On Saturday I went to Stratford to see the Tempest. I went thinking it was not my favourite play by a long way. I was amazed at the stunning performance, which brought the magic to life and made some sense of Prospero’s ramblings. The Director used African magic on the enchanted island, vibrant with colour, dance and music. It was an astonishing spectacle. Prospero’s use of the spirits to straighten out his corrupted and broken world was masterful. The act of forgiveness as they put legitimate authority back in charge at the end seemed appropriate rather than naïve. If only Ariel were still for hire!
Before the play I visited the Shakespeare properties, which I had last been inside in my youth. How different they are. It reminded me just how interpretations of the past change to reflect modern preoccupations and understandings.
The Birthplace has been bedecked with wall hangings. An older cot is lined with cloth to avoid splinters we are told, and the bed displays a child’s bed extension where before there was an orderly scene of a made up adult bed and a child’s cot without lining beneath the white walls. We are now advised that people slept upright, so the old pillows have been replaced.
Bigger changes have occurred at Mary Arden’s House. The House I visited before has been downgraded to John Palmer’s house. Mary Arden’s house is now a red brick house (concealing an older house beneath ) set out with Victorian range and laundry. The house proud domesticity of the Great Hall to the old Mary Arden’s House has been banished. That house has been converted into an untidy centre for displaying a range of different Tudor crafts.
I wondered about conjuring and con tricks. The misrepresentation of Mary Arden’s house was a genuine mistake. The different treatment of the Birthplace was their best guess at the time. Who knows how these properties will be presented in fifty years time, and who knows what more may be discovered about how they once were?
At Dr Hall’s house the interesting question was his medical approach. The few case notes on display reminded us that he was like all Tudor and Stuart Doctors a herbalist. Doubtless many modern Doctors would say he got some of his diagnoses wrong, and woudl argue that many of his remedies would have had little if any effect. They often seem to treat herbalist predecessors as unwitting charlatans. Dr Hall did praise Harvey for his assertion of the circulation of the blood, at a time when most Doctors condemned the radical idea that the heart is a large pump to push blood around in circles. What was clear from the property was that Dr Hall was shrewd businessman, who knew his medical market well and made a good living from his practise. I wonder how modern medicine will be viewed in some future century?