Western Mail News:
An unsung teacher from Wales helped nurture the talent for language that made Shakespeare one of the world’s greatest literary figures, an academic has claimed.
Professor Jonathan Bate, the author of one-man play Being Shakespeare, says teacher Thomas Jenkins taught the poet the Latin that shaped his flair for language.
Headteacher Jenkins taught Shakespeare from the age of nine at the King Edward VI grammar school in Stratford-upon-Avon, after studying at St John’s College, Oxford.
Professor Bate, 53, who specialises in Shakespeare at the University of Warwick, also said the bard later went on to model a character in one of his comedies on Jenkins – Sir Hugh Evans in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
The academic said Latin was “drilled into” Elizabethan schoolboys, making Jenkins one of Shakespeare’s formative early influences.
Scholars believe that, between 1500 and 1659, nouns, verbs and modifiers of Latin, Greek and modern languages like Spanish and French added 30,000 new words to English.
Professor Bate, whose play is being performed at London’s Trafalgar Studios until July 23, said: “The way Thomas Jenkins would have taught him in the grammar school was exactly to encourage verbal creativity.
“One of the exercises they did in the grammar schools was to get the pupils to write, saying, ‘Your letter pleases me greatly’ in 195 different ways in Latin. That’s what Shakespeare was doing when he was 11 with his Welsh schoolmaster.”
Richard Pearson, the archivist at the King Edward VI grammar school – which is still open – said Jenkins was the headmaster for four years between 1575 and 1579, throughout which time he would have been teaching Shakespeare.
Besides The Merry Wives of Windsor Mr Pearson believes the schoolmaster Holofernes from Love’s Labour’s Lost is also based on Jenkins.
Mr Pearson, a 71-year-old former history teacher at the grant-aided school, said: “One would have said (Jenkins was teaching Shakespeare) during his most formative years.
Martin Coyle, a lecturer in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama at Cardiff University’s English department, said links between the bard and Wales extend well beyond Jenkins.
When the poet’s folio – or collected works – was published for the first time in 1623 it was dedicated to the brothers William and Philip Herbert, the Earls of Pembroke.
The dedication described the influential political figures as the “most noble and incomparable paire of brethren”.
But though this strongly suggests a link between Shakespeare and Welsh aristocracy it’s not certain the dedication was penned in accordance with his wishes, as the bard had died several years earlier.
[Professor] Coyle said: “Whoever dedicated the first folio possibly knew Shakespeare’s wishes.
“We don’t know because it’s seven years after his death. But it would add to the clear evidence that Shakespeare talked about Wales and the Welsh, particularly in Henry V (in this play Henry Monmouth boasts three times about his Welsh credentials).
“There’s also reference in Cymbeline (where the action takes place in Wales) and Romeo and Juliet (the Welsh fairy queen Mab has her own monologue) and Henry IV (which features Owain Glyndwr).”