Pageant of English Literature, 1914

Pageant type

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Place: The Assembly Room in the Oxford Town Hall (Oxford) (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England)

Year: 1914

Indoors/outdoors: Indoors

Number of performances: 5


28–30 April 1914

28 and 29 April at 2.30pm and 8pm; 30 April at 8pm.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Master: Swann, Emma
  • Arranged by: Emma Swann and Eva Whitmarsh
  • Morris Dancing: Miss Daking
  • Stage Manager: Mr Geoffrey Alington
  • Introducer: T.H. Warren, Master of Magdalen College and Professor of Poetry

Names of executive committee or equivalent


Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

  • Warren, T. Herbert
  • Poynter, Miss
  • Plowman, Miss
  • Coulson, Miss
  • Oman, Charles
  • Swann, Emma
  • Shakespeare, William


  • Episode I: T. Herbert Warren, President of Magdalen and Professor of Poetry
  • Episode II: Miss Poynter and Miss Plowman
  • Episode III: Miss Coulson
  • Episode IV: Arranged by Mrs Sanderson Furniss
  • Episode V: Professor Oman, FSA
  • Episode VI: Miss Poynter and Miss Swann
  • Episode VII: Miss Poynter
  • Episode VIII: Arranged by Geoffrey Alington
  • Episode IX: Arranged by Professor Oman, FSA
  • Episode X: Miss Poynter
  • Introductions to Episodes by Emma Swann

Names of composers


Numbers of performers


71 men, 91 women

Financial information

Object of any funds raised

The Pageant was for the Additional Curates’ Society, which ran social missions in Oxford.

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: No
  • Grandstand capacity: n/a
  • Total audience: n/a


This was in the Oxford Assembly Rooms, with raised seating at the back of the hall.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest


  • Reserved seats 4s. and 3s.
  • Unreserved 2s. and 1s.
  • Reduced tickets for schools and parties by arrangement.

Associated events


Pageant outline

Episode I. Caedmon Relating his Vision of the Creation to the Abbess Hilda

This is the story of Caedmon, our first English poet. Caedmon was a lay brother at Whitby, who was invited to sing with pagan friends with a harp. Refusing to sing, except for honouring God, Caedmon slept and was told by God in a dream to sing and write poetry. His Abbess Hilda gave him permission to write ‘songs and verses so winsome to hear that his teachers themselves wrote and learned from his mouth.’ The episode mainly features T. Herbert Warren’s poem retelling the events in the style of Caedmon: e.g., ‘Me Caedmon the herdman/Me my feres friendly/For feasting forward/To the board bade/Harp thou in hand have!’

Episode II. King Alfred as a Boy, Induced to Learn to Read by the Sight of his Mother Osburga’s Illustrated Missal

Alfred ‘was the first of our kings who greatly encouraged the study of literature. He invited learned men to his Court, founded schools, and inspired scholars by his own example.’ This is an account of his mother, Osberga, promising a beautifully illuminated Anglo-Saxon manuscript to whichever of her sons was first able to read it. The elder sons are too ‘much addicted to the pleasures of the chase to spend their time in learning’ but Alfred studies hard and claims the prize. A wise woman predicts Alfred shall be the greatest among his siblings.

Episode III. Queen Matilda and her Ladies Working at the Bayeux Tapestry

The notes to the episode record that ‘There are only three female figures in the Tapestry’ who all wear Anglo-Saxon, not Norman, dress. Queen Matilda (wife of William the Conqueror, who may or may not be the tapestries’ commissioner) remarks to her maids in front of Bishop Odo on the Tapestry as their contribution to history: ‘Women, as writers, are unknown, methinks, as yet./But we, even we, my maids and I,/Have written history upon this cloth’. A song is sung by the Minstrel ‘Taillefer’, recounting his famous performance of the ‘Song of Roland’ at the Battle of Hastings, as well as the event itself.

Episode IV. King Richard and Queen Berengaria Listening to Blondel

There is no script in this performance. Blondel’s Song performed in French: ‘Las! si j’avais pouvoir d’oublier’ [actually by Thibaut de Champagne].

