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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Julie Taymor, Michael Sexton and Michael Witmore

I had the pleasure of seeing Julie Taymor's visit on Monday night to the Pearl Theater, in New York City.

She was joined by the Michael Sexton, the Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Society, and Michael Witmore, the Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.



It was less of an interview really, and more of a conversation between three very knowledgeable people who all have a wonderful passion for Shakespeare.

The topic of the night was imagery in Shakespeare. It was fascinating to hear all three of them discuss the metaphors and visual word-pictures that Shakespeare wrote, since all of them are not just looking at Shakespeare from a scholarly point of view, but rather from the position of how to stage and perform this language.

As you may know, the Shakespeare Society collaborates with theatres frequently. I'm looking forward to the upcoming Romeo and Juliet performed by children.

The Folger Shakespeare Library has a theatre of course, and they are staging Henry V (which I saw) right now until March 10, and they have a very busy schedule of events coming up, including Twelfth Night in May.

Of course, Julie Taymor has staged and filmed Shakespeare for much of her life -- from directing The Tempest on stage in 1986 to directing The Tempest film in 2010, and a lot in between.

She is currently working on a stage production of Midsummer for Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn.

She discussed quite a bit of it during this conversation, and she admitted how challenging it is to stage it, especially indoors as opposed to outdoors, and with a stage with three sides, so the audience is surrounding the action as opposed to just sitting opposite the performance.

To illustrate the imagery used by Shakespeare, there were two actors who joined them on stage to read aloud some passages. I was delighted that Claire Warden was one of the actors -- she was so good in A Midsummer Night's Dream which I saw at The Shakespeare Forum recently. I even saw the rehearsals which were really fun.

And wouldn't you know it, I ran into Sybille Bruun and Tyler Moss  with Alex Fletcher, Brad Lewandowski and Lauren Sowa from The Shakespeare Forum. It was great to see them again, and they are hard at work on their next Shakespeare production, and I am really looking forward to seeing it.

The conversation between Julie and both Michaels was engrossing and I enjoyed it immensely.

I was so engrossed in the talk that I didn't take notes. But if you want, you can read some of the comments by others who tweeted about it -- just follow #bardimagery.

You can also read a stream of comments here -- on Storify.

Probably the juiciest revelation from Julie Taymor was that when she was asked if we can expect a Hamlet on stage or screen from her, and she said probably not. She prefers plays like Midsummer and Titus Andronicus.

It will be fascinating to see where she goes with Shakespeare after Midsummer this year.

But in the meantime there is quite a bit coming up from both the Folger and the Shakespeare Society. If you are in or near New York and Washington D.C., I strongly recommend you visit and see some of the productions they are staging.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Shakespeare and the Essex Execution

This is Part Five in a series of stories about the Essex Rebellion, which began with these stories:


1. Shakespeare in January 1601


2. Shakespeare's Richard II on 7 February 1601


3. Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Essex Rebellion


4. Shakespeare and the Essex Trial



Part Five:


Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex was executed on 25 February 1601.


He was found guilty of treason and was sentenced to death.


He was beheaded on the Tower Green. He was the last person to be beheaded in the Tower.









He knew his executioner, Thomas Derrick.


Derrick had once been convicted of rape, and he was allowed to escape execution as long as he agreed to become an executioner himself.


The man who pardoned him was Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.


What a strange twist of fate.


It must have been a very sad day in London that day.


I think there were many who would hear the news and it would break their hearts. Some more than others.


When William Shakespeare received the news I think it brought him to tears.


He had known Essex, who had been his artistic patron. They were probably friends, as close as a patron could be to his artist.





Essex, in tilting armour. Attributed to Nicholas Hilliard. 1587



Shakespeare was the greatest playwright of the period, and he had gone out of his way to support and celebrate Essex.


In return, Essex would have protected Shakespeare from his critics at court, and would have no doubt promised Shakespeare a greater reward in the future.


That was gone. Essex was dead.




By Nicholas Hilliard. Thought to be a painting of Essex.



Shakespeare was vulnerable.


He had not only performed his Richard II play the night before the Essex Rebellion as a signal to rise up against the queen, but he had continued to perform it day after day -- for 40 performances in all.


