Shakespeare Solved™ versions of these plays solve the mysteries surrounding them by taking us back in time to see the plays as they were performed for the first time in history.


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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company


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Monday, September 29, 2014

American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse


I had the pleasure of visiting Staunton, Virginia this past weekend, where I saw two excellent productions -- Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, and Shakespeare's Pericles -- at the American Shakespeare Center.

I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about my trip, and the shows I saw.


inside the Blackfriars Playhouse
photo by Lauren D. Rogers


It was my first visit to Staunton, and as soon as I arrived, I regretted not having visited sooner. It's a lovely town, with very friendly people and set in one of the most beautiful areas in the world -- the Shenandoah Valley.

Needless to say, I look forward to going back as soon as possible.

The American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse is arguably the world's only authentic recreation of Shakespeare's Blackfriars in London, which was in operation from 1608 to 1642.

The ASC was established in 1988, and the Blackfriars Playhouse was built in 2001. In that time they have performed every last Shakespeare play, and many other works, by Jonson, Marlowe, and others.

When you visit the ASC in Staunton, do yourself a favor and take the Playhouse Tour, so you can go backstage and learn about the history of Shakespeare in general, and the Playhouse in particular.

I took the tour. The guide, Molly, is terrific. Her knowledge and enthusiasm about Shakespeare, and her passion for the Playhouse was wonderful. 

There is so much to say about the Playhouse, but to me what was most remarkable is the fact that the theatre never "goes dark." There are 16 plays performed each year, 52 weeks a year!

Next week, for example, they are performing Macbeth on Wednesday, Macbeth in the afternoon and Pericles in the evening on Thursday, Macbeth on Friday, Edward II in the afternoon and Comedy of Errors in the evening on Saturday, and Cyrano de Bergerac on Sunday.

And, the entire cast is limited to 12 people! Incredible.

They might very well be the hardest working Shakespeare ensemble in the world.

I saw Edward II on Friday night, and I was delighted at seeing the Playhouse in person. The pictures I have seen online don't do it justice.

Also, the Playhouse's productions are performed in Original Practices. There are no house-lights that go dark during the performance. The stage is lighted as naturally as possible, even with some candles, and the actors can see the audience, and the audience can see each other.

There are even some "gallant seats" on stage, which gives the actors a chance to really interact with the audience, and it definitely makes the performances more fun and lively.

But in my opinion, perhaps the most original practice is serving beer and wine inside the Playhouse. In my humble opinion, Shakespeare's original audiences were rarely, if ever, sober.


Sarah Fallon, René Thornton, Jr. and Patrick Midgley
photo by Michael Bailey


The production of Edward II was excellent. It was fast-paced, exciting, funny, and engrossing.

René Thornton, Jr. was a remarkable King Edward. Playing Edward II was a personal dream come true for him, and he gave a tour-de-force performance. It was exciting to see such a talented actor perform something so personally meaningful, and I feel priveleged to have seen it.


René Thornton, Jr. as Edward II
photo by Michael Bailey


But he was not the only star of the production. The rest of the cast is superb. They have great chemistry with each other, and perform together seamlessly.

It's always hard to list all of the great moments and performances, but I do have to mention Patrick Midgley as Gaveston. He was excellent. He's funny and endearing, and yet despicable, too.

Sarah Fallon as Queen Isabella was great, too. Her turn from sympathetic to villainous was very entertaining.

I could go on, but suffice to say that the play is wonderfully directed, and if you have the opportunity to see this production of Edward II, you can not miss it.

The next day, after the Tour backstage, I saw Pericles.


Gregory Jon Phelps as Pericles
photo by Jay McClure


It was just wonderful. I can't say enough to praise this cast, as they did an amazing job of capturing the zany screwball spirit of the play.

I don't the audience ever stopped laughing the entire way through. 

I can't remember the last time I watched a Shakespeare play without thinking about it critically. I just enjoyed watching this show so much. 

Gregory Jon Phelps was a winning Pericles, both strong and vulnerable, a perfect leading man. It is such a demanding role, going from young and hopeful, to old and lost, and he carried the demands of the role with ease. When he reunites with his long lost daughter Marina, it was very moving. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.


