Sunday, 24 May 2015

Much Ado About Shakespeare

Much Ado About Shakespeare: Fascinating Book
Recounts Stratford Jubilee – the Event that “Saved” Shakespeare’s Reputation

Meticulously researched by Jimmy Hartley, ‘Much Ado About Shakespeare’ takes readers back to 1769, as David Garrick staged the first Stratford Jubilee, an event credited with saving Shakespeare’s dwindling reputation and solidifying his place as the world’s most-loved poet and playwright. But the event wasn't without its calamities and murder – as Hartley uncovers for the first time.

I knew it! I knew there was a time when Shakespeare did not rule the stage. And he needed a push, by a theatre-maker, not a literary critic, to get back at the big table.

After his death in 1616, Shakespeare’s reputation languished, with just a few minor rewrites of ‘King Lear’, ‘Romeo & Juliet’ and ‘The Tempest’ keeping his name alive. 

As I remember, these rewrites involved giving Lear a happy ending, or getting rid of big chunks of the script. Who hasn't wondered why Shakespeare's plays are so long (it is something to do with the Elizabethan audience's social mix and behaviour at theatre)? The rewrites made the plays accessible to later audiences, just like modern versions do now.

But one event in 1769 changed all of that, rebuilding Shakespeare’s reputation to its immense present day international status which will be emphasised next year by the celebrations for Shakespeare's 400th anniversary, an occasion that will be "the biggest opportunity to put UK culture on the world stage since London 2012," according to Sir Martin Davidson, Chief Executive of the British Council.

In ‘Much Ado About Shakespeare’ author Jimmy Hartley tells the astonishing story of the Jubilee that legendary actor David Garrick staged at Stratford-upon-Avon and which rocketed Shakespeare into global status as the world's greatest playwright. "Without the Jubilee," says author Jimmy Hartley, "next year's celebrations would not be happening.

Shakespeare's reputation was in decline at the time of his death. Fellow playwrights Ben Jonson and Francis Webster were buried in Poet's Corner. But Shakespeare gained no such distinction. His reputation continued to fall with one critic complaining that his plays "disgust this refined age." 

The one event that did most to reverse this downward trend was the Stratford Jubilee, staged by the superstar actor David Garrick (from who the Garrick Club gets its name). This is the story of that Jubilee, a tale of human pride, vaulting ambition, jealousy that catapulted Shakespeare's reputation into its present day stratosphere.

“This is the first major study of Garrick’s Jubilee in fifty years,” explains Hartley, a show business veteran. “I was able to make full use of original sources to uncover the truth about an event that was as dramatic, poignant and funny as Shakespeare’s work itself. As well as being a roaring success, it wasn’t without its problems – including an actor who literally killed another during an argument over a wig!”

Continuing, “It was a far cry from the comforts of the West End and my book demonstrates just how perilous it was trying to organize an event so far from home soil. Garrick thought that the production would come together as easily as they do in the Drury Lane Theatre; he quickly thought again when the river Avon unexpectedly overflowed as his ballroom was packed with Dukes and Duchesses, Ministers and the top brass of that generation. Miraculously, the entire thing was a roaring success and saved Shakespeare for good.”

As Hartley explains, Shakespeare is about to be more than thrust back under the public spotlight.

“The British Council has just announced a “global celebration” next year, to mark 400 years since his death. There’s going to be an international festival, new high-quality education resources and a mass-participation global digital project. There will also be celebrations taking place around the world, giving this book more pertinence than ever before,” he adds.

Readers have come out in force with positive reviews. Florence Wilson comments, “This is a remarkably readable and wonderfully gossipy and amusing account of the way that Shakespeare's reputation was revived. An unexpectedly enjoyable read for what could be a serious subject and one to indulge in.”

Belinda adds, “Superbly researched, you feel the atmosphere of the times and can believe you're in the crowd. Endless informative detail. If you're interested in Shakespeare, Garrick and/or PR this is a very good read.”

Much Ado About Shakespeare’ is available now:

About the Author:
Jimmy Hartley brings to this study a deep understanding of show business and public relations based on many years’ experience in the industry.

He was a writer and producer in ITV in London and Anglia. He is a former Exhibitioner in History of Hertford College, Oxford, and holds an MA in History from Oxford University.

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