Episode V. Chaucer and the Canterbury Pilgrims

A fictionalised scene from the Canterbury Tales, set at the Tabard Inn, Southwark. The host goes through and scoffs at various pieces of luggage. Chaucer enters and the host accounts for the characters: ‘A reeve, whose talk is all of sheep and hogs; a good old parson from the Silly South; a shipman from the port of Dartemouth; a buxom widow from the town of Bath; an Oxford scholar, lean as any lath [etc]’. The characters argue amongst each other as Chaucer asks them why they chose to visit Canterbury. The starving Oxford scholar admits his ‘pilgrimage is just a holiday’. The Parson instructs them that ‘Life is a pilgrimage, therefore perpend/How ye may face that pilgrimage’s end.’

Episode VI. Caxton and the Printing Press

This episode depicts Caxton and many of the authors whose books he printed, such as Thomas Mallory. An ageing Caxton is harangued by ladies, who denounce his printing innovation as a black art. A gentleman defends him: ‘He doth but pick other men’s brains to use in this great invention of printing, which many say will turn the world upside down before it is done away with’. However, he bemoans the loss of scribes and the advent of popular literacy: ‘We shall have all men learning to read what they buy, and what that will bring to England, I ask you all to say!’ Mallory defends Caxton’s endeavour as a noble device.

Episode VII. Princess Elizabeth as a Prisoner Listening to her Tutor, Roger Ascham

Princess Elizabeth is shown being instructed by Roger Ascham, whilst imprisoned by Mary I at Woodstock. The programme notes claim that Ascham’s instructions were key to her later patronage of literature. A milkmaid sings a song wrongly attributed to John Donne (it is actually ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’ by Christopher Marlowe). The imprisoned Elizabeth is upset on hearing the song at being imprisoned. Ascham encourages her: ‘Has not the wisdom of Plato and Aristotle, of Sophocles and Demosthenes, taught you better to bear present ills with patience, and hope for better days?’ Ascham reads a poem by Elizabeth craving her freedom.’

Episode VIII. Shakespeare. A Scene from ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Wrong attribution—it is’ ‘A Winter’s Tale’. ‘The scene [Act IV, Scene 2] presented is the love-making between Florizel and Perdita at the sheep shearing.’

Episode IX. Milton. Scene from ‘Comus’—A Masque Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634

For Charles Oman who arranged this episode, ‘Comus is well nigh the last production of John Milton the lyric poet, ere yet he became John Milton the political controversialist, and set himself to waste his middle age on bitter pamphleteering and arid tractates. He had not yet broken with the spirit of Elizabethan England, or learned to look on masques and pageants as profane trifles.’ The story tells how a lady travelling through a forest was separated from her brothers and encountered Comus, son of Bacchus and Circe.

Instructions on the symbolic meaning of each character: Comus ‘stands for the non-moral Pagan spirit’.

Episode X. Addison and Steele

This scene is designed to mark the further progress of English Literature by the introduction of Daily Newspapers. The introduction gives a detailed history of the Tatler and Spectator. Steele, and Addison enter, noting how preferable Oxford is to London, and greet servants. They exchange various witty quips at the expense of a chaplain and servants. A widow enters and they flirt with her. More servants and girls enter and begin to Morris dance, whilst Addison converses with the Chaplain.

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Cædmon (fl. c.670) poet
  • Alfred [Ælfred] (848/9–899) king of the West Saxons and of the Anglo-Saxons [also known as Aelfred, the Great]
  • Matilda [Matilda of Flanders] (d. 1083) queen of England, consort of William I
  • Lanfranc (c.1010–1089) archbishop of Canterbury
  • Richard I [called Richard Coeur de Lion, Richard the Lionheart] (1157–1199) king of England, duke of Normandy and of Aquitaine, and count of Anjou
  • Chaucer, Geoffrey (c.1340–1400) poet and administrator
  • Caxton, William (1415x24–1492) printer, merchant, and diplomat
  • Malory, Sir Thomas (1415x18–1471) author [also known as Mallory, Sir Thomas]
  • Margaret, duchess of Burgundy (1446–1503) Yorkist matriarch and mediator
  • Elizabeth I (1533–1603) queen of England and Ireland
  • Milton, John (1608–1674) poet and polemicist
  • Addison, Joseph (1672–1719) writer and politician
  • Steele, Sir Richard (bap. 1672, d. 1729) writer and politician