If this is true -- then Shakespeare would have performed the play yet again on 25 February, and for some days after.


Why would he do this, even after Essex was dead?





Essex by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, circa 1596



I think it would have been something of a funeral mass, something to remember Essex by, a way to cope with the grief and the loss of such a popular man.


Shakespeare was taking another risk by performing the play, even after the execution.


He had to have known that he could lose everything.


At some point after the Rebellion, on 8 February, the authorities questioned Shakespeare's acting company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men.


We don't have a record of when it was or what was said. Shakespeare's fellow actor Augustine Philips seems to have done all of the talking, perhaps because he was more responsible for the finances of the Men.




Essex, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1588



There is no record of any of the actors being imprisoned, or tortured, or anything else of that nature.


I don't think that was necessary. Shakespeare and his Men got the point.


They had to stop what they were doing, and anything else they did to stir up the public would be unwise.


Shakespeare must have been terrified of what might happen to him and his fellow actors.


But there was some good news.


Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare's other great patron, and who had conspired with Essex, was not executed.


It is unknown when it was clear that he would not face the executioner, but be sentenced to life in jail.




Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton
Imprisoned in the Tower



But by the time Essex was executed it may have been clear to Shakespeare and others that Southampton would not die.


This might have emboldened Shakespeare to keep playing his plays, even Richard II, and might even have given him some hope that there was a future for him in London and on the stage.


For Shakespeare, Essex and Southampton represented the future of England -- enlightened and energetic.


That future was gone.


Shakespeare was facing a new and uncertain future.


For much of the next two years, the last days of Queen Elizabeth, he would not know if the future would be bright or dark.


But he didn't turn away, he didn't give up and he didn't cave to the political uncertainty.


He fought the only way he knew how. He wrote and he acted.


And in that year, he would write the greatest of all his plays, Hamlet.


It would be his response to the Essex Rebellion and Essex's execution.



Cheers,


David B. Schajer



Related Articles:



A Toast for the Premiere of Hamlet


Hamlet and The Massacre at Paris


King Henry IV of France and Shakespeare


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Friday, February 22, 2013

Rachel Weisz and Shakespeare

Should Rachel Weisz do some Shakespeare?

Yes, absolutely!




It is strange that she has not done any yet. She has done quite a bit of theatre, she even co-founded a theatrical company while she was at Cambridge, but no Shakespeare!

I can imagine her in any number of roles -- as Ophelia, Cordelia, Portia, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra.




She has had a remarkable career on film -- having acted in everything from suspense, to action, to political drama. I thought she was fantastic in Agora. She was excellent in The Constant Gardner with Ralph Fiennes, and really deserved the Academy Award for her role.

She is so versatile that she could really do any role.





Should she do some Solved Shakespeare?

She would be perfect -- and I can easily imagine her in the Elizabethan world.

She could just as easily play a member of the royal court -- one of Queen Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting -- as she could play a commoner citizen in Elizabeth's London.

What about Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife? I think Rachel Weisz would be great as the woman who stood behind Shakespeare through very good times and very bad times, and inspired him to become the greatest playwright in history.

As I did research for my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and The Merchant of Venice, I came to the conclusion that Shakespeare could not have done what he did without his wife Anne.

Rachel Weisz has played some glamourous roles, but I think she could really bring this woman to life, a simple woman who lived during one of the most tumultuous periods in English history, and who was loved by one of the most extraordinary men in history.




Unlike some, I think William and Anne loved each other -- truly and deeply.

We have not seen that story on screen. I would like to see it.

And I think that Rachel Weisz can bring that to life, and would really do it justice.

What do you think?

If you agree with me that she should do some Shakespeare, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shakespeare and his Granddaughter Elizabeth

405 years ago today, William Shakespeare's granddaughter Elizabeth was baptised, on 21 February 1608.

a baby in the Elizabethan era

She was the first grandchild he had, and would have known when he died in 1616.

I would think that he would dote on her, and shower her with love and affection.

Shakespeare was probably in London at the time the baby was born, and came home to Stratford at the earliest possible opportunity.

