Shropshire Historical Pageant
- Tercentenary Performances of Milton’s Masque of Comus
Place: Ludlow Castle (Ludlow) (Ludlow, Shropshire, England)
Number of performances: 9
2–7 July 1934
2 July 3pm; 3 July 3pm and 7pm; 4 July 3pm and 7pm; 5 July 3pm; 6 July 3pm; 7 July 3pm and 7pm.
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Organising Director [Pageant Master]: Baring, Edward
- Producer and Comus: Avalon Collard
- Assistants: Mrs Iremonger; Arthur B. Aris; Charles H. Lomax; E.A. Vasey
- Director of Music in Chief: Sir Granville Bantock, MA, MusDoc
- Directors of Music: Frederic C. Morris; Frank Bury
- Masters of Designs: J.M. Woodroffe, ARCA, Art Master Shrewsbury School; R. Harding Webster, Art Master Oswestry School of Art
- Master of Horse: C.N. de Courcy-Parry, MFH
- Mistresses of Robes: Mrs Bell; Mrs Iremonger; Miss Lloyd Jones (assistant)
- Press: Julius E. Day
- Costume Advisers, Shrewsbury: Messrs Della Porta’s Ltd; Messrs Dyas Bros; Messrs Grocott and Co.; Messrs R. Maddox and Co. Ltd
- Official Photographers: Messers Vivian, High Town, Hereford
Names of executive committee or equivalent
- Patroness: Her Majesty the Queen
- President: The Rt. Hon Earl of Powis
- Chairman: Captain Sir Offley Wakeman, Bart
- Hon. Sec.: Mrs Donaldson-Hudson
- Chairman: Major L.E. Bury, CBE
- Hon. Sec.: Mrs Donaldson-Hudson
- Chairman: Major F.H. Liddell, MC
- Chairman: Councillor C.S. Woolam, JP
- Chairman: Major J.M. West, MA
- Chairman: Arthur E. White, BA, BSc, Lon
Historical and Lecture:
- Chairman: P.W. Bember, DCI, MA
- Chairman: The Viscountess Bridgeman, DBE
- Chairman: Major L.E. Bury
Grandstand and Grounds:
- Chairman: Capt. W.G. Lane, MIMCE, Borough Surveyor, Ludlow
- Chairman: Sir Richard Leighton, Bart
Empire Fair, Educational and Historical Exhibition:
- Chairman: J.B. Oldham, MA
- Chairman: W.A. Bromley
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Drinkwater, John
- Seaman, Sir Owen
- Collard, Avalon
- Milton, John
Names of composers
- Sullivan, Arthur
- Holst, Gustav
- Collard, Avalon
- Elgar, Edward
- Purcell, Henry
- Dykes, John Bacchus
- Bury, Frank
- Lawes, Henry
- Lawes, William
- Bennel, John
- Hilton, John
- Saville, John
Numbers of performers3000
Object of any funds raised
In aid of Shropshire Hospitals.
Linked occasion300th Anniversary of the First Performance of Milton’s Comus at Ludlow Castle
- Grandstand: Yes
- Grandstand capacity: 4000
- Total audience: 28000
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
11s. 6d.–1s. 3d.
Cheapest price is standing only.
- 2 July is Royal Day; 3 July is Agricultural and Transport Day; 4 July is County and Hospitals Day; 5 July is Civic Day; 6 July is Empire Day; 7 July is Clergy Day.
- Shrewsbury features Great Educational and Historical Exhibition at the Castle and an Empire Fair at the Music Hall, Shrewsbury. 6d. ticket covers both.
- 2 July: Boy Scout Grand Country Rally preceded by Community Singing.
- 3 July: Community Singing and Physical Training Display by children of Shrewsbury Elementary Schools. Rally of Shropshire Girl Guides.
- Massed County Dancing, Advanced Gymnastics Display, Special Guard-Mounting Display, and Pageant Fancy Dress Ball at Morris’s Ballroom, Shrewsbury.
- 6 July: Community Singing, Advanced Gymnastics Display, Special Motor Cycling Football Match (Shrewsbury v. Bridgnorth), a short dramatic incident depicting the Capture of Prince Davydd by the Armaddon Dramatic Society.
