Shakespeare and the Stratford Jubilee

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Two stories prevail about the Stratford Jubilee of 1769: firstly, that torrential rain stopped play; and secondly, that there was no play to be stopped. This soggy celebration, during which no work of Shakespeare was performed, is often seen, nonetheless, as a landmark in Shakespeare’s rising status, an event that put Stratford-upon-Avon on the map, and turned Shakespeare into a god. It arose when actor David Garrick was approached by the Stratford Corporation in 1767 to fund a statue of Shakespeare for Stratford’s new town hall, and culminated in September 1769 in three days of processions, a masquerade, a ball, fireworks, songs and speeches, in which Shakespeare was variously hailed as ‘immortal’, ‘divine’, a ‘conjuror’, ‘the pride of all Nature’ and the ‘lad of all lads’. This chapter investigates this convergence of different languages of praise on the Jubilee, from sacred reverence to pagan celebration; as well as the discourses of patriotism, fashion and commerce. Piecing out this array of different languages, this chapter argues that it is in the clashes and contradictions between them, rather than in any straightforward act of deification, that ‘Shakespeare’ is elevated by the Jubilee. In these contrasts, and in the gaps between the terms in which he is praised, ‘Shakespeare’ is elevated to an ethereal, transcendent place, seemingly beyond adequate description. The ultimate language of the Jubilee, however – and the place where these contrasts live on – is in the enduring practice of telling stories about it. From visitors and satirists in 1769 to present-day scholars, accounts of the Jubilee have turned its details – grand plans, lowly Stratford, the rained-off pageant, Garrick’s transfixing ‘Ode’, and the immortal bard at the centre of it all – into a set of compelling tropes that are inherited and redeployed in every new cultural narrative. This chapter thus finally reveals that the Jubilee’s significance in the reception of Shakespeare comes not from the event itself but from the powerful narrative of triumph and disaster it offers in the telling. It shows that, in the story of Shakespeare’s growing status, the Jubilee’s failures are just as important as its act of veneration, continuing to this day to elevate ‘Shakespeare’ above its earnest but doomed attempt to praise him.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShakespeare in the Eighteenth Century
EditorsFiona Ritchie, Peter Sabor
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages276
ISBN (Print)978-0-521-89860-7
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Jubilee
  • David Garrick
  • Shakespeare
  • reception


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