The 2016 Sulgrave Manor Watson Chair lecture will be on an 1849 performance of Macbeth in New York that provoked a full-blown riot, during which the army opened fire on thousands of demonstrators, leaving as many as thirty dead. As the army opened fire on thousands of demonstrators, as many as thirty people were killed. Behind this unlikely tragedy lay a comically bitter feud between England’s leading actor William Charles Macready and America’s first stage star Edwin Forrest. At the time, Britain still dominated American theatres, and the clashing thespians came to embody two sides in a fierce cultural war between nativists and Anglophiles over America’s very identity. With Bardolatry at its all-time zenith, that struggle revolved around the question of which nation ‘owned’ Shakespeare. Nigel Cliff, author of The Shakespeare Riots a finalist for the US National Award for Arts Writing and a Washington Post book of the year, takes us back to a time when theatres were raucous public spaces and Shakespeare, as popular in frontier saloons as aristocratic salons, played a leading role in forging a ‘brave new world’.
Nigel Cliff is a historian, biographer, and critic who began his career as a theatre and film critic for The Times. He wrote The Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama, which was aNew York Times Notable Book and was shortlisted for the PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize and has translated and edited Marco Polo’s Travels for Penguin Classics. He has written widely for publications including The Economist and The New York Times and has lectured at Oxford University and the Ransom Centre, University of Texas at Austin.