Sara Hymes as Thaisa
photo by Jay McClure


Sara Hymes is perfect as the ingenue Thaisa. Her journey from princess, to wife, to dead wife, and then back from the dead wife, was very entertaining. For me, it is the love she has for Pericles, and his love for her, that binds the play together. Hers is arguably the hardest part in the play, and Ms. Hymes makes it seem effortless.

One of my favorite moments is when her father Simonides permits her to marry Pericles. It is such a funny moment, and Jonathan Holtzman (as Simonides) just nailed it. The whole audience erupted in applause -- twice!

Of course, the pirates are always entertaining, but the real scene stealers were Allison Glenzer as Bawd and James Keegan as Bolt. These two priceless actors were born to play these roles. They were hilarious and it was a lot of fun to watch them act so silly on stage.


Allison Glenzer as Bawd and James Keegan as Bolt, in rehearsal
photo by Jay McClure


The rest of the cast was perfect, and they all played their parts with a humourous abandon that is too lacking in most Shakespeare productions I have seen.

The director of both plays, Jim Warren (who also co-founded the ASC) deserves a great deal of credit. Not only has he brought together a superb cast, and gets great work out of them, he also seems to understand how entertaining Shakespeare's plays can be, and gets the most out of them.

In conclusion, I strongly urge you to visit Staunton, and when you do, you should plan to see as many plays as you can. 

It is only about 2 hours from Washington, D.C. 

I promise that it is well worth the trip. You won't be sorry.

Cheers,



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Friday, September 26, 2014

Shakespeare's Globe Henry V On Screen


Shakespeare's Globe production of Henry V will be playing in US theatres next week, beginning 30 September.





This is the first time that this production will be shown in the United States, as part of the Shakespeare's Globe On Screen series.





Here is a link for more information and to find theatres near you:






Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, this production stars Jamie Parker (best known for History Boys) as King Henry V, who earlier played Prince Hal at the Globe in Henry IV, parts 1 & 2.

Please check back for my review next week.

Cheers,




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Monday, September 15, 2014

Shakespeare's Venus & Adonis by Isango Ensemble


I went to see the Isango Ensemble's production of Venus & Adonis at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C..





It's a fascinating and fun show. And it only has a few more performances left, ending on 20 September.

Here is a link for more information and tickets:


Isango Ensemble is based in Cape Town, and the word "Isango" means "gateway" or "port" in the isiXhosa language.





This production inaugurated the Globe-to-Globe Festival at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London in 2012 -- which included 37 theatres from around the world perform on that hallowed London stage.

The Ensemble sings Shakespeare's original verses interspersed with dialogue and singing in different native languages -- Zulu, isiXhosa, Sotho, Setswana and Afrikaans.





It brings the language of Shakespeare alive and makes it resonate is very interesting, funny, and very engaging.

The dancing, the music, the acting, the costumes, the set design are all quite unique and added a depth to the story of Venus's seduction of Adonis. I also felt like the it brought the story out of the Western world, to make it more international, and even more timeless and universal.





If you are anywhere near Washington, D.C. you should really go see it!

Cheers,



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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Shakespeare's Globe Twelfth Night On Screen


Very exciting news!

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is releasing some of it's greatest stage productions on cinema screens.

This new series called "Globe on Screen 2014" has already begun in the UK but will soon begin in the United States, on Tuesday, 16 September.

The first filmed play in this series is the award-winning Twelfth Night, starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry.







It was a sold-out production at London's Globe, with lines wrapped around the block. This film version of the play gives you a front-row view of the play, filmed live before an actual audience.

Here is the list of the other plays in order of release in the USA:

Twelfth Night: From September 16th
Henry V: From September 30th
The Taming of the Shrew: From October 14th
The Tempest: From October 28th
Macbeth: From November 11th
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: From December 4th


Here is a link for tickets and showtimes:

http://onscreen.shakespearesglobe.com/#/twelfthnight


Here is a link for the UK:

http://onscreen.shakespearesglobe.com/?UK


If you have never seen Twelfth Night, or if you have seen it a dozen times, you must see this production. It is truly spectacular, and hilariously funny.







