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King's Shakespearean Scholarly Feast

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Henry Morley (c) Goodenough College; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As Shakespeare400 celebrations culminate, King’s leadership of the consortium reflects the university’s rich and distinguished history of  Shakespeare scholarship. Today’s  Shakespeare specialists  at King’s follow in the footsteps of literary and entertainment luminati such as William Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, who attempted to replace the King’s Engineering Society with Shakespearean and Dramatic Reading Society’ in the 1850s. Similarly, Virginia Woolf whose interpretation ‘Shakespeare’s sister’, in A Room of One’s Own, posits how an imaginary, ‘wonderfully gifted’, Judith Shakespeare, with talents equal to those of her brother, would have tried, and failed, to become a great dramatist. Woolf deplored the equation of Shakespeare with English patriotism but also characterised him as a writer who spoke directly to women.

One early Shakespeare expert was Henry Morley, a teacher in King’s pioneering evening classes from 1857. Known as ‘More and Morley’ because of his huge range of literary editions, he believed that Shakespeare ‘spoke home to the heart of the common man’. Morley’s successor George MacDonald produced an edition of Hamlet in 1885 based on the first Folio, while the 1884 Notes and Essays on Shakespeare, by King’s Professor John Wesley Hales, is still in print and still available on Kindle today.

Caroline Spurgeon & Israel Gollancz (c) Goodenough College; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Caroline Spurgeon, an alumna of the King’s Ladies’ Department, and one of the country’s first women professors in 1913, described her discovery of a copy of Shakespeare’s works annotated by John Keats. Sir Israel Gollancz, a hugely influential Professor of English at King’s, was founder and editor of the Temple Shakespeare (the most popular edition of its day) – and the driving force behind Shakespeare’s Tercentenary celebrations in 1916 and inspiration for  Gordon McMullan’s  drive behind Shakespeare400.


More recently, general editors of the influential Arden Shakespeare series have included King’s emeritus professors Richard Proudfoot and Ann Thompson (who also edited Hamlet for the series). The  MA in Shakespeare Studies  jointly offered with Globe Education is now in its 17th year. The university now boasts a  plethora of specialists  in Shakespeare’s period, his life and his work.

Image credits: (c) Goodenough College; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation, Bloomsbury and Globe Theatre