Winter of discontent made glorious summer as English students battle it out at Bosworth
As part of the First Year BA English module ‘Renaissance Drama: Shakespeare and his Contemporaries’, about two dozen students gave up their Wednesday afternoons in March to really get to grips with the play and its historical context. In this they were assisted by two East Midlands-based theatre companies, Lostboys and 1623.
The Battle of Bosworth Field, the penultimate clash in the Wars of the Roses which features in the fifth and final act of Shakespeare’s play, took place in 1485 outside the Leicestershire village of Market Bosworth, just up the road from the University.* The students headed over there last month to learn stage combat techniques from members of Lostboys.
Obviously we weren’t going to let our undergraduates use anything too dangerous, so while the actors had metal swords, the students made do with a couple of pieces of garden cane lashed together and a good helping of imagination. After learning the basic moves, they were let loose outside to “Arm, fight, and conquer, for fair England's sake!”
The second week of the project moved to the University where Dr Andrew Hopper from our Centre for English Local History led a discussion on the historical aspects of the battle. Dr Mary Ann Lund from our School of English spoke about how Shakespeare rewrote his chronicle sources in his account of the battle, Dr Sarah Knight from English discussed the use of classical rhetorical technique in the battle orations, and Ben Spiller from 1623 explored the play’s representation of Tudor ideology.
Students were also given the chance to direct an actor performing the battle orations of Richard and Richmond, considering how combat technique, rhetorical devices and verbal emphasis all enhance Shakespeare’s characterisation:
The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar,
That spoiled your summer fields and fruitful vines,
Swills your warm blood like wash, and makes his trough
In your embowelled bosoms - this foul swine
Is now even in the center of this isle,
Near to the town of Leicester, as we learn.
Finally the students, actors and academics came together to discuss what they had gained from this unique – and sometimes very physical – investigation of the Bard’s second longest drama.
This was an optional set of workshops and the students would normally have been doing sports or other recreation on Wednesday afternoons but by getting involved with this project they have developed an understanding of the play and its origins which you could never get by simply reading it off the page.
Great God of heaven, say amen to all!
But tell me, is young George Stanley living?
He is, my lord, and safe in Leicester town,
Whither, if it please you, we may now withdraw us.
*Recent research suggests the actual fight happened a couple of miles away from the location of the current visitor centre.