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When Shakespeare played Shrewsbury: Evidence points to Bard's appearance in county town

Shrewsbury | News | Published:

He trod the boards with his theatre company The King's Men and set the majority of his plays in Italy – but today new evidence has emerged that suggests William Shakespeare came to Shrewsbury.

Organisers of the Shakespeare in Shrewsbury season have revealed research that indicates the writer must have visited the town on two occasions – and that one of his visits could have helped to inspire his most influential play.

Nine days of theatre will be staged in Shrewsbury to mark the 400th anniversary of The Bard's death on April 23.

Event co-ordinator Maggie Love says Shakespeare would certainly have come to Shrewsbury.

If true, the revelation is another string to Shrewsbury's bow as a tourist destination with a deep and interesting history.

She said: "Research reveals that his theatre company The King's Men were paid £30 to perform in the town between 1603 and 1605 whilst London was being ravaged by plague.

"Shakespeare would have been with them."

She added: "It is most likely that they would have performed his latest plays such as Hamlet and Othello in the courtyard of the then newly-built Council House in Castle Street.

"Shrewsbury was one of the top five towns in the country back then, so it was a natural place for the players to play."

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Theatre director Chris Eldon Lee is convinced the visit Maggie refers to would actually have been Shakespeare's second visit to the town.

"The accuracy of the writing of Henry VI Part I firmly suggest that he came here – possibly with his family – sometime before 1595 to talk to the descendants of those who fought in The Battle of Shrewsbury," he said.

"The tales he heard would have been so dramatic that no self-respecting playwright would have been able to resist.

"Harry Hotspur's body was famously carved up and dispatched to the four quarters of the kingdom.

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"That visit to Shrewsbury resulted in the play that really cemented Shakespeare's career. So he had a lot to be grateful to Shrewsbury for."

On his visits he would have seen Shrewsbury School – which is now home to Shrewsbury Library – Draper's Hall, which was built in 1485, and Rowley's House which was completed in the late 1500s.

To celebrate what the organisers say are 'cast iron connections' between Shakespeare and Shrewsbury, two full scale plays will be performed in the town.

Theatre Severn will stage Twelfth Night on April 22 and23 – and this will be followed by the premiere of Canadian writer Vern Thiessen's play Shakespeare's Will at The Wightman Theatre in The Square.

It is directed by Chris Eldon Lee with Shrewsbury actor Joanna Purslow playing Anne Hathaway on the day of her husband's funeral.

In a remarkable coup for Shrewsbury, Love Lee Production has been invited to preview the play at Elsinore Castle in Denmark – scene of Shakespeare's Hamlet – before bringing it to Shrewsbury from April 27 to 30.

Shrewsbury Heritage will be staging numerous free theatrical events on the anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

Co-organiser Beverley Baker said: "Examples of his plays and poetry will be performed in The Square and around the town."

Shoppers can expect to hear Henry V's rousing battle speech, the cursing of Macbeth's witches at their evil coven at Darwin's Gate, Romeo and Juliet's balcony scene in the Market Hall, and tiffs from The Taming Of The Shrew.

Meanwhile a children's Shakespeare festival will be taking place in The Castle grounds and Royal Shakespeare Company Educator Paul Higgins will be running a workshop on 'Hamlet' at The Wightman Theatre.

The day will be rounded off with a Shakespearian recital given by the Shropshire Drama Company at a gala banquet at Draper's Hall.

The full Shakespeare in Shrewsbury programme can be found at www.shrewsbury-events.co.uk

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