I like to think that the Shakespeare family would have had a large celebration for this child, inviting neighbors and other relatives.

I also have to think that Shakespeare would have found the baby's name a rather curious choice.

The name Elizabeth in the year 1608 would have been undoubtedly associated with Queen Elizabeth.

Even though Queen Elizabeth had died in 1603, she was far from forgotten.

For Shakespeare himself, I think he could not think of his granddaughter without thinking of the Queen. How could he?

The early years of King James's reign were very dramatic -- the Bye and Main plots against his life in 1603, the Hampton Court Conference and the Anglo-Spanish peace treaty both in 1604, the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, the new Oath of Allegiance in 1606, the Midland Revolt and the Newton Rebellion both in 1607.

There were many who were alarmed at the direction the country was taking.

Queen Elizabeth had been a controversial figure when she died. The last years of her reign were not peaceful, especially with the Essex Rebellion in 1601 when her favorite courtier rose up against her, and was put on trial and sentenced to death.

But after several years of James, a nostalgia for Elizabeth was growing. Perhaps she hadn't been all that bad.

I don't know if this had anything to do with Shakespeare's daughter's choosing the name Elizabeth for her first child, but it does make a certain sense.

What would Shakespeare himself have thought of Queen Elizabeth, in 1608?

Well, I think he would have known too much about her to forget who she really was, and how powerful and dangerous a monarch she had been.

After all, it was while she was queen that his friends and rivals Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd both lost their lives, and that his friend and former patron Ferdinando Stanley, Earl of Derby had died under suspicious circumstances.

His friends and patrons, the Earls of Essex and Southampton, had fought to remove her from power in the failed Essex Rebellion.

I don't think Shakespeare had any illusions about Elizabeth.

And if he was the student of history that I am sure he was, then he would have noticed that 21 February was important for another reason.

The Catholic martyr Robert Southwell was executed on 21 February 1595.

Robert Southwell

I don't think that Shakespeare was a hidden Catholic, nor do I think that he was an ardent Protestant. I think for most of his life he wanted religious peace and toleration.

But this was a famous man whose execution, on orders from Queen Elizabeth's Privy Council, was yet another example of the violent nature of the Protestant Reformation.

No, by 1608, I don't think Shakespeare had any illusions about Queen Elizabeth, nor did he join those who would remember her with some sort of misplaced nostalgia.

Shakespeare knew her for what she was, the good and the bad.

And I think that by 1608 Shakespeare had no illusions about the nature of monarchs in general, and could see King James for what he was, the good and the bad.

I think Shakespeare drank and danced and celebrated his granddaughter's birth like any grandfather would.

Elizabeth, when she was 18

But he probably wished that one day perhaps she could live her life on her own terms, and not in the shadow of a queen.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake and Shakespeare

What does Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake have in common with William Shakespeare?

No, it's not a trick question.

It is truly amazing that Gangam Style, a music video by a relatively unknown singer named Psy, could sweep conquer the world and be seen by so many people.

The explosively popular Psy

As of today, the video has been seen on Youtube over 1.33 Billion times. Amazing.

What makes it so popular?

It can't be the song itself. It's a very catchy song, but the lyrics are in Korean!

Is it the dance itself? Maybe, but it's such a simple dance that I learned it with my niece and nephew in one or two minutes.

I think one of the biggest reasons these videos are so popular is because other people can imitate the dances and make their own videos -- they can be part of the fun -- and they can join the dance.

Have you seen the Harlem Shake?

My favorite is the underwater Stormtrooper

It's a new song and dance craze that's sweeping the world. Millions of people imitate it and film themselves, just like Gangnam Style.

But more importantly -- there is not just one popular video -- there are many popular videos. Many of them have millions of views.

I'm still waiting for someone to get a bunch of actors dressed up in Elizabethan costumes to do a Shakespeare Harlem Shake!

It reminds me of the Macarena, many years ago -- a huge dance craze that swept the world. Every single last person probably tried to do the Macarena.

Well, in William Shakespeare's lifetime there was another dance craze that was sweeping all over England and Europe.

It was called the Morris Dance.

