February, too, can be a cruel month, with damp, cold evenings. However, on Monday 19th, Friends and members of the public met at the Rose Playhouse to hear Richard Wilson, Sir Peter Hall Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kingston University, give a talk entitled ‘Bonfire in Merrie England: Shylock and the Chestertons’. We were treated to a fascinating expose of the attempt by British fascists in the late 1920s and early 1930s to use Shakespeare as a political totem. This involved amongst others, the Chestertons (AK Chesterton and his brother GK the author), Oswald Mosely and a member of the Royal Family at the time. There was a school of thought that felt that the mechanicals in a A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ expressed the true English ideal and that Stratford should attain the same political significance as Bayreuth. Richard also talked about theories surrounding the burning down of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford upon Avon and the machiavellian way in which the female architect, Elizabeth Scott, was set up as the designer of the new building.
As well as showing a number of photographs from the period, Richard entertained us with his dramatic delivery – suitable for the Rose Playhouse – in which an impersonation of George Bernard Shaw featured!
Richard unravelled the intriguing elements of his title and demonstrated how they connected. If you missed this one, he is offering another talk centring on a project in the north of England which maps on to the Rose. Watch this space!