Monthly Archives: January 2013

New fringe event: talk from Lynn Shepherd, author of A Treacherous Likeness

we’ll be hosting a talk from Lynn Shepherd about her book ‘A Treacherous Likeness’

Lynn Shepherd is the author of Murder at Mansfield Park and Tom-All-Alone’s. Lynn’s new novel, A Treacherous Likeness is out on the 07 February 2013. Beginning in London in 1850, A Treacherous Likeness takes us back through time and across Europe, to reveal the dark secrets and tangled lives of the dazzling but doomed Young Romantics- the poet Shelley, his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein, and Lord Byron, famously ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know.’

Lynne’s talk is called The Last Secret of the Shelleys?: Lynn Shepherd’s new novel A Treacherous Likeness may offer shocking new answers to unexplained mysteries about the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein.

It should be a really interesting talk about a fascinating period of literary history and one of our favourite authors, Mary Shelley.

Where? Foyles, Quakers Friars, Cabot’s Circus

When? Monday 18th February, 6.30pm



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Tickets are now ON SALE!


Tickets are now available online for the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. You can buy them online at the Watershed website, from the Box Office or by calling the Box Office on 0117 927 5100

Please book your tickets in advance.

Individual events are priced at £7/£6 and a weekend ticket for all four events is available for £25/£20. Weekend tickets are limited though so don’t delay!

And if you can’t come to the event but would like to support it, please make a donation. We really appreciate your generosity.

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Guest post by Prof Helen Hackett: Women and drama in Shakespeare’s time

Professor Helen Hackett, who will be speaking on the Bluestockings and Muses panel, reveals the surprising history of women playwrights and performers in Shakespeare’s time.

If there’s one thing that everyone thinks they know about the theatre in Shakespeare’s time, it’s that female roles were taken by boy actors. This was certainly true at the commercial London playhouses like the Globe, but it can lead to a widespread – and mistaken – assumption that women didn’t participate at all in drama in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. In fact, if you look beyond the public playhouses, there are many examples of women performing. Entertainments for Elizabeth I on her progresses sometimes included acting roles for the daughters of the great houses that she visited – and it’s appropriate to think of the Queen herself as a kind of dramatic performer, as she displayed her magnificence to her people, participated in ceremonies, and delivered memorable soundbites. At the court of James I, his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, performed in a number of masques with her ladies. And in the homes of aristocratic families, women participated in what has sometimes been called ‘closet drama’: plays influenced by classical models that may have been designed for group readings, or may actually have been staged in these domestic settings.

Women wrote such plays too. In the mid sixteenth century Lady Jane Lumley displayed her impressive learning and literary skill in a translation of Euripides’ Iphigenia; then in 1590 Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, a prolific and influential author and patron, translated from French The Tragedy of Antony, almost certainly an influence on Shakespeare’s later Antony and Cleopatra (1606). The first original tragedy by a woman in English was Mariam (c. 1602-04) by Lady Elizabeth Cary, an extraordinarily sophisticated exploration of a turbulent marriage. Mariam is divided between love for her husband, Herod, King of the Jews, and resistance to his unjust and tyrannical commands. She makes the insightful observation that his oppression and restriction of her are the very things that have produced her desire for independence and autonomy: ‘he by barring me from liberty, / To shun my ranging, taught me first to range’. 

Meanwhile the first English comedy by a woman was Love’s Victory by Lady Mary Wroth, niece to Mary Sidney and another prolific and boldly innovative author. Wroth found herself castigated by one contemporary as a ‘hermaphrodite’ for daring to write. This was a period when women were instructed ‘how far more convenient the distaff, and spindle, needle and thimble were for them with a good and honest reputation, than the skill of well using a pen or writing a lofty verse with defame and dishonour’ (Thomas Salter, The Mirror of Modesty, 1579). Performance on the public stage would have been construed as an even more shocking act of self-exposure and sexual forwardness. No wonder that no woman risked it.

