Ben Jonson’s long walk brings him to the Byre
The world-premiere of a play exploring Ben Jonson’s epic walk to Scotland in 1618, against a backdrop of witchcraft, conspiracy and religion, will open at St Andrews’ Byre Theatre this week (1 April).
Ben and Jamie, by Professor Brean Hammond, is part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Ben Jonson’s Folio of Works, an unprecedented publication of plays in folio, without which it is unlikely Shakespeare’s first folio would have emerged seven years later in 1623.
Celebrations also include a three-day conference (1 to 3 April) hosted by the University of St Andrews, entitled ‘Dare to Tell: Silence and Saying in Ben Jonson‘.
Director Peter Sutton, of the School of English at the University of St Andrews, said: “It is a great delight working on such a wonderful new play as Ben and Jamie. The Byre Studio lends itself extremely well to this very intimate play, and I’m also delighted that the actors will be wearing stunning costumes courtesy of the Scottish Opera wardrobe. I hope that this very accessible play will be of interest both to Jonson scholars and to anyone who is interested in the politics of theatre alike.”
The play, which marks the return of Professor Hammond to his own dramatic works after a prestigious academic career in English literature, presents a new solution to the Rutland witchcraft case of 1619 to 1620 featuring King James VI, with Ben Jonson playing the detective. Thematically, it examines a world dominated by conspiracy and religious conflict. Shakespeare is an offstage character whose relationship with Jonson becomes a running theme in the play.
Professor Hammond said: “The inspiration for the play came from the fact I can see Belvoir Castle from my back garden. I wanted to write a play set in and around the Castle that presents a new and different view of the witch hangings associated with the Rutland family.
“Two of the Flower women were executed as witches on a patch of ground outside Lincoln Castle. But also, it was recently discovered that Jonson on his long walk stayed for three days in Belvoir Castle. I have long wanted to write a play that explores Jonson as a character, and this new scholarship offered me an appropriate creative stimulus.”
The conference will also offer delegates the chance to view the University of St Andrews’ Rare Books Collection’s copy of Jonson’s first Folio.
Notes to news editors
The author Brean Hammond is Emeritus Professor of English Literature at the University of Nottingham. In 2010, his edition of Shakespeare’s ‘lost play’, published as Double Falsehood in the prestigious Arden edition of Shakespeare, attracted widespread attention. The Royal Shakespeare Company performed the play in 2011, and it has since been performed in many parts of the world. It features now in most collected editions of Shakespeare’s plays.
Researcher in the School of English at the University of St Andrews, Peter Sutton’s main interest is in Early Modern theatre, especially the works of Ben Jonson. An actor and director, he directed The Alchemist for the Mermaids Performing Arts Fund in March 2015 and Epicene in March 2016. His PhD research into the stage and print reception of Ben Jonson in the eighteenth century commenced in September 2014 with a Cruikshank scholarship from the School of English.
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