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!’
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.
The 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Quotes used are from Henry V Act III Scene 1 (Before Harfleur)