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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth I


Happy Birthday Queen Elizabeth I!


Coronation Portrait


What to say about her?

She is a very complicated figure to understand.

On the one hand, the very best thing I can say about her is that she allowed the arts to flower and grow during her long reign. 

But it seems that she did not make the decision by herself, but allowed the arts to flower because of her love of a man.

Here is a painting, early in her reign, from 1563, the year before Shakespeare was born:







She was in love with Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. He was her "favourite."
I think if she could have married, and followed her heart, she would have married Leicester.

Here are miniatures of them:






Queen Elizabeth gave Leicester the first patent for a playing company of actors in 1574.

One of Leicester's "jesting players" was Will Kemp, who would later join the Lord Chamberlain's Men with Shakespeare, and they would have a very fruitful collaboration. Kemp was Juliet's Nurse, Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, and Falstaff.

In my version of The Merchant of Venice, I discovered that he must have been the one to play Shylock's servant Launcelot -- a small but critical role. This role unlocks the whole play.

In 1576, this all-important patent allowed another one of Leicester's players, James Burbage, to build The Theatre, in Shoreditch -- the first successful permanent theatre in England.

Of course, James Burbage's son Richard Burbage was the actor who went on to create the roles of Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Shylock, Richard III and so on.

If Elizabeth herself was no fan of actors and plays, it would seem that Leicester was, and from this one decision of hers to grant her lover a patent, the careers of so many playwrights and actors would grow.

It was in The Theatre that Shakespeare may have first acted and written plays in London, around 1587.



The Theatre in Shoreditch




So, from Queen Elizabeth's love for Leicester was born The Theatre, and William Shakespeare.

Simply put, without her we would not have Shakespeare.

We should all be very thankful for Leicester and Elizabeth, in this regard.

However, there are other things about her reign that are more troubling. 

I think it would be in bad taste to enumerate her failures as a queen on the anniversary of her birth. 

Suffice to say that Queen Elizabeth's England became something not unlike a police state, and her abuse of power, and the violence undermine her legacy.

In my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice I explore the good and bad in this Elizabethan "Golden Age." 

Taken together, my versions represent the portrait Shakespeare was painting of his life and times, and his Queen.

In her final years Elizabeth was in the habit of burning old paintings of herself, in the attempt to erase her past.

Had she had the chance, arguably she would have burned Shakespeare's plays, and destroyed any trace of them.

Just as she burned the paintings to control how history remembered her, she probably did not want history to remember her the way that Shakespeare depicted her in his plays.



Mark Rylance as Olivia


During her lifetime, she enjoyed watching Shakespeare caricature her as Titania in Midsummer, as Olivia in Twelfth Night, and as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, for example.

But she probably would not have wanted history to laugh at her.

It is something of a miracle that the plays survived her, and we are able to read them today.

Finally, despite her faults, we should be grateful that during her reign, she allowed a young man like William Shakespeare to rise from obscurity and play in the royal court, and become the greatest playwright in world history.



The Armada Portrait



I hope you join me in taking a moment today to remember this remarkable woman.


Cheers,

David B. Schajer


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