Nestled amongst the dreaming spires of England’s most beautiful city, Oxford Castle is already an atmospheric building. But this was taken to a romantic high last night with Tomahawk Theatre’s performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the castle’s courtyard, much to the pleasure of the students who had signed up to view it.
Spoken in the original dialect and complete with song and dance, the play was quite a spectacle. Though Shakespeare is not often associated with Oxford, having been born in Stratford-upon-Avon and centring his career in London, but he is known to have visited Oxford for performances at Oxford colleges. Oxford was also a stop along the most common route from Stratford-upon-Avon to London. Shakespeare is known to have stayed at The Crown, and is even rumoured to have fathered a child by the landlord’s wife!
Even if Shakespeare was in Oxford from time-to-time, he is unlikely to have visited Oxford Castle. During his lifetime, it was still owned by relatives of the founder Robert D’Oyly, who built the castle between 1071 and 1073 after being granted the lands by William the Conqueror.
Oxford Castle is most commonly remembered for being the setting of Empress Matilda’s daring escape in the winter of 1142, in the midst of The Anarchy. Surrounded by the forces of her rival, confident in their ability to force Matilda out through long siege, the Empress waited until December to make her move. With the River Isis frozen, she sneaked out of the castle on foot and escaped across the water to her royal army. Legend has it that she wore white to blend in with the surrounding snow.
After the English Civil War of the 17th century, Oxford Castle served as the local prison. It has since been converted into a complex of restaurants, heritage, and hotel space, with the courtyard often used for performances – such as Romeo and Juliet.
There will be additional showings of Romeo and Juliet throughout July, and students should be sure to sign up!