ELIAS ASHMOLE VERSUS THE WIDOW.
Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum is a world renowned institution attracting thousands of visitors each year. Established over three hundred years ago, in 1683, on the site of what is now the Museum of the History of Science in Broad Street, it was founded on the basis of a collection amassed by the Tradescant family. The story of the play is how the esteemed property of one family came to acquire a home under another’s name, and what happened to the last of the Tradescants.
We see at close quarters the struggle between Elias Ashmole, antiquarian, astrologer and courtier, and Hester Tradescant, wife and then widow, of John Tradescant the younger, and keeper of the collection. Around them their contemporaries invite us to question Elias’ motives and even doubt Hester’s good sense in resisting him. The central action takes place in the late seventeenth century court of Chancery in London and in the homes of the adversaries, with an English folksong used to illuminate Elias Ashmole’s character.
The play invites the audience to see Elias Ashmole’s reasons for claiming the collection, and Hester’s fierce family loyalty, pride and opposition to his apparently legal claim. Gender attitudes and the power of privilege play their part, as do sheer bloody-mindedness. The ending is not only about a judicial outcome; it is also about different kinds of human being, then as now.
The performance lasts approximately 70 minutes.
“Dead hands are powerless and can hold nothing. I shall render her hands, in this matter, as dead….”
“He shall learn not to disrespect me…”.
But is it true?
All the people represented actually existed at the same time as each other, and the broad outlines of the plot regarding the significant documents, the deaths of characters, and the court cases are documented.
Are the characters represented fairly?
Again, the broad outlines of what they do in the play are documented, and some of the dialogue derives from contemporary sources, too.
If you search for accounts of Elias on the web, however, you will find contrasting accounts, one of which - a recent blog from South Lambeth - even calls him 'villainous'.
If you want to take these questions further have a look at 'Origins and Sources' below