Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Robert Hardy at the Oxford Union

Last night the guest speaker at the Oxford Union was the actor Robert Hardy, who spoke about his career from acting as an undergraduate at Magdalen through to his extensive career on television and in film. He also spoke about his interest in the history of medieval warfare, a subject to which he has contributed published work on the longbow, and such enterprises as the raising of the Mary Rose.

His interest in medieval combat developed from playing King Henry V in Shakespeare's history plays, most famously in the 1960 BBC television series An Age of Kings. This was the first major television presentation of Shakespeare's history plays as a cycle, and had a cast of great distinction. Many of the images it created remain vivid in the memory of those of us who saw it. It is now available on DVD.

Whilst speaking about how to be a successful actor he said it required conviction, the ability to promote oneself and to commit a few 'murders' along the way. Listening to this I thought that sounded like a pretty good description of how to be a successful late medieval monarch. Shortly afterwards when discussing the dramatic role of King Henry V as created by Shakespeare, having made the point that the play is a superb depiction of late medieval kingship, he reflected that that also required conviction, the ability to promote oneself and to commit a few murders along the way... Great minds clearly think alike.

After his talk I was able to speak to him and say that I was probably the only person present who remembered watching An Age of Kings as a child, and that the series, combined with the fact of coming from a town whose castle features in the plays ( "O thou bloody prison... fatal and ominous alike to Englan's peers... "), had fuelled my own passion for the late middle ages.

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