There are many videos online with Morris Dancers, but my favorite is Gemma David, a schoolteacher who Morris Danced while carrying the Olympic Torch last year:


Morris Dancer Gemma David with the Olympic Torch

While there is some doubt regarding the origin of the dance -- it was popular before Shakespeare's lifetime, it was popular while he lived and it has endured to this day!

Shakespeare's company of actors, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, included an actor by the name of William Kempe.

Kempe was one of the two most important actors in the company. Kempe was the comedic superstar -- he got all the funny roles. He was the first actor to play Falstaff, Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, he was the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, and so on.

Just having Kempe in your acting company guaranteed an audience -- and they expected him to be funny.

Well, Kempe must have liked to dance -- because in 1600 he did the Morris Dance -- for nine whole days!

He traveled from London to Norwich -- a distance of over 100 miles -- dancing!

Will Kempe -- the original Psy?

Truth be told, he didn't do it nine days in a row -- he had to break it up over a few weeks. But he was mobbed by crowds and I like to think that every town would hold a feast for him, and there would be a lot of drinking, eating and dancing going on!

Kempe was also famous for his Jigs.

At the end of most plays in the Elizabethan period, whether the play was a tragedy, comedy, history there would be a dance by the actors. A Jig.

It was a way to make sure the show ended with a bang -- and make sure that audiences would leave the theatre with a smile on their face.

There is evidence to suggest that the Jigs also had dialogue -- and would also have some jokes, bawdy ones I am sure. I think Kempe was a master of the Jig, and probably had audiences singing, dancing and laughing on their way out of the theatre.

Here's a great video from a performance of Richard II at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in 2003 -- with Mark Rylance leading the cast in a rousing Jig dance:

I like to think that these dances -- the Jigs and Morris Dances -- were infectiously popular.

Audiences would not only watch them but they would copy them -- they could dance in the theatres as the actors danced, and if they saw a Morris Dance on the street, they would follow along and try to dance it too.

In the same way that Shakespeare's plays have survived this long, by being performed over and over again by professional and amateur actors, these Jigs and Morris Dances, and dances like them have lasted forever -- because we all want to be in on the act and be part of the dance!

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


Books on Amazon

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Shakespeare and the Essex Trial




This is the Fourth Part in a series of stories. The other parts:


1. Shakespeare in January 1601


2. Shakespeare's Richard II on 7 February 1601


3. Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Essex Rebellion


5. Shakespeare and the Essex Execution



Fourth Part:




Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex



Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was tried for treason today, on 19 February 1601.

He was tried with his best friend and co-conspirator, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton.





Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton


I strongly recommend you read the entire record of the trial. It's not all that long, and it is interesting in so many ways. While it may seem like distant history now, it was an enormously important trial at the time -- the trial of the century!


And while the record only gives us an insight into the trial indoors, I would imagine that there were many people outside who were clamoring for any news and juicy details from inside.


William Shakespeare would have had a very keen interest in the outcome of the trial. Essex and Southampton were his friends and most important patrons.


It is entirely plausible that he considered himself tied to them, and if they were condemned to death, then it could very well mean the end of Shakespeare, the greatest Elizabethan playwright.


The trial in Westminster Hall must have been a very dramatic affair -- many of the most powerful men in England, men like Sir Walter Raleigh, were gathered to witness Essex and Southampton pay the price for their treason.





A list of the noblemen present at the trial



Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (who is the leading candidate as the "true" author of Shakespeare's plays) was at the head of this gathering of noblemen.

Sir Edward Coke, the Attorney General to the Queen was in charge of the case against them. I have written about him before, and how he went from being a lapdog to the monarchs, to leading the charge against the monarchy.


Essex and Southampton had enlisted a small army, of upwards of 300 young men, and had tried to rally public support to march on to Whitehall and demand an audience with the Queen.


Did Essex mean to simply make demands of her? Did he want to peacefully remove her from power and take the throne for himself?Did he mean to kill her? We may never really know.


In the trial there are many accusations against Essex, but there seems to be little to no effort to determine what he really intended to do. It almost seems like the trial was an empty exercise, or as it commonly called nowadays, kabuki theater -- just political posturing.


