Shakespeare 400 & Southampton

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:

Follow your spirit, and upon this charge

Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Minature of Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton
Miniature of Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton

 

I love Shakespeare. Throughout the year Britain is celebrating Shakespeare 400.

Shakespeare died on his birthday, 23rd April 400 years ago. This is also St George’s Day (patron Saint of England). So this weekend there are special celebrations throughout the regions. I am going to many and thought I would highlight Shakespeare and his Southampton connections:

The Earl of Southampton

Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton was Shakespeare’s patron, especially during the era of The Globe theatre. Shakespeare made such a devoted dedication in his sonnet The Rape of Lucrece to Wriothesley, that many thought that there may have been a sexual relationship between the two, though I like others feel that is was just the language of the day.

Tudor Merchants Hall, which was once The Bull's Head. Although Shakespeare's patron The Earl of Southampton, had his seat outside the town, in Titchfield, he attended state functions in the town and is said to have drank here with some of the touring actors.
Tudor Merchants Hall, which was once The Bull’s Head. Although Shakespeare’s patron The Earl of Southampton, had his seat outside the town, in Titchfield, he attended state functions in the town and is said to have frequented this lodging house with touring actors.

Red Lion 1The Earl’s country seat was outside of the town of Southampton, but still in Hampshire, in Titchfield. Although his wife lived there, Henry Wriothesley spent much of his time in London, as did Shakespeare.

The Earl is also believed to have frequented or owned a pub in Southampton’s City Centre where travelling actors lodged. Some say this was The Bull’s Head (now referred to as The Tudor Merchant’s House); others say it was The Red Lion Inn. It was a council chamber where the trial of traitors from The Southampton Plot took place before it became an inn. In Henry V Act II, scene II, Shakespeare has the king sentence the plotters in the Southampton council chamber, then immediately set sail from the port of Southampton for Agincourt. Shakespeare must have listened to the Earl mention the Red Lion or some believe that Shakespeare may have had a drink there himself.

Southampton’s Bargate

Southampton Bargate front view.
Southampton Bargate
Bargate touring strollers area
Bargate touring strollers area

Shakespearean actors have performed at the Bargate and in theatres around the town since Elizabethan times, including Shakespeare’s own touring actors. Every British monarch has passed through this Bargate on their way to Southampton’s Port. Hangings once took place at the Bargate and according to legend The Southampton Plot traitors, that were written about in Henry V Act II, scene II, were hanged here.

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Westgate, where Henry V troops left for Southampton's Port to the Battle of Agincourt
Westgate, where Henry V troops left for Southampton’s Port to the Battle of Agincourt

 

Southampton’s West Gate and Port

The soldiers who boarded ships at Southampton for the D-Day invasion, took inspiration from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Some of Henry V troops passed through Southampton’s West Gate to set sail from Southampton to the Battle of Agincourt.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; 

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

Daring Theatre in Southampton

Ira Aldridge, the first black world famous Shakespearean actor performed in Southampton
Ira Aldridge, the first black world famous Shakespearean actor performed in Southampton

Southampton has a long reputation for modern or innovative theatre, Ira Aldridge is recorded as the first black Shakespearean actor. He had a limited experience of acting when he arrived from New York by ship, on which he worked as crew, in 1824. But following drama lessons and a stint at a University in Scotland, he became one of the highest paid stage actors in the world.

Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth
Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth

Ira was especially loved here in the South. He performed on stage in Southampton in the title role of Shakespeare’s Othello in 1828.

Many actresses, such as Sarah Siddons (she frequently visited Southampton and there is a theatre group named after her here: http://www.sarahsiddonsfanclub.org ) and sisters Charlotte and Susan Cushman have said to have performed Shakespearean roles in Southampton in the late 1800s. Women were considered too titillating to be allowed to perform Shakespeare at London theatres at that time and certainly would not have been allowed male roles.

The Cushman sisters, Charlotte and Susan, as Romeo and Juliet in 1846
The Cushman sisters, Charlotte and Susan, as Romeo and Juliet in 1846

Quotes used are from Henry V Act III Scene 1 (Before Harfleur)

Further links: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2NKzPstNLT9cvcYMj9qdtT3/shakespeare-and-hampshire-where-his-footprints-are-lost-in-time

 

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29 thoughts on “Shakespeare 400 & Southampton

  1. Great post! But, unfortunately, so much crap has been written about your Earl and Shakespeare I’m surprised you’re not subject to frequent earthquakes as a result of your Earl spinning in his grave.

    Yes, Shakespeare dedicated his long narrative poem “Venus and Adonis” to the Earl in 1593. And yes, about a year later, he dedicated another narrative poem (Lucrece) in words that suggest that the Earl may have helped him out financially while the London theatres were closed because of the plague.

    But that’s it. The stories that have grown up about Shakespeare and your Earl beggar belief.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Not just the Internet, I’m afraid. All sorts of people write without fact checking. I’m currently reading Bill Bryson’s book on Shakespeare, published in 2007. While BB is suitably skeptical about the stories surrounding Shakespeare, he doesn’t seem to have checked a single one of his own about the Earl of Southampton. He describes him as being “exceedingly effeminate”, and therefore “must have made an interesting soldier”. He announces that men “did not normally wear their hair so long”, and goes on to suggest the Earl was a cross-dresser! Which demonstrates that BB didn’t look at portraits of other fashionable young Elizabethan men. Later in the book he says that, in 1601, the Earl of Essex intended to depose Queen Elizabeth. I wonder if BB bothered to look up either Earl in the DNB?

        Liked by 2 people

    • No hard evidence, but Harry who does Southampton tours informs his walkers about the rumour. He must have at least had to attend council chamber a few times, being Earl of Southampton – so I personally think that could the connection for The Red Lion.

      Liked by 2 people

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