- 2 July: Choral and Orchestral Symphony Concert.
- 3 July: Choral Concert.
- 6 July: Male Voice Choir and Pageant Fancy Dress Ball at the Town Hall.
Introduction and Prologue
A hunting horn is heard and a group of children appears by a modern ‘Pied Piper’. The horn is repeated, heralding Wild Edric the Forester with Godda and their train. A prologue is read by Miss Ray Desmond.
Episode I. The Betrayal of Caractacus to the Romans Near Shrewsbury, AD 51
A large group of Silurian Britons walk on dejectedly. Bards, Druids and Ovydds chant a lament for the defeat by the Romans under the command of Ostorius Scapula. The Lament merges into the March of the Romans who enter singing a song of triumph. Ostorius addresses the legionaries who hail him. A messenger approaches Ostorius and informs him that Cartismandua [Cartimandua], Queen of the Brigantes, waits upon his audience. She is brought before him with a retinue and makes peace with Rome by basely betraying Caractacus who had fled to her after his defeat. Amelduna, his wife, begs for mercy but Caractacus refuses to do likewise, telling Ostorius that when he is taken to Rome in chains he will address Claudius as an ‘equal King’. Caractacus did just that, earning the Emperor’s respect and freedom for himself and his family.
Episode II. The Translation of the Relics of Saint Milburgh to the New Foundation, AD 722–1101
Prelude: The Death of Abbess Milburgh, AD 722.
The scene opens with a conversation between two Lay Sisters of Wenlock Abbey as they prepare the garden for the Abbess to rest in. The Abbess is carried in, surrounded by nuns and attended by the Chaplain of the Abbey who has already administered the last rites. She addresses the nuns and commends her soul to God. After her death she is carried into the Abbey with the nuns singing.
The Passing of the Centuries, AD 722 to 1100: A procession of notable figures enter.
The New Foundation of Wenlock Priory, AD 1101.
The people of Wenlock and country assemble. The Prior and a number of monks, flanked by notables of the district, enter from the Priory to assist the arrival of the Procession of the Feretory which chants the ‘Litany of the Saints’. The procession carrying the relic, having reached the entrance to the Priory, is addressed by the Bishop of Hereford who delivers the relic to the Prior. The Procession enters as the Choir sings. The populace rises and ‘by belief in the efficacy of the intervention of the Saint, the blind receive their sight and the lame their use of limbs.’
Episode III. The Trial of Prince David of Wales Before Parliament of Edward I, At Shrewsbury, 30 September 1283
Lay Brothers of the Abbey arranging the Court and assembling the Pikemen and the Peasantry of Shrewsbury, Officers, Members of Parliament, Nobility etc. Then follow justices of Curia Regis, Bailiffs of Shrewsbury, John de Vaux, President of the Court, Standard Bearers, etc., the Queen and her ladies in waiting and finally the King, attended by Lords and Pages. When the court opens, Owain, Prince of Powys and four of his principle adherents do homage, having previously surrendered. They withdraw, and David, Prince of Wales, is brought in on a cart, manacled. Twelve witnesses (English and Welsh) are summoned. David is arraigned but refuses to plead and denies King and Court. He is sentenced to a barbarous death and is taken off, muttering curses in a passionate song.
Episode IV. The Prince of Wales (Edward V.) at Ludlow Castle, St George’s Day, 23rd April, 1483
This a scene of rustic merry-making in celebration of St George’s Day with special entertainments for the uncrowned King Edward before his departure for London. The episode opens with the admission of the loyal people of Ludlow to the Castle Green. A herald silences the crowd. Trumpets sound in an elaborate fanfare and the people enthusiastically cheer when Edward enters with his uncle Earl Rivers, Lady Rivers, Lord Richard Grey, The Marquis of Dorset, The Bishop of Worcester, the Rector of Ludlow and a numerous court. All become hushed as the King is seen to take a document from the Bishop. He speaks briefly but is overcome with shyness and asks his uncle to complete his speech, which is received with acclamations. Trumpets sound again to begin the entertainment. They are interrupted by the hurried arrival of three horsemen, one of whom is Sir Thomas Faulkner, who warns the King his safety is in danger. The country folk and performers are dismissed and Sir Thomas discloses his news, which is that the King will be met on his way to London by his Uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, whom Faulkner believes to be up to no good. Nevertheless, the journey to London must be undertaken, and the Episode ends with the King’s departure.
