The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0549 Thursday, 5 December 2013
From: Ian Gadd <
Date: December 5, 2013 at 4:32:02 AM EST
Subject: Anne Barton
Just over a dozen years ago, I found myself giving a seminar paper in Anne Barton’s rooms in Trinity. (And we were, literally, in her rooms: I was sitting in an armchair with various faculty dotted on sofas and chairs, and graduate students sprawled across the floor.) My paper sought to compare early modern censorship practices with those relating to the control of guns and gunpowder, primarily to compare regulatory models and protocols but also to posit an alternative means for assessing just how anxious the Tudor and Stuart governments were about the printed word.
As a young gauche post-doctoral fellow, I had toyed with the idea of beginning the seminar with a visible affirmation of the different symbolic power of books and guns, by bringing in both an early printed book and a (replica) early modern firearm. To that end, I had several telephone conversations with various officers in the university before realising that the paperwork—and the very real risks—associated with carrying something that looked like a gun across a British city in broad daylight and into a Cambridge college was just too much. So I began the paper by apologising for not having brought a gun with me . . .
. . . whereupon Professor Barton, sitting in the far corner, interjected: ‘But I have one here’. She opened a nearby drawer and pulled out a nineteenth-century pistol. Seldom has there been such a frisson in a Renaissance literature seminar. And, it must be said, it took a considerable effort to re-compose myself in order to deliver the rest of the paper.
During the drinks afterwards, it transpired that the pistol belonged to her great(?)-grandfather who, if I recall correctly, was the youngest Confederate general in the US civil war. It had been passed down the generations until it had reached Professor Barton, who had brought it to England but was a bit baffled with what to do with it next. It hadn’t been licensed or made safe. (She was holding the pistol when she made the latter revelation, prompting the circle around her to take an ever-so-small step backwards.)
That was my only personal encounter with Anne Barton, but I could hardly ask for a more memorable one. Should I ever finally write up that paper, it will open with the line: ‘This all began with Anne Barton drew a gun on me.’