Six more things linking Shakespeare to Norfolk

William Shakespeare engraving

William Shakespeare engraving - Credit: Getty Images/Zoonar RF

Stacia Briggs discovers six more Norfolk links to William Shakespeare.

1. 6,000 bundles of Norfolk reed for the new Globe

It was a place where both the rich and poor could enjoy a theatrical performance courtesy of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare arrived in London in 1588 and by 1592 was a successful actor and playwright and the owner of a company, the Chamberlain's Men, later called the King's Men. He also had part-ownership of the two theatres the company performed at, one in Blackfriars and the other at the site of what would be The Globe.

The Bankside venue was jointly owned by Cuthbert and Richard Burbage and five of the Chamberlain's men, including Shakespeare and Will Kemp. It thrived for 14 years and presented many of Shakespeare's greatest plays but in 1613, during a performance of Henry VII, wadding from a stage cannon ignited the thatched roof and the theatre burned to the ground in less than two hours.

It was rebuilt, with a tiled roof, but Shakespeare never wrote for the new Globe. It remained the home for his old company until the closure of all theatres under England's Puritan administration in 1642 and demolished in 1644 for housing. In 1949, actor, director and producer Sam Wanamaker became consumed with a desire to rebuild the Globe and 21 years later founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust dedicated to the reconstruction of the theatre, the creation of an education centre and a permanent exhibition.

Wanamaker died before seeing his dream made a reality, although after 23 years of fundraising and research, the site (just a few hundred metres from the original site) was secured, the undercroft was complete and the first timber bays of the theatre were in place.

In 1997, the Globe reopened. Its link to Norfolk is that the new Globe is the first thatched building in central London since the Great Fire of 1666 and the thatch in question consists of 6,000 bundles of Norfolk water reed – which is a year and a half's reed supply for the county.

Most Read

2. The Maddermarket Theatre beats the Royal Shakespeare Company

All the world is a stage: The Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich was created by the Norwich Players founder Nugent Monck in 1921 expressly to recreate the intimate atmosphere of small Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres and its design was based on a Shakespearean theatre Under his guidance the Maddermarket put on the complete canon of Shakespeare plays by 1936 with George Bernard Shaw himself travelling to Norwich to see the final performances – the theatre became the first to ever perform all of Shakespeare's plays under the same producer.

But there was a twist: experts officially endorsed Double Falsehood - a play based on The History of Cardenio, a lost collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher, based in turn on Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote - in 2010 and it was published in Arden's Shakespeare collection.

The Maddermarket Theatre staged the play a year later, beating the Royal Shakespeare Company to the accolade of the first company to have performed all the playwright's known published plays. Double Falsehood, set in Spain, is a romantic tragic-comedy which tells the story of two brothers, one full of virtue, the other an aristocratic villain who pursues two women of vastly different background and the friend he betrays.

And there's an even more direct link to Shakespeare – St John's Alley opposite the theatre, is where actor and clown Will Kemp, a colleague of the Bard, finished his famous 'Nine Daies Wonder' in 1600, dancing from London to Norwich. Read more about Kemp's incredible journey in the EDP tomorrow.

3. Shakespeare performed in King's Lynn

King's Lynn Festival has a special reason to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death for the Bard almost certainly performed on the stage of Lynn's St George's Guildhall, a building key to the Festival's existence. The largest surviving Medieval guildhall in England was saved from demolition and to celebrate its restoration in 1951 Ruth Lady Fermoy arranged a week-long programme of music and the arts which was a huge success and laid the foundations for Lynn Festival. The 66th Festival - being staged on July 17-30 - will mark the Shakespeare anniversary in two concerts, an exhibition, a film and a town walk. On July 19 at 7.30pm in St Nicholas' Chapel King's Lynn Festival Chorus will perform Three Shakespeare Songs composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams. In a recital at the Minster church at 9.30pm on July 23 David Wright (harpsichord) will play Tudor and Elizabethan music such as that which would be known by Shakespeare. A Festival exhibition will show a series of Shakespeare Sculptures by Norfolk artist Susan Bacon who was inspired by some of the Bard's most memorable creations. The sculptures and small maquettes – described as 'social calligraphy' – were displayed at the Globe Theatre last autumn as part of The Globe Project. They will be on show in the foyer of the Fermoy Gallery at King Street on July 18-30 (closed on Sundays) from 10am-4pm. Lynn historian Dr Paul Richards will lead a Festival walk, In Search of Shakespeare's Lynn, on July 22 at 2pm. It will include a visit to St George's Guildhall where, on July 23 at 11am Lynn Community Cinema Club will show Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender. Visit www.kingslynnfestival.org.uk or call the festival office on 01553 767557. The festival box office opens at Lynn Corn Exchange (01553 764864) on April 25.

4. Norfolk dialect in Hamlet

It's one of Hamlet's most famous lines, but it is thought to derive from right here in Norfolk: 'I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw'. The Norfolk dialect word for a heron was a hernsew, which was pronounced 'harnsa' and Hamlet's phrase is thought to come from a hawking term – when a hawk chases a heron, the heron often flies with the wind to escape its predator: when the wind is from the south, the sun is at the hunter's back so he can easily tell a bird from its prey, but if the wind is from the north he might have to squint into the sun and would struggle to differentiate between the birds.

5. Sir Thomas Erpingham

He lies buried in Norwich Cathedral where he also paid for the gate that bears his name, the rebuilding of the church of the Dominican Friars and a new East window for the church of the Augustinian Friars – Sir Thomas Erpingham, who became famous as the commander of King Henry V's longbow archers at the Battle of Agincourt is immortalised as a character in Shakespeare's Henry V. By the time Erpingham served at Agincourt, he was a veteran, having served Henry V's father and grandfather (John of Gaunt), fighting in France and Spain, crusading in Prussia, fighting the Scots and making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. If you want to spot Sir Thomas, look for his kneeling figure in a niche in the centre of the tall flint-faced Erpingham Gate.

6. Shakespeare actors paid NOT to perform

Six years after Shakespeare's death, his plays and his players were touring the provinces and were due to play at St Andrew's Guild Hall in Norwich in June 1622, possibly with the Bard's Twelfth Night.

Records show, however, that the actors were paid a total of 40 shillings not to perform, possibly in order to appease the city's Puritans. In the early 1600s, Norwich was a prosperous regional capital with a comparatively huge population.

It was also a city where the satirical treatment of Lady Olivia's puritanical steward Malvolio in Twelfth Night might not have been received well by a city renowned for its Puritan community.

The 'monsters of both kinds, half women, half men' that Puritan author Philip Stubbes wrote about in his book The Anatomie of Abuses in 1583, were the male actors playing female roles in plays such as those written by Shakespeare and Stubbes also suggested that similar kinds of plays were, in fact, the work of Satan. It didn't stop The King's Men from returning later in the year, though, at which point they were paid another 40 shillings (although there is no record of whether or not they actually took to the stage). God loves a trier.

In tomorrow's EDP: In our final feature to mark the anniversary, Mark Nicholls tells the story of the famous 'Nine Daies Wonder' of one of the Bard's favourite actors and clowns - Will Kemp.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter