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For Shakespeare’s lifetime, the concept of welcoming hospitality was considered a uniquely English virtue. We see this opinion reflected in the play, As You Like It, when Shakespeare’s character Corin suggests that doing deeds of hospitality was one way to get to heaven. Nowhere was hospitality reflected more clearly, or extended more often, than at the country house estate. Now before you think of a small cottage in the countryside, when I say it was a Country House Estate, an example of a famous one is Kenilworth Castle where Queen Elizabeth was welcomed and entertained by Robert Dudley in 1575. In homes like this one, nobility were expected to keep the grounds and the interior rooms in prime condition with supplies on hand to provide accommodation, meals, and entertainment for both travelers as well as visiting dignitaries who visited as a part of official negotiations for both local and national politics. Here today to help us understand the world of Country House Estates and the sorts of entertainments that were offered there by the hosts, is our guest and author of the award-winning book, The Elizabethan Country House Entertainment, Elizabeth Kolkovich. 

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Elizabeth Zeman Kolkovich is an Associate Professor of English at The Ohio State University who specializes in Renaissance drama and early modern women’s writing. She is the author of The Elizabethan Country House Entertainment: Print, Performance, and Gender, along with essays in academic journals and collections. Her research has been supported by fellowships at the Huntington Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

I’ll be asking Elizabeth Kolkovich about:

  • With elaborate entertaining spaces like Whitehall Palace, for example, at her disposal, why was it important to Elizabeth I for locations like Kenilworth Castle or Sudeley Castle to be participating in the welcome and entertainment of the nobility of England? 
  • Why were performances considered an essential part of entertaining a guest, and what kind of performances would have been used—was it plays or music or something else? 
  • What are some examples of country house performances we know of that were used specifically for political gain? 
  • …and more!

Mary Hill Cole’s The Portable Queen: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Ceremony(originally published in 1999, paperback in 2011)

Vanessa Wilkie’s A Woman of Influence: The Spectacular Rise of Alice Spencer in Tudor England (2023)

John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Elizabeth: A New Edition of the Early Modern Sources (2014).Note From Elizabeth: It’s a five-volume set, and I think volume 3 is especially useful for reading examples of country house entertainments. It’s incredibly expensive, though.

The Star Chamber, where court was often held. More details inside!

What “Going to Court” Actually Means

Explore what it meant to “go to court” and how the societal structure of seeing and being seen might have meant that someone like William Shakespeare could have used court appearances as a kind of 16th century social media, with the bard being something of a social influencer, with our guest, Natalie Mears.

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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!