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That Shakespeare Life
32 minutes | a day ago
Ep 157: Social Order and Architecture with Matthew Johnson
As students of Shakespeare’s lifetime, often we see the phrase “of certain status” to describe 16-17th century limitations on clothes, housing, and other material realities for various people. Particular if you study Elizabethan sumptuary laws, it seems like society was strictly controlled based on social status, and one’s place in society was decided at birth, with little mobility allowed. The life of people like William Shakespere, however, who in his own life was able to rise in the ranks of society and establish himself as a gentleman, we have evidence that social mobility was a strong force in England for the 16-17th century. One key place that contemporaries of William Shakespeare were able to show off their status, and stake their claim to a certain place in the social order was through the design, and architecture, of their homes and grand estates. Our guest this week, Matthew Johnson, is here to explain the social phenomenon of upward mobility, define the levels of society that were present for Shakespeare, and walk us through some famous architecture of the 1500s-1600s that reveals where the lines were drawn between the classes for Elizabethan and Jacobean England.
33 minutes | 8 days ago
Ep 156: Rules for 17th C Hunting with Karen Kaiser Lee
In Elizabethan England, the Queen is immortalized in woodcuts that show her fondness for the sport of hawking. By the time James I comes to the throne in 1603, hawking is surpassed by a form of hunting called par force where animals like dogs and horses are used to round up prey. While the practical aspect of hunting animals for meat was utilized in these hunting expeditions, arguably the primary function of going hunting was to establish yourself as a member of a higher order of social status and to network with powerful political connections that might advance your station. In her paper, He Cannot Be a Gentleman Which Loveth Not Hawking and Hunting, our guest, Karen Kaiser Lee writes about the popularity of hunting par force under James I and explores the specific hunting treatises that were written during his reign to both define the methods of hunting as well as regulate the kinds of people who would be permitted to participate in this exclusive sport. Karen joins us today to take us inside the world of early modern hunting to look at who was allowed to hunt, what they used for this purpose, and how it helped usher in a new era in English history where a person could move upward in society if they were disciplined enough at a new, and important, skill.
46 minutes | 15 days ago
Ep 155: John Harington with Bob Cromwell
This week is Part 2 in our 2 part series on John Harington, the man who invented the first flush toilet in England. Our guest, Bob Cromwell, is back again this week to take us back to 16th century England and explore the exciting life of John Harington beyond his invention of the flush toilet. Harington was known as a literary figure, primarily for his translation of Orlando Furioso, and was a godson to Elizabeth I as well as a courtier in the royal court. Harington’s destiny was set into motion by his father, who was imprisoned in the Tower of London alongside Elizabeth I. Harington the son would go on to tutor the son of James I during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Bob Cromwell is here to share with us some of the historical research that suggests the life of John Harington created such a splash in English society during Shakespeare’s lifetime that Shakespeare himself may have included references to Harington in his plays
23 minutes | 22 days ago
Ep 154: 16th C Puppets with Maureen Benfer
According to an article on the Victoria and Albert Museum website, puppetry as an art form in Britain can be traced back over 600 years, with the first recorded puppet theater performance in London happening around 1600, when William Shakespeare was 36 years old. Medieval clergy used puppets to tell Bible stories, with one performance in 1599 at Coventry featuring a puppet version of the devil. When theaters like Shakespeare’s Globe were closed due to plague, puppet theaters were allowed to remain open, often travelling the country with puppet performances in tow to entertain all around Britain. While the rod and string puppets we know today as marionettes would flourish in England by the 18th century, for Shakespeare’s lifetime glove puppets were the star of the show, and shadow puppets can be found in woodcuts and engravings of the period. Shakespeare himself uses the word “puppet” in his plays at least 11 times. Here today to help us explore the world of puppets in 16th century England is our guest, Maureen Benfer.
