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Chapter 5 - Shakespeare, the North-West Passage, and the Russian War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2023

Amy Lidster
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
Sonia Massai
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

The ‘Crimean’ or Russian War (as its contemporaries termed it) was fought as a worldwide imperial struggle for power that took place on many fronts including in the Arctic. Just as tensions between Britain and Russia were coming to a head, The Taming of the Shrew premiered at the Royal Arctic Theatre on the HMS Resolute. Announced by a playbill that suggested monarchical patronage, the production employed all the conventions of London theatricals: grand decorations and costumes, a prologue and afterpiece, music and dancing. Threaded throughout with patriotic references, the theatre event culminated in a rousing rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’. Encouraging social cohesion and boosting morale, Shakespeare served as a reminder of shared British values and cherished traditions. Such expressions of unity and resolve were essential in anticipation of the war that was finally declared on 28 March 1854. William T. Mumford’s playbill brings to light this rich, complex, and forgotten moment in British wartime history in which ‘Shakespeare’ played a unique part as catalyst for affirming national identity, British naval pride, and loyalty to the Crown.

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Chapter
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Shakespeare at War
A Material History
, pp. 51 - 60
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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