Watch a short video of the eye relic.
Size: H:62mm, W:46mm
Made in: Unknown
Made by: Unknown
Material: Silver, organic material
The most gruesome lines in Shakespeare are often not in the text itself, but in the stage directions. Numerous headless bodies are paraded on stage, limbs hacked off, tongues sliced out, eyes gouged from their sockets.
Shakespeare’s audience would have been familiar with the brutalities of torture. Traitors were hanged, cut down while still alive and their bodies hacked to pieces in front of blood-spattered crowds.
This relic was created after one Catholic member of such a crowd managed to grab the eye of Edward Oldcorne, a gentle Catholic priest executed in 1606. His eye is preserved in this delicate silver casing, and this gruesome relic serves as a spine chilling reminder that the gruesome scenes in King Lear, Titus Andronicus and beyond would have been disconcertingly close to the real deal.
This object is from Stonyhurst College
'Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly! Where is thy lustre now?'
King Lear, Act 3 Scene 7
- Oldcorne was a missionary Catholic priest who spent 16-18 years hiding and working in Worcestershire before being shopped to the authorities
- Many executioners worked as butchers in their normal jobs and would regularly handle bits of bodies in front of the crowds
- The authorities tried to prevent Catholics from picking up executed Jesuits' body parts that could serve as a relic - the bodies were destroyed, not displayed
- Torture and torturers are mentioned 45 times in Shakespeare's plays
- There are seven Shakespeare plays in which the stage directions include someone entering with a severed head
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