The Faerie Land

Michael Drayton's Vision of Britain

Event Image

Free entry

The Forum - University of Exeter

7th October - 20th November 2015 from 8 am to 8 pm

A magical exhibition exploring British landscape and identity, inspired by the English Renaissance poet Michael Drayton’s epic 15000-line topographical poem of England and Wales, Poly-Olbion (published in two volumes in 1612 and 1622).

'Rivers sing and boast of their rich histories; ancient forests lament the axe; Welsh mountains threaten war; Fenlanders cross their watery land on stilts; giants wrestle invading Trojans on Plymouth Hoe; kings fly from ancient London temples and old Picts' Wall fumes at being forgotten'  — Michael Drayton’s epic 15,000 line topographical poem, Poly-Olbion, published in two volumes in 1612 and 1622, is one of the richest, yet least known repositories of British landscape, history, folklore, local customs and commodities, and its influence ripples through our culture like an underground river.
A 12-year-old John Lennon carefully illustrated Drayton's lines in his famous juvenilia notebook of 1952; Edith Wharton cited him as her favourite poet; Hardy knew swathes of Poly-Olbion, peppering references throughout his novels; Seamus Heaney once recited verses in his honour in the churchyard at Clifford Chambers, where Drayton summered, and it is said that Shakespeare spent the last night before his death in April 1616 in a "merry meeting" with Drayton and Ben Jonson, and "it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted."
The Faerie Land exhibition, named for his alternate title for the poem, represents the first show dedicated to Drayton and his Poly-Olbion.  It is rooted in a collaboration between acclaimed children’s arts organisation Flash of Splendour, the show's curators and researchers at the University of Exeter, led by Professor Andrew McRae, Professor of Renaissance Studies, in which young artists with disabilities and innovative contemporary artists Stephen Walter and David McInnes were invited to create new works based on the poem.
Walter’s work is concerned with obsessive drawing techniques, semiotics and the glory of cartography, and his vast new mythic map of England and Wales, Albion, “pleasures in the many stories and myths that have accumulated over time, attaching themselves to certain places.
Within the show, contemporary works are juxtaposed with the original 17th imagery: offering the opportunity to study up-close, for the first time, large scale versions of Hole’s maps.
An accompanying book, Albions Glorious Isle (ISBN: 978-0-9564857-1-7), featuring the maps of Poly-Olbion will be published at the beginning of October.
"Michael Drayton...that Panegyrist of my native Earth; who has gone over her soil, in his Poly-Olbion, with the fidelity of a herald, and the painful love of a son; who has not left a rivulet, so narrow that it may be stept over, without honourable mention; and has animated hills and streams with life and passion beyond the dreams of old mythology."    Charles Lamb, Characters of Dramatic Writers (1808)
This free exhibition, open to all, can be viewed in the University's Forum building from 8 am - 8 pm from 7 October until 20 November 2015.