RIN’s summer event took place on one of the hottest evenings of the year, but a great crowd turned out to hear Frederick Burwick’s public lecture ‘Staging Shakespeare: picturing Shakespeare’s plays in the 18th and 21st centuries’.
A renowned expert on the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, Burwick’s starting point was the question: what relevance are the Boydell prints to the staging of Shakespeare?
His answer, in contrast to Richard Altick’s (in Painting From Books, 1985) is: quite a lot.
Burwick picked out 27 images which showed that many (not all) of the Boydell prints in fact have a close affinity with what a London audience might have witnessed on stage at the end of the 1700s.
He showed that, because many of the original paintings were done by artists who were also scene painters, the prints are a useful guide to what the 18th century stage would have looked like. Northcott and others asked actors such as Kemble to pose in their studios in role, and the paintings conform to the language of gesture in use on the stage at that time.
Indeed, Burwick’s lecture made it clear that the Boydell images remained an influence on subsequent Shakespeare productions, as Burwick drew comparisons with 20th and 21st century stagings.
At the wine reception (sponsored by the British Association for Romantic Studies) after the lecture, attendees were able to look at the digitized Shakespeare Gallery prints donated to RIN by Burwick, and also at items from the Westminster Archives extensive Theatre collection.