Four Hundred Years ago, on this day, 8th November in 1623, the First Folio was registered at Stationer’s Hall near the publishing district around St Pauls Cathedral in London. It was actually called
Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies
It was put together by his actor friends, John Heminge and Henry Condell seven years after his death, and they wanted to replace all the corrupt editions of his plays and poems that had been
“stol’n and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by frauds and stealths of injurious impostors”.
The true texts of his plays and poems “are now offer’d to your view cured, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers as he conceived them.” Wikipedia
In fact, the plays were ready early as they entered in to the catalogues for the Frankfurt Book festival to appear between April and October 1622,- and how amazing is it that, that festival is still the dream of any aspirant writer?
The First Folio offers plenty of proof that Shakespeare was the author of the plays. He left gold rings of remembrance to Heminge and Condell in his Will. They were part of his Players Company, and had worked together on many of the plays. The Folio has forewords by people extolling the virtues of the writer. Enough proof for any reasonable person.
Heminge and Condell are commemorated in the Garden of St Mary Aldermary behind the Guildhall, where they were Churchwardens, and not far from where Shakespeare was living in 1611. True friends.
There is a wonderful BBC festival of Shakespeare on at the moment. Have a look at it here:
I haven’t seen children asking for ‘a penny for the Guy’ for a while. But it was part of my childhood. We would create a ‘Guy’ out of old clothes and take it into the streets to raise money. The Guy is named after Guy Fawkes, who was discovered on 5th November 1605 in a cellar under Parliament by a pile of barrels of gunpowder. He had a slow match and the plan was to blow up King and Parliament, on the occasion of the Opening of Parliament on the 5th of November. Once the plot had been broken and the plotters hanged, drawn and quartered, the King ordered that November 5th should be commemorated throughout the Country. Bonfires were a part of the seasonal celebrations at the time, used at Halloween, but this aspect was transferred to November 5th and continues as a major British event every year.
The money we raised, we spent exclusively on ‘bangers’ not pretty fountains and Roman candles nor rockets. The bangers just made a horrendously loud bang. One stunt we experimented with was to cycle through the streets and to put a lit banger into the handle bars, which would act as a rocket launcher! Don’t try this at home.
Meanwhile, we would collect wood for the village bonfire:
A stick and a stake For King George’s sake Will you please to give us a faggot If you won’t give us one, we’ll steal you two The better for we and the worse for you.
November 4th is dedicated to hunting gods such as Herne, the Horned God, Cernunnos and Pan.
Herne the Hunter first appears in Shakespeare:
There is an old tale goes, that Herne the Hunter (sometime a keeper here in Windsor Forest) Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns; And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle, And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain In a most hideous and dreadful manner. You have heard of such a spirit, and well you know The superstitious idle-headed eld Receiv’d, and did deliver to our age This tale of Herne the Hunter for a truth.
William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 4, scene 4
But he is linked to the Forest God, the Horned One, the Green Man and the Celtic God Cernunnos. This name Cernunnos comes from karnon which means “horn” or “antler”, and may be the source of the name ‘Cerne’. (note that the Cerne Abbas Giant has just been redated from the Celtic to 17th Century.)
Ginger cake is the traditional accompaniment to a cold night watching the Fireworks. There is a good recipe in Markham’s The English Housewife of 1683. But I’m suggesting you use this recipe from the Guardian for Parkin Cake. Traditional in Yorkshire.
On my way to Stratford-upon-Avon Railway station, I saw this sign, but had no idea what on earth a Mop was.
So I put it to the back of my mind as I took the train to Henley-in-Arden. My interest in the town began, as Shakespeare was born in Henley St in Stratford, and his mother was called Mary of Arden. So, naturally, I wanted to find out about Henley-in-Arden. To turn curiosity to action it took our Tour Coach Driver telling me he lived there and that it was a pretty but small town.
With a free afternoon from my duties as Course Director on the ‘Best of England’ Road Scholar trip, I found myself on the very slow train to Henley-in-Arden. One of the first stops was Wilmcote, where Mary Arden’s House is. I visited last year, when I was astonished to find it was a different building to the one I had visited in the 1990s. In 2000, they discovered they had been showing the wrong building to visitors for years! Mary Arden’s House was, in fact, her neighbour Adam Palmer’s. And her house was Glebe Farm. On that visit, I walked from Anne Hathaway’s Cottage to Mary Arden’s House and back to Stratford along the Stratford Canal – a lovely walk if you are ever in the area.
