Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 125
David Garrick’s 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford-on-Avon was like an 18th-century Fyre Festival. From overcrowding to pouring rains, the event was a disaster. Yet the Jubilee made Shakespeare a national hero and put his hometown on the map. How did a sodden day of cancellations and traffic jams end up having such an incredible impact? Andrew McConnell Stott explores that questions and more in his new book What Blest Genius?: The Jubilee that Made Shakespeare.
Andrew McConnell Stott is a professor of English and divisional dean of undergraduate education at the University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. What Blest Genius?: The Jubilee that Made Shakespeare was published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2019. Stott is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
From our Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published July 9, 2019 © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “The Rain It Raineth Every Day,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. With technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.
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MICHAEL WITMORE: It was a little bit “Woodstock,” a little bit “Coachella,” and a little too much like the “Fyre Festival.” It was pretty much a disaster. And it did more for Shakespeare’s hometown than anything has, ever since.
From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. In September of 1769, the renowned actor and theater impresario David Garrick got roped into hosting an event called the Shakespeare Jubilee. Two-hundred-fifty years later, the Jubilee is principally remembered for two things: the deluge of rain that ruined pretty much everything …. and the fact that, despite being a disaster, the Jubilee revolutionized the town of Stratford-upon-Avon and made Shakespeare England’s National Poet.
In a fascinating new book, Andrew McConnell Stott, a professor of English at the University of Southern California, lays out the details of Garrick’s Jubilee and shows what a crazy, good story it is. The book is called What Blest Genius?: The Jubilee that Made Shakespeare, and we invited him into our studio in Los Angeles to talk about it.
We call this podcast episode “The Rain It Raineth Every Day.” Andrew McConnell Stott is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
BARBARA BOGAEV: Before we get to Garrick, let’s set the stage. Or, could you set the stage, please? Because it’s hard to imagine now that there was this time when Shakespeare was just one playwright among many, many playwrights, and some, maybe, more famous than him… and that his name could have died with him. But it could have happened if not, you write, for a few accidents of history, one of them being the Jubilee. So, remind us, what legs did Shakespeare’s reputation have after his death? How did these two men Davenant and Killigrew end up keeping him in the public’s eye?
ANDREW MCCONNELL STOTT: When Shakespeare died in 1616, his plays fell very quickly out of the repertoire. I guess that’s understandable by virtue of the fact that he was writing very much in the mode of the present. He would write a play, it would be performed that season several times, but novelty and a quick turnover in terms of repertoire was the norm for the early modern theater. So when he died, people moved on. There were other emerging playwrights who were very popular, and tastes change. Then in 1642, theater is really closed down by the Puritan government, who think that this is an opportunity for a seditious rabble to congregate and perhaps make trouble. It’s almost two decades that theatricals are forbidden.
BOGAEV: Which is an eternity in theater time. I mean, it’s a long time by any standard, but definitely by theater.
STOTT: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s a whole generation of actors. It’s a whole generation of writers and people who would fund theater. The theatrical culture of Britain, which had been incredibly rich in the early modern period—Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare, Middleton—suddenly comes to this juddering halt, and there’s this wasteland.
Then, with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II grants two licenses for theaters: one to his favorite, Thomas Killigrew, and one to a man called Sir William Davenant. Now, Sir William Davenant happens to be the godson of Shakespeare, and he’s a person who’s really tried to keep theater alive during the long Interregnum and this long period in which theater had been banned in Britain. He’s granted the rights to certain plays, but these plays are really old and he petitions Lord Chamberlain for the rights to Shakespeare’s plays because he has this kind of familial attachment and considers the spirit of Shakespeare to be alive in him.
BOGAEV: Right. Meanwhile, Killigrew, he called his company the King’s Company, so, he made that link to Shakespeare. But I love this. You talk about how he could have had the rights to perform the plays that Shakespeare’s company had put on, but, really, specifically, not Shakespeare’s plays—he wasn’t aiming for that.
STOTT: Right. When you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense. You know, these plays are 50 years old. So, Davenant petitions for the rights to act some of these plays.
BOGAEV: And he got the great ones, right? Macbeth, Lear, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, at least the plays that we know so well, because this is what he resurrected.