43 minutes | a month ago
Ep 153: Galloway Nag with Miriam Bibby
In Henry IV Part II, Shakespeare writes the earliest known reference to a Galloway Nag when Pistol he says “Know we not Galloway Nags?” That comes from Act II Scene 4. If you are not a 16th century Scotsman, however, the assumption that you know what a galloway nag is, or what it is suitable for Pistol in that scene, may not be as obvious as the character suggests. Turns out, in the 16th century, a Galloway nag was a highly reputable horse from the Galloway region of Scotland. The term “galloway nag” is still used in parts of Scotland, England, and Australia to describe a horse of smaller stature that is fast, reliable, and what we call an “easy keeper” here in the US. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the galloway nag was a source of contention between England and Scotland, who would not be united until the coronation of James I in 1603. As our guest this week writes about in her publication From North to South: the Galloway Nag as an Elite Gift in the 16 th Century, prior to the unification of England and Scotland, Border laws were enacted under Henry VII and again under Henry VIII, to try and stop the trade of horses entirely. By the time James comes to the throne when Shakespeare was 39 years old, the galloway nag is sought after all along the Irish Sea, as well as into the islands and coasts of Scotland, and down into the coast of Cumbria with a strong reputation as a highly valuable, reliable, and trustworthy steed that people were going to get their hands on, regardless of what the law said! Here today to share her research into the Galloway Nag and to present evidence of a reference to Galloway nags that predates Shakespeare’s use of it in Henry IV part II, is our guest, Miriam Bibby.
42 minutes | a month ago
Ep 152: Public Executions with Murat Öğütcü
Walking across London Bridge seems like a merry trip for many, or perhaps even a dismissable part of the daily commute if you live in London today, and while travel across the bridge was a normal occurrence for William Shakespeare, as well, what was decidedly different for him is that it often featured heads of executed traitors displayed on the Southgate of London Bridge. Along with severed heads on display, public hangings, disembowelment, and even burning at the stake were very much forms of public entertainment in Shakespeare’s lifetime, drawing crowds who often walked great distances to attend these events. We can see the culture of public executions echoed in Shakespeare’s plays, and those of his contemporaries, and how they choose to display--or avoid--the presentation of death on stage. Here today to take us into the culture of early modern England and help us understand the reasons, methods, and place of public execution and why Shakespeare may have chosen to handle death the way he did in his works, is our guest Murat Öğütcü.
27 minutes | a month ago
Ep 151: The First Flush Toilet in England with Bob Cromwell
Surviving archaeological items from the first English settlements at Jamestown include intact chamber pots. One of these chamber pots was part of a 2009 exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, United States. These pots were brought over to the New World by 16-17th century colonists who, at the time, used chamber pots as essential items. However, when they arrived, the colonists were surprised to discover that the natives did not have the same sanitary system as they did back in England, and by consequence, did not have streets running with open sewage as the colonists were accustomed to seeing. Despite the Romans having developed a sophisticated system for water sanitation and disposal of waste, the English of Shakespeare’s lifetime did not continue that progress. For Shakespeare’s entire lifetime, and many years prior, sanitation and cleanliness was misunderstood, sometimes feared, and certainly not well practiced in 16th C England. The sanitation of Shakespeare’s lifetime functions as an example of when technology did not continue to progress past the Romans, but instead, absolutely digressed to truly gross levels. Excrement was collected in chamber pots, or sometimes just in an open area, whenever someone happened to find the need to relieve themselves. Once collected, it would be disposed of by throwing it out the window and into the street below (It was not uncommon for passersby to be hit with the falling urine or feces if they weren’t careful). In 1591, a godson of Elizabeth I, and a member of her royal court, proposed a new idea. Sir John Harington would write The Metamorphosis of Ajax (A jakes is slang term for a place to go to the bathroom) in which he included detailed engineering diagrams and instructions for applicable use on the first ever flush toilet in the world. Here today to tell us about the history of chamber pots in England, John Harington’s design, and how this revolutionary piece of technology was received during Shakespeare’s lifetime, is our guest, Bob Cromwell.
47 minutes | 2 months ago
Ep 149: Mermaids with Vaughn Scribner
When medieval cartographers drew maps of the world they included mermaids among the fantastic ocean beasts that they believed roamed the waters of foreign lands. Professional explorers like Henry Hudson in 1608, described sighting a mermaid in the NOrthern Atlantic ocean, describing how the mermaid called to the men on his ship. Philosophers, physicians, and clergymen, all described, in detail, the discovery, examination, and even display of mermaid bodies. There was a pervasive belief that mermaids were real, and a definitive threat to anyone travelling the ocean. One of the most popular settings for Shakespeare’s plays, Italy was known for being a gathering place for mermaids. Along with individuals who saw mermaids in the wild, there were also persistent and incredible stories of mermaids like Melusine, who married a King of Scotland. Despite the centuries of folklore, mermaids seem to have a consistent description as to who, and what, they were, and where you would be able to find one.The 15th c saw a specific rise in the stories of mermaids, and by the time Shakespeare was writing about them, mermaids were a well established part of Renaissance thought across the British Isles. Here this week to take us back to the 16th century British Isles and share with us the history, folklore, and science behind mermaids to examine exactly what Shakespeare would have understood or believed about mermaids is the man who wrote the book on Merpeople, Vaughn Scribner.