The entire production is performed in Original Practices, with Elizabethan-period style costumes, music and set design -- to give you a feeling of what the play would have looked like in Shakespeare's time.

But what really makes the play so remarkable is the performances, especially Mark Rylance as Olivia, and Stephen Fry as Malvolio.







I saw it on Broadway last year, and it was incredible. Here is my rave review

I was not surprised that Mark Rylance won the Tony Award for this performance of Olivia. Stephen Fry was also nominated in the same category, as was Paul Chahidi.

When you see this on screen, keep an eye out for Mr. Chahidi's performance as Maria. He is simply brilliant!



Paul Chahidi as Maria


Also, Jenny Tiramani won the Tony for best costume design.

The play was also nominated for Best Revival, Best Director and Samuel Barnett was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role.







Here is Mark Rylance's acceptance speech, and moving tribute to Sam Wanamaker, from the Tony Awards:



click on image for video


Do yourself a favor and go see this production of Twelfth Night on the screen. You won't want to miss it!

Cheers,


David B. Schajer



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Monday, September 8, 2014

Shakespeare's Globe King Lear On Tour


Yesterday I went to see Shakespeare's Globe touring production of King Lear at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.

It was a great production. If you are anywhere near Washington, you should go see it. It runs through September 21.


click on this photo for a video of the production


Here is the information for tickets:



Also, here is a link to see where and when it is playing near you:

http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/globe-theatre-on-tour/king-lear-2014


I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share some of my thoughts with you.

This is the fourth production of King Lear I have seen this year, and each one stands out in different ways.

This might be my favorite of them all, because of the fact that it was a lean production with a small cast (only 8 actors), and it was full of energy. 

It also made me think that this is very close to what Shakespeare's own tours of England would have been like in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.

Also, it was the only one that ran under 3 hours!





This was as professional a cast as I have ever seen, and the actors doubled and tripled parts with such ease, all while keeping the play moving at the briskest pace I can imagine.

There was one brilliantly funny moment when Edmund is introduced to Oswald -- and it's the same actor! Hilarious!

As familiar as I am with the play, there were surprises everywhere. There were unexpected musical interludes, songs, and frequent musical cues -- all performed by the actors!





When Edgar and Edmund duel, I have rarely seen a swordfight so thrilling -- and when their swords first clashed, sparks actually flew from the prop swords!


Edmund v. Edgar


I loved the fact that they turned up the house lights in order for them to see the audience. They are used to performing in open air theatres/stages, and they obviously wanted to see and connect with their audience. 

Even while I was far from the stage, there was a moment when Joseph Marcell was clearly looking right at me, for what seemed like forever, but was probably more like 5 seconds. It was unnerving, and it made me feel a little ashamed, like I was an unwelcome spectator to his descent into madness.

The cast overall is superb, and they clearly enjoy working together. Each of them gets some juicy moment or two, and they obviously relish in these moments.

It's hard to single out any of them, they are all so good, and such masters of what they are doing.





Joseph Marcell plays King Lear. He has done quite a lot of theatre and Shakespeare, but he is probably best known for his role as the Butler on TV's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, with Will Smith.

He is the only actor I have seen who convinced me that he was a king. His behaviour, his body language, all projected a regal bearing that I have never seen before. Most of us in our daily lives never meet a monarch, and watching Mr. Marcell is as close an opportunity as we might have.

So, as the play progresses, and he descends into madness, it is all the more horrible to see him brought so low.





Also, Mr. Marcell has a wonderful voice which he uses to maximum effect. When he is in command of himself, he is hard and stern. When he is going mad, his voice turns almost inward and becomes so pitiful.

He is also the first Lear I have seen who clearly demonstrates madness from the very beginning of the play. Often, actors just play Lear as angry and irritable at the beginning, but Mr. Marcell plays a king whose madness is a progression from bad to worse.

Do yourself a favor and go see this production. You won't want to miss it!

Cheers,


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Friday, August 29, 2014

Did Shakespeare Write Henry V, Part 2?


King Henry V died on 31 August 1422, one month shy of his 36th birthday.