Episode V. Philip Sidney Goes to School at Shrewsbury, 1564
A group of Ludlow lads sing an ‘invitation’ to country dances, as they come to rehearse before the Steward of the Castle. They are to perform before Sir Henry Sidney, Lord President of the Council of the Marches of Wales, on the occasion of his son’s departure for Shrewsbury School. The dance is performed, during which two pedlars make their way offering their wares. The Steward tries to repulse them, but the children (Philip, Mary, and the young Fulke Greville) take some and makes the Steward pay for them, which he does with ill grace. Following the dance, a Male Voice Choir performs a chorus, and then more choirs exhibit their skill in performing madrigals and other songs. At the end of this, Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville mount their ponies and set off, accompanied by Thomas Ashton, Headmaster of Shrewsbury School, with armed attendants. The episode concludes with a Pavan, with words by Edmund Spenser, danced by the guests who then exit.
Episode VI. The Masque of Comus, 1634
Three children of the Earl of Bridgewater are travelling to meet their parents at Ludlow, where their father is celebrating becoming Lord President of the Council in the Marches of Wales. Their way lies through a dense forest, in which dwells a Bacchanalian Enchanter, Comus, whose fateful potion transforms the features of all who partake of it into the likeness of some wild denizen of the wood. To guard the children from this fate, Jove dispatches to earth an Attendant Spirit in the guise of Thyrsis, one of their father’s shepherds. In the dark labyrinth of the forest the Lady loses her brothers, and Comus appears to her, by virtue of his ‘dazzling spells’ and ‘magic dust’, as a villager and with a semblance of guidance and protection lures her to his palace; there, amid his Bacchanalian rabble, he offers her a banquet and his ‘orient liquor’.
Meanwhile, the brothers seek for their sister and encounter the Spirit, who informs them of her perilous position, gives them a charm against the enchanter’s power, and leads them to the palace, where they find their sister spell-bound and immovable in a ‘marble-venomed’ chair, with Comus, surrounded by his monstrous rout, pressing her to partake of his fearful cup. The brothers shatter the cup, and with their swords they disperse Comus and his horrid crew but omit to secure the wand by which the spell was cast, leaving the sister still fixed in the chair. The Spirit, ever at hand, invokes the aid of Sabrina, the Nymph of the Severn, who appears with her Fairy Retinue and by virtue of her Magic Water breaks the spell, releasing the Lady. The Spirit then conducts her and her brothers to Ludlow Castle, where Country Dances are being performed by the rustics. The children are joyously received by their parents and joins some of the guests in a Stately Dance. The Spirit, having competed his task, is about to return to the heaven from whence he came, as the Masque concludes.
Our Pageants pass; they seem to fade
Into the void of air,
Yet not, as Eadric’s cavalcade,
To shadowland they fare;
They are the stuff of dreams that live
Beyond the waking hour;
The stuff of dreams, but dreams that give
Daylight a richer dower.
For they have conjured from the vast,
Out of an age-long sleep,
True tokens of a storied past
For Shropshire hearts to keep;
And tell, as long as Severn’s tide
Waters her vales and wolds,
The pride of place in England’s pride
That Shropshire held and holds.
The National Anthem follows, then the singing of the hymn ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past.’
