Today’s post comes from Hollins University.
A century has passed since Hollins College (Roanoke, Va.) celebrated the tercentennial of Shakespeare’s death. On May 13, 1916, “An Unrecorded Progress of Queen Elizabeth” wound its way through the grounds of Hollins, complete with Elizabethan villagers, dancers, and characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Included in the pageant was Queen Elizabeth and the old bard himself.
The pageant was a grand affair, with 800 in the cast and 2000 or more spectators, according to The Roanoke Times. The newspaper’s reporter noted the complicated logistics of hosting such a large event: “Persons from Roanoke were transported to Hollins in a special train. From the station to the college, jitneys, omnibuses and automobiles were put into use. Two hundred automobiles were counted on the campus, after the pageant was in progress.”
With Hollins College being a small institution of 260 students, faculty, and administrators, community organizations were invited to be part of the production. Children from the Salem Orphanage, students from both Roanoke High School and Elizabeth College, two Roanoke Shakespeare clubs, and the Y.W.C.A. were among the community participants. So many individuals were involved that it took no less than eight committees to organize the event. These committees handled everything from costumes and publicity to dancing and music. There was even a committee to coordinate all the community organizations involved with the pageant.
“One of the most interesting features of community participation was the fact that the Rotary Club of Roanoke came over en masse and in costume at its own expense, and contributing, besides an abundance of courtiers, explorers, and other desirable masculine celebrities, a large share of delightful Elizabethan music.”
The press coverage was wide spread. One article, written by O. L Hatcher, a Richmond authority on Elizabethan customs and pageantry, gave high praise for the event, calling it a “superb success” and an “artistic achievement.” The opening scene was set in Stratford Road, where Queen Elizabeth travels to Shakespeare’s birthplace. Along the way were many villagers, awaiting her coming: Morris dancers, foresters, milkmaids, tradesmen, village children, Clerk of Trinity, cake and comfit sellers as well as the historical figures of Jonson, Marlowe, Raleigh, Spencer, Beaumont, and Fletcher. “She came with her Court, winding down a hill at a distance, and finally turning into the Stratford Road, where a seat for her had been prepared, and the revels began. At the end, Shakespeare was called to the throne and honored before all….” Dancing, singing, and the presentation of scenes from As you Like it, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, and Twelfth Night were part of the revelry.
O.R. Hatcher called the pageant a “wonderful success.” “It not only brought together from all the neighboring country, and further away, a crowd estimated as the largest ever assembled there, but it embodied in itself the perfection of the community spirit.”