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The theatre as an institution is the pre-eminent arrangement whereby human beings work out the models of their own conduct, their morality and aspiration, their ideas of good and evil, and in general those fantasies about themselves and their fellows which, if persisted in, tend to eventually become facts in real life.

CWHodgesI find the notion of mankind rehearsing and shaping itself through theatre quite fascinating – but then I would, wouldn’t I?

The idea belongs to Cyril Walter Hodges – who was an award-winning illustrator of children’s books, a scenery and costume designer, a historical novelist, and a Shakespearean scholar. Quite the eclectic character – but there was a method to his eclectism, because most of his work revolved around theatre and history.

I love his drawings – the swift, elegant lines, the finely-judged balance of detail and stylization, the transparent, luminous colours, the almost doodle-like quality of his sketches… My favourite part of his work is that devoted to theatre, Elizabethan theatre particularly. It was sold to the Folger Library back in the Eighties, and the FL digitized the lot and made it available for perusing here and here.CWHImaginary_view_of_an_Elizabethan_stage

It is one of those e-places where one can spend many happy hours – I know I have done again and again. I go searching for something specific, and every time end up browsing blissfully away…

it is something of an irony that a man who centred his life around a passion for Elizabethan theatre,  should have such bad memories of Dulwich College (founded by the great Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn) that he described his time there as “wretched”… But unfortunate schooling clearly did not quench young Hodges’ interest in the period, and he went on to be the man whose speculative drawings and scholarship were fundamental in the reconstruction of Elizabethan theatres.

I like to think that, if theatre shapes mankind’s self-awareness, Cyril Walter Hodges certainly helped shape our understanding of Elizabethan theatre.

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