A Shakespeare Connected exhibition in collaboration with Elisabetta Tarantino, Honorary Research Fellow at the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford.

New work on the Italian sources of Twelfth Night has started to reveal something quite surprising: that these sources, and Twelfth Night itself, refer to what today we would call ‘sectarian violence’. Here we explore the ways in which a play – especially a comedy – can address an issue like this.

Watch out for examples of the fluidity of words. Language is the primary means through which we interact with our world. It is a way in which we can try to define and understand the horror of history. Words link us to one another, but they also divide us. They are, of course, the stuff of drama, alongside action and visual representation.

And words can get authors into trouble. In 1579 John Stubbs and his publisher had their right hands chopped off for likening the possible union of Queen Elizabeth with one of Catherine de Medici’s sons to the ‘mas sacring [sic] marriage’ of Catherine’s daughter to another Protestant ruler, Henri of Navarre (there is more about this wedding later on). Writers will often use different mechanisms of ‘allusion’ to create an alternative and ‘safer’ kind of language, for all sorts of reasons.

Images, too, tell a story. The complex lore on the life and features of saints was still functioning as a codified form of language, and can be traced in Shakespeare’s plays – just as Shakespeare’s father had to order the paintings in the Guild Chapel to be whitewashed, but they remained there under the surface.

What follows is an uncovering of tensions that lie just below the surface of Shakespeare’s drama (especially Titus Andronicus, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Sir Thomas More, and Twelfth Night), but which were all-too present to the culture of his times. And not least because of the religious wars in France.


For more information and an additional discussion of these items, including some bibliography, please visit http://www.ehrc.ox.ac.uk/shakespeare_and_religious_war.


With thanks to the Museums and Universities Partnership Initiative (an Arts Council funded project).