This event has now finished.
  • Date and time: Wednesday 16 November 2022, 6.30pm to 7.30pm
  • Location: In-person only
    Merchant Adventurers' Hall, Fossgate (Map)
  • Audience: Open to alumni, staff, students, the public
  • Admission: Free admission, booking required

Event details

Merchant Adventurers' Arts Discovery Event

Born in the early years of the ‘Age of Discovery’, John Rastell bubbled with ideas. This idiosyncratic lawyer, printer and author built the earliest known permanent Tudor stage, was the first person in Europe to attempt to print a musical score, and may have been the first Englishman to call the ‘New World’ America. But for everything Rastell got right, he got many more things wrong. He sued his mother-in-law and lost his estate in the process. He set sail to discover the north-west passage to Asia only to be put ashore by his crew before his ship left the Irish sea. And his quirky, science-driven morality play, A New Interlude and a Mery of the Nature of the Four Elements made a valiant to prove the earth is round – some two millenia after everyone else had reached the same conclusion.

This lecture charts Rastell’s ill-directed adventures at the margins of some of the period’s most epoch-shaping events: printing law books at the sign of the Mermaid, marrying into the humanist elite, converting to Protestantism, and painting the roof of the royal pavilion at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. It pays special attention to Rastell’s New Interlude, arguing that this ponderous and peculiar drama represents one of the most important attempts there has ever been to put science, and our unfurling knowledge of the world, on stage.

About the speaker

Professor Helen Smith is Head of the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York. She has wide-ranging research interests embracing Renaissance poetry, drama, and prose; history of the book; feminist literary history and theory; religion and conversion; the history of reading; and materiality. Helen is founding co-director of Thin Ice Press, the Department's in-house letterpress studio, and one of the principal researchers on York’s StreetLife project. Funded by the UK Government Community Renewal Fund the project explores new ways to revitalise and diversify York’s Coney Street, drawing inspiration from the city’s rich history and heritage and vibrant creative communities, and involving businesses, the general public, and other stakeholders in shaping the future of the high street. With her team, Helen is looking forward to launching the York Centre for Print.