William Shakespeare’s tryst with a female fan

December 5, 2015 5:26 am

diary entry showing a rare glimpse into William Shakespeare’s character
will be on display to the public in a major Library exhibition
next year. Photo / Supplied

A diary entry showing a bawdy glimpse into Shakespeare’s character as
a womaniser will be on display to the public for the first time in a
major British Library exhibition next year.
The anecdote,
discovered by scholars inside the journal of a law student named John
Manningham, recounts an amusing story about Shakespeare, his actor
friend Richard Burbage and a tryst with a female fan.
In 1602,
Burbage was at the height of his fame playing Richard III at the Globe
Theatre. After one performance, a female admirer gave Burbage her name
and address and invited him to pay her a late-night visit, using the
code name “Richard III”.
In true Shakespearean comedy style,
William overheard this encounter and that evening, when Burbage arrived
to call on the woman, the playwright was already on the premises.
Shakespeare later sent a witty message to his friend and rival, which
stated: “William the Conqueror was before Richard III.”

Tanya Kirk, co-curator for the Shakespeare in Ten Acts
exhibition which marks the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death
next year, said the diary entry was an “intriguing insight” into the
playwright’s character. “There is so little evidence about what
Shakespeare was like as a person,” she said, “so things like [this] take
on huge significance.”
She added: “We think it’s true because
John Manningham did have mutual friends with Shakespeare such as Ben
Johnson and John Donne … The anecdote was obviously the talk of the
town at the time and it fits nicely in with the picture we have of
Shakespeare being a witty person.”
Burbage and Shakespeare were good friends and the playwright wrote many of his major characters to suit the actor’s skills.
diary entry, dated March 13, 1602, forms part of a wider exhibition
which Roly Keating, chief executive of the British Library, said “will
seek to cast a new light on how Shakespeare became the cultural icon he
is today”.
Other items in the exhibition – which runs from April
15 to September 6 next year – include the only surviving play script in
Shakespeare’s hand, one of only six authentic Shakespeare signatures and
rare print editions including the 1623 collection of his plays.

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