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27 November 2014
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July, 2003
Museum's stolen treasure source revealed
The Ashmolean Museum
Ashmolean Museum played host to the play Ashmole and The Ark.
Natalie Toms discovered the truth behind the Ashmolean Museum's treasure chest when she reviewed the production, Ashmole and The Ark.
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The prestigious Ashmolean museum, hallowed home of antiquities - founded on a theft?

Priscilla Waugh's short play investigates the murky circumstances surrounding Elias Ashmole's 1683 donation of the Tradescant Ark to the University, a donation that formed the basis of the museum that we visit today.

The basement of the Museum of the History of Science, original site of the Ashmolean, was a highly appropriate and atmospheric setting for the first performance of 'Ashmole and the Ark'.

In all honesty, however, this was not so much an attempt at serious drama as an innovative exposition of the complex history of Ashmole's donation.

Bob Booth played an elderly Ashmole on the eve of his presentation of the Tradescant Ark to the University.

As he prepares his speech for the occasion, he is assailed by the ghosts of both the wife that he married for money (Polly Mountain) and the Tradescant husband and wife (Bill Moulford and Alex Reid) from whom he inveigled the treasures.

All of the actors took to their parts with gusto, a red-faced Booth quivering with rage throughout as he defended his actions.

The dialogue remained unavoidably stilted, however, and sometimes difficult to follow for an audience with no previous knowledge of the Ashmole/Tradescant saga.

Waugh nevertheless managed to capture the central ambiguity of the Ashmole story - that whilst the Ark may have been acquired under dubious circumstances, without Ashmole it would never have achieved the recognition that it continues to have to this day.

By Natalie Toms

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