The Royal Gala of 1830: an archive of Shakespearean broadsides from Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Gala of 1830: an archive of Shakespearean broadsides from Stratford-upon-Avon

[Shakespeare, William (1564ish – 1616)] The Royal Shakespearean Club. A Collection of eight (8) broadsides relating to the Royal Gala of 1830. Stratford-upon-Avon: various printers, 1830. Sizes range from a handbill of 22 cm to a poster weighing in at a whopping 148 cm (almost 5 feet). All generally in fine condition.

An important archive of locally printed posters and broadsides for the Royal Gala hosted by the Royal Shakespearian Club in Stratford-upon-Avon from 23 to 27 April 1830. Probably collected by a member of the Club and carefully preserved for almost 200 years, these materials are impossibly rare. Of the eight publications in the archive, five are unrecorded; the other three are each known in only one other extant copy, all held by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford.

As scholars have noted, the Royal Gala of 1830 was a watershed moment in Bardolatry. In 1769, David Garrick staged the first celebration of Shakespeare in Stratford. But as literary historians have often remarked, that event was as much a celebration of Garrick as it was of Shakespeare. In contrast, the Royal Gala of 1830 focused its dramatic eye more narrowly on the Swan of Avon. The headliner, Charles Kean, would later be lionized as one of the greatest actors of the age. But he was then only 19 years old, too green to dominate the spotlight. Unlike the Jubilee of 1769, which celebrated Shakespeare without actually staging any of his plays, the Royal Gala of 1830 featured multiple performances.

            Further, the Royal Gala, which reportedly attracted 30,000 participants, was staged over a week that encompassed both Shakespeare’s birthday and that of the King. The playwright and the monarch were toasted in equal measure. The event’s sponsors included the King, the Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Plymouth, and other nobility. Marching in its processions were both real-life titled figures and performers clad as the lords, ladies, and kings of the plays. Kean led the parade armored as St. George, England’s patron and a proxy for the king, George IV. The event thus blended the local and the national, the literary and the political, irrevocably establishing Shakespeare’s special status as a symbolic constituent of British identity. Literary historian Robert Sawyer suggests that the 1830 Gala anticipated festivals in Edinburgh, Avignon, and elsewhere in being the first event to combine theater and tourism (though we suspect that the organizers of the Dionysia of ancient Greece and the Passion play at Oberammergau might have rather beaten the Royal Shakespearian Club to the punch).

            The present archive offers extensive opportunities for research by expanding significantly the corpus of primary sources the Royal Gala of 1830. Until now, the major source of information on the event has been a descriptive volume written by a member of the Royal Shakespearean Club, which offers details on the pageant but not on the performances, much to the frustration of historians like Robert Sawyer. In an earlier study, Isabel Roome Mann found two broadsides in the Stratford archives (both represented in this collection), and a pamphlet, but she too was left to speculate on the details. This archive fills important gaps in the history of this key moment in the cultural construction of Shakespeare’s place in British national memory.

Catalogue of the Collection

1. S. Gwinnett, Secretary of the Shakspeare Club, Second Commemorative Festival at Stratford-upon-Avon in Honour of the Natal Day of Shakspeare... Stratford-upon-Avon: Printed by J Ward, March 4th, 1830. 3 pieces of paper, glued horizontally, to make a single poster 147 x 26 cm. Old folds but a fine copy.  Only one other copy recorded, at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (DR342/16), which is trimmed more narrowly than this example.

Released by the Club six weeks before the event, this enormous poster was designed to attract subscribers and recruit performers. After a brief list of patrons and a concise remarks on the genesis of the Gala, the poster offers a lengthy description of the planned “pageant of Shakespeare’s principal Dramatic Characters.” Led by St. George and the muses of tragedy (Melpomene) and comedy (Thalia), they included Lear, Mad Tom, Coriolanus, the Macbeths, Banquo, Hamlet, Polonius, Ophelia, Falstaff, Oberon, Titania, Puck, Bottom, and a certain quantity of Witches, Merry Wives, and Fairies. The poster is illustrated with woodcuts of the emblem of The Corporation of Stratford-upon-Avon and a pavilion specially constructed for the celebrations. Noting that a masquerade would be a highlight of the festival, the poster notes that “Dresses, Masks, Dominos, &c.” might be acquired locally from Mr. Charles Wright.

2. Shakspearean Festival, Stratford-upon-Avon in Commemoration of the Adopted Birth-day of His Most Gracious Majesty... and the Natal-Day of the Illustrious Poet, Shakspeare, April 23rd, 1830 and Following Days. Stratford-upon-Avon: W Barnacle, Printer, &c., [1830]. 111 x 27 cm. Printed on 2 pieces of paper glued along a horizontal fold. Old folds, 1 cm square hole adjacent to the crown on the Royal Crest. Only one other copy recordedat the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (DR342/17).