The train route to Henley was through what remains of the ancient forest of Arden. The forest features in, or inspired, the woody Arcadian idylls which feature in several of Shakespeare’s plays, particularly the Comedies. ‘As You Like It’, for example, is explicitly set in the Forest of Arden, as this quotation from AYL I.i.107 makes clear:
Oliver: Where will the old Duke live?
CHARLES: They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England: they say many young gentlemen flock to him every day, and fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world.
Henley-in-Arden turns out to be a quintessentially English little town full of beautiful timber framed buildings and a perfect Guildhall.
Further down the road is a lovely Heritage Centre full of old-fashioned and DIY Information panels. And that is not a criticism, it provided a very enjoyable visit full of interesting stuff and which gave me a couple of snippets of information I have not seen anywhere else.
So, to get back to the signpost for the Mop, I was delighted to find a panel dedicated to the Henley Mop. A mop turns out to be a hiring fair. Think of Gabriel Oak in Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. His attempt to become an independent farmer destroyed when his sheepdog runs amok and sends his sheep over a cliff to their doom. So he takes his shepherd’s crock to the hiring fair or Mop as they are known in the Midlands. There, potential employers can size up possible employees and strike mutually agreed terms and conditions. And Gabriel becomes the shepherd for the delightful and wilful Bathsheba Everdene.
So, a shepherd would take his staff, or a loop of wool; a cleaner her mop (hence the name of the fair), a waggoner a piece of whipcord, a shearer their shears etc. Similarly, in the Woodlanders, the cider-maker, Giles Winterborne, brings an apple tree in a tub to Sherborne, to advertise his wares.
The retainers thus employed would be given an advance and would be engaged, normally, for the year. So there was quite a widespread moving around of working people to new jobs and often new housing. Not quite how we imagine the past?
The perceptive among you will have noted the bottom of the sign in Stratford which advertised the ‘Runaway Mop’. This was held later in the year, so that employers could replace those who ran away from their contracts, and where those who ran away could find a better, kinder or more generous boss.
Also of interest to me was the panel about Court Leets and Barons. These were the ancient courts which dealt with, respectively, crime and disorder, and property and neighbourhood disputes. Henley still has its ancient manorial systems in use, at least ceremonially. The Centre shows a video of a cigar-smoking Stetson-wearing large rich American arriving at the Guildhall to take over duties as lord of the manor after purchasing the title.
There was another panel of great interest to me as it told the history of Johnson’s Coach Company which was taking my group around England. And it was a delight to discover that it has a history that can be traced back to 1909 in Henley. I conveyed this information to our group on the following day as we toured the Cotswolds. Curtis, our driver, was able to update the panel and told us that the family were still involved with the firm, which is still operating from the area. He said the two brothers who run the company come in every working day and do everything they require of their drivers to do; i.e. they drive coaches, clean coaches, sweep the floors and generally treat their staff like part of a big family. I should have asked him whether he got his job at the Mop, while holding a steering wheel in his hands!
I went to New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon to see the First Folio Exhibition on the anniversary of its publication in 1623. It was a very small exhibition, and, at first sight quite disappointing. Almost everything in it I had seen before. But, I came away quite excited, because it had a much better explanation of the Signet Ring than the one in its previous display.
In 1810 someone found this gold ring in field near the Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was baptised and buried. It has a lover’s knot and the initials WS. It could ofcourse be anyone’s with those initials. But it certainly excited comment at the time as the display makes clear:
I did not know about the ring until New Place was refurbished a few years ago and the ring went on display. The new display gives more of an explanation as well as the delightful quotation above from Hayden to Keats.
Michael Wood suggested that Shakespeare might have lost the ring on the occassion of his daughter, Judith’s, marriage to Thomas Quiney in February 1616. Shakespeare made his Will a month later, and it is marked by three of his signatures. The Will says ‘whereof I have hereunto put my seale’. The word seale has been crossed out and the word ‘hand’ put in in its stead. So, he was intending to seale his approval of the Will, but changed his mind and put his signature instead? Why? Because he had recently lost his seal ring? Shakespeare died a month or so later.