Musical production

  • Singer (Episode III): Mr Geoffrey Gwyther as Tailefer.
  • Mr Wilfred Nurse (aged 11) sang Blondel’s minstrel song (Episode IV).
  • Page Phillips sang as Ariel (Episode VIII).
  • Sir H.R. Bishop, arrangement of the ‘Milkmaid’s Song’.
  • Henry Lawes (Episode IX) for incidental music ‘kindly lent by the Marlowe Society’.

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Oxford Journal Illustrated
Oxford Times

Book of words

Pageant of English literature, Arranged by Emma Swann and Eva Whitmarsh, Town Hall, Oxford, April, 1914, in Connection with the Oxford Diocesan Branch of the Women's Home Mission Association (ACS). Oxford, 1914.

64pp. with 12 pages of advertising. Copy in the Oxfordshire History Centre. Ref OXFO 394.5.

Other primary published materials


References in secondary literature

  • Graham, Malcolm. Oxford in the Great War. Barnsley, 2014. At 92.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Oxfordshire History Centre, Advertisement for the 1914 Pageant of English Literature. OXFO 394.5.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • William Shakespeare. A Winter’s Tale. London, 1611.
  • John Milton. Comus. London, 1634.


See entry for the Oxford Pageant of English Literature 1911, which the 1914 Pageant of English Literature was a restaging of with the same cast and production team, adding, omitting and editing several scenes. The pageant was advertised as ‘A unique and beautiful series of illustrations… showing the development of English Literature from the 7th to the 18th Century; these will be of a most interesting character and of great educational value.’1

It was arranged by two sisters, Emma Swann and Eva Whitmarsh, who were involved in a number of Charity organisations in Oxford, including the Women’s Home Mission Association and the YMCA.2 They were nieces of the noted botanist and Oxford Don John Westwood.3 The pageant was opened by the Mayor, who noted Mrs Whitmarsh’s qualities as an organizer, guaranteeing financial success, and introduced T. Herbert Warren (Vice Chancellor of Oxford University 1906–10 and Professor of Poetry and President of Magdalen). The pageant itself is notable for its portrayal of the nascent subject of English Literature (still a young subject at Oxford). T.H. Warren features as the composer of Caedmon’s Ode (Episode 1) (written with the assistance of Professor A.C. Bradley). Although the pageant was small compared to other Oxford pageants, it was connected to the university through the Omans (Charles, Carola and Dulce) and T.H. Warren, and a number of other spouses, daughters and nieces of the Oxford intellectual aristocracy.

The pageant presented fictionalised or very loosely historical accounts relating to the composition of key works of English literature or, alternately, key scenes which fostered the literary tendencies of a monarch (Alfred the Great, Richard the Lionheart, Queen Elizabeth). As such, the pageant blends history and literature together, although the focus is predominantly on the latter. There are a few connections to Oxford: The scholar from the Canterbury Tales is fictionally from Oxford; Elizabeth is held captive at Woodstock; and both Addison and Steele remark on how Oxford is far better than the pressures of London life.

The pageant’s choice of sources is significant: Caedmon, of whose work only one short poem survives, is preferred to, for example, the author of Beowulf or other early Anglo-Saxon literature. This is presumably a result of his Christianity. A number of scenes have little link to what we might consider as ‘literature’: i.e. to written books. The episodes featuring the Bayeux Tapestry and Richard the Lionheart and Blondel both feature minstrels performing an oral tradition, which is more French than English. The inclusion of the weaving of the tapestry and Caxton’s printed books and the history of the Spectator emphasise the importance of reproduction alongside individual creativity. The use of an amended version of the national anthem, with words from the Tudor comedy Ralph Roister Doister, was omitted from the 1914 version. Similarly the scene about the King James Bible, which had been written specifically for the tercentenary in 1911, was omitted. Moreover, the scene with Milton and his daughters was exchanged for a scene from Milton’s Comus. 1911. A scene on Addison, Steele, and the birth of newspapers was added.

