Shakespeare at King's
King’s has a rich, long and distinguished history of Shakespeare scholarship, and many interesting characters have contributed to the College’s reputation in this area.
The College offered ‘English literature and composition’ from its opening in 1831, and appointed the first professor of English literature (and history), Revd Thomas Dale, in 1835.
See below the biographies and achievements of some of the notable lecturers and students who contributed to Shakespeare studies.
'This is not “writing” at all. Indeed, I could say that Shakespeare surpasses literature altogether, if I knew what I meant.'
Virginia Woolf, who studied at King's Ladies' Department
The first King’s teacher to publish substantially on Shakespeare was Henry Morley (1822-94) a King’s graduate, medical doctor and journalist on Charles Dickens’ periodicals Household Words and All the Year Round who taught English in the King’s evening classes from 1857. Known as ‘More and Morely’, he published 63 volumes of Morley’s Universal Library, 214 volumes of Cassell’s Library of English Literature and the first 11 volumes of English Writers. His Journal of a London Playgoer, from 1851 to 1866 includes many reviews of Shakespearean performances, showing his appreciation of the fine distinction between tragic and melodramatic acting, and his belief that Shakespeare ‘spoke home to the heart of the common man’.
Perhaps Morley’s enthusiasm for Shakespeare was responsible for the attempt in 1857 by the arts undergraduate William Schwenck Gilbert (later of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) to replace the College’s Engineering Society with a ‘Shakespearean and Dramatic Reading Society’.
John Wesley Hales
George MacDonald (1824-1905) who taught English in the King’s evening classes from 1866 to 1868, was a poet, dramatist and a founder of the genre of fantasy fiction, through his Phantastes(1858); At the Back of the North Wind, and The Princess and Curdie. He was also a percipient scholar and editor of the journal Shakespeare. He published A Dish of Orts: Chiefly Papers on the Imagination, and on Shakespeare in 1893, and in 1885 his edition of Hamlet based on the first Folio and justified by the theory of authorial revision was the first Shakespeare edition to use this principle.
John Wesley Hales (1836-1914), who taught in the evening classes from 1868 to 1869, and was then Professor of English from 1877 to 1903, published papers on Shakespeare in magazines including theQuarterly Review, the Cornhill Magazine and theAthenaeum.
These were collected in Notes and Essays on Shakespeare (1884) and are still in print as a paperback and selling briskly through Amazon.
Caroline Spurgeon (1869-1942) was a student at the King’s College Ladies’ Department in the 1890s who became Professor of English literature in the University of London in 1913 and was head of the Department of English at Bedford College.
She discovered a copy of Shakespeare annotated by Keats, and also wrote the influential Shakespeare’s Imagery and what it tells us (1935).
Another student of the King’s Ladies’ Department who became a highly discerning reader of Shakespeare was Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). Woolf’s concept of ‘Shakespeare’s sister’ (in A Room of One’s Own) imagines how a ‘wonderfully gifted’ Judith Shakespeare, with talents equal to those of her brother, would have tried, and failed, to become a great dramatist, while in her novels and elsewhere Woolf deplores the equation of Shakespeare with English patriotism but also characterizes him as a writer who spoke directly to women through his insight into the inner life. In her 1930 diary Woolf describes Shakespeare’s ‘stretch & speed & word coining power’, and adds: ‘This is not “writing” at all. Indeed, I could say that Shakespeare surpasses literature altogether, if I knew what I meant’.
George Bagshawe Harrison
Israel Gollancz (1863-1930) - later Sir Israel - was the first non-Christian professor to be appointed after the abolition of religious tests at King’s (in 1903) and remained until 1930. Gollancz was a medievalist, a Shakespearean and a cultural entrepreneur of astonishing energy: a founding member and the first Secretary of the British Academy; founder and editor of the popular Temple Shakespeare; Chairman of the Shakespeare Association; editor of Shakespeare Survey; and the driving force behind the UK’s celebration of the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916. He was honorary secretary of the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre committee, which sought to create a National Theatre in memory of Shakespeare, a project which took over fifty years to achieve; he edited A Book of Homage to Shakespeare, which included 166 contributions from across the Globe; and he created the ‘Shakespeare Hut’, YMCA soldiers’ respite accommodation for Anzac troops, on the proposed site of the memorial theatre in Bloomsbury, in which leading actors, including Ellen Terry, performed during the war. His publications, apart from the Book of Homage, included Hamlet in Iceland(1898) and The Sources of Hamlet (1926) as well as a series of editions of medieval texts.
The novelist Storm Jameson includes an affectionate description of Gollancz’s lectures at King’s in 1913 in her autobiography: ‘He made atrociously poor jokes at the expense of his handful of students and drew enchanting diagrams on the blackboard. He taught nothing, so that in desperation his students had to read Shakespeare for themselves, which was good for them.’
George Bagshawe Harrison (1894-1991) came to King’s in 1924, where he was a tutor in journalism, and was the author of Shakespeare’s Fellows (1923), Elizabethan Plays and Players (1940), Shakespeare’s Critics: from Jonson to Auden (1964); England in Shakespeare’s Day (1928) and Shakespeare at Work (1933). He was also general editor of the Penguin Shakespeare between 1937 and 1959.
Professor Geoffrey Bullough (1901-1982) was Professor of English Language and Literature at King’s from 1946 to 1968 and a Fellow of King’s. He was the author of the hugely important 8 volumes of Narrative and Dramatic sources of Shakespeare (1957 -1975) and Shakespeare the Elizabethan (1963). The author and King’s alumna Susan Hill has recently commented that he ‘was a wonderful Shakespearean scholar and taught me all about the Metaphysical Poets.’
John Crow (1904-1969) was a lecturer at King’s from 1945 and a distinguished scholar in the field of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. He was the author of Folklore of Elizabeth Drama (1947) and of ‘Deadly Sins of Criticism, or Seven Ways to Get Shakespeare Wrong’, published in the Shakespeare Quarterly in 1958.
Professor Richard Proudfoot, who retired from King's in 1999, is Senior General Editor of the Arden Shakespeare: in this role he has trained and encouraged scores of scholars in the fine art of Shakespearean editing. In 2002 LSC members Gordon McMullan and Ann Thompson edited a collection of essays celebrating Professor Proudfoot’s distinguished contribution to
Shakespeare Studies. In Arden: Essays in Honour of Richard Proudfoot contained contributions from an international array of scholars, including Jean Howard, David Scott Kastan, Lois Potter, Kate McLuskie, Catherine Belsey, Suzanne Gossett and many others.