Bardwatching: Summer Term 1 2022-23

Freya Parr
Wednesday, March 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.

 A rare sighting of the Bard is found in Rebecca Manville's ceiling light
A rare sighting of the Bard is found in Rebecca Manville's ceiling light

Robert Day

Mine eyes deceive me

In a surprising turn of events, it seems that the Bard has been hiding out in a house in Eastbourne. Rebecca Manville spotted a strange shadow in her ceiling light but couldn't quite put her finger on the likeness. After sharing the photo on Facebook, she was quickly inundated with responses. It was William Shakespeare himself.


A rare sighting of the Bard is found in Rebecca Manville's ceiling light

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin

Shakespeare was making radical statements about ecopolitics and environmental issues in his work, a new book argues. Dr Todd Borlik's Shakespeare Beyond the Green World: Drama and Ecopolitics in Jacobean Britain suggests that environmental concerns were at the forefront of Shakespeare's later plays.

The Tempest is generally believed to be set on an island in the Mediterranean, with a plot loosely based on the discovery of the Americas and the encounters with indigenous populations. Borlik suggests that the reality was something a little closer to home. ‘It has one foot very firmly placed in England,’ he writes. ‘At the time there was a very heated debate about the draining of the Fens, and the destruction of these vast wetlands to convert them into arable land for agriculture.’ This debate led to resistance in parliament and various acts of so-called ‘ecoterrorism’ to prevent it.

‘Macbeth, King Lear and Pericles are examples of Shakespeare sending his characters out into the wilderness to have an epiphany or realisation about the arrogance and puniness of humans,’ Borlik writes. ‘Shakespeare uses kinship as a metaphor for human control of the environment. When the kings have their comeuppance out in the wilds and learn the earth doesn't exist to cater to them, his plays are teaching us all to relinquish our delusions that we are entitled to dominate the planet.’

Go, write it in a martial hand

A tiny notebook thought to be the earliest notated response to Shakespeare's First Folio is set to be part of a new exhibition at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. The 17th-century notebook was examined on BBC's Antiques Roadshow in 2017, but the writing was so small it was almost unreadable. The manuscript fits into the palm of a hand and is packed with 12,500 words across 48 pages. In it, the writer makes references to the 36 plays included in Shakespeare's First Folio – a publication that celebrates its 400th anniversary this year.

Since its appearance on Antiques Roadshow, the manuscript has since been transcribed and studied by scholars. One of these transcribers was Professor Tiffany Stern from the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham. She spoke to the Guardian about her findings, noting that some of the more famous quotes from Shakespeare's plays were overlooked in this notebook, with the writer instead focusing on lesser celebrated lines. There is no mention, for example, of Hamlet's ‘to be, or not to be’. This is important when considering contemporary perceptions of Shakespeare, she explains. ‘Our own history of what we value in Shakespeare has changed over time,’ she says.


17th-century notebook in Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Folio 400 exhibition