Last night I watched the first episode of a new series exploring Shakespeare’s plays. The series is part of the Shakespeare Unlocked Season, the BBC’s contribution to the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival. The new six-parter airs on BBC 4, Tuesdays at 9pm and if tonight’s episode is anything to go by it should be an interesting watch. In the first episode, actress Joely Richardson examines Shakespeare’s female characters, roles for women and the act of cross-dressing in Elizabethan theatre. The two plays featured in the first episode are Twelfth Night (Viola) and As You Like It (Rosalind). There are numerous contributions from leading contemporary scholars (Jonathan Bate and Germaine Greer), actors (Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren) and directors (Thea Sharrock). In episode two (Tuesday 26th June, 9pm) actor Ethan Hawke goes in search of the real story behind Macbeth. Ethan was lucky enough to view the First Folio – The Complete Works of Shakespeare, as published in 1623. For more information on this series, CLICK HERE.
Other highlights from the Shakespeare Unlocked Season include Simon Schama’s Shakespeare, which begins Friday 22nd June, 9pm, BBC2 and The Hollow Crown series of new adaptations by the BBC of four of Shakespeare’s best-loved history plays. The cast list reads like a who’s who of British Theatre. The plays adapted are Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V. Directors for the adaptations are Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock. On the BBC website I also found a couple of very interesting articles, one on Soviet Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet: The Play Stalin Hated’ by David Sillito (23.4.12) and the other ‘Shakespearean Fools: Their Modern Equivalents’ by Denise Winterman (1.4.12).
I have a wonderful book in my collection, Shakespeare’s Heroines:Characteristics of Women – Moral, Poetical and Historical by Anna Jameson with exquisite illustrations by Wal Paget. The book was published by Ernest Nister c. 1905 and is one of my favourite secondhand books, cloth bound with gilt edging and a pleasure to own. Author Anna Brownell Jameson (neé Anna Murphy – 1794-1860) was born in Dublin. She worked as a governess in several aristocratic households: 1810-14 Marquess of Winchester; 1819-21 Rowles family, Bradbourne Park, Kent; 1821-25 Lord and Lady Hatherton of Teddesley. She married Robert Sympson Jameson (1798–1854), a barrister, in 1825 but the marriage didn’t last and they formally separated in 1838. They had no children.
Jameson’s other publications include: Diary of an Ennuyeé (1826); The Loves of the Poets (1829); Memoirs of Celebrated Female Sovereigns (1831); Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad (1834); Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada (1838); Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters (1845); Legends of the Monastic Orders (1850) and Legends of the Madonna (1852). She is thought to be one of the first professional female art critics. She was well-respected for her Shakespearean criticism and enjoyed many high-profile literary friendships. One of the most famous being that of Elizabeth and Robert Browning. When they eloped to Pisa in 1846, Jameson was persuaded by the couple to join them on account of Elizabeth’s failing health. She did and the entire elopement was thus documented by Jameson in her letters to Lady Byron.
The illustrations are by Wal (Walter Stanley) Paget (1863-1935). Wal’s two brothers were also well-known Victorian and Edwardian illustrators, H.M. (Henry Marriott) Paget (1856-1936) and Sidney Edward Paget (1860-1908). Sidney produced all the illustrations that accompanied Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories published in The Strand Magazine. All three gentlemen were educated at Royal Academy Schools. Wal also served as a war artist, most notably as part of the 1884-1885 expedition to rescue General Gordon from Khartoum for the Illustrated London News. A selection of books he has illustrated include: Through Three Campaigns by G. A. Henty; The Treasures of the Incas by G. A. Henty; At the Point of the Bayonet by G. A. Henty; Nobby, A Son of the Empire by John Comfort; King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard; Treasure Island (1899); Pilgrim’s Progress (1906) and Arabian Nights (1907). When the Sphere publication was founded in 1900, Wal was one of its staff artists.
Jameson dedicated her book to Fanny Kemble (1809-1893). Fanny came from acting royalty, the daughter of actor Charles Kemble and Marie Therese De Camp. She was the niece of Sarah Siddons and actor John Kemble. Fanny played all of the important female roles available to her, including Juliet (Romeo and Juliet –1829), Portia (Merchant of Venice) and Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing). In 1834, she married American, Pierce Mease Butler, a rice, tobacco and cotton plantation owner from the Sea Islands of Georgia. Fanny spent several months in 1838-9 living at her husband’s plantation and kept a journal documenting what she saw, particularly in relation to the treatment of hundreds of slaves who toiled there. Fanny’s book, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839, was published in 1863. A timely move, in the middle of The American Civil War (1861-65) and at a period in literature when abolitionist writing was at its height. Fanny divorced Pierce in 1849 and consequently lost custody of her two daughters, whom she did not see again until they reached the age of twenty-one.
Jameson divides Shakespeare’s characters into ‘Characters of Intellect’; ‘Characters of Passion and Imagination’; ‘Characters of the Affections’ and ‘Historical Characters. Rosalind (As You Like It) features in ‘Characters of Intellect’ and Viola (Twelfth Night) features in ‘Characters of Passion and Imagination’. Jameson describes Rosalind:
‘…her sex’s softness and sensibility, united with equal wit and intellect, give her the superiority as a woman; but that as a dramatic character she is inferior in force. The portrait is one of infinitely more delicacy and variety, but of less strength and depth. She is like a compound of essences, so volatile in their nature, and so exquisitely blended, that on any attempt to analyse them they seem to escape us.’ (p. 52)
‘There is a depth of delight, and a subtlety of words to express that delight, which is enchanting. Yet when you call to mind particular speeches and passages, we find that they have a relative beauty and propriety, which renders it difficult to separate them from the context without injuring their effect. She says some of the most charming things in the world, and some of the most humorous: but we apply them as phrases rather than as maxims, and remember them rather for their pointed felicity of expression and fanciful application than for their general truth and depth of meaning’ (p.55).
Jameson describes Viola:
‘….how exquisitely is the character of Viola fitted to her part, carrying her through the ordeal with all the inward and spiritual grace of modesty! What beautiful propriety in the distinction drawn between Rosalind and Viola! The wild sweetness, the frolic humour, which sports free and unblamed amid the shades of Ardennes would ill become Viola, whose playfulness is assumed as part of her disguise as a court page, and is guarded by the strictest delicacy She has not, like Rosalind, a saucy enjoyment in her own incognito: her disguise does not sit so easily upon her; her heart does beat freely under it.’ (p. 107)
‘She plays her part well, but never forgets, nor allows us to forget, that she playing a part. The feminine cowardice of Viola, which will not allow her even to effect a courage becoming her attire, her horror at the idea of drawing a sword, is very natural and characteristic, and produces a most humorous effect, even at the very moment it charms and interests us.’ (pp. 107-8)