Optical connections: The spectacle makers - play in two acts

David Baker sees how the 17th Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers links with a 21st century US Shakespeare company

Act I: 17th century London. A group of spectacle makers, who are members of various livery companies (notably the Brewers’ Company), a requirement of being able to carry on their craft in London, decide to form their own livery company. In 1629 the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers (WCSM) is born; and remains the oldest non-political optical body in the world.

Act II: Twenty-first century America. In which is told the lesser-known story of a reconstruction of William Shakespeare’s indoor theatre, a transatlantic visit to its original site at Blackfriars, London and an unusual form of homage paid to WCSM. As Shakespeare did not quite say: read on, Macduff….

To begin at the beginning, we must travel back to the 13th century. The Dominican order of monks, known as the Black Friars because of the black mantles worn over their white robes, arrived in England in 1221, established a monastery in London in 1278 and eventually settled in the area which took on their name. After Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monastic orders in England in 1538, the buildings and grounds were sold off.

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