But there is a telling moment in the trial when Sir Francis Bacon compared Essex to the French Duke of Guise.


Henry I, Duke of Guise was infamous for having tried to assassinate a French Protestant Huguenot Admiral in 1572, and this led to widespread violence across France, in which upwards of 30,000 people were killed.


To compare Essex to the Duke of Guise was to accuse Essex of plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth.


The other highlight of the trial is when Essex made accusations against Robert Cecil, the Queen's right hand man, and Essex's chief nemesis at court.


Cecil was at the trial, but he had been hiding, and he emerged from behind a tapestry and defended himself against Essex's character assassination.





Robert Cecil




The trial was brief, and it didn't take them long to render a verdict -- Essex was guilty and was sentenced to death.


Essex took this verdict as well as any man could. He may have known that nothing would save him, but he did still beg the mercy of the Queen. I can't help but think that he still had a chance to escape the executioner.


Southampton received no verdict.


What happened outside the trial as soon as it concluded?


I think the crowds eagerly awaited the verdict. When they heard it, there would have been many who cried for Essex, a great outpouring of grief.


He was loved by many, and they would think that to execute him was a too severe punishment. They wanted their Queen to show leniency, and when she showed none, it would have upset many people.


Undoubtedly there would have been those who welcomed his verdict. These people did not like the idea of an Earl challenging the Queen, and leading a coup d'etat against her. They likely walked away from the trial satisfied that law and order had been upheld and the Queen's power had been preserved.


What about Shakespeare?


On the one hand he loved Essex. He had written plays in his honor (like Henry V), and Essex had been one of the most powerful friends and patrons he had. Without Essex, and Southampton, Shakespeare might not have climbed as high and as fast as he had.


Without these powerful patrons, Shakespeare was unprotected, and had no one to defend him. Shakespeare's audiences must have known how close he was to them -- and now that these Earls were traitors, and Essex was now sentenced to death -- would these same audiences still come to The Globe?


Would they want to patronize the theatre that was a hotbed of political dissidence?


After all, in the 11 days since the Essex Rebellion on 8 February until the trial on 19 February, Shakespeare had been performing his Richard II play over and over again.


This was the play that Essex had asked Shakespeare to perform the night before the Rebellion -- it was meant as a signal to the city that it was time, time to lead a rebellion against the Queen.


Shakespeare proceeded to perform the play again and again, up to the day of the trial. I think he did this to build support for Essex and as a demand that the Queen show leniency. Put him in prison, but don't execute him.


If we put ourselves in Shakespeare's shoes and walk a mile, it is hard to imagine a worse time in his life.


He had had many hardships, the death of his son Hamnet five years before must have been terrible. But the death of his patron, of Essex, could spell the end of Shakespeare's entire career.


Everything he had worked for could be gone.


He had been betting that his Richard II play would influence the Queen, and she would spare Essex's life.


On 19 February, with the verdict, he lost that bet. Essex would die.


But if Shakespeare did perform his Richard II play 40 times in this period, then he must have continued to do so even after the trial.


So, 412 years ago today, on 19 February 1601, William Shakespeare heard the news that Essex would die.


Did he run away? Run back to Stratford and never show his face in London again?


No, he stayed. He played his Richard II play again, to influence the Queen to change her mind and stay Essex's execution.


He doubled down on his bet.


And it is just possible that Shakespeare was already thinking of writing a play in response to these events. It would be the greatest play he ever wrote.


Somewhere in his mind he may have already been trying to find a way to have a character hide behind a tapestry -- an arras -- who is then killed by the play's hero.







Cheers,


David B. Schajer



Related Articles:



A Toast for the Premiere of Hamlet


Hamlet and The Massacre at Paris


King Henry IV of France and Shakespeare


BUY NOW from Amazon

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Academy Awards and Shakespeare

If you are a film fan like I am, then you can't help but be excited for this year's Academy Awards.

Just don't get me started on why Judi Dench wasn't nominated for her role in James Bond Skyfall! I'm furious! I was thinking of boycotting the entire show due to this... but I know I'll still watch it.

