Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 15, No. 4. March 27, 1952
Sheppard on Shakespeare
Sheppard on Shakespeare
Few scholars to have lectured in this College have pleased their audiences as much as did Sir John Sheppard on March 14. Lecturing on "Shakespeare and the Classics" to an enthralled three hundred and fifty, the Provost of King's College, Cambridge, held their interest from the moment he clambered over the bench to perch precariously facing them looking, as a member of our staff put it, like "a intellectual Churchill." To term his style as [unclear: unique] would be trite. To an audience in most cases so often disappointed' with monotonously dull discourses it was refreshing to listen to a speaker so relaxed and so knowledgeable as Sir John.
It was G. M. Trevelyan, perhaps the most humane of all our historians, who said "Our thanks ore due to the founder of Stratford Grammar School—and although we may think (judging from our own experiences perhaps) that Shakespeare would not have endorsed Trevelyan's remark, we may be sure from the illustrations Sir John gave in his address that Shakespeare did love his school. True, it was as Ben Jonson (who wrote fairly good, half alive plays) wrote, "I'm a better scholar than Shakespeare but he is a better poet than I am." It is a true judgement.
King's College—a Glimmer
The story really begins when England had a chance of peace at the end of a war, in the middle of the sixteenth century—that dark period when there was only one glimmer of light, King's College, Cambridge—Shakespeare was born. That year (1564) was important for two things The births of Shakespeare and Marlowe and the fact that Queen Elizabeth stayed at King's College, Cambridge, for three days. The Queen, it appeared, rode to the Chapel with the Chancellor of the College and dismounted inside, the Chancellor remaining outside. Whereupon the Queen punned, "I see, Mr. Chancellor, that you are halting in your place. I hope you are not halting in your Latin." The Chancellor (we hope) looked sufficiently amused; but in any case the applause must have been ample for she stayed at King's for three days, listening to plays in the ante-chamber. The third play was entitled "Dido" and was acted in Latin by the Cambridge boy players. We can skip Sir John's amusing historical digressions; suffice it to say that the Queen liked "Dido" the best of the three she heard but nevertheless became bored with King's College, Cambridge. She moved away to another hall followed by the players who presented a play in English. Unfortunately, this play poked fun at certain ecclesiastical dignitaries which the Queen had had lodged in the Tower, and as some Spanish envoys were dining with the Queen at the time she became annoyed. Crying out "Take away the lights" she swept out of the hall, leaving the players in darkness and disgrace, and thus providing the theme for an incident in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" when the king on seeing the murder re-enacted in the murky gloom of the hall cries out "More light, more light."
The classics taught at Stratford Grammar School (Ovid and Virgil) demonstrably influenced Shakespeare's plays and poetry. Sir John showed how a certain Thomas Jenkins, usher at Stratford School, was the model for Sir Hugh Evans in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and how many scenes in his plays echo Shakespeare's school experiences. He finished on a theme which should be of some small consolation to the English classes. In his own words—it is a great debt we owe to scholarship that Anglo-Saxon was made capable of carrying the ideas which influenced Europe.