STOTT: Right, absolutely. All of the ones we consider to be the blockbusters. But what he does is he’s very aware of the fact—you know, he really is a theater auteur—he realizes that these things won’t stand on their legs in the current environment and something has to be done.
BOGAEV: So, he adapts them.
STOTT: He adapts them.
BOGAEV: He updates them. And also, King Charles made that a requirement, right?
BOGAEV: That the plays be “fitt,” meaning…
STOTT: Yeah, be made fit for a contemporary audience. And so, that means changing the plots, it means adding music, it means adding special effects, it means moving scenery with the ability to do more with light and dark and shadow and things like that.
BOGAEV: Suddenly, Shakespeare’s kind of hot again.
BOGAEV: I mean, it’s really kind of an amazing story, that this haphazard arrangement of rights and the fact of the war and a lack of new plays to put on, all that spurs these two guys, basically, to keep Shakespeare in the repertoire.
STOTT: It’s one of those things where the context requires innovation and change and out of that—you know, you have these kind of limiting factors—out of that, you get these really ingenious solutions that developed.
We can’t really call Davenant’s Shakespeare “Shakespeare” in any kind of purist sense. It’s rather these are rather Shakespeare-themed entertainments.
BOGAEV: What were they like? You describe a big change because he’s known for changing the endings.
BOGAEV: Macbeth is a classic example of that.
STOTT: So, Macbeth is a…
BOGAEV: He kind of Barnum and Bailey-ed up Shakespeare.
STOTT: Right. I mean, he dramatically cuts the speeches and makes the language more digestible to bring it up to date. He gives Banquo this whole subplot and it gives Banquo’s wife this whole role that isn’t really there in Shakespeare’s version. He has a happy ending. They don’t die. And they come to represent this kind of harmonious, loyal domesticity that really sort of underlies the ideology of the Restoration Caroline Court.
BOGAEV: And music, right?
STOTT: And, oh, music, yeah. I mean, Davenant working on The Tempest really invents opera, certainly the English version of the opera.
BOGAEV: Opera? Or does he invent Broadway, the Broadway musical? [LAUGHTER]
STOTT: Well, he does—
BOGAEV: I mean, it almost makes Macbeth sound like Cats when I read the script.
STOTT: Yeah, it’s all singing, all dancing. It really becomes a multimedia spectacle.
BOGAEV: Flying witches.
STOTT: Flying witches. It becomes an opportunity to demonstrate all of the technical achievements of the theater. Shakespeare’s theater, of course, was an aural theater. It was all about listening. It was all about creating images in one’s mind. But in Davenant’s theater, it’s about giving you these different opportunities to indulge different senses. It’s the creation of the entertainment industry in many ways.
BOGAEV: Okay. This pretty much brings us up to David Garrick.
BOGAEV: Let’s move up to about the mid-18th century. David Garrick, he’s on his Shakespeare bandwagon. We’ve already done a whole podcast about Garrick, recently, how he was this remarkable actor and his style of acting changed everything. He was also a tremendous celebrity and successfully adapted Shakespeare as well. Was he doing pretty much an adaptation, in the same spirit as Davenant?
STOTT: Yes, he was, although he claimed that he was returning to the source of Shakespeare. So, when he performed his Richard III, there had been a Richard III in existence that had been adapted by Colley Cibber, who was one of Garrick’s predecessors. Garrick took that version and then announced his version as being as “writ by Mr. Shakespeare.” Garrick really liked to claim this affinity with Shakespeare and that he was bringing Shakespeare back, but he wasn’t doing that at all.
You have bear in mind also, I think, the audience had not seen anything else. Plus, they didn’t come to the theater with this reverence for Shakespeare. You know, I really think—sort of reflecting on my own background—I knew that Shakespeare was the greatest writer who had every written because I’d received that in the ether before I’d ever seen or read a Shakespeare play.
BOGAEV: That’s right. We have to dial that back. Yeah.
STOTT: Right. We’re born into it. But in the 18th century, people don’t come in with that preconception.
BOGAEV: So Garrick was starting to create this mythology of Shakespeare and getting a lot of mileage out of performing and producing the Shakespeare plays and continuing this line from Davenant to Garrick of being the resurrectors of Shakespeare. This is where I imagine the idea for the Jubilee came from. But it was more complicated than that, because it involves Stratford, Shakespeare’s hometown, and their desires and their goals. So, remind us, how did the Jubilee, just the very origins, how did it start?
