Dame Judi Dench’s rehearsal script

The coffee stained pale blue card cover of this item does not divulge what you will find inside. There are some clues; some doodles, the handwritten name “Jude”, but it is otherwise unassuming. Opening it up you quickly realise it is a typescript of a play, and a good one, Edward Bond’s The Sea. Concurrently there is the recognition that this is covered with highlighted lines, annotations, a ms. cast list, and character and costume sketches, all in the hand of the person whose name appears at the top of the first page: “Judi Dench.”

The script really tells the story of working on the 1991 production from an actor’s perspective and shows the evident care that was taken in getting to know the character, in this case that of Mrs. Rafi. One of the best examples of this is the drawings of different glove styles, next to the passage in which Mrs. Rafi is shopping at a drapers’, examining their line in gloves. An amusing annotation appears at the end of a page of ms. notes made after a run-through: “VOICE INSTRUMENT OF BRAIN.” This item was kindly donated by Dame Judi to a charity auction.

By Louise Anderson, @LibrarianLCA

“As it was plaied before the Queenes Maiestie this Christmas …”

That is, before Elizabeth I, Christmas 1599.

In trying to find a College Library item related in some way to Christmas, which is not Victorian or later, I discovered Eton’s copy of The pleasant comedie of Old Fortunatus by the playwright and pamphleteer Thomas Dekker (c. 1572-1632). Details about Dekker’s life are somewhat sketchy and mostly come from his own writings. He was possibly of Dutch descent and lived in London all of his life. His writing betrays that he probably had the benefit of a grammar school education, being well versed in the classics, English literature, and the work of contemporaries (ODNB).

The pleasant comedie of Old Fortunatus is an example of Dekker’s early plays, being one of seven listed by Philip Henslowe’s diary before 1602. It is thought that eventually Dekker had a part in the writing of over 40 plays. The 1600 edition was revised for performance in front of the Queen from Dekker’s 1599 The whole history of Fortunatus, which was (according to his diary) originally written for Henslowe and his company, The Admiral’s Men, but may never have actually been performed before the alterations were made. The play ends in an appeal to Elizabeth I from the stage to decide the victor in a sub-plot, perhaps ensuring its success at court (Halstead, 1939).


Fort[une]: Thou art too insolent, see here’s a court

Of mortall Judges, lets by them be tride,

Which of us three shall most be defied.

Vice: I am content.

Fortune: And I.

Vert[ue]: So am not I.

My Judge shall be your sacred deity.”

The Eton College copy was part of the Anthony Storer bequest and so came to Eton in 1800. Some copies of this edition are missing leaf E2, which is possibly a deliberate cancel relating to the fall of the Earl of Essex (National Trust libraries catalogue). The Library’s copy is one of these, but the missing text has been copied in manuscript and tipped-in at the correct point. This was done before it came to the College but I cannot be sure exactly when. Eton College Library also holds 17 more first or early editions of plays authored (at least in part) by Thomas Dekker, including some of his most famous, The shoemakers holiday, The honest whore, and The witch of Edmonton.

Eton College Library wishes you all a Merry Christmas and will have more to come in the New Year.

By Louise Anderson, @LibrarianLCA

The three Henrys

In January 1951 the Old Vic Theatre presented Glen Byam Shaw’s production of Shakespeare’s Henry V to start the Festival of Britain year. Starring Alec Clunes as the king and the young Dorothy Tutin as a beguiling Katherine, it was a great success and is remembered today as the first serious staging of the play since Laurence Olivier’s wartime film. Clunes’ Henry was totally different from Olivier’s; in place of Olivier’s bravura and patriotic fervour, Clunes gave a more introspective performance. He was a king troubled about his legitimate right to the throne and worried about his responsibilities, but who could inspire his soldiers when the moment came. The public and the critics loved it, as it uncovered subtleties in what had previously been considered an unsubtle play.  Later that year at Stratford-upon-Avon, the young Richard Burton played King Henry in another memorable production.

In the Clunes archive in the Eton College Library, which I have just finished cataloguing, are documents which show the friendship that existed between the three King Henrys. Before the first night at the Old Vic Alec Clunes received a telegram from the Oliviers which read: ‘God and his Angels guard your sacred throne and may you long become it – Vivien and Larry Olivier’.

After his first night Richard Burton in a modest letter to Clunes wrote:

Dear Alec,

Thank you very much indeed for your telegram. Very kind of you, and I certainly needed it. I can’t tell you how very delighted I was to get it.

A couple of critics were rather savage to me and it took me a day or two to get over them. I suppose I must get used to it!

Thank you again Alec. I wish I’d been able to see your performance, but so many people told me that you were superb that I, being at my age naturally derivative, though it best not to go.

Sincerely, Richard Burton.