Fire stopped play: Shakespeare, Henry VIII, and the day the Globe burned down (Public lecture, 5th September)

When Shakespeare’s Globe caught fire during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613, this presented a very literal form of dramatic climax. But as Laura Jayne Wright will show at our next Late Summer Lecture, it also provides an excuse to revisit some of Shakespeare’s other endings. All welcome to Alington House, Durham on 5th September from 17.30.

On June 29th, 1613, Shakespeare and Fletcher’s new play, Henry VIII was performed – but not for long. Before the second act was over, the discharging of chamber shots, meant to mark the entrance of the actor playing Henry, set the thatched roof of the Globe playhouse on fire. The building was evacuated; the play was cut short; the performance was left unfinished. Using Henry VIII as a starting point, this lecture will consider the different ways in which an early modern play can end (or not quite end).

Considering last lines, epilogues spoken at the end of a play, and the sound of applause, this lecture will explore what happens when the play stops. What do we make of The Taming of the Shrew, a play that may be missing an ending? Or of King Lear, the conclusion of which Shakespeare changed? Or of Romeo and Juliet, the end of which is revealed to us in its opening lines? And what of the conclusion of Henry VIII itself, the conclusion that was not staged in June 1613? In the final scene, Shakespeare and Fletcher look backwards eighty years to the reign of Henry VIII, cutting its Tudor history short with the arrival of a new Elizabethan queen. As Henry kisses his new born child, it seems that all’s well that ends well: but are endings ever so simple?

About Laura Jayne Wright

Laura Jayne Wright is completing a DPhil at the University of Oxford, researching sound effects in early modern drama (1590-1625), under the supervision of Professor Emma Smith. Her working title is ‘“full of sound and fury”: sound effects and their significance on the early modern stage.’ This project encompasses a wide range of playwrights, including Shakespeare, and examines both canonical and more obscure plays. Her wider research interests include theatre history and performance studies. She has a great interest in public engagement and access work and hopes to make these a large part of her time as a graduate student.

From snake-women to satirical pamphlets, the beginnings of sound film to the Islamic mythology in literature: Late Summer Lectures brings you the latest thoughts from early-career researchers at Northern universities. The series is free and everyone is warmly welcome, from school and university students to the general public. There will be a chance to ask questions of the speakers, and to socialise afterwards over free refreshments.

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