Well, I guess Dame Judi can't win one every year

But what is a blog about Shakespeare doing writing about the Oscars?

Because I want to see many of these artists in films of my Shakespeare versions.

For the last several years, since I began writing my versions of Shakespeare's plays, whenever I watch films, I look for UK actors and actresses who would be suitable for the films based on my versions of HamletRichard III and The Merchant of Venice.

And I tend to root for them when it comes to the Baftas, Oscars, Golden Globes, etc.

Last year, there were so many good films, a few really great ones and countless good performances.

Daniel Day-Lewis and Hugh Jackman are nominated for Best Actor -- and they would be perfect for some Shakespeare films -- as I have written before.

They were both excellent in very different roles in very different films. I can't say that one actor was better than the other, so I will be rooting for both of them!

Naomi Watts is nominated for Best Actress -- and she would be great in some Shakespeare films. She is a brilliant actress, and she definitely has my vote this year!

As far as my pick for Best Picture, I am rooting for Les Miserables. Not only is it a UK production, it was also a great film.

I was sceptical that it could live up to all of the previous versions I have seen (I even liked the Liam Neeson one a few years ago) I was impressed by the strength and depth of the excellent cast, and the director Tom Hooper brought the story to life so well.

In fact, there were so many great performances in that single film, that it should have garnered even more nominations.

Samantha Barks and Russell Crowe should have been nominated. I was especially surprised at how good Russell could sing!

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen were hilarious and so good together!

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne were just fantastic.

I remember seeing Eddie Redmayne in a film called Elizabeth I -- where he played the character of the Earl of Southampton -- a character who figures very prominently in my versions of Shakespeare's plays. Southampton was Shakespeare's friend and closest patron.

I thought Eddie did a great job as Southampton, and I have always kept him in the back of my mind, but I was really surprised at how well he could sing in Les Miserables. Just terrific!

Elizabeth I was also directed by Tom Hooper, before became hugely famous for The King's Speech. I think he deserved a nomination this year. How a film can get so many nominations and yet still not get recognition for the director is a real mystery!

That's a long way of saying that I'm rooting for Les Miserables.

Beyond that I don't really have too many favorites.

I'm rooting for Mychael Danna for the music to Life of Pi -- he is one of the greatest composers, and I still listen to his music from Sweet Hereafter.

I wish that Anna Karenina and Skyfall had been nominated more. I think that The Hobbit deserved a nomination for writing. It's not easy to take something so well known and loved and transfer it to the screen.

Every year I am disappointed by those people whose work was not nominated, and each year I am excited to see those whose work I loved get the attention they deserve.

I hope you join me in watching the Academy Awards this year.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer

Related Articles:

Judi Dench

Daniel Day-Lewis and Shakespeare

Hugh Jackman and Shakespeare

Russell Crowe and Shakespeare


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Friday, February 15, 2013

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre & Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

I strongly recommend that you visit Shakespeare's Globe Theatre website and donate some money towards the construction of the new indoor Jacobean playhouse.

Please give whatever you can -- even if it's as little as one pound.

You can even donate 3000 pounds and have a seat named after you!

If you are in the UK, you can even donate via text message! Ingenious.

This new theatre will be named after Sam Wanamaker, who founded the Globe, which opened in 1997.

Unlike the large open-air Globe, this will be an enclosed theatre, seating only 340 people, and it will be lit entirely by candles!

As you can imagine, this will allow them to have performances through the winter, and while the open-air Globe is closed from November to March.

Computer design of the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, by Allies & Morrison

This is much the same reason why Shakespeare opened a Blackfriars indoor theatre, to allow for performances through the winter.

I tried to find out today what play they have chosen to inaugurate this new theatre, but they are announcing the schedule on 22 April of this year, with the first plays to begin in January 2014.

I personally hope they choose The Tempest, one of Shakespeare's very last plays, which was written for a performance indoors rather than outdoors.

I think it is in many ways Shakespeare's most personal play, and it was in many ways his farewell to the stage.

It must also have been held in high regard by Shakespeare's fellow actors, Richard Burbage and Henry Condell, when they prepared and published the First Folio in 1623, years after Shakespeare had died, in 1616.



