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Shakespeare and His World: Top Ten Objects (Part 2)

In this sequel to "Shakespeare and His World: Top Ten Objects (Part 1)", take a look at the final five 'Objects of the Week' of the MOOC 'Shakespeare and His World' course taught by Jennifer Reid and Professor Jonathan Bate.

Jennifer Reid

This blog post is the continuation of Part 1.

As I mentioned in the first part of this post, I have been mentoring the MOOC 'Shakespeare and his World' for the last ten weeks alongside Professor Jonathan Bate. Each week learners on the course were asked to vote for their favourite object from the SBT collections that we featured in the week’s lessons. Here are the five 'Objects of the week' from weeks 6-10.

Week 6: John Hall’s Case Book

In week six we used Macbeth as the focus play to discuss the theme of 'Witches and Doctors'. We talked about the relationship between the audience and the supernatural forces in the play, and met the fictional doctor in Macbeth alongside the real life doctor, Dr John Hall, who was Shakespeare’s son-in-law. This is a fantastic book in which Dr Hall listed the treatments and cures he carried out on his patient, including one entry – no. 19 – in which he describes in detail the treatment he administered to his wife, Shakespeare's daughter Susanna, to relieve her of colic. It makes me wonder how Susanna would feel about 15,000 e-learners reading about her digestive problems today!

Find out more about John Hall’s Casebook.

Isobel Sadler Close Up
The case of Isobel Sadler in John Hall's 'Select observations on English bodies'.

Week 7: Spanish Rapier

The Spanish Rapier was just one of a great selection of fantastic objects featured in our week titled 'The Clash of Civilisations', in which we looked at OthelloOthello is an extraordinary play in which different religions, races and cultures clash. The Spanish rapier that won week 7’s Object of the Week is a beautiful object; unfortunately the makers mark on the blade is now obscured, but the design is very Moorish in its symmetry. When Othello was first performed, the acting company would not have used a real, high class blade like this on stage, but in the illusory world of the play, Shakespeare has used a 'Spanish rapier' to suggest a fine, high quality sword.

Find out more about the Spanish rapier.

English Rapier
Object number 39: A Spanish rapier, silver and steel, about 1600.

Week : Plutarch’s Lives of the noble Grecians and Romanes, translated by Thomas North

Week 8’s theme was 'The Roman Example' and we had some fantastic archival items from the collections to tell the story of how Shakespeare used ancient Rome to explore his own time, using Antony and Cleopatra as the focus play. Like Holinshed’s Chronicles mentioned in Part 1, Plutarch’s Lives of the noble Grecians and Romanes is another of Shakespeare’s source books. The biographies of great figures of classical Greece and Rome were compiled in Lives, and Shakespeare’s school friend, Richard Field, was the printer of this book . What is interesting is that in Lives, Plutarch’s story is titled The Life of Marcus and Antonius and is told very much from the point of view of Antony as the hero, warrior and leader. Shakespeare, on the other hand, titles his play Antony and Cleopatra, giving equal weight to the male and female protagonists.

Find out more about Plutarch’s Lives.

JC Plutarch
The murder of Julius Caesar as it appears in Plutarch's Lives

Week 9: Deed Box

The final focus play of the MOOC was The Tempest, and we used the play to talk about the theme 'O Brave New World'. This was a particularly good week for discussions as learners had really found confidence in the validity of their opinions by week 9. Shakespeare’s time was one of fantastic bravery in the field of exploration and discovery, and the inspiration for The Tempest seems to have come from reports of a shipwreck of the time, and this box is lined with pages from Hakluyt Voyages which give an account of M Forbisher’s second voyage of discovery. What really captured the learner's imaginations about this box is what would have gone into it. In truth we can’t be sure, but on its lid is written "Aquittances for the Subsidye et al. Acquitts" in a mid-sixteenth century hand. It was probably used for storing legal papers or receipts on behalf of the Stratford Corporation as it is part of the Borough Collection the SBT. As it is covered in waterproof leather and has loops for attaching it to a belt or similar, it is likely that this was a working object rather than one used primarily for storage.

Find out more about the deed box.

Deed Box
The deed box lined with pages telling the story of M Frobisher's journey

Week 10: The Birthplace Window

In week 10 we did not have a focus play, but looked instead at Shakespeare’s Legacy. With over 400 years since his death, it was a big topic to cover. The learners chose the fantastic window originally from the Birthroom in the Birthplace that is inscribed with the names of visitors, including the likes of Ellen Terry, Walter Scott, and Thomas Carlyle. Just as interesting are the 'unknown' names, such as “Little Jack Stubbs” who signed his name in 1816 on both the outside AND inside of the window – how he did so we will never know! The earliest name on the window is dated 1806, and the latest is, quite worryingly, 1967! I would have hoped people knew better by then. None the less, this item is a beautiful reminder of how the Birthplace has becomes a place of pilgrimage for people all over the world: people who wanted to leave their mark and prove that they have visited and, in turn, become a part of the story of the Birthplace itself.

Find out more about the Birthplace window.

Birthplace Window
One of the panels from the Birthplace window inscribed with visitors names

The window is a great object to end the course with. It really is representative of the fantastic community of learners that have joined Jonathan and I on our ten week journey through Shakespeare's World.

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