Key historical figures mentioned
- Caratacus [Caractacus] (fl. AD 40–51) king in Britain
- Cartimandua [Claudia Cartimandua, Julia Cartimandua] (d. after AD 69) queen of the Brigantes
- Eadric [Edric] the Wild [Eadric Cild] (fl. 1067–1072) magnate
- Ostorius Scapula, Publius (d. AD 52) Roman governor of Britain
- Mildburg [St Mildburg, Milburg, Milburga, Milburgh] (d. in or after 716) abbess of Much Wenlock [also known as Mildburga]
- Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons [also known as Aelfred, the Great]
- Cnut [Canute] (d. 1035) king of England, of Denmark, and of Norway
- Leofric, earl of Mercia (d. 1057) magnate
- Godgifu [Godiva] (d. 1067?) noblewoman
- Edward [St Edward; known as Edward the Confessor] (1003x5–1066) king of England
- Edith [Eadgyth] (d. 1075) queen of England, consort of Edward the Confessor
- Harold II [Harold Godwineson] (1022/3?–1066) king of England
- William I [known as William the Conqueror] (1027/8–1087) king of England and duke of Normandy
- Matilda [Matilda of Flanders] (d. 1083) queen of England, consort of William I
- William II [known as William Rufus] (c.1060–1100) king of England
- Henry I (1068/9–1135) king of England and lord of Normandy
- Matilda [Edith, Mold, Matilda of Scotland] (1080–1118) queen of England, first consort of Henry I
- Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
- Eleanor [Eleanor of Castile] (1241–1290) queen of England, consort of Edward I
- Dafydd ap Gruffudd (d. 1283) prince of Gwynedd
- Alcock, John (1430–1500) administrator and bishop of Ely
- Edward V (1470–1483) king of England and lord of Ireland
- Sidney, Sir Henry (1529–1586) lord deputy of Ireland and courtier
- Sidney, Sir Philip (1554–1586) author and courtier
- Greville, Fulke, first Baron Brooke of Beauchamps Court (1554–1628) courtier and author
- Ashton, Thomas (d. 1578) headmaster
Musical productionChorus of 200 voices and an orchestra of 100 instruments.
- Before the Introduction, Overture by Arthur Sullivan.
- Introduction: ‘Children’s Dance’, Riding Music, Fanfare by Avalon Collard.
- Episode I: ‘Lament’ and ‘Marching Song’, Collard.
- Episode II: Solemn March Op. 42 by Edward Elgar.
- Funeral March, Henry Purcell.
- Hymn, Dr Dykes.
- Episode III: Fanfare, Collard.
- March, Gustav Holst.
- Prince David’s Song, arr. Collard.
- Episode IV: Military Music, various.
- 14th Century Entertainment Music, arr. Collard.
- Shropshire Folk Song, Trad.
- Episode V: Chorus, Bury.
- Thomas Weekes.
- Country Dance, Trad.
- Madrigals by John Hilton and John Bennel.
- Mummer’s Scene, Traditional.
- Dance with Vocal Accompaniment, arr. Collard.
- Exit Chorus, John Saville.
- Processional Music: Purcell.
- Music for the Masque: Henry Lawes and William Lawes.
- Finale: Processional Music, Frank Bury.
- The National Anthem.
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Derby Daily Telegraph
Portsmouth Evening News
Yorkshire Evening Post
Nottingham Evening Post
Illustrated London News
Lancashire Evening Post
The Landmark: The Monthly Magazine of the English Speaking Union
The English Journal
Book of words
- Pageant of Shropshire. Shrewsbury, 1934.
Other primary published materials
- Brangwyn, Frank and Walcot, William. The Pageant of Ludlow. Foreword by John Drinkwater. Ludlow, 1934. A set of 6 etchings on the pageant. 51 copies were produced by private subscription.
- Official Souvenir Programme. Shrewsbury, 1934. Price: 1s.
References in secondary literature
- Flannagan, Roy C., ed. Comus: Contexts. Athens: Ohio, 1987. At 52.
- Lloyd, David and Johnson, Karen. Festival Ludlow: Eight Centuries of Art, Culture and Entertainment. Ludlow, 2009.
- Shropshire Magazine, June 1984.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
- Shropshire Museums: Photographs.
- Shropshire Archives: Photographs, Book of Words, souvenir programme and handbook.
