I have attended a number of events featuring Oliver Ford Davies in the past but this was the first time I have seen him talk alongside his daughter, writer Miranda Emmerson. The stunning new lecture theatre in Worcester College was a fantastic setting for their conversation about fathers and daughters in Shakespeare and literature more generally.
Ford Davies is a natural storyteller and his insight into Shakespeare was obvious for all to see. The plays feature many contrasting family relationship and it is clear that he has given this topic a lot of thought (unsurprisingly as he has a new book out on the subject!)
Emmerson has also got a new book out - her first novel Miss Treadaway and the Field of Stars - which also touches on the relationships between fathers and their daughters. It is a mystery novel set in the London of the swinging 60s and explores how a daughter who did not follow the path envisioned by her parents finds herself involved in the disappearance of an actress by the name of Iolanthe.
Each spoke with passion and clarity. Ford Davies was particularly keen to explore the different types of daughters in the Bard's plays - and how those relationships were changed as Shakespeare's career progressed. In the earlier comedies, you have strong-willed daughters who set out on their own paths and their fathers eventually acquiesce. In the problem plays (like Measure for Measure and All's Well that End's Well) you have father-less daughters who seek the protection of an older man who ends up manipulating them to his own ends. And then in the final phase, you have fathers who abandon their daughters (like Leontes and Perdita) and who then come to a final reconciliation (of sorts) at the end of the play. Whether or not this related in any way to Shakespeare's relationship with his own daughters - Susanna and Judith - is very much open to question.
Where the event was a little more uncomfortable was the way they were encouraged to talk about their own relationship at some length. My feeling was that they were perhaps unprepared to go into such detail in public and that occasionally created a sense of unease in the room. Given that this was their first time giving a joint talk, it felt very intrusive to explore their own relationship rather than looking at their work as writers, which is what, I suspect, the majority of the audience had come to hear about at an event at the Literary Festival.
One hour was not enough to explore all of the material in enough depth to make for a really satisfying discussion. It was an event that did not quite deliver all that it could. There was much to enjoy but I was aching for just a bit more.