Judith was the twin of Hamnet who died at age 11 and the Church has recently planted a couple of trees as a memorial to the twins, who are not buried, like their older sister, Suzanna, next to their mum and dad by the altar in the Church. Judith’s husband was a bit of a rogue, as he was called to the Bawdy Court and accused of debauchery with a local women who he made pregnant, and who died in childbirth. He is not mentioned in the Will.
But Shakespeare did leave money in his will to buy gold rings for his fellow actors, John Heminges and William Condell, who are buried in St Mary Aldermanbury in London. They outlived Shakespeare and collected his plays together in the First Folio. A Remembrance Ring is also in the display.
The other main item in the display is this tiny 7.8 cm high notebook in which its unknown owner copied out his favourite quotes from the First Folio. It contains material from all 38 plays, and internal evidence shows it must have been made from the First Folio. It is about the size of the minature books the Brontes made. The tiny writing of the book must have been written with a quill from a small bird.
The display shows that a lot can be made of a few objects, if they are well chosen and with an excellent explanation.
By the way the rings and the Folio are clear evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays as his friends put together his plays in a volume with introductory information which makes it absolutely clear he wrote them. Also in the Church the memorial to Shakespeare compares him to King Nestor in judgement, Socrates in wisdom, and Virgil in art. Nothing can be clearer, and why people continue to say Shakespeare was simply an actor who copied out the plays is beyond me.
By tradition, Shakespeare was born on St George’s Day April 23rd 1564, 457 years ago. He died on the same date in 1616 at age 52. Cervantes died on the same day.
Shakespeare’s death date is given by the burial register at the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford on Avon where he was buried. His baptismal record also survives at the same church and is on April 26th 1564. but we don’t actually know when he was born, but christening were held soon after birth for fear of the high infant mortality rates, so the 23rd April has been assigned to be Shakespeare’s birthday.
Anne Shakespeare would have ‘taken to her chamber’ about four weeks before the due date. The windows or shutters would have been fastened as fresh air was thought to be bad for the birthing process. Female friends and relatives would come round, and the room would be decorated with fine carpets, hangings, silver plates and fine ornaments. It was felt that external events could influence the birth, and any shocks or horrors were thought to be the cause of deformities and anomalies, so a calm lying-in room was clearly a good idea.
When labour began female friends, relatives and the midwife were called to help out. A caudle of spiced wine or beer would be given to the mother to strengthen her through the process. Today the maternal mortality rate is 7 per 100,000. An estimate for the 16th Century is 1500 per 100,000. So most women would have heard of or attended the birth of women who had died during or following children birth. There were also no forceps so if a baby were stuck and could not be manually manipulated out, then the only way forward was to get a surgeon to use hooks to dismember the baby to save the life of the mother. Doctors were not normally in attendance, but could be called in emergency,
Immediately after washing, the baby was swaddled. The swaddling was often very tight and could affect the baby’s growth, and might have affected the learning process as movement of hands are now considered very important in the early learning process. Swaddling lasted eight to nine months, and only went out of fashion after Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote against the practice.
Puerperal fever killed many women after successful childbirth for example Queen Jane Seymour who died after 5 days. During these dangerous early days the mother was kept in a dark room, and then, perhaps three days after birth friends were invited to celebrate ‘upsitting’ when the mother was no longer confined to bed. This is when christening would take place. Edward VI was christened to a huge audience in the chapel at Hampton Court three days after his birth.
Licensed midwives could baptise newborn babies provided they used the correct wording and informed the Church so that the registration could be properly reported. Thomas Cromwell was responsible for the law in 1538 which insisted on a parish register to record weddings, christenings, and funerals. The law was reaffirmed by Queen Elizabeth in 1558 and registers had to be stored in a locked chest in the Church. (In 1597, the records had to be on parchment not paper, and in 1603 the chest had to have three locks!).
If the Christening were in the church the mother might not be there as she was expected to stay in her chamber for another week or so.
A week or a few weeks later the mother would be ‘churched.’ This was a thanks-giving ceremony, although Puritans did not like the idea that it could be considered a purification ceremony.
Breast feeding would last a year or so but many high status women choose to use a wet-nurse, but there was a real concern that the wet nurse was suitable as it was believed that the breast milk was important for the babies development both physically and temperamentally. Poor children who lost their mothers were very unlikely to survive as, without breast milk, the baby would be fed pap – bread soaked in cow’s milk.