Oxford Street in London this summer has a visual treat. Selfridge’s, well-known for eye-catching and innovative window-dressing, has teamed up with some world-famous fashion designers to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of the death of Shakespeare. There are 12 displays – here are five I managed to photograph between the crowds on a very busy Oxford Street.
The Alexander McQueen interpretation is from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ using the quote “Are you sure that we are awake? It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream”
More dreamlike, romantic clothes.
‘Romeo and Juliet’, was chosen by Christopher Kane with the quote “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” providing inspiration.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also gives us another romantic, inspirational couplet for Erdem – “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged cupid blind”.
Bucking the trend and displaying an alternative, challenging interpretation J W Anderson uses perhaps one of the most famous Shakespeare quotes “To be, or not to be, that is the question” from ‘Hamlet’.
Although I love the unashamedly romantic frills and ornate prints of the Alexander McQueen window, there is something haunting and long-lasting about the Issey Miyake display. “Love sought is good, but given unsought is better” from ‘Twelfth Night’ is the chosen quotation. The textured, structural coat shaped from cloth adorned/woven with words from the significant text captures our contemporary engagement with Shakespeare in a most memorable fashion. Particularly striking, I thought, emerging from the reflections of a 21st-century cityscape.
The earliest surviving portrait of Richard (c. 1520, copy from a lost original), formerly belonging to the Paston family Society of Antiquaries, London.
Facial depiction of King Richard III, created by Professor Caroline Wilkinson and the forensic art team of the University of Dundee, Scotland.
We all appreciate the solving of a mystery and this week’s historical and pagent-like reinterment of King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral finally puts to rest all the legends and stories regarding his death and the disposal of his remains. However, his association with ‘The Princes in the Tower’, their disappearance and possible murder is still an ongoing affair. Most famously William Shakespeare’s play ‘Richard the Third’ presents the Plantagenet king as a deformed, treacherous, manipulative monarch who has the princes murdered.
“Shall I be plain? I wish the bastards dead.” Richard III, act 4 scene 2
Of course, the play, a history play even at the time of writing, is a work of fiction with a good helping of Tudor propaganda added to no doubt entertain and flatter Shakespeare’s patron, Elizabeth I. But there are other stories and versions of Richard III that attempt to redress the balance. And, it is interesting that it is in historical fiction we find a different complex, but less villainous account of Richard. As with Hilary Mantel’s recent rehabilitation of Thomas Cromwell in ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’, so the 1951 book ‘The Daughter of Time’, by Josephine Tey attempts to give us a more favourable view of Richard III.
I have read virulent criticism of both Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell and Tey’s version of Richard III, but historians and other interested parties seem to forget that history if often a blanket of conjecture enveloping a grain of fact. If the writers of historical fiction work their magic on the surviving meagre facts to entertain us hopefully it encourages us to investigate history further. And, at the very least, well-researched historical fiction should prompt us to consider the extent of historical ‘imagination’ that has been applied to the forging of our received, textbook histories.