Bardwatching: Autumn Term 1 (2023-24)

Freya Parr
Friday, September 1, 2023

When it comes to the Bard, she's an inveterate twitcher. Freya Parr shares what she's spotted through her beady bardy binoculars.

 Reuben Joseph as Hamilton
Reuben Joseph as Hamilton

Danny Kaan

I have night's cloak to hide me from their sight

A sonnet in the script of a 1603 play by Ben Jonson could be a lost work by William Shakespeare, two leading scholars have suggested. The poem, To the Deserving Author, appears in Jonson's Sejanus: His Fall, a tragedy set in ancient Rome. It is signed with the pseudonym Cygnus, named after the mythological character who is transformed into a swan. Jonson referred to Shakespeare as the ‘Sweet Swan of Avon’ in his tribute to the Bard in the publication of the First Folio in 1623.

Within Jonson's text, the poem shares a page with a ditty by Hugh Holland, who also dedicated a commemorative verse to Shakespeare in the First Folio. Laoutaris has argued that both sonnets pay tribute to Jonson, but are ‘very different’.

Dr Chris Laoutaris, an associate professor of Shakespeare and early modern drama at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, has researched this poem as part of his new book, Shakespeare's Book: The Intertwined Lives Behind the First Folio, which brings to light some of the arguments surrounding this proposition.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice

The Royal Shakespeare Company and academics from the University of Birmingham have joined forces for ‘Signing Shakespeare’, a new project to help make Shakespeare accessible to the 50,000+ deaf children living in the UK. The team has worked with deaf actors and directors to film scenes from Macbeth in British Sign Language, and have produced a scheme of work for the study of the play for students in KS3 and KS4.

Jacqui O’Hanlan, director of learning and national partnerships at the RSC, says, ‘We hope the resources will be useful in classrooms for deaf and hearing students. We're heartened that the British Sign Language Act was passed by Parliament in 2022. We hope now to work with other arts organisations and schools to standardise the signs for character names in Shakespeare.’

All the world's a stage

A new museum is set to open in east London in 2024 celebrating the life and work of William Shakespeare. The Museum of Shakespeare will be a permanent interactive experienced based within the archaeological remains of The Curtain Playhouse in Shoreditch, a thriving Elizabethan playhouse that played host to performances of Henry V and Romeo and Juliet during Shakespeare's life. The excavation of the site was undertaken between 2011 and 2016 and revealed remains of the building, which will be able to be viewed by the public for the first time when the museum is opened next year.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Hamilton star Reuben Joseph is moving from 18th-century New York to 11th-century Scotland as he takes on the role of Macbeth in the Royal Shakespeare Company's new production. It is Joseph's RSC debut as he transfers from the eponymous character in Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, which he will have been playing for nearly a year, after having been scouted for the RSC role while he was playing Angus in the Almeida's production of The Tragedy of Macbeth.

‘Playing Alexander Hamilton has me well-versed in the disastrous consequences of ambitions,’ Joseph told the Guardian. ‘Not to mention Hamilton's own self-comparison to Macbeth in the show. They share a driving force, though one of them with far bloodier methods. I'm fascinated by the question of “how far can a person compromise their moral code, before they compromise their soul?” It's a notion that resonates deeply with audiences who, after 400 years, keep coming back to this story.’

There are plenty of references to Macbeth within Hamilton itself, particularly in the song ‘Take a Break’, which Reuben Joseph sings in his role as the protagonist. ‘They think me Macbeth,’ he sings, having quoted the Scottish king's iconic line, ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’.