STOTT: It began with a small municipality in rural Warwickshire deciding that they needed a statue in an alcove on the outside of their new town hall. The corporation of the town of Stratford-upon-Avon had built this new town hall using subscriptions from various aristocrats and high ranking citizens in their neighborhood. In the context of Stratford at that time, which was really quite a sort of downbeat town, kind of old, off the beaten path, it was a really handsome, new, stone building, in contradistinction to all the timber-framed houses that were there, and the thatched roofs and things like that. They had this alcove on the outside and they had nothing in it. Somebody made the great suggestion that this should be filled with a statue of their most famous son. Stratford-upon-Avon had really done very little, next to nothing, to really sort of celebrate Shakespeare and do something to build up the reputation of the town as this kind of nursery of genius. Then, somebody made the suggestion that, You really should approach David Garrick,” because, of course, he had this reputation, the single person alive who had done more to further the reputation of Shakespeare than any other.
BOGAEV: Right. They thought the vague idea, “He might be able to help out,” or…
STOTT: “He’d give us a statute, right?”
STOTT: “‘Cause he’s, of course, a wealthy Londoner and he’s a celebrity, so he’s got…”
BOGAEV: Of course, he has one lying around.
STOTT: Yeah, “He’s got money, he can give us a statue!” So, that was what they pursued. They also wanted to get two paintings. They wanted a painting of Shakespeare for their assembly room, and because they were asking Garrick to fund it, they asked for a picture of Garrick, too, as Shakespeare’s principle interpreter.
BOGAEV: Okay, now, finish the story about the statue though because that is just priceless.
STOTT: They approach Garrick. Now, Garrick already has a statute of Shakespeare and he’s—
BOGAEV: Which he posed for.
STOTT: Yes, indeed, which he posed for. So, he bases himself… There’s this sense in which Garrick is not only claiming that the spirit of Shakespeare is within him, but that Shakespeare is actually starting to animate Garrick’s body. He does this in a couple of different places, where he likes to suggest himself as the embodiment of Shakespeare on earth.
Back to the statue. There are two statutes. There’s one in [Westminster Abbey] in Poet’s Corner. Garrick helped raise some of the subscriptions for that when that was put in place. Then, Garrick himself, as he becomes wealthier and more successful, builds what he calls his Temple to Shakespeare in the garden of his house in Hampton. It contains this wonderful marble statue that he has had made by a Flemish artist, and which he has posed for himself, right? So it’s based in David Garrick.
BOGAEV: But he’s not giving that up to Stratford.
STOTT: No way. That cost a lot of money, so, he’s not giving that up to Stratford. So, he thinks about it and so he goes to a yard in Hyde Park that specializes in cheap plaster and copper and brass statutes and buys one of those.
BOGAEV: He goes to Lowe’s! He goes to, like, Home Depot.
STOTT: He basically goes to Home Depot and buys one of the statutes they have out in the gardening department—
BOGAEV: A Shakespeare gnome.
STOTT: Right, yeah, exactly. He says, “Here, have this. It’s really great.” He also agrees to commission the paintings from his friend Thomas Gainsborough. But then he makes Stratford-upon-Avon pay for them.
BOGAEV: Okay, so he outfits Stratford.
BOGAEV: For better or worse. How does the Jubilee happen, then?
STOTT: Trying to trace the origins of the Jubilee precisely is a little difficult. The corporation of Stratford engages Garrick through the statue and the paintings. Garrick’s very happy to do this, especially as he manages to land the bill on them. But, through some intermediaries in London, they petition him to do a little bit more. Would he like to come? Could there, perhaps, be an unveiling of the statue? Is there some way that we might celebrate you and also our new building? So on and so forth. It seems that Garrick kind of has the idea for the Jubilee, but it’s not clear that he’s fully committed to it because, I think, the corporation of Stratford-upon-Avon—and I don’t know this is necessarily provable, but this is my instinct—rather run with this idea before Garrick is fully committed to it. So, Garrick is sort of saying, “Well, wouldn’t it be good if we did some kind of festival? Because, you know, we missed the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday. We missed the celebration of his death. Maybe there could be something that we could do around this and it would be a wonderful opportunity for people to celebrate their love for Shakespeare.” The corporation take this and I think they rather commit him to it, because, I think, they go to the press. It appears in the press before Garrick actually mentions it from the stage of Drury Lane.