34 minutes | 2 months ago
Ep 148: Robert Greene with Darren Freebury Jones
The most memorable illustration of Robert Greene shows him dressed as an ear of corn, sitting at a desk, penning Groatsworth of Wit, his famous deathbed insult that calls William Shakespeare an “upstart crow.” That upstart crow may have gone on to eclipse Robert Greene’s fame in posterity, but for the moment in which those lines were written about the bard, Robert Greene was not only well established as a playwright in early modern England but held a arguably higher reputation in the playwriting industry than Shakespeare himself. Here to help us peel back the layers of history and explore the life, works, myth, and legend of Robert Greene is our guest, Darren Freebury Jones.
21 minutes | 2 months ago
Ep 147: 16th C Men's Shaving with Alun Withey
Shakespeare uses the word “beard” in his plays over one hundred times, and almost always as a way to indicate a man’s status, power, or authority. In Anthony and Cleopatra Caesar is referred to as “scarce bearded” as a slight against him by Cleopatra, several times the phrase “by my beard” is used in plays like Alls Well That Ends Well, as an oath, and in Henry V Gower refers to a specific style of beard being known as “the general’s cut.” Throughout the works of Shakespeare we see women swooning over men who have stylish beards, old men being cited for the grey or white color of their beards, and younger men with ambition referring to the presentation and style of their facial hair as an indication of their strength in battle as well as their position of authority. Portraits of men like Robert Devereux and Sir Walter Raleigh testify to intricate detail on a man’s face when it came to choosing, and maintaining a beard, but what exactly were the fashion norms for men’s facial hair in the 16th century? When we say they “cut them” what did they use for that purpose? Here today to help us explore how men wore their beards, the various styles that were popular, and exactly what kinds of razors a man like William Shakespeare might use to acquire a style like the general’s cut to his beard, is our guest and author of Shaving and Masculinity in 18th century Britain, Alun Withey.
34 minutes | 3 months ago
Ep 146: Early Modern Tattoos with Matt Lodder
When telling about the Battle of Hastings, William Malmesbury wrote a description of the English ancestors, the Anglo Saxons, as having “arms covered with golden bracelets, tattooed with coloured patterns.” The trend of tattooing oneself with coloured patterns seems to have fallen to the wayside by the time William Shakespeare was writing about skin used as parchment in Comedy of Errors, because tattoos were far from the everyday normative for your average English citizen in the 16th century. Despite the ancient history of tattoo art on the European continent, for most of the people in Shakespeare’s lifetime, tattoos arrived as a new and noteworthy cultural event when they saw them first as international explorers returned from their oceanic voyages, bringing with them natives who were adorned with ink tattoos. British pilgrims to the Holy Lands in the 17th century would often be tattooed with the Jerusalem Cross as a souvenir from their travels. One famous Britain who had this kind of tattoo done was William Lithgow, who returned to England in 1612, causing quite a cultural splash with his new artwork.Here today to help us explore the place, and reality of tattoos in England during Shakespeare’s lifetime including what kind of tattoos might have been present, from where, and why is our guest, Matt Lodder
38 minutes | 3 months ago
Ep 145: Cleire Water with Vaughn Scribner
Ale was a popular drink in Shakespeare’s London, due in part to the undrinkable nature of the water from the nearby Thames River. The fear of water and superstitions about drinking it, extended well beyond England’s capital city, and extended even over the Atlantic Ocean to the colonies of Early American settlers, who coming from England, brought with them a surprising opinion about water in general. New England colonists in the early 17th century arrived with fear of what they called “cleire water”, believing as a result of their experience with waterways like the Thames that plain water was dangerous. Here to share with us some of the experiences and opinions about water held by 16-17th century England, including the stories by 16th century writer Richard Hawkings who described Native Americans as mermaids because of their magic ability to both swim and treat water as “their natural element” is our guest, Vaughn Scribner.
