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Domestic Shakespeare: Lena Cowen Orlin

Strand Campus
Lecture, Other, Workshop
13/02/2016 (13:00-15:00)

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Domestic Shakespeare: A Lecture by Lena Cowen Orlin Followed by a Performance Workshop 

A lecture by Lena Cowen Orlin, 'The Second-Best Bed', followed by an exploration by professional actors and King's academics of the glimpses we see of Shakespeare’s life through the brief records he left behind.

Professor Lena Cowen Orlin (Georgetown University) will give a lecture on 'The Second-Best Bed', drawing on her upcoming book The Private Life of William Shakespeare, in which she considers a range of archival records to build fresh contexts for understanding Shakespeare’s marriage to Anne Hathaway, his life in London, his retirement to Stratford, and his last will. In the process, she will explore some of the myths of Shakespearean biography.

Professor Orlin will also discuss the Bellott vs Mountjoy case, a legal dispute over a bride’s dowry, which involved the family who owned the London house where Shakespeare lodged during some of his most significant years as a playwright. Shakespeare was instrumental in bringing together the married couple, and was a key witness in the case. Documents from this case will be on display at the exhibition curated by the National Archives and the London Shakespeare Centre, By me William Shakespeare.

A team of actors, directed by Dr Emma Whipday (King’s College London), will bring to life the voices from this case, alongside extracts from other records of marital disputes that went to court in the period.

Professor Laura Gowing (King’s College London) will discuss what we can learn from these cases, and how looking at other cases can illuminate Shakespeare’s involvement with a wedding, a family quarrel, and a court case. The event will close with a roundtable discussion of what these glimpses from the archives can tell us about Shakespeare’s life, and about the love affairs, quarrels, and legal disputes of long-forgotten inhabitants of early modern London.


Lena Cowen Orlin is Professor of English at Georgetown University and Executive Director of the Shakespeare Association of America. She is the author of Locating Privacy in Tudor London (2009) and Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England (1994), and she co-edited The Bedford Shakespeare (2015). She is a general editor of the Arden State of Play series and the Oxford Shakespeare Topics series. For her interdisciplinary research into the material culture of private life in Shakespeare´s time she has travelled throughout Great Britain studying historic houses and exploring manuscript archives for legal records, property documents, and family papers from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 

Laura Gowing is Professor of Early Modern English History at King’s College London. Laura has published extensively on how legal records illuminate the lives of women in early modern England. Her publications include: Domestic Dangers: Women, Words and Sex in Early Modern London (1996), which won The Society for the Study of Early Modern Women Award for the Best Book 1996. Laura is currently working on women and the city of London companies in the seventeenth century.

Emma Whipday is Teaching Fellow in Shakespeare and Early Modern English Literature at King’s College London. She is also a Globe Education Lecturer at Shakespeare’s Globe. Emma studied English at Oxford, and has an MA and PhD from UCL. She has taught at UCL, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and Brasenose College, Oxford.


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