BOGAEV: So, they get ahead of him, and then he doesn’t want to pay for it, but it kind of is already rolling. Then, it seems to snowball into this monumental undertaking. I mean, it seemed like they were planning to have food for thousands of people, banquets, and music had to be composed and rehearsed and tickets had to be sold. It just became enormous. Why did he go along with it, Garrick?
STOTT: That’s a really great question. I think that… I mean, anybody who ever looks at 18th-century project management is always amazed that anything actually gets done, because they leave stuff to the last minute. There’s no real sense of forward planning or anticipating the many problems that will inevitably arise. So, it’s a classic sort of 18th-century event, in that moment, and it just sort of happens sort of haphazardly.
I think Garrick was at a very important point in his career, which is to say that his ability to perform the roles that had made him famous was definitely in decline. His health was poor. Plus, he’d also been the target of a great deal of… sort of a lightning rod for abuse of the stage. As the principle representative of theatrical life in Britain, he’d really borne the brunt of a lot of controversy and a lot of insults thrown his way.
BOGAEV: Right. And it sounds like he was getting older. But you also say in the book that, this is a quote, that “he often hurried into engagements, which he either could or would not, indeed sometimes ought not, to fulfill.” So, even this Jubilee seems a bit of an accident of…
STOTT: Yeah. Well, I think that, you know, here he was, his performing star was definitely waning and he was trying to find a new place for himself. So, he wanted to assert himself as the sort of cultural custodian of Britain. That would be a great role for him in sort of off-stage retirement.
BOGAEV: Now we’re getting to what they actually planned for this event, which is a lot. I mean, you point out that the list of events prompted, it was so long, it prompted all these questions in the press about what any of this had to do with Shakespeare, because none of the items on the list was a performance of an actual play.
STOTT: Yeah. I think the most absurd, mysterious, and intriguing thing about the Jubilee is that not a single Shakespeare play was performed, or even a scene from Shakespeare.
BOGAEV: What did they plan?
STOTT: Balls, dinners, lunches, parades, pageants, a horse race, and promenading musicians through the garlanded streets. Oh, and there were bonfires and, of course, fireworks, which never really happened because of the rain.
BOGAEV: All of which say “Shakespeare!” to me.
BOGAEV: And an ode by Garrick.
STOTT: And an ode. So, the concluding—you know, the keystone of the whole thing, the sort of signature event, was the delivery of this ode, which was a recitative, you know. The Drury Lane orchestra were there providing this bed of music over which Garrick delivered this ode that he’d written himself in praise of Shakespeare. And it was an ode dedicating the statue, which was behind him.
BOGAEV: Right. And that was the unveiling of the statue.
BOGAEV: And what is it? How does it go over?
STOTT: So, the ode is a very strange thing. It’s a sort of a long rambling poem in praise of Shakespeare that is sort of spoken to musical accompaniment and contains various choral elements, where the chorus of Drury Lane actually sing choral moments to punctuate the speech. In terms of content, it’s really this kind of tissue of quotations that Garrick has pieced together. And, you know, I mean, some of his best friends would say that Garrick was not a great writer. You know, this thing has illusions from Milton. It has bits of Dryden in it. It has all these kind of borrowings from Shakespeare that sound a bit like Shakespeare, but aren’t. And, you know, the audience were in raptures. They thought this was the most amazing thing. I just think this is really one of those things where you just had to be there.
BOGAEV: Before any of this even happened, the word about the ode got out and Garrick got invited to present it before the King and Queen.
STOTT: That’s right. So, Garrick had a very close relationship with the press and so he leaked a lot of what was going on. Also, I think there is some pretty strong evidence to suggest that some of the criticism in anticipation of the Jubilee was actually seeded there by Garrick, or at least Garrick’s allies, just in…
BOGAEV: Criticism like what?
STOTT: Well, like, this is an act of vanity, why are we doing this? Shakespeare doesn’t seem present at all. This is not, you know, a Shakespeare festival or a celebration of literature. It seems to be a celebration of grandiosity and vanity.
BOGAEV: And David Garrick.
STOTT: And David Garrick.
BOGAEV: He seeded it why? Because in the…
STOTT: Because it creates interest.
BOGAEV: In the spirit of “all press is good press?”
STOTT: Absolutely. Garrick knew that very well. To sell tickets and to bring people, especially the cognoscenti, the aristocracy, and the rich, and the fashionable, to bring them out of London into the unfashionable backwaters of Warwickshire and this dirty sheep-shearing town of Stratford-upon-Avon.
BOGAEV: What did the townspeople of Stratford think of all this?
STOTT: So, they fell pretty much into two groups, sometimes overlapping. On the one hand, there were the people who thought that this was a wonderful opportunity to make some money. And so, people leased out their houses, their spare bedrooms. They leased out their barns. They leased out their haystacks, anything…
BOGAEV: Right. It’s like the Olympics.
STOTT: Exactly. Anything you asked for, it cost you. There’s a great story of somebody asking for the time and he paid his money to be given the time, but then only received the hour and not the minutes… and was told that the minutes were extra.
BOGAEV: [LAUGHING] That’s a real 18th century joke.
STOTT: Right. Right. There’s lots of examples of, you know, people paying over the odds for terrible food. There was a great deal of rank profiteering and price hiking and all of that kind of stuff.
BOGAEV: Then you point out that the flip side of that was that people actually were very frightened of this thing happening. This is really interesting, it has to do with what was going on at the time.
STOTT: Right. So, there was a large segment of the population that were very suspicious of these outsiders coming to their town. They did not understand this word “jubilee.” There were two reasons. One is that it sounded to some like the “Jew Bill,” which had been a law passed to grant Jewish citizens within Britain more rights and to expand their enfranchisement.
BOGAEV: Tremendously controversial.
STOTT: Tremendously controversial and, in fact, rolled back. So, there was that. What did that mean? And then, of course, jubilee, in terms of the Catholic tradition, is a time of pilgrimage within Catholicism. And this is a Protestant country that considers the Pope to be an enemy of the country. So, what does this mean? Is this this strange mixture of these religious traditions that we’re suspicious of and that are very alien to us descending on our town? Who are these people and what are they doing? We hear that they’re gonna attempt to try and resurrect Shakespeare, that there’ll be some kind of, you know, mass or ritual and that there will be people flying in the skies. All of these kinds of really superstitious beliefs of, you know, the dark arts, coming to descend on their town.
BOGAEV: They were afraid of even riots, because you also point out English society was in a really fragile moment.
STOTT: Right. It was a very contentious time. There were riots over corn. There were riots over labor. There was a riot over rights. It was a time in which the primary form or vehicle of political protest was rioting.
BOGAEV: It seems like a very unfortunate word to choose, jubilee. I mean, it’s kind of a very not woke thing for the 18th century. Why did they want to call it that?
STOTT: Well, I think it speaks a little bit to Garrick’s pretentions. When you look at the kinds of things that they actually did in celebration of Shakespeare, they sang songs and they raised a mulberry cup of wine in honor of Shakespeare, and they had all these kinds of quasi-ritualistic elements that really spoke to a sort of…
BOGAEV: Canonization, or—
STOTT: So, there was definitely a canonization at work, but there was this kind of, you know, this litany of secular ritual in which Shakespeare takes the place of some divine entity. The trappings of the celebration were very much borrowed from Catholicism and from Catholic mass.
BOGAEV: But you also say that this idea of jubilee, in some of the event framers’ minds, had to do with building national identity for England at the time, that it is kind of a branding exercise, not just for David Garrick and Shakespeare, but for England. You lionize Shakespeare, it lionizes Shakespeare’s country, as well.
STOTT: Mm-hmm. That’s right. Garrick was very much looking for a national hero. And Britain was looking for a national hero because, you know, there had been this long period of war with France. The literary and cultural initiative was on the continent. The neoclassicism of France had been held up as the literary tradition. This was one of the reasons why Shakespeare had not flourished in the late 17th and early 18th century, because the neoclassicism of Racine and Corneille and these French academicians was very much in the ascendant. And that had very strict rules, very formal. Shakespeare broke every single one of those rules. So, he was seen as being this regionalist writer. So, in the same way, maybe, that there is kind of metropolitan bias in modern Britain, right, Shakespeare would be seen as some kind of regional Scottish author or something, by comparison with this kind of French tradition.
What Garrick wanted to do was kind of say that, “Well, formal rules are artificial and Shakespeare is natural; and if you see any imperfections in Shakespeare, those are the imperfections you see when something has grown organically; and organicism is beautiful.” He undercuts the French claim to cultural supremacy by celebrating the imperfections of Shakespeare in the place of his birth by bringing together this rural identity, this nature that fosters Shakespeare and really kind of instills in him this genius that is a product of nature, not artifice.
BOGAEV: Okay, so a lot packed into this idea of a jubilee. But the practicalities are just stunning. The opening day comes and the town is, as you write, completely overbooked. It sounds like chaos. The turnout is sparse because people can’t even find a stable to sleep in. So, what, was it like, the Fyre Festival, like Woodstock?
STOTT: Yeah. It’s absolutely like… More people arrived than they had capacity for, without question. It seems that no one had actually really done a thorough inventorying of the amount of beds that were available. As a result, the single road into town was totally blocked. Carriages were backed up miles and miles and miles. People were fighting with one another to get the most meager accommodations. And these are, you know, these are not people who are used to sleeping in barns. These are people who have houses with 30 or 40 rooms in them. So, the day begins with a cannonade and then with serenading musicians parading through the streets and serenading the people in the rooms as they are supposed to wake to the day. Then, there’s supposed to be a breakfast, but there’s nobody there. There’s nobody there because they’re all stuck on the highway and they can’t get through there.
BOGAEV: Right. And from what you describe, it sounds just like a cascade of disasters after this because—
STOTT: One after another. I—
BOGAEV: It starts to rain.
STOTT: And then it starts to rain. Anybody who has been to Britain really at any time of year knows that rain is a constant threat. There’s no reason that Garrick would not have considered this. But when the rain came down in Stratford-upon-Avon, a place that had very little in the way of drainage, or paving, or, you know—
BOGAEV: Amenities of any kind.
STOTT: —Yeah, amenities of any kind, it just turned the whole thing into the Somme overnight. It was just this huge sort of mud pit.
BOGAEV: The fireworks, that couldn’t happen, they canceled that. The rotunda with the statue, that got flooded, right?
BOGAEV: That was useless.
STOTT: Let’s talk a little bit about the rotunda. Garrick sent his brother George ahead to do some of the onsite planning for the Jubilee during the summer. They realized that, as there was no single structure in town big enough to accommodate a large assembly or ball or mask or something like that, they would have to build one.
They built it in record time. They put it on the meadow where, if you’ve been in Stratford-upon-Avon, this is where the Shakespeare Festival Theater now resides, the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. So, they built it there, right next to the River Avon. Now, it’s a water meadow, right? It’s a flood plain, in other words. And, of course, the rain comes down. It doesn’t stop. It’s incessant. It does that British thing where it just rains and rains and rains and rains and rains, then it drizzles a bit, then it rains some more. Of course, the water level rose and rose and rose. And eventually, the Avon burst the banks and begins to seep into the meadow, which goes under the foundation of the rotunda. Then it goes into the rotunda. Then, before you know it, it’s up to your shins. And…
BOGAEV: I picture the thing just floating down, yeah.
STOTT: Yeah, this thing doesn’t have a foundation. It’s just built on top of a grass field, it doesn’t go down. So, it begins to levitate a little bit, you know, and they had to abandon it.
BOGAEV: There really should be a movie of this story.
STOTT: Oh, it would be great.
BOGAEV: I mean, what happened to the Shakespeare parade?
STOTT: So, the Shakespeare parade—this was perhaps the closest we get to anything like a Shakespeare performance, where Garrick brought the actors of Drury Lane and he also got some volunteers, the local children and other people who wanted to be in the pageant. The idea was that Shakespeare’s plays would be represented by two or three actors representing each play, representing a very notable bit of action. So, Macbeth would be holding a dagger. Lear would be sort of ranting on the moor, and that kind of thing. Romeo and Juliet would be sort of courting one another. They would parade through the town and then come into the rotunda just in front of Garrick as he began to deliver the ode. So, that was the idea. People would follow them in and it would be this…
BOGAEV: The big finale.
STOTT: Wonderful finale, right. But Garrick’s business partner, Lacy, absolutely forbade him to do this because the mud was so bad, the rain was so bad, the costumes would be destroyed and they would have no properties for the coming theatrical season.
So, they rowed. Garrick and Lacy didn’t get on. They had a very contentious relationship. Lacy was the classic moneyman. He’s only obsessed with the bottom line. Garrick’s like, “Well, what about the art?” You know, “What about the effect that I'm trying to produce, don’t you care about that?” But Lacy wins the day and so they stand outside in the rain getting ready and then it’s called off at the last minute. Garrick sends round a note to all the attendees apologizing for this and promising it will be performed the next day. But, of course, it never is, because the rain doesn’t stop.
BOGAEV: You do a great job throughout the book of pointing out how split the newspapers, the press, was. You had the newspapers taking one side or the other—and Garrick had his detractors. But in the end, given all of that, what can you conclude about this Jubilee, other than what we know, which is that it kept Shakespeare alive? Was it good? Was is it a good thing? Was it not? Who won in the end? Who were the winners?
STOTT: Right. I think that the Jubilee is one of the main stops along the route of the growth of Shakespeare’s reputation. It’s not the only one, but what the Jubilee does is it provides this incredible focal point. We can really see a consensual acceptance of Shakespeare, not only as the principle British literary genius, but the global literary genius.
BOGAEV: And for the city of Stratford?
STOTT: Well, for Stratford, it becomes the beginning of what becomes a very lucrative tourist industry. By the 19th century, it really gets its act together. The Jubilee really helped to do that. It helped to… There’s no such thing as a literary festival prior to the Jubilee. This kind of establishes this idea of literary pilgrimage, which in turn, you know, gets done on a smaller scale by individual tourists as people who would visit the place in order to, you know, go and look at the bed in which someone slept when they were a child.
BOGAEV: Well, you’re anticipating my next question really. The subtitle of your book is “The Jubilee That Made Shakespeare.” As you’re pointing out, this Jubilee accomplished a number of other things as well. Plenty of people on this podcast have said that the Jubilee is, as you say, one of the main reasons we’re still talking about Shakespeare at all. Why was this, you know, quasi-vanity project, that was actually practically a huge disaster, why would it be so significant?
STOTT: That’s a really intriguing question. I think it’s so significant because Garrick was such an important force, not only just as a celebrity, but as this kind of cultural arbiter. But also, I think there’s something in the fact that it was a disaster. I'm really interested in how culture is formed by the interaction of groups and moments around certain events. But I’m also interested in failure. I think there is something rich to be mined in those attempts of failure. Actually, I think that, as contradictory as it sounds, the failure of the Jubilee is an important part of its success. There’s this sense in which Shakespeare becomes so transcendent that even in our attempts to celebrate him, we fall short and we fail, right? The failure of the Jubilee becomes another way in which we can point to the fact that Shakespeare is much more than what we can make of him. He always somehow eludes us, in this sort of ineffable, you know, quasi-divine concept.
BOGAEV: That’s right. And we’re the mortal stragglers just trying to hold up the banner.
STOTT: Yeah. And our brains aren’t big enough to contain all of what he is.
BOGAEV: Well, thank you so much for this book and thank you for the conversation. You really brought it alive in such a vivid, vivid way. Really fun. Thank you.
STOTT: Great. Thank you so much.
WITMORE: Andrew McConnell Stott is a professor of English and divisional dean of undergraduate education at the University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He is the author of four books of non-fiction, the latest of which—What Blest Genius?: The Jubilee that Made Shakespeare—was published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2019. He was interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.
This podcast episode, “The Rain It Raineth Every Day,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Paul Luke at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California.
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Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu. And, if you find yourself in Washington, DC, please come and visit us on Capitol Hill. Take in a performance in our Elizabethan Theatre and come face to face with a First Folio—the first printed edition of Shakespeare's plays. We hope to see you here.
Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.