Ronald Watkins

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Ronald Watkins
Arthur Ronald Dare Watkins

29 August 1904
Kingston Hill, Surrey, England
Died16 February 2001
Occupation(s)School teacher, Shakespeare scholar
Margaret Watson Brown
(m. 1948)

Arthur Ronald Dare Watkins OBE (29 August 1904 – 16 February 2001)[1] was a teacher of drama and a director, noted for his work on Shakespeare and was awarded the Order of the British Empire. Throughout his long career, in stage productions, lectures, and writings, Watkins argued for the primacy of language in Shakespeare's plays and attempted to discover and replicate how Shakespeare himself staged and produced the plays.

Watkins was born in Kingston Hill, Surrey, the youngest of his parents' seven recorded children. [2] He was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge, where he arrived as a scholar, and gained a first class degree in Classics.[2] After a period working as a "reader" at the BBC, he joined the staff of Harrow School in 1932, teaching English and Classics. In 1948 he married Margaret "Bunty" Watson Brown.[2]

In 1940 a German bomb severely damaged the Harrow Speech Room. When Watkins produced his first Shakespeare play – Twelfth Night—at Harrow School in 1941, the damaged stage lacked a proscenium curtain and stage lighting. Watkins turned these problems to his advantage, realising that the minimalist conditions of his stage were similar to those of Shakespeare's own theater. Inspired by the work of John Cranford Adams, Watkins gradually transformed the Harrow Speech Room into an approximation of an Elizabethan stage. The Shakespeare productions became an annual tradition at Harrow, and between 1941 and 1964,[3] Watkins staged 21 plays. One of those whose performances he directed was Robin Butler, who after playing the Duke of Kent in a schoolboy production of King Lear in 1956, went on to achieved wider fame as the United Kingdom's top civil servant.[3][4] In 1952 some of Watkins' former student actors formed the Old Harrovian Players, and this alumni company returned each year to present its own Shakespeare play at Harrow.

In 1962 Watkins's friends David and June Gordon (Lord and Lady Aberdeen) invited him to direct a Shakespeare play at Haddo House, their country estate in Aberdeen, Scotland. The concert hall at Haddo House was converted into an Elizabethan stage, and Watkins put on a Shakespeare production there in alternate years from 1962 to 1970.

Watkins retired from his teaching post at Harrow in 1964 and embarked on a 20-year career as a travelling lecturer, touring Europe, the United States, and Canada to promote "The Cause." In 1965 and 1967 he was visiting professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he directed a production of King Lear (1967) and received an honorary doctorate (1976). Watkins donated his library and personal papers to Wake Forest University in 1999. A celebratory event commemorating this gift was held in October 1999, and a Shakespeare in Education symposium took place at Wake Forest in August 2000. His association with Wake Forest began in the 1960s, when the university was a stop on his North American speaking tours.

Watkins's publications include Moonlight at the Globe (Michael Joseph, 1946) and On Producing Shakespeare (Michael Joseph, 1950; reprinted by Benjamin Blom, 1964).[5] He also co-authored, with Jeremy Lemmon, the series in Shakespeare's Playhouse. Watkins donated the manuscript of his final work, Why Not Ask Shakespeare? (Winston-Salem, NC: Stratford Books, 2002), to Wake Forest. The manuscript was edited by Professor Don Wolfe of Wake Forest University and published posthumously.

Watkins was an ardent supporter of Sam Wanamaker's project of reconstructing Shakespeare's Globe Theatre near its original site in London. He played the double bass and was a keen watercolourist.[2] Ronald Watkins was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1996 "for services to the Globe." Watkins died in 2001, at the age of 96.


  • Watkins, Ronald (1946). Moonlight at the Globe. London : Michael Joseph.
  • Watkins, Ronald (2002). Why Not Ask Shakespeare?. Winston-Salem, NC : Stratford Books.

Notes and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Harrow School Register 2002 8th edition edited by S W Bellringer & published by The Harrow Association
  2. ^ a b c d "Ronald Watkins". Daily Telegraph (obituary), London. 14 March 2001. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Shakespeare at Harrow 1957". Source includes a link to a short video including a description of Watkins' approach to Shakespeare productions at Harrow in the 1950s. The British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 15 September 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  4. ^ "Former British Cabinet Secretary to discuss Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre at Wake Forest University". Wake Forest University, NC. 15 January 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2016.
  5. ^ Michael Macowan (2 February 1951). "Shakespeare on the Stage". book review of On Producing Shakespeare. By Ronald Watkins, (Michael Joseph). Retrieved 22 May 2016.

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