Voices in the Coalshed: Shakespeare’s Birthday
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Voices in the Coalshed: Shakespeare’s Birthday

The 23rd of April marks Shakespeare’s 460th birthday.

Why are we commemorating Shakespeare’s birthday in Voices in the Coalshed? Can there possibly be a link between coal mining and Shakespeare? Of course there can, in fact there are several.

There are several references to coal in his plays. In The Winter’s Tale, King Leontes, thinking of his dead wife, compares the eyes of other women to “dead coals”, lacking life and heat. The same words are used also in King John when the Dauphin of France accuses the Pope’s Ambassador of having “first kindled the dead coals of wars” between England and France.

In Henry V there is a comment, “I knew by that piece of service the men would carry coals.” That is to say that they would do some dirty work, would commit crime. The words appear in, Romeo and Juliet:

“ S: Gregory, on my word we’ll not carry coals.

G: No, for then we should be colliers.”

For the Capulet servants carrying coal means putting up with something, in this case abuse from their enemies the Montagues; they will fight rather than be abused by them. This may show the low status of colliers at the time.

And finally, there is Shakespeare Colliery. It is believed that Shakespeare was a frequent visitor to Dover and a famous cliff, now called Shakespeare Cliff, is supposed to have inspired a scene in King Lear. A nearby colliery, Dover Colliery, was renamed Shakespeare Colliery in the late 1900s.

Written by Volunteer Nicola

Image header: Lantern slide from shaft sinking set of shaft top inside a constructed wooden frame. (Shakespeare Colliery, Kent).