However, strong evidence has recently emerged that the closet dramas produced by and for aristocratic women were not merely read aloud by family and friends in country house settings, but were fully staged, including performances by women. After translating Antony, Mary Sidney commissioned a sequel, Cleopatra, by the poet Samuel Daniel. Yasmin Arshad, a PhD student at UCL, has discovered a remarkable portrait of a Jacobean lady in costume as Cleopatra, complete with basket of figs and asp, accompanied by lines from Daniel’s play. The woman may be Lady Anne Clifford, who was tutored by Daniel. This exciting find strongly suggests that closet dramas provided opportunities for women to act, and to use drama to explore models of female heroism. Both Sidney’s and Daniel’s Cleopatra are far more noble than Shakespeare’s ‘serpent of old Nile’, and are torn between regal duty, personal passion, and maternal love in a way not explored at all in Shakespeare’s play, great as it is. 

To explore how Daniel’s Cleopatra works on stage, and how the play might be illuminated by performance, Yasmin is mounting a production of it on Sunday 3rd March at Goodenough College, London. The director is Emma Whipday, also a UCL PhD student, and a talented student cast and production team will be led by the rising young actor Charlotte Gallagher as Cleopatra. It will be a groundbreaking event which will change thinking about women and drama in Shakespeare’s time. Booking opens soon: for more information, see here.

For more on the portrait of a Jacobean lady in role as Daniel’s Cleopatra, see Yasmin Arshad, ‘The enigma of a portrait: Lady Anne Clifford and Daniel’s Cleopatra’, The British Art Journal 11.3 (Spring 2011).


For more on women’s participation in drama in Shakespeare’s time, see Helen Hackett, A Short History of English Renaissance Drama (London: I. B. Tauris, 2013), pp. 175-88.


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Tickets – answering your questions

A few people have asked when tickets will be available to buy for the festival. 

The answer is – very soon!

Tickets will be available to buy through the Watershed. As soon as I get the word from the venue I will be linking to their box office page from this site. Tickets will be available for each individual event and – if you would like to come to all four – a weekend ticket will also be on sale. 

So, watch this space! And please do book in advance so as not to miss out. 

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The big fun fundraising feminist quiz of the year! – 7th March

Do you know your Germaine Greer from your Gloria Steinem? Your Le Tigre from your Lana Del Ray? Your Jane Campion from your Jennifer Love-Hewitt? Your…well you get the picture. 

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival is running a fabulously fun and feminist pub quiz to raise money for the festival itself. Don’t worry, you don’t need a degree in gender studies to take part, just a love of quizzes! There will be music, movies and many more marvellous rounds. Plus prizes and a raffle. And cake! And wine! What’s not to love? 

Teams to be between 2-6 people. Suggested donation of £2 per player to take part. Raffle tickets and drinks on sale.

Where? Cafe on the Square, Grove Ave

When? 7th March, 7pm

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Anything Words Fundraiser event

Deborah M Withers, who is part of our Out of the Ivory Tower panel, has organised the Anything Words event to help raise some funds for the festival.

Anything Words is a time to gather together and share the writing that you love. Inspired by the upcoming Women’s Literature festival in March, we plan to create a unique occasion that will make the private experience of reading public!

Please come prepared to share passages from your favourite writers. You can have a 5 minute slot to extol the deliriousness Emily Dickinson, the biting critique of bell hooks, or the wonders of Ursula le Guin. You can read directly from texts or you can talk about how books have made you think, feel, and completely changed your life. Part confession circle, part consciousness raising, part Parisian literary salon, anything words is cornucopia of literary juiciness waiting just for you!

Entry is by donation and all donations will go to the upcoming Women’s Literature Festival and Arts West Side
There will also be tea, coffee and nice cake, improvised accompaniments from some fine Bristol musicians, and plenty of opportunities to listen to Anything Words!

Participation not compulsory!

The event is taking place on Wednesday 20th February at Arts West Side, 6 Old Market Street, BS2 0BH

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Rob Griggs designs our logo

Illustrator Robert Griggs has kindly designed a logo for the festival. 

You’ll be able to see more of Rob’s work in Sian’s forthcoming book Greta and Boris: a daring rescue

As well as our logo, Rob has a portfolio packed with poster designs for local club Start the Bus, and illustrations for The 405 and Rockfeedback. You can see more of his work on his website


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