The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2101  Tuesday, 4 September 2001

From:           Stevie Gamble <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 3 Sep 2001 22:31:08 +0100
Subject:        12.1793 Re: Winters Tale

I am indebted to Jim Shaw of the Shakespeare Institute for bring to my
attention Clifford Stetner's post of 22 August 2001.  In view of its age
I've repeated the previous posts on this in full; Clifford originally
stated, on 14th July 2001

>>>Sorry to be a pest, but I'm about to be away from my email for a month
>>>and wanted to mention that in one of my papers on The Winter's Tale I
>>>argue that Autolycus is identified in part as a fertility god because
>>>among his wares are "pins and poking sticks of steel, what maidens lack
>>>from head to heel..."

>>>"Spices for our Sheepshearing: the Three Masks of Autolycus and the Role
>>>of the Dramatist in the Jacobean State" available on request when I get
>>>back from Europe August 15.

to which I responded, on 17th July, 2001:

>>Well, surrounded as I am by pins, and worried as I am about the
>> technology which failed to replace the poking sticks, I suppose I should
>> stop worrying about recreating 16th century costume for Hamlet! The
>> Musical!, and start worrying about the staggering degree of ignorance of
>> the construction of 16th century dress, and the staggering degree of
>>ignorance as to the non-existence of fertility deities in 16th century
>> England, simultaneously demonstrated in this post. I grimly endured the
>> nonsense about Lammas fairs, but this is too much...
>> For anyone interested in the facts, rather than the fantasies, may I
> > commend to you: Janet Arnold's work, and, in particular _Queen
>> Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlocked_ and _Lost from Her Majesties Back_, and
>> Ronald Hutton's work, and, in particular, _The Pagan Religions of the >
British Isles_ ,
>> _The Rise and Fall of Merry England_, and _The Stations of the Sun; A >
History of the Ritual Year in Britain_.
> > And now I must get back to the pins...

Clifford  responded:

>Frankly, I couldn't care less whether you dress up Hamlet! the Musical? in
leather jockstraps, but on what basis do you gauge my >ignorance of

Your posts. This is generally regarded as the point of a mailing list...

>Obviously not on reading my paper.

Indeed so, see my note above re mailing lists. However, given the
staggering ineptness of these comments it is a little optimistic to
believe that someone is going to request your paper in the hope that it
may not be as silly as your posts.

>Anyone so impervious to poetic double entendre

I think it was Robin Hamilton who pointed out that there is a huge (and
in my view unbridgeable) gulf between wit and smut, and Sean Lawrence
who noted that whilst the Beavises and Buttheads of the world may be
able to find a snigger in everything they see, there is no justification
in assuming that we are all, Shakespeare included, Beavises and
Buttheads.  This isn't poetic double entendre; this is you finding
things to snigger over in the fond delusion that everyone else shares
your ignorance of life in western Europe during the Renaissance.

>ought not to be
>messing with productions of Shakespeare, musical or otherwise.

Gosh; we've reached the point when only people approved by you should be
allowed to take part in productions of Shakespeare, or shows based on

>As to fertility gods, the play is neither set in England nor the 16th

It was written in the early 17th century, and the items referred to in
the lines you quoted as proof that Autolycus should be identified in
part as a fertility god, "pins and poking sticks of steel, what maidens
lack from head to heel..." were sold in vast quantities across Europe
for centuries. Poking sticks were for ruffs, at the throat and wrists,
worn by both men and women, and as for pins: much of a maiden's
clothing  was held on by pins, every morning, and every time she changed
her clothes during the day, from headdresses to ruffs to her skirts,
literally from her head to her heel; it was a commonplace which everyone
knew: no pins, no clothes. I have yet to encounter a fertility deity
interested in putting a maiden's clothing on; it's the other way around.

>There were no oracles either, yet there it is.

The oracle is clearly identified in the play as the oracle; there is
nothing whatsoever in the play to identify Autolycus in the way you
assert. I note that you are unwilling to cite any authority whatsoever
for your statements, and have not commented on the work of Janet Arnold
or Ronald Hutton. If you think that they are wrong then it is usual to
explain why you think that they are wrong, not just ignore their

>Please do something constructive with your pins.

Oh, I am. There is a rather large hole in the work which has been done
on late sixteenth and early 17th century productions, both on practical
aspects of doubling and the number of female roles, stemming, I think,
from a lack of familiarity with the research on the way that clothing of
the period was constructed. Costuming a five actor Hamlet concentrates
the mind wonderfully; finding a path through competing theories on, for
example, the construction of farthingales, becomes essential when you
have approximately 45 seconds to get someone out of an Ophelia costume
and into doublet and breeches. Doing it for real, with lots of pins, not
many seams, and no Velcro, takes one into timescales much larger than is
commonly envisaged, hence my appreciation of the need for focusing my
research in considerable detail in this way. Oh, and there are all sorts
of descriptions of people getting skewered when endeavouring to make
amorous advances, or, for that matter, just bumping into each other. All
those roses with thorns, and Cupid's arrows, did have literal
backgrounds to the poetic allusions.  And last, but most certainly not
least, the production of Hamlet! The Musical! had an extremely
successful run at the Fringe; by day 7 of a 25 day run it was playing to
a full house, and remained in that happy state to the end, well over
3000 people thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am very glad that my work
helped them to enjoy it. You can see a review of it at:


My only complaint is that the BBC used old publicity shots, those are
not my costumes <g> It was filmed on the penultimate night for possible
inclusion in a television documentary about Hamlet, and if any of it
survives the cutting room floor I'll try and let people know so they can
see for themselves.

Stevie Gamble

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