37 minutes | 3 months ago
Ep 144: 16th Century Executioners with DJ Guba
Many famous people from history have had their lives come to an end by execution. We tell these stories with gusto, reverence, and sometimes even humor, but the person responsible for being the executioner goes largely unnoticed beyond the recognition that someone, albeit we rarely know who, had to actually be the executioner. The word “executioner” comes up in Shakespeare’s plays 17 times, twice referred to as a “common” executioner, twice mentioned in context of characters expressing their distaste for the profession, and a few times mentioned in the stage directions as a character appearing on stage. But what was an executioner supposed to look like on stage in the 16th century? If it was a common profession, how did someone become an executioner? Who were England’s executioners, how were they hired for this repulsive job, and with something so repugnant as a career that several characters in Shakespeare’s plays verbalize how much they hate the idea of being an executioner, what must it have been like to live in early modern England as an executioner--were there personal ramifications against them for the performance of their duties?Here to help us answer these questions and explore the profession of official executioner in early modern England is our guest, DJ Guba.
34 minutes | 3 months ago
Ep 143: 1604 Witch Trial with Todd Butler
When Shakespeare was 39 years old, in 1603, King James of Scotland succeeded Queen Elizabeth after her death, and he brought with him a famous repugnancy, and some call it outright fear, of witches during his reign. In Scotland, where James was dually King at this time, witchcraft had been considered a capital offense since 1563. The King brought this perspective to his management of witchcraft in England, as well. In 1604, just one year after his accession as King, James removed the mercy from Elizabeth’s Act by making it a certain death penalty without clergy for anyone who invoked evil spirits or communed with what were known then as “familiars” (a general term for supernatural spirits). Jacobean England saw the creation of an official position in the English government called the Witch-Finder General, whose job as you might expect from the title was to find witches and enforce the required punishment. One of the first trials in England to test the new and broadened laws on witchcraft under James I was the mysterious case of Anne Gunter. In 1604, Anne Gunter became sick with an illness that confounded physicians. They concluded her illness must be the result of supernatural influence, and a trial ensued to try and find the suspected witchcraft. During the trial, Anne experienced a theatrical fit of vomiting and other convulsions during which she accused 3 local women of being witches. This caused a flurry of debate over whether Anne was suffering from real witchcraft, or if she was putting on a show to try and deceive the court. Our guest this week tested this theory himself in a college classroom when he, along with his students, decided to re-create the trial of Anne Gunter and the early modern experience of witch trials in a legal courtroom. We are delighted to welcome Todd Butler to the show this week to tell us about the trial of Anne Gunter and the results of his experiment.
35 minutes | 4 months ago
Ep 142: Scanning Shakespeare's Grave with Kevin Colls
Famously, the grave of William Shakespeare is marked with an ominous entreaty carved on his stone that warns against disturbing his bones, declaring a curse on anyone that disturbs the dust enclosed here. Respecting Shakespeare’s wishes has meant that it was impossible to excavate the grave of the bard and explore questions like how he was buried, or even to confirm longstanding rumors about Shakespeare’s grave, including the idea that his skull was stolen by grave robbers in the 18th century. Impossible that is, until modern technology came up with a way to scan the graves digitally and explore the insides without disturbing any dust. That’s exactly the project a team of archaeologists from Staffordshire University embarked upon in 2016 when they went to Holy Trinity Church in Stratford Upon Avon, England, and applied a combination of radar technology and digital scans to take a look inside the grave of William Shakespeare, which was turned into a major documentary project for Channel 4 called Shakespeare’s Tomb. Our guest this week, Kevin Colls, was the lead archaeologist on that project, and he’s here to share with us what lies beneath the stones of Shakespeare’s final resting place.
44 minutes | 4 months ago
Ep 141: Newington Butts with Laurie Johnson
For centuries, theater historians have glossed over noy only the location, but actually argued over the very existence of a theater at Newington Butts. Originally established as an archery range under Henry VIII during a time when learning the sport of archery was required for all young men, the high ground at Newington Butts just outside of London proper would morph into a popular theater destination that our guest this week believes was not only a frequent destination for playing companies, but may have also been a playhouse that William Shakespeare stopped at several times. To share with us ground breaking research that changes what we thought we knew about early modern theater, and to research that is tantalizingly close to information about Shakespeare’s Lost Years, is our distinguished guest, Laurie Johnson.
