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White Hart, Red Lion: The England of Shakespeare's Histories
by Nick Asbury
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To this day The White Hart and The Red Lion are two of the most popular names for a public house in England, both talismans that served as the insignia for Richard II and the banished Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, who usurped the throne in 1399. Nick Asbury acted in the Royal Shakespeare Company's famed Histories cycle which staged Shakespeare's vision of the deposition of Richard II through to the notorious Battle of Bosworth in 1485. With fellow RSC actors for company, Nick travels the country visiting the buildings, landscapes and former sites of war and intrigue that feature in the plays, and asks the question: what is it about the England of Shakespeare's Histories that continues to fascinate? From Alnwick to Eastcheap, Windsor Castle to a Leicester car park, this is his snapshot of England and its people, then and now. John Shakespeare, William's father, was an Ale Taster before he was a glover and luminary of Stratford-upon- Avon, so in his footsteps I and my travelling players will be exploring the hostelries and byways of an England forged on the battlefields, triumphs and betrayals of The Histories: on the one hand, Red, be it a pub or bloody Rose. On the other hand, White be it the alabaster tombs of broken Princes or the quill of a playwright from Stratford-upon- Avon. 'This bloody MG is so light it's like driving a roasting tin. At the next turning, forewarned this time, I make the corner cheering victoriously and drive straight into a snow drift that could swallow a bus let alone the mid-life crisis that is this MG. It turns out I am in the one area where it is as bad as they say it is. I dig myself out and reverse back on to the main road, all the time thinking life would be much better on a horse.' England, the tolerant bearer of religion that was the flower of the Northern Renaissance, was fast becoming a useless fist clothed in an old glove. It was fighting a war abroad, the cause of which it was not party to, and the execution of which was undermined by in-fighting at home. Plus change.
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