Sources used in preparation of pageant
The Shropshire Pageant, held in the same season as the Runnymede Pageant, managed to combine a grandeur and spectacle of performance with a distinctive local feel, eschewing the more generic visits from Queen Elizabeth or the departure of the Romans. For many commentators, the pageant tapped into the spirit of quintessential ‘deep England’ and showed that against the fears of Fascism, Communism, and economic crisis, the spirit of England could still be conjured up through local amateur performance. As the Manchester Guardian remarked, for many performers, who ‘make the warp and woof of the county’s history’, this was the first time they had even attended a dramatic production, let alone performed in one: ‘This natural theatre in which they make their first appearance, as players not spectators, meets the Muse of History more than half-way, for part of England’s story centres here.’4
The Tamworth Herald was in strong agreement with this view of the upcoming pageant: ‘When that creation comes to life it will represent Shropshire reborn in the likeness of the past, endued with the glorious traditions of the country, telling the whole world that poetry and history are still vital forces that can stir great communities to unity of effort and whole-hearted co-operation in a great cause.’5 The pageant saw the whole county electrified by activity and inspired by the great folk-movement: ‘In all the schools, the art studios, the musical academies, the dramatic and theatrical societies, the riding schools, the churches and colleges, the houses of the great and the small, there is the same community of effort that is always shown by the English when their imagination is aroused and their enthusiasm kindled.’6
As one may expect, pageantry rarely went smoothly, and the spectacle presented often concealed behind-the-scenes tensions. As Evelyn Lloyd, Mistress of the Robes, recalled on the pageant’s fiftieth anniversary, the two producers of the pageant, the seasoned Pageant Master Edward Baring and Avalon Collard, ‘almost came to blows and several times each threatened to resign; but tempers were smoothed down by tact and diplomacy… though the two “leading lights” were not on speaking terms long before the production of the pageant, everything went off not only smoothly but with triumph.’7 Harry Baker, a performer and also trainee reporter for the Ludlow Advertiser, whose father was secretary of the Stand Committee, also remembered the pageant as being far from a seamless display of local resilience. Baker recalled how Ancient Britons arrived to the pageant in a hurry on bicycles; he also remembered how another performer’s outbreak of spots caused fear of anthrax.8 The Roman Army needed literally an army of extras. The pageant organisers pasted up recruitment posters around Ludlow declaring ‘Roman Army. Caesar needs men’ and offering a cheap holiday sleeping in tents for a week on Ludlow’s common. Despite this, troops were not particularly forthcoming and numbers had to be bolstered by local unemployed men, and finally a company of the local Territorial Army.9
The pageant itself encountered some problems. The Manchester Guardian noted hitches in the dress rehearsal, with the Producer at one point having to appear in a scene dressed in a lounge suit.10 There was an instance of a jealous husband who, believing that his wife was getting more than ‘made-up’ by the make-up artist, locked her in a bathroom, preventing her from appearing in an episode and causing the Producer much dismay. The first scene, where the Silures lamenting Caractacus shouted ‘woe’, had the effect of halting the horses, which responded to the command ‘Whoa!’ Lloyd remembered the Elizabethan scene where the horses ‘deposited large heaps of droppings just before a band of Elizabethan ladies had to perform a pavane dance; they found themselves ankle deep in odorous manure, much to the detriment of their smart footwear and overflowing skirts!’11 The performers, made to wait inside Ludlow Castle throughout the performance until their entry, being unable to leave until the audience had departed, soon got bored. Whilst most of the performers used the nearby Dinham Hall for dressing, some more adventurous women who had chosen instead to dress in the castle ‘sun-bathed in scanty attire until their turn came to act.’12 In fact, most performers not resident in the town did not attend every day (as travel from around Shropshire would have been prohibitively expensive), and there were several understudies for each speaking part. As Baker remembered, the pageant was experienced by its members through a fog of war: ‘Like private soldiers in a battle, we ordinary mortals had no clear picture of what was going on. We only knew that the pageant was most favourably received—but we did pick up what we thought wonderful little stories.’13
