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Presentation of the four hangings of the Globe Theatre Project

Issue date: 
Friday, 22 April 1994
The Hon Dame Catherine Tizard, GCMG, GCVO, DBE, QSO

Lovers of the English language have been besotted with Shakespeare for 400 years now.

Shakespeare was probably happy with what he experienced - being loved at first sight - but the love has lasted. Teachers still instruct their pupils: "Muse on William Shakespeare's written thoughts and 'a thousand honey secrets shalt thou know.'" [Venus and Adonis] (Sweet Mr Shakespeare, indeed.)

Often, the pupils grumble and turn the task into work, but some see into the spirit of the man and turn themselves into the next generation of teachers.

With so many reluctant educational betrothals turning serious, it's clear that our Shakespearian affair is no mere infatuation - we are not juveniles being seduced by some Venus. The wedding of lovers of the language to its greatest writer has survived.

So you could argue that the Venus and Adonis panels of New Zealand's gift to the new Globe are somewhat misguided: Shakespeare noted in Twelfth Night that "Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage" - in which case, New Zealand is sounding the wrong warning, and doing so about four centuries too late.

The poem Venus and Adonis launched his reputation, hence the choice of these two characters as two of the four panels to be unveiled here today. After the poem's publication, Elizabethans began to see the extraordinary virtue and strength in his words: those qualities symbolised by the figures in the other two hangings - once again, the strength of Atlas and the virtue of "Hercules and his load" [Hamlet, II] are to grace the south bank of the Thames.

Yet there's an aspect of these two icons that Shakespeare may not have known about, being supposedly possessed of less Greek than was then deemed satisfactory. It is that perhaps it was not golden apples that Hercules was supposed to fetch from the Hesperides and that Atlas was supposed to help guard. It seems that the Greek words for "apple" and for "flock of sheep" were similar, or identical - how appropriate from the point of view of someone from the new Hesperides, New Zealand.

Whatever the truth of this, perhaps the artists who made the panels should have included cartoon speech balloons, to reveal what lines Shakespeare might have given Atlas and Hercules while they were being stabbed by the needles of their embroiderers: a line from The Tempest suggests itself - "How sharp the point of this remembrance is!" The rejoinder could come from Much Ado [II i]: "I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on ... "

There are acknowledgements to make on any occasion such as this. The Wellington Shakespeare Society is due much applause, for taking the initiative and offering to adorn the new Globe. The researchers who ensured that the fabric of this vision was not baseless [cf. The Tempest, IV] must be commended, together with all the other people who have contributed to this project in the decade it has taken to complete - the designer Dr Raymond Boyce and Kath Des Sorges, who supervised the embroiderers, the four hundred or so embroiderers themselves, and the people who contributed the $1.3 million needed to complete the works.

And I pay tribute to the memory of Sam Wanamaker, the man who inspired the rebuilding of the Globe: "O sir! you had then left unseen a wonderful piece of work which not to have been blessed withal would have discredited your travel." [Anth. & Cleo. II]

Now, after all this time, it is time to unveil the hangings. My questions for the unveilers - Dawn Sanders, Sheilah Winn, Ida Gaskin and Pat Cook - my questions are from Twelfth Night [I]: "Wherefore are these things hid? wherefore have these gifts a curtain before 'em?"

There was also a third question, which sounds as if Shakespeare foresaw problems with textile art - "are they like to take dust.....?"

Now that these hangings are for the first time on display in their eventual permanent home, I shall now exit stage left, pursued by - His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh. [cf. The Winter's Tale, III iii]

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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