Remember the failed “luxury music festival” that was Fyre Fest? Or the messy (but ultimately rewarding) planning behind Woodstock? The logistics behind major festivals and events are always tricky and sometimes can outright fail. Even many centures. Many.
In Andrew McConnell Stott’s What Blest Genius? The Jubilee That Made Shakespeare (W. W. Norton & Company, $26.95), the focus is on Shakespeare’s Jubilee: the event that established William Shakespeare as the greatest writer of all time in September 1769.
It was also a ridiculous, rain-soaked disaster. Three thousand people descended on Stratford-upon-Avon to celebrate the artistic legacy of the town’s most famous son. Attendees included the rich and powerful, the fashionable and the curious, eligible ladies and fortune hunters, and a horde of journalists and profiteers. For three days, they paraded through garlanded streets, listened to songs and oratorios, and enjoyed masked balls. It was a unique cultural moment―a coronation elevating Shakespeare to the throne of genius.
The poorly planned Jubilee imposed an army of Londoners on a backwater hamlet peopled by hostile and superstitious locals, unable and unwilling to meet their demands. Rain fell in sheets, flooding tents and dampening fireworks, and threatening to wash the whole town away. Told from the dual perspectives of David Garrick, who masterminded the Jubilee, and James Boswell, who attended it, What Blest Genius? is rich with humor, gossip and theatrical intrigue.