Like the pageants on the Scottish borders, such as those held at Carlisle in 1928, 1951, and 1977, a sense of contested territory and nationalism hung over the Shropshire Pageant of 1934. Ludlow had formerly been a military town, key to controlling the Welsh Marches, whose Lord held many powers to administer laws, hold courts, construct castles and appoint deputies independent from the Sovereign. After the pacification of Wales throughout the sixteenth century, the town fell from its position of prominence to become a backwater compared to other towns such as Hereford or Shrewsbury which reinvented themselves as important trading centres. The Times was astute in its judgment: ‘The glory is departed from Ludlow, but not the beauty. The seat of princely power has become a home of rural peace, where the Shropshire pageant, enacted in the outer courtyard of Ludlow Castle, seems almost to have grown into its surroundings. Here is history domesticated.’14 In the reporter’s judgment, the pageant was bucolic to the extent of hardly being aware of outsiders: ‘actors and audience together seem to be part of one body, the people of Shropshire quietly performing a family ceremony which belongs to them.’15
The pageantry begins with a warlike episode stressing violence and power with King Caractacus’ betrayal in Episode I, which is mirrored by the later trial and subsequent execution of the Welsh prince David [i.e. Dafydd ap Gruffudd]. The scenes become more pacific, including a stock instance of a medieval fayre attended by Edward V, and which included Tudor dancing. The pageant concludes with Milton’s Comus, a representation of literary refinement, stressing that Ludlow has definitively turned its back on a cruel and military past: ‘In the choice of episodes a gentle hand seems to have been at work, preferring on the whole the quieter scenes of the country tradition and eschewing the drums and tramplings of history.’16 This was not necessarily a good thing. The Times went on to criticize the pageant for failing to use scenes from the Geste of Fulk FitzWarren, a thirteenth-century ‘ancestral romance’ in medieval French and English that featured Ludlow prominently; it also complained that it omitted other violent scenes of Shropshire’s history such as ‘the last flight of Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury or of the downfall of the Yorkist lords at Ludford Bridge. Instead the pageant begins with a romp and ends with a dream.’
This view is at best a partial reading. Throughout the pageant, the external is presented as a threat and there is violence lurking. The uncrowned Edward V is warned of a threat to his life should he continue his journey to London, which came true when he was murdered (probably) by Richard of Gloucester. The journey of Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville to Shrewsbury School at the end of Episode V is accompanied both by the Headmaster and a band of armed attendants. Even Comus features the classic tale of children lost in the wood under threat from various malign, supernatural forces.
The pageant, for all its celebration of England’s pastoral spirit, also channels the personalities of rebels throughout history. The Anglo-Saxon Lord Edric, who begins the action, was hailed by local newspapers as the hero of the pageant for his defiance of the Normans (the pageant doesn’t mention that Edric was later pardoned and became a soldier in the King’s army).17 The figure of Edric the woodsman was strikingly reminiscent of the Ancient Woodsman who narrated the Abinger Pageant of 1934, personifying an ancient, often dissident, spirit of England. The Tamworth Herald imagined Edric’s ghost observing the preparations for the pageant:
He has peeped into classrooms and heard names mentioned that he had almost forgotten, and has seen pictures of people of his own times… that arouse in him again the hate and defiance which he flung at his Norman conquerors… Wherever his ghostly jaunts have taken him in Shropshire lately he has seen the past being resuscitated, re-clothed, repainted, until he must surely be at his wit’s end to account for the phenomenon…18
Edric was not the only hero. Dafydd ap Gruffudd, the Welsh rebel, sent to a horrific death amidst the saturnalia of Edward I’s court, was played by Mr Abe Lewis from Wales. ‘A baritone from Aberillery, winner at Eisteddfodau and amateur player’,19 Lewis had been planning to study music with Granville Bantock at the Royal College of Music before being prevented by a lack of funds. They were brought together by the pageant. The Manchester Guardian, ever the supporter of the anti-establishment dissident, warmed to Lewis as David: ‘He faced his judges with a mien of theatrical defiance that was [charactertic] to the life that of a Briton about to die’. The paper went on: ‘It is strange but true that loyalty to Prince David of Wales, sentenced to a barbarous death in the precincts of Shrewsbury Abbey in 1283, still lingers on the Welsh border’. The Producers were faced, in the papers’s view, with the contention that David was “no traitor”, and if he was not true to England he was true to Wales.’ The defiantly pro-Welsh reporter concluded that ‘Cymric loyalty can be an enduring thing.’20 Thus, despite being a pageant generally sympathetic to the English cause, the audience (a certain proportion of which came over the border from Wales) were able to draw a ‘Cymric’ message from the pageant simply due to the inclusion of national heroes. Furthermore, audiences warmed to the rebels in the production – Edric and David – regardless of whether they represented Saxon, English or Welsh defiance of authority.