The pageant is notable for its female presence (women outnumbered men), which gave several scenes a gendered interpretation of events long before academic English Literature would consider these perspectives. Most striking was Queen Matilda in Episode III in which she defends her and her ladies’ weaving as a counterpoint to writing in a society that prevents women from taking part in literary activity.4 There are obvious parallels here with the final scene where it is Milton’s daughters who are doing the actual writing. Their costumes, and especially their headwear, are frequently commented on in the preliminary text to each episode, as are the historical images and sources from which these are derived.

The 1914 restaging used largely the same cast. And indeed the relatively small size of this cast made a restaging possible. The 1914 version of the Book of Words is more complete than that of 1911, however, listing writers, actors, and the Pageant Masters themselves. It also omitted the two renditions of Ralph Roister Doister/’God Save the King’—though one assumes that the traditional version was sung at the end. (This had been the only part of the 1911 pageant criticised by the Oxford Journal Illustrated, which noted that the music ’disappointed’ the writer: ‘Mr Cocker’s music was too florid and elaborate.’5) The scene featuring Milton and his daughters, and the flippancy of the Royalists, was either too divisive or it was thought that featuring more text would improve the performance. The final episode on Addison and Steele purports ‘to mark the further progress of English Literature by the introduction of Daily Newspapers’6, though the scene bears very little relationship to their output aside from a brief remark by Sir Roger: ‘they have invented a new style in literature, which will never grow old. How could we live now without our Spectator at the breakfast-table every day, to sharpen our wits, and enlarge our minds, and warm our hearts.’7

As with that of 1911, the 1914 Oxford Pageant of English Literature was evidently a success. It was well-received by the newspapers, reviewed by a regular commentator, Barbara Bocardo (possibly a pseudonym), who praised the pageant as a whole, in particular enjoying the colours of the Matilda scene, the dialogue in the King Alfred Scene, and the Milton. She most enjoyed the ‘quaint cynicism’ of the Canterbury Pilgrims’, writing of how ‘It had never struck me before that a pilgrimage was neither more nor less than a medieval [Thomas] Cook’s personally conducted tour… Life in the Middle Ages was much gayer than it appears to us now.’ Bocardo regretted that pilgrimages have gone out of fashion: ‘A fortnight at a hydro or a seaside boarding house is very tame in comparison.’8 The pageant was an early portrayal of the evolution of English Literature and, at a time when Women’s Suffrage was a crucial issue, suggested that women’s part in English Literature was one male writers and scholars overlooked at their peril.


  1. ^ Advertisement for 1914 Pageant of English Literature, Oxford History Library. OXFO 394.5.
  2. ^ Malcolm Graham, Oxford in the Great War (Barnsley, 2014), 92.
  3. ^ Audrey Z. Smith, A History of the Hope Entomological Collections in the University of Oxford (Oxford, 1986), 13, 38 and 46.
  4. ^ Pageant of English literature, Arranged by Emma Swann and Eva Whitmarsh, Town Hall, Oxford, April, 1914, in Connection with the Oxford Diocesan Branch of the Women's Home Mission Association (ACS). Oxford, 1914, 12–3.
  5. ^ Barbara Bocardo, ‘The W.H.M.A. Exhibition and Pageant’, Oxford Journal Illustrated, 1 November 1911, 11.
  6. ^ Pageant of English literature, Arranged by Emma Swann and Eva Whitmarsh, Town Hall, Oxford, April, 1914, in Connection with the Oxford Diocesan Branch of the Women's Home Mission Association (ACS). Oxford, 1914, 55.
  7. ^ Ibid., 59.
  8. ^ Bocardo, ‘Exhibition and Pageant’, 11.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘Pageant of English Literature, 1914’, The Redress of the Past,