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The stars are flocking to The Bath Festival, some of them in person; others in spirit. Emma Clegg goes all starry-eyed and takes the roll call, spanning the centuries from Socrates to Sara Cox


he Bath Festival has always attracted the big stars, and there’s no exception this year. The oldest of our Bath Festival stars is Socrates. Born in 470 BC and one of the founders of Western philosophy, he’s quite big as stars go. He didn’t write things down, so we know about him through classical writers such as Plato and Xenophon. On 18 May Armand d’Angour, author of Socrates in Love, and philosopher Julian Baggini talk about his passionate early life and the mysterious woman who inspired him to develop his ideas. It’s probably not his wife Xanthippe, who Xenophon describes as “the hardest to get along with of all the women there are.”

Whizz ahead a few centuries and star or astéri becomes stella as we encounter the best story for our spa city, The Gods and Rituals of Roman Britain by Miranda Aldhouse-Green. The Romans, excellent at building roads and spas, did encounter considerable resistance from the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon population when they came to Britain, and on 21 May Aldhouse-Green talks about how this led to deities, cults and beliefs being challenged, adapted and absorbed by both sides. Leonardo da Vinci, Italian Renaissance polymath, is also in our line-up. Born in 1452, he loved everything from engineering and architecture to geology and astronomy, and is regarded as one of the greatest painters of all time. Why does his life continue to be so intriguing? Da Vinci expert Martin Kemp talks to James Long about his 50-year relationship with Leonardo on 23 May. Elizabeth I (b.1533) and Mary Queen of Scots (b.1542) have not been short of air time over the years – unsurprisingly as theirs

Socrates and Sara Cox: both with a flair for talking

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nothing more than a title suggested by the audience. I have a suspicion JA may have approved.

Leonardo da Vinci and Barbie: a match made in heaven? was one dramatic royal power struggle. We know how the story ends, with Mary’s head on the block and Elizabeth reigning long as queen, but it could so easily have been different, as the Catholic Church saw Elizabeth as illegitimate and Mary as the rightful English heir. The latest book on this challenging subject is Rival Queens: The Betrayal of Mary Queen of Scots by Kate Williams, who on 19 May talks about how she shook up the old story into a profile of a Mary who attempted to reinvent queenship and the monarchy. The influence of Shakespeare (b.1564), poet and playwright, stretches from continent to continent. Indeed his work defines us all, embedded within our drama, literature, language, poetry, art and culture. Sadly his star didn’t rise until after his death – critics of the time mostly rated him below John Fletcher and Ben Jonson. As Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “We know what we are, but not what we may be.” There’s always room to uncover new truths in his multi-layered oeuvre – and Oxford professor Emma Smith is at the festival on 24 May talking about her book This is Shakespeare, offering a penetratingly different side to the man. Jane Austen is the literary star of Bath. She only lived here for approximately five years, but we have appropriated her. She had mixed feelings about the city, but there’s no doubt that the social scene of balls, promenades and assemblies provided her with rich material. Comedy improv troupe Austentatious, who are appearing at the festival, drop any aspirations towards serious lit crit and instead go for improvisation, taking a lighthearted look at the culture of Austen. The comic performers conjure up a ‘lost’ Jane Austen novel on 18 May based on

Wallis Simpson (b.1896), an American socialite, became a star because of her association with Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII. Their relationship, her nationality and the fact that she was twice divorced caused a constitutional crisis resulting in Edward’s abdication in 1936. Wallis was painted as a manipulative conspirator, but her reputation is defended by Anna Pasternak in her latest book Wallis Simpson: Master Manipulator or Misunderstood? which presents new information from those who were close to the couple, redeeming a woman wronged by history. Pasternak is at the Assembly Rooms on 23 May. Sir Michael Tippett (b.1905) was a slowburning star – he withdrew his earliest compositions and was 30 before his works were published. His music was known for the expansive nature of his melodic line and his handling of rhythm and counterpoint. Oliver Soden has written the first biography of Tippett and, in discussion with James Waters on 23 May, he identifies what made him such a unique composer. The first of our living stars, Nicholas Parsons (b.1923), has had a long career in television, radio and theatre, most famously as host of Sale of the Century and also of comedy radio game show Just a Minute. Trained as an actor, he appeared in Doctor Who in 1989 as a tormented clergyman. Coming to Bath on 24 May, Parsons shares his experience of the unpredictable and fascinating aspects of his life and work throughout his impressive career.

Shakespeare would have been impressed by Darcey

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The Bath Magazine May 2019  

The Bath Magazine is Bath’s biggest monthly guide to life and living in the city of Bath

The Bath Magazine May 2019  

The Bath Magazine is Bath’s biggest monthly guide to life and living in the city of Bath