33 minutes | 4 months ago
Ep 140: John Shakespeare with Bob Bearman
William Shakespeare’s father was a man named John Shakespeare. When you study William’s life you often hear about John Shakespeare, as many references to glove making in Shakespeare’s plays like the glover’s pairing knife in Merry Wives of Windsor come from an intimate knowledge with the glove making trade, which most assume came from William’s father John. When it comes to the life of John Shakespeare, however, the man was much more than a glover, having served also as an ale taster, alderman, and found himself embroiled in a great deal of legal and financial trouble that some historians believe contributed to our lack of records for Shakespeare’s grammar school days. To help us understand John Shakespeare better and explore the records we have of his life and how he came to be the father of the world’s greatest playwright, we welcome our guest, Bob Bearman, to tell us John’s story.
27 minutes | 4 months ago
Ep 139: Christmas at Gray's Inn with Joe Stephenson
In 16th century England, Christmas time was a season of disorder, with many of the holiday celebrations centering around the idea of Misrule, role reversal, and a celebration of general chaos as part of the festivities. Which makes it surprising that the one place you would expect to find extreme order, the Inns of Court, which were essentially Law School for England’s budding lawyers, was also the establishment where Shakespeare staged a performance of Comedy of Errors on Dec 28, 1594, which was so riotous, that members of the audience would refer to that night as the Night of Errors, setting up a subsequent mock trial for the law students to sort out who was the culprit behind the holiday disorder in the court. Here to help us explore the wild and out of order nature of Shakespeare’s 1594 performance of Comedy of Errors, and why it seems Gray’s Inn in particular was such a hot spot for budding law students to quench their thirst for theater, is our guest Dr Joe Stephenson.
39 minutes | 4 months ago
Ep 138: William Davenant with Ralph Goldswain
During the century following Shakespeare’s life, the government tried to end playoing, shutting down theaters and passing orders against plays entirely. During this moment in history when it would have been easy for the legacy of William Shakespeare to die completely, one man who remembered William Shakespeare from his childhood, would champion the cause of theater, plays, and his mentor, William Shakespeare, to carry the legacy forward to survive the era of Oliver Cromwell, and potentially serve as the reason we continue to enjoy Shakespeare today. That man was William D’Avenant. Through the course of his life D’Avenent, through his charm and ability to tell great stories, worked his way up the status ladder in London to become not only a poet laureate but also a respected theater owner and playwright who worked alongside greats like ben Jonson, John Milton,and John Donne. As a holder of the only theater patent in London D’Avenant would use his stage to showcase 10 of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works. While decidedly a devotee of Shakespeare, William D’Avenant is recorded as claiming to be the son of William Shakespeare, and many historians believe he was actually Shakespeare’s godson. Here to share with us more about the life of William D’Avenant, whose childhood overlapped with the life of William Shakespeare, is our honored guest, Ralph Goldswain.
33 minutes | 5 months ago
Ep 137: Christopher Marlowe with Ros Barber
History remembers Christopher Marlowe as a contemporary of William Shakespeare that was prone to violence. Arrested multiple times for his association with fights, duels, and even murder, scholars around the world have suggested that Christopher Marlowe had a hot temper which often ran him afoul of the local authorities in London. In addition to achieving a university education and the social rank of gentleman, Marlowe is the author of some of the most powerful plays in the English Renaissance, including Dr. Faustus, Tamburlaine, and the Jew of Malta. Undeniably a powerful force in England as well as a huge influence over the life of William Shakespeare, the life of Christopher Marlowe is as fascinating as it is essential to understanding the life of William Shakespeare. Despite his reputation for violence and certainly for including some very violent characters in his plays, our guest this week, Ros Barber, challenges the traditional assumptions about what we know of Christopher Marlowe and suggests in her publication “Was Marlowe a Violent Man?”, that understanding the cultural history of what it meant to be a gentleman, the violent nature of corporal punishment in 16th century England, as well as comparing the recorded history of Marlowe to that of men like William Shakespeare, reveals that the reputation for hot tempered violence might be a posthumous application to Marlowe instead of the truth about this significant poet.
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