To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the publication of William Shakespeare’s First Folio this month, we were delighted to welcome back to the RGS Dr Robert Stagg, an Associate Senior Member of the Faculty of English at the University of Oxford, and a Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The day began with a session for the Third Form, who are currently studying Othello. Using clips from the National Theatre’s 2022 production of the play directed by Clint Dyer, Dr Stagg discussed issues such as racist attitudes towards North Africans in early modern England, how Othello subverts these prejudiced expectations, Iago’s motivations for his scheming and the fatal characteristics that lead to Othello’s downfall. This was followed by a select panel of Third Form students who posed questions to Dr Stagg concerning Othello’s vulnerability, the character of Desdemona and the theme of reputation.
The Lower Sixth were afforded a private seminar with Dr Stagg to discuss their set text: Hamlet. This involved an extended question and answer conversation on any aspect of the play the students wished to discuss as well as a more focussed exploration of a journal article entitled “Hearing Ophelia: Gender and Tragic Discourse in Hamlet” by Sandra K. Fischer. The seminar concluded with an engaging discussion on different productions of the play.
With Dr Stagg’s area of research being prosody (metre, rhyme and rhythm) and verse structure (blank verse and the sonnet), the Fourth Form were treated to a lecture on Shakespeare’s innovative use of the seven-syllable line in Macbeth. While Shakespeare’s usual use of iambic pentameter is well-documented, Dr Stagg explained that the seven-syllable syntax was employed to reflect the moral and physical deformities of characters such as the Weird Sisters. Dr Stagg furthered his argument by referencing treaties written by James I, such as Daemonologie and Ane Schort Treatise containing some reulis and cautelis to be obseruit and eschewit in Scottis Poesie, in which the monarch documented his pathological fear of the supernatural and his demand to all poets that they take heed of the number of metrical feet used in each line. A panel of Fourth Formers also questioned Dr Stagg on a variety of issues, such as the visual omission of King Duncan’s murder in the text and the characters of Lady Macbeth, King Duncan and, interestingly, the Porter. Macbeth’s motivations for killing King Duncan and the idea of free will versus predestination also proved to be popular lines of discussion, as did the decline of Lady Macbeth’s prowess.