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Welcome to Episode #87 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

One of the greatest mysteries about the life of William Shakespeare is where, precisely did the bard first encounter theater. Was it the roving theater companies which speckled the countryside with their pop up performances for which Shakespeare’s father was the town alderman, and therefore would have had to approve the players when they appeared in Stratford? Or was it at Grammar School, where students used theater to learn their Latin, English, and transcription? Well, for many one of the most tantalizing suggestions about where Shakespeare first saw a large scale theater production was when he was just 11 years old. That year, in 1575, Robert Dudley used an elaborate theatrical display as part of his presentation to Elizabeth I where he tried to woo, and propose to the queen. Though his efforts ultimately proved in vain, the fact that many of the features of the performance that day show up in Shakespeare’s plays later in life, lead many historians to speculate that the Shakespeare family, and young William in particular, just might have made the relatively short journey from Stratford to Kenilworth Castle, being drawn in by the promise of a grand display and the potential for a glimpse of the Queen. 

Here today to help us explore the story of Kenilworth Castle, Robert Dudley’s proposal, and how likely it might be for Shakespeare to have attended, is our guest, Philippa Brewell. Philippa visited with us for our very first episode of That Shakespeare Life and we are simply delighted to welcome her back to the show. 

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Philippa Lacey Brewell lives in Central England and is well respected in her field as a historian and tour guide. She engages audiences with virtual tours and history holidays.

She began writing and speaking about travelling through Britain’s history in 2012 and hasn’t stopped since. She has the most animated face when talking about history (if you’ve seen her videos you’ll know!)

She is the owner and founder of British History Tours, a membership group and tour company for those who love British History. She writes a history blog and has also written for BBC History Magazine, inline inflight magazines for CityJet, FlyBe, and for Tudor Life Magazine.

The Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App

Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App gives you the correct pronunciation of words found in the text of Shakespeare's plays, with audio accesibility at the click of a button. This app lets you keep a professional voice coach right in your back pocket. 
 Download the app here.

This app is an official sponsor of That Shakespeare Life.

              

In this episode, I’ll be asking Philippa about :

  • How far was Kenilworth from Stratford Upon Avon? Was that a reasonable distance for the Shakespeare’s to have travelled?
  • One reason some Shakespeare historians list as evidence William Shakespeare may have been in the audience that day is because of Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, which features Arion riding a dolphin’s back. Philippa, will you explain for us what Dudley’s performance that day involved, and did he include Arion riding on a dolphin’s back as part of the performance? 

  •  Why did Dudley choose Kenilworth Castle as the right place for this event?
  • … and more!

To a strong mast that lived upon the sea;
Where, like Arion on the dolphin's back,
I saw him hold acquaintance with the waves
So long as I could see.

Captain

Twelfth Night (I.2)

Kenilworth Castle gatehouse landscape,  United Kingdom. Photo uploaded by user jdforrester Source

Kenilworth Castle is within walking distance of Stratford

Kenilworth Castle was only about 14 miles away from where William Shakespeare was living in 1575, when Dudley staged the performance for the Queen. Anytime the Queen visits it is a state occasion, and royally received for miles around. The reasonable distance between Stratford Upon Avon and Kenilworth Castle, combined with the large attraction the event would have been for the populace, makes it plausible to think the Shakespeare family might have travelled there to try and catch a glimpse of the Queen. 

A distance of 14 miles seems like nothing to us today, but the span would have taken between 4-4.5 hours to walk as well as 2-2.5 hours on horseback. 

As Philippa shares with us, you could make this journey in a day. Since we know Shakespeare was willing to travel the much further distance, of up to a week's travel in one direction, to get to London and back again from his hometown, all of these evidences combined aid in the belief that William Shakespeare could have been in the vicinity that day in 1575. 

Philippa is our first guest ever on the podast. Listen here:

his delights
Were dolphin-like; they show'd his back above
The element they lived in

Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra (V.2)

Arion on a Dolphin's Back by Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem. Engraving 1599. Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1956. Housed at the MET Museum in New York City, New York State, United States. Source

Arion on a Dolphin's Back

One reason some Shakespeare historians list as evidence William Shakespeare may have been in the audience that day is because of Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, which features Arion riding a dolphin’s back.

