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Welcome to Episode #168 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

When we study court in Shakespeare history the phrase “appeared at court” or “performed at court” frequently gets used to describe what Shakespeare was doing at various points of his life. However, the overlap between “court” legally (as in, where you go for a legal trial) and the social phenomenon of Renaissance England where the monarch gathered their “court” together can make it hard to know what it means to go to court. This week we’ve set out to rectify this gap in knowledge with our guest, Natalie Mears, who is here to share her research into Courts, Courtiers, and Culture in Tudor England, an article which she published in The Historical Journal back in 2003. In that paper, Natalie cites a play by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville called Gorboduc that was performed in 1561-1562 at court, and that play is an example of how performances were used to not only comment on events of the day by the performers (similar to what you might think of today as an editorial cartoon) but in the case of Gorboduc, the play commented directly to Elizabeth I to try and influence her decision to marry and to comment on Robert Dudley as a potential candidate. Natalie’s work goes on to cite sermons selected by James VI and I to scold the Scottish Presbyterians at Hampton Court in 1606, as well as a sermon by Edward Dering in 1570 that “lambasted the Queen” for perceived failures at political reform. These examples have us wondering if the instances of Shakespeare appearing at court were more than just event entertainment. Were plays like Shakespeare’s similar political weapons in the same way as Gorboduc? Would Shakespeare’s plays have been brought to court for their power to influence politics and if so, does that explain why Shakespeare wrote so frequently about political issues?  Natalie Mears joins us today to answer some of these questions about Shakespeare and Court Life, and to make the case that court life was Shakespeare’s social media, and through his appearances there, the bard may have been a 16th century social influencer.

Join the conversation below.

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Natalie Mears is an Associate Professor (Reader) at Durham University.  Her interest in the Elizabethan period began before she went to university when she worked in the archives at Hatfield House where the papers of Lord Burghley (Principal Secretary and Lord Treasurer to Elizabeth) and his son are kept. She did her undergraduate degree at Cambridge, followed by a Masters and PhD at St Andrews, under John Guy.  She has published extensively on Elizabeth, Elizabethan politics and religion, the Tudors, James VI and I, and religious worship.  She is currently working on a new book on Elizabeth, influenced by the #MeToo and #BLM movements.

Connect with Natalie here: 

Orcid ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5442-834X

In this episode, I’ll be asking Natalie Mears about :

  • Was this an official governing body of selected people? Who was it that made up a royal court and how many people would typically be at a court session?
  •  When someone was called to “appear at court” is that something like a jury summons?
  • Was a court gathering also an occasion for entertainment?
  • … and more!

Watch the video version of our interview with Natalie on Patreon as a Studio Insider. Sign up here.

Here’s what’s available for this episode:

  • Portrait of Robert Dudley, 1530-1630
  • Portrait of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, 1526-1596
  • Portait of Sir Philip Sydney,  16th century
  • Portrait of Jerome Bowes, 16th century
  • Portrait of Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset
  • 19th century, Engraving of the Star Chamber
  • 17th century, Portrait of Thomas Killigrew who Master of the Revels from 1673-1677
  • 17th century, Portrait of Sir Edward Dering, author of one of the sermons which lambasted the Queen.
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