Shakespeare had dramatized him in three plays -- Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.


Tom Hiddleston in the Hollow Crown series


Shakespeare refers to him in the series of plays about his son, the Henry VI plays. Henry VI, part 1 opens in Westminster Abbey at for the funeral for Henry V.

But there is a great deal that happened in Henry V's life between these two series of plays.

It begs the question: did Shakespeare write a sequel to the Henry V play?

Even if he didn't actually complete a written play for it, did he plan to write it?

At the very least, was he thinking of writing a sequel?

At the end of the Henry V play, he has won the battle of Agincourt, and he has successfully wooed Catherine de Valois.

But he would go on to live almost 7 more years. 


Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in the 1989 film


His success at Agincourt was not the last time he fought in France. He would continue the war there. 

There is so much more to his life that it is hard to believe that Shakespeare never even considered telling more of that story.

Another reason why Shakespeare may have wanted to write a fourth chapter in he Henry's life is because when Shakespeare wrote about Prince Hal/Henry V, he was writing for Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.


Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex


Essex was Shakespeare's friend and patron from around 1593-4. Shakespeare had written plays for Essex (and for his friend the Earl of Southampton) for many years. They were the two most dashing young men in all of London, and Shakespeare was very lucky to have made friends with them.


Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton


Essex and Southampton turn up time and again in the plays: as Mercutio and Romeo, as Demetrius and Lysander, as Valentine and Proteus, Don Pedro and Benedick, etc.

The most controversial play Shakespeare wrote on behalf of Essex was his Richard II play -- which was a case for deposing a sitting monarch, and a thinly veiled threat against Queen Elizabeth.

Most famously, Shakespeare modeled his Prince Hal/King Henry V character after Essex. In a sense, Shakespeare was writing pro-Essex propaganda at a time when Queen Elizabeth's court was divided between two factions, the Essex faction and the Cecil faction.

Essex was the Queen's "favourite" for many years, but there were many at court, primarily Wiliam Cecil and his son Robert, who conspired against him.

When Shakespeare wrote his plays supporting Essex, he was trying to inspire London to rally behind Essex. When he wrote Henry V for Essex, he was writing a play for him as he was marching off to war, against Irish rebels.


Essex in armour



That play was first performed in early 1599. The Essex campaign in Ireland was a complete failure, and it led to Essex's complete failure at court, and his loss of favour with Queen Elizabeth.

Things were so bad for Essex, that by February 1601, he led an armed rebellion against the Queen and her court. He was executed.



David Tennant as Hamlet


So, between 1599 and 1601, when Essex was at his lowest point, and in desperate need of any and all support, could Shakespeare have thought of a sequel to his Henry V play?

He might have written about the events between Agincourt and Henry's death seven years later, how his fighting in France dragged on, and how he became sick. There would of course have been a deathbed speech to make everyone in the Globe cry.

What better way to gain sympathy for Essex than to show Henry's death on stage, whose  death came much too soon?

Shakespeare and Essex may have talked about this sequel. They may have even crafted whole scenes, and lines of dialogue.

Perhaps Shakespeare even wrote the entire play.

Perhaps he was still working on it when Essex could wait no longer, and rashly, insanely took up arms against Queen Elizabeth.


Jude Law as Henry


It is interesting to imagine what that play could been like. It is also interesting to think of what effect the play might have had, had it been completed and performed.

I want to believe that it would have repaired Essex's relationship with Queen Elizabeth and restored him to his privileged place in her court.

But sadly that is not what happened.

What do you think? Did Shakespeare plan to write a Henry V, Part 2?

Cheers,




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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shakespeare Solved Blog on Instagram!


Hi everyone!

I just wanted to let you know that this Shakespeare Solved blog is now on Instagram:


Our Shakespeare Solved community has grown to over 60,000 people across the world. Hopefully this will help to grow the community even larger.

I want to thank each and every one of you for buying my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, for following this blog, and spreading the word to your friends and family about this new way of understanding Shakespeare's world, his life, and his plays.

There are a lot of new discoveries I will share with you in the coming months, so I hope you stay tuned and visit this blog frequently.

Cheers,