The Queen was there for 19 days, which is the longest she ever stayed anywhere and the performances happened during that stay. There was not just one staged performance, but several that took place over the course of the almost three week period. One particular pageant, The Lake Pageant, included Proteus riding on a dolphin’s back, and there were musicians. If Shakespeare was there and saw that, it would have been an impressive spectacle which would make sense for it to have inspired him, but it could also have been that Shakespeare used the story because it was popular and a well known Greek Myth. We do know that Shakespeare studied greek mythology in school, for example, so while it's the most romantic and indeed possible, to think he saw it at Kenilworth Castle, it's equally plausible (and potentially more practical) that Arion on a dolphin's back was a popular tale that Shakespeare could have learned about in a variety of less extravagant ways. 

The Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App

Audio Shakespeare Pronunciation App gives you the correct pronunciation of words found in the text of Shakespeare's plays, with audio accesibility at the click of a button. This app lets you keep a professional voice coach right in your back pocket. 
 Download the app here.

This app is an official sponsor of That Shakespeare Life.

              

Heaven, from thy endless goodness, send prosperous life, long, and ever happy, to the high and mighty princess of England, Elizabeth!
Garter

Henry VIII (V.5)

“Queen Elizabeth I Dancing with Robert Dudley” by an unknown artist 1580. Formerly thought to be Queen Elizabeth I of England dancing with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Now the title of the painting, at Penshurst Place in Kent, is thought to be ironic or mocking, as the painting is associated with the French Valois school, c. 1580.  Found in Alan Brissenden's Shakespeare and the Dance (1981), Peter Holman's article ‘The English Royal Violin Consort in the Sixteenth Century' in Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, Vol. 109 (1982-1983), p. 53. SOURCE

The event hosted the highest officials

Foreign ambassadors were important there, because the Queen wanted what was going on in England and her magnificence was being sent via messages of ambassadors to other countries around Europe.

Part of her court remained in London to maintain things there, but she had travelling members. Ladies in waiting, council members, servants, local dignitaries, and generally been her court. 

So the atmosphere was full of high ranking officials and very well established members of the royal court. 

One historian’s description of the event says that there were elaborate banquets with guests consuming up to 40 barrels of beer and 16 barrels of wine per day with fireworks displays and performances of not just theater players, but also acrobats and other displays. One French ambassador is said to have remarked, “Nothing more magnificent had been seen in England for a long time.” 

There were tons of resources required for the event, and usually the food, wine, beer, would have been supplied form the local area, close to Warwick and Coventry would have probably supplied them, but it is distantly possible they might have gone to Stratford. 

‘Twas from the canon.
Cominius

Coriolanus (III.1)

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, welcoming Queen Elizabeth I to Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, July 1575. Source

Sound of Canon Fire in Elizabeth's Honor

I have read that there would have been a peal of guns that were fired in her honor, which could be heard for 20 miles. I am surprised at the use of guns, with rifles not being perfected really until later in the 17th century, but also intrigued by the 20 miles, because Stratford Upon Avon was only 14 miles from Kenilworth Castle. So I ask Philippa if Shakespeare did not go to the castle that day, would he have been able to hear the celebration taking place?

Cannons is what they meant by guns, not rifles, but smaller ones. They are similar to what was used in War of the Roses, and they are extremely loud. It is flat, if the wind was right, then possibly.

Additional History Resource you might enjoy: A history episode for History Hit from Dan Snow about the history of Kenilworth Castle. 

Books & Resources Philippa Brewell recommends:

Connect with Philippa

If you love British History, she is someone you want to get to know. Use these links and information to find out more.

ABOUT : Philippa Brewell is the lead historian and owner at British History Tours. She is the host of a fanstastic history membership community (I am a member there myself!) where she takes you behind the scenes on virtual tours of places you'd otherwise have to get on a plane to visit, not to mention valuable resources, and a great community of fun historians.

Of course if you enjoy travel and want to experience the history you learn about for yourself, she also hosts highly respected history tours often joined by the world's leading historians as your tour guides, with meals, lodging, and entrance fees all included in the trip price. Click below to find out how to join:

Subscribe to
Shakespeare Weekly

Get free history resources like this instruction manual for the 16th century card game Noddy (mentioned in Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona).
Sign up here & download the guide right now.


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