Whatever the explicit or implicit message, Milton’s Comus was the highlight of the performance, though the figure of Milton himself never actually appeared in the pageant. Whilst many pageants (including Shropshire) had people playing their ancestors, it was unlikely that the actor Ernest Milton, who appeared in the professional company performing the Masque, was a descendant of the famous poet.21 Comus was an intellectual and distinctly high-class finale to a relatively egalitarian pageant, prompting a Times leader comment on the virtue of Milton’s verse and the correctness of the type of shepherd’s crook used in the performance ‘with a hoe at its nether head’.22 With paid actors performing the Masque, the final scene was at one remove from the rest of the pageant and the performers. Whilst the Times, in its rather unfavourable review of the pageant, criticized the omission of 300 lines from the poem, it struck a more positive note in its assessment of the Masque, particularly praising Mr Stafford Byne’s portrayal of Comus: ‘And yet, where so much is taken, so much is left that we rise from the performance with a new sense of the perfection of Comus; for surely no other poem in the world has such a uniform texture of beauty that these abhorred shears could leave it so little ravaged.’23 The Era outdid this, judging the scene to be ‘beautifully staged, replete with strange fantastic colour and costume’ and ‘one of the most striking scenes ever staged in natural surroundings’; it added that this staging showed how Shropshire ‘has helped to make this England of ours the finest country in the world.’24 Overall, despite some reservations about John Drinkwater’s script (dedicated to his friend A.E. Housman ‘who has made Shropshire memorable in English poetry’), was on the whole considered to be well-written.
The pageant was well-attended, and though no financial records of the pageant are forthcoming, the full attendance at each performance (4000 seats) surely made the pageant a great success. In 1984 Harry Baker lamented that ‘half a century later…there are many who have not even heard about it, let alone remember anything about it, except from the lips of grandparents’25; however, his article in the Shropshire Magazine prompted a number of subsequent letters suggesting that the pageant had made a lingering impression upon the county.26 The town held an annual Shakespeare and Arts Festival every June and July from 1960 to 2014 which continued in the spirit of the pageant.27
- The Times, 16 June 1934, 10.
- Evelyn Lloyd, ‘How the County Celebrated the 300th Centenary of Comus’, Shropshire Magazine, June 1984, 19.
- Daily Telegraph, 3 July 1934, 10.
- Manchester Guardian, 29 June 1934, 20.
- Tamworth Herald, 21 April 1934, 2.
- Evelyn Lloyd, ‘How the County Celebrated the 300th Centenary of Comus’, Shropshire Magazine, June 1984, 18–19.
- Harry Baker, ‘Who Remembers Shropshire’s Historical Pageant?’ Shropshire Magazine, June 1984, 23.
- Ibid., 24.
- Manchester Guardian, 29 June 1934, 20.
- Lloyd, ‘How the County Celebrated’, 19.
- Ibid., 19.
- Baker, ‘Who Remembers Shropshire’s Historical Pageant?’ 23.
- ‘The Shropshire Pageant’, The Times, 3 July 1934, 12.
- ‘Eadric the Wild’ (2004), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 16 December 2015, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8512.
- Lichfield Mercury, 27 April 1934, 3.
- Manchester Guardian, 29 June 1934, 20.
- ‘Milton, Ernest Gianello’ (2014), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 16 December 2015, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/101277.
- ‘Milton’s Comus’, The Times, 2 July 1934, 17. Also Lichfield Mercury, 29 June 1934, 5.
- The Times, 3 July 1934, 12.
- The Era, 30 May 1934, 20.
- Baker, ‘Who Remembers Shropshire’s Historical Pageant?’ 21.
- E.g., Mary Bloomfield, ‘Evocative… Hilarious… Those Memories of Ludlow Pageant’, July 1984, 39.
- ‘Ludlow Arts Festival Cancelled due to “Insufficient Support”’, BBC News, accessed 13 November 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-shropshire-29722739.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Shropshire Historical Pageant’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1194/