Surmounted by a large (20x13cm) woodcut of the Royal Crest, this large poster explicitly links Shakespeare with the monarch, and by extension the people of England, with such proof texts as: “The King’s name is a tower of strength” (Richard III). The further descriptions of coming attractions add considerably to the first broadside, and include a number of details not included in other surviving accounts. For example, this poster records several appearances by an American tightrope walker, Mr. Blackmore, who usually performed at the Royal Gardens, Vauxhall, and a magic lantern show of “Allegorical Devices and Designs … tastefully Illuminated by upwards of 4000 Variegated Lamps.”

3. Shakspearean Theatre, Stratford... Mr Kean, Junior, to Perform during the Festival... On Wednesday next, April 21, 1830... the Iron Chest. Stratford-upon-Avon: Ward, Printer. 49 x 19 cm. Old folds. Unrecorded.

Small poster advertising Charles Kean’s performances in Stratford during the week preceding the Festival, with performances of Richard III and Philip Massinger’s A New Way to Pay Old Debts. A paragraph advertising the Festival Masquerade makes note again of Charles Wright’s costume shop.

4. Grand Gala Fete Stratford-upon-Avon... Fireworks Appropriate for the Celebration of the Immortal Bard.. Friday, April 23, 1830. Stratford-upon-Avon: R. Lapworth, [1830]. 49 x 26 cm. Unrecorded.

This small poster contains a detailed description of the pyrotechnics planned to honor the Shakespeare’s memory, listing 30 different firework set pieces in their “Order of Firing.” These include “A Cohorn Balloon or Artificial Bombshell, thrown from a Mortar, likewise a Congreve Rocket of large size (perfectly safe).” Evidently not one to miss an opportunity, the publisher notes that he has for sale “a variety of Medals, Snuff Boxes, Ribbond [sic], Songs, Views, &c. appropriate for the Jubilee.”

5. S. Gwinnett, Secretary of the Shakspeare Club, Route of the Procession of the Principal Characters in Shakespeare’s Dramas Intended to Parade through the Streets of Stratford upon Avon on Friday the 23rd, and Monday the 26th days of April, 1830. Stratford: R. Lapworth, Printer, Bookbinder, and Perfumer, 14 April 1830. 21 x 16cm. Only one other copy recorded, at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (DR342/18).

This small handbill, signed in print by S. Gwinnett, Secretary, Committee Room, Falcon Inn, offers a brief explanation of the route of the procession for Stratford residents wishing to view the spectacle or participate in it.

6. Shakspearean Theatre, Stratford. Mr C. Kean. On Saturday Evening, April 24th. 1830 The Second Festival Night, Will be Performed Shakespeare’s National Tragedy of Richard III. Stratford-upon-Avon: Printed by J Ward High-Street, [1830]. 48 x 18 cm.  Unrecorded.

            A playbill for Kean’s Shakespearean roles in the Festival, noting performances of Richard III, Hamlet, and a farce called The Green-Eyed Monster – an upbeat pastiche of Othello?

7. The Grand Metropolitan Masquerade Warehouse. Just Arrived Mr Charles Wright from the Opera Colonnade, Haymarket, London with an Unrivalled Collection of Masks, Dominos, and Fancy Dresses... New Rich Coloured and Black Dominos... and Fancy Dresses of every Description. Stratford-upon-Avon: Ward, Printer, [1830]. 28 x 21cm. Unrecorded.

A handbill advertising the fancy dress options for those attending the Stratford Masquerade.

8. Ladies and Gentlemen are Respectfully Informed that The Masquerade will be Repeated on Monday Evening, April 26th, 1830, The Last Day of the Jubilee on which Occasion Character Costumes, and Dominos only will be admitted to join the Dance... Persons wishing only to view the masquerade admitted without an additional charge. Stratford-upon-Avon: Ward, Printer, [1830] 22 x 28 cm. Unrecorded.

Advertisement for the Masquerade, in effect giving locals once last chance to rent costumes from Charles Wright’s shop.

Selected Sources

  • Anon. A concise account of Garrick's Jubilee held at Stratford-upon-Avon in honour of Shakespeare in 1769, and of the Commemorative Festivals in 1827 and 1830. Stratford-upon-Avon: R. Lapworth, 1830
  • Hiscock, Andrew and Lina Perkins Wilder, eds. The Routledge Handbook of Shakespeare and Memory. Abingdon: Routledge. 2017.
  • [Jarvis, J.]. A Descriptive account of the second royal gala festival at Stratford-upon-Avon: in commemoration of the natal day of Shakspeare ... April, 1830 ... Stratford-upon-Avon: R. Lapworth, 1830.
  • Mann, Isabel Roome. “The Royal Gala of 1830.” Shakespeare Quarterly 14, no. 3 (1963): 263–66.
  • Sawyer, Robert. “From Jubilee to Gala: Remembrance and Ritual Commemoration.” Critical Survey 22, no. 2 (2010): 25–38.

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    The Royal Gala of 1830: an archive of Shakespearean broadsides from Stratford-upon-Avon