to be translated into many different languages. The German translation by Schlegel and Tiek, two of the writers of the German romantic period, became enormously popular and influential.
Skip to 8 minutes and 7 seconds People in Germany said it was even better than the original. And then gradually through the 19th century, Shakespeare spread around the world. And of course, it helped that there was this thing called the British empire, that the English language and English culture was taken to every corner of the earth. Remember those old maps that show different countries in different colours, and red was the colour of the British empire. And about a third of the globe was red. And wherever there was a British colonial outpost, there would have been a copy of Shakespeare. So that’s us at the end of Shakespeare and his World for this round. Do you have anything you’d like to say at the end?
Skip to 8 minutes and 48 seconds Well, I’d just simply say what an enormous pleasure it’s been to read all the comments, to see the debate that Shakespeare continues to provoke, and to thank all our learners for participating and to say just keep reading Shakespeare and going to watch Shakespeare, especially in the theatre. He wrote for the theatre, but the theatre can only stay alive if there are audiences there willing to give it a try. And what we hope we’ve managed to show is that Shakespeare is not difficult, that if you go with the flow, you don’t have to worry about every obsolete turn of phrase because there’s just such richness there, that there’s something in it for everybody. Very well put. Thank you, Jonathan.
Skip to 9 minutes and 33 seconds Thank you, learners. And good luck.
Week 10 summary
In this summary video, we bring together some of the themes and ideas from this final week of Shakespeare and His World.
© The University of Warwick and The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust