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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: October ::
Re: Holinshed Anecdote
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1976  Wednesday, 25 October 2000.

From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Oct 2000 10:29:37 -0400
Subject: Re: Holinshed Anecdote
Comment:        SHK 11.1968 Re: Holinshed Anecdote

Sean Lawrence claims that when Lady Mortimer speaks Welsh she becomes
'effectively isolated from everyone except her father . . . the actors
could have just made a meaningless jabber, used to indicate that they
were speaking in Welsh'.

Oh dear. I suspect that Shakespeare's audience was much less
anaesthetised by English than we are. Try a bit of history. After the
battle of Bosworth, it began to look as if Merlin's prophecies about the
return of a Welsh hero-King to rule over the whole island of Britain had
come true. Henry VII was a Welshman. He packed his court with his
countrymen, named his eldest son Arthur, and observed St. David's day.
With the unfolding of the Welsh Tudor dynasty, Welsh-speakers poured in
to London, moving, as the historian Gwyn A Williams puts it, into 'every
conceivable avenue of advancement'.  The process reached its climax in
the reign of Elizabeth 1, a monarch denounced by A.L.Rowse as 'that
red-headed Welsh harridan'.   One direct result was the rise to
prominence of Welsh families such as that of Dafydd Seisyllt, whose
grandson became William Cecil, Elizabeth's key statesman, or indeed that
of Morgan Williams, which three generations later produced Oliver
Cromwell.  Not surprisingly, Welsh and Welsh-speaking actors found their
way -then as now- onto the stage. At least two of them worked with
Shakespeare.

Under Elizabeth, what Williams calls the 'remote and distinguished past'
of the Welsh effectively made available -at least in influential
intellectual terms- some sort of underpinning for the new 'British'
national identity.  Their very presence bore out claims for the ancient
existence of that complete 'world' of independent Britishness, of which
the Arthurian legends spoke.  Geoffrey of Monmouth's British History
swiftly became semi-official doctrine.   A London Welshman, John Dee,
calling himself Elizabeth's 'Brytish philosopher,' is said to have
coined the term 'British Empire'.  And Dee's proposal of the Welshman
Madoc as the discoverer of America 300 years before Columbus was seized
on by a whole generation as a cultural and quasi-legal weapon against
Spain.

In other words, the Welsh and their language were -and are- part of what
'British' means.  In that context, what on earth can you mean by
'isolated' and 'meaningless jabber'? Perhaps you'd do better to ponder
the implications of the term 'insular'.

T. Hawkes
 

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