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Welcome to Episode #190 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

Metallurgy is the art of making things with metal. Many kind of metal were used in Shakespeare’s lifetime to create swords, armor, guns, and even horseshoes. In one reference from Henry IV Part II, Shakespeare draws attention to the fact that a “smith” the term for someone who works with metal, was responsible for creating some of these items when the character Davy says “Here is now the smith’s note for shoeing and plough-irons.” That comes from Act V, Scene 1. 

While most of Shakespeare’s uses of the word “smith” in his plays refer specifically to a goldsmith (that term being used at least 11 times in his works), there were other kinds of metallurgy professionals known as smiths, such as silversmiths, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, and coppersmiths who worked in Shakespeare’s lifetime. Shakespeare gives us a glimpse of this metallurgical enterprise when the character Hubert de Burgh, in King John, Act IV Scene II says “I saw a smith stand with his hammer… whilst his iron did on the anvil cool.” We can tell from what references Shakespeare leaves us that metallurgy and working with metals held common place in society for his lifetime, but seeing as how most of don’t visit the blacksmith today on a regular basis, we asked our guest, Alan Williams, an Archaeometallurgist at The Wallace Collection, to visit with us today and take us back to Shakespeare’s lifetime where we can explore exactly how the metal was acquired, used, and molded into some of these essential household items for Shakespeare’s lifetime.

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Called “the Man Who Fires Neutrons at Medieval Armour, ” Alan Williams is an archaeometallurgist, a specialist in the pre-modern processes of creating and working with metals, at the Wallace Collection in London. For over 20 years, Alan has worked analyzing the world famous collection of armour at the Wallace Collection to examine the techniques that were used in creating those pieces. He is the author of two of the most authoritative works on 16th century metal works, The Knight and the Blast Furnace that explores the production of armour, as well as The Sword and the Crucible which looks at how swords were made. Find links to Alan’s books as well as more information on his work at the Wallace Collection in the show notes for today’s episode.

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  • Images provided by Alan Williams, showcasing various aspects of a metalworking furnace setup
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Books & Resources Recommended by Alan Williams:

Paper on the Styrian Metal Industry (Shared with permission of Alan Williams, all rights associated with that paper remain with him.)

Notes following from Alan Williams directly. The “I” and “Me” references here are from Alan:

Cyril Stanley Smith, C.S.Smith (the father of archaeometallurgy)  edited 3 classics of 16th c. metallurgy,  reprinted by Dover, I think – Lazarus Ercker, Biringuccio, and   della Porta. 

The Sorby Centennial Symposium On The History Of Metallurgy

The Pirotechnia of Vannoccio Biringuccio: The Classic Sixteenth-Century Treatise on Metals and Metallurgy

A History of Metallography: The Development of Ideas on the Structure of Metals before 1890

The Beginning of the Use of Metals and Alloys

The Royal Armoury at Greenwich 1515-1649: A History of Its Technology (Royal Armouries Monograph)

Pictures – the website of the Met NY has lots of good pictures of suits of armour.  The Cumberland suit was made in Greenwich around 1590 , and is a very well preserved example of the highest quality armour.

My books published by Brill are rather expensive-  a cheaper book (out of print now, but may find it on ebay)  is on the Greenwich Armoury.

Keith Dowen’s book is also a useful introduction – attached.

I also attach  some pictures of  a furnace.

I would also recommend for general reading a book by Cyril Stanley Smith “A history of metallography” (1960) now in paperback:
A History Of Metallography: The Development Of Ideas On The Structure Of Metals Before 1890

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