For even though The Tempest was one of Shakespeare's last plays, perhaps his very last, it was the first play in the Folio.

Cheers,

David B. Schajer

Books on Apple

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Richard II's Death and A Plea for Essex's Life

King Richard II died on 14 February 1400 at Pomfret (or Pontefract) Castle.



The exact cause of his death is unknown. He might have just starved to death while in prison.

Shakespeare in his Richard II play has the king killed, murdered by Sir Piers Exton, in a thrilling fight at the end of the play.

It would seem that Shakespeare was less interested in history than he was in box-office receipts. I doubt anyone would have paid good money to watch King Richard slowly die of starvation on stage.

As I have written before, this particular play holds a special place in the history of theatre, and of the history of England.

It was this play, about overthrowing and killing a king, that was performed the night of 7 February 1601, the night before the Essex Rebellion.

It was meant as some sort of signal to the public that they should rise up and join the Earl of Essex in his fight against the Queen and her court.

The Rebellion failed before it really began.

Essex and most of his fellow conspirators were captured and put in prison awaiting trial.

What did Shakespeare do in the days immediately after the Essex Rebellion? What was happening in London on this day, in 1601?

I have found evidence to suggest that Shakespeare did not hide, or run back to Stratford perhaps until this storm blew over.

Essex had paid Shakespeare and his company 40 shillings over their usual rate to perform Richard II at The Globe the night before the Rebellion. One performance and one performance only.

But why then did Shakespeare continue to perform the play, day after day, week after week -- for 40 performances?

If this is true, that Shakespeare and the other Lord Chamberlain's Men continued to perform the play -- then it would suggest that the  general public was alarmed and upset by the Rebellion and the arrest of the plotters.

Essex and many of the men arrested with him, like Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, were very popular. They were loved by many across England.

Shakespeare and his fellow actors must have thought that there was money to be made in performing it, and that the public sentiment was with them, and with Essex.

Was Shakespeare trying to keep the embers of anger and fear kindled, and turn them into into flames of violence and rebellion against the Queen? I doubt it.

I think it is more likely that Shakespeare was trying to send a message to the Queen and her court that the public was upset, and while Essex and his co-conspirators were wrong, they should not be punished too severely.

Shakespeare and the public at large would not have dared to march on the Tower and hold vigils outside, to protest the imprisonment of Essex and the others. That would have been too risky, and might have led to violence.

The Tower, and Traitor's Gate

Theatres, especially The Globe, were one of the few places where the public could gather freely.

Shakespeare's play, with the public gathered together, was a form of protest.

If there really were 40 performances, then it would indicate that there were many in the public who wanted to express their dissent. I would imagine that The Globe was full for every last performance.

From the point of view of the Queen, it would have been unwise to arrest Shakespeare and his actors, and close the theatres.

She must have wanted to contain the problem. She had arrested Essex and the conspirators. To arrest more people might backfire on her, and she have faced a popular insurrection. She might accidentally give Essex exactly what he wanted.

From her point of view, it would have been better to let the matter lose energy, and die.

But the biggest question facing her was what to do with Essex?

While she was struggling with that question, Shakespeare was filling The Globe and performing a play about deposing and killing a king.

It was perhaps the greatest risk Shakespeare ever took in his life.

For all we know, the idea of performing his Richard II play again after the Rebellion might have come to Shakespeare today -- 412 years ago today, on 14 February 1601.

It would have been the 201st anniversary of Richard II's death.

Shakespeare may have used this anniversary as a pretext for performing the play one more time.

And one more time turned into even more performances -- and before he knew it, they had performed the play nearly 40 times!

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


Related Articles:

Shakespeare's Richard II on 7 February 1601

Shakespeare's Hamlet and the Essex Rebellion

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Nicholas Hoult and Shakespeare


Wouldn't Nicholas Hoult be great in some new Shakespeare?

I think so.






For such a young actor he has accomplished so much.

I remember seeing him for the first time in About A Boy. I couldn't believe how good he was at 12 years old, and he was holding his own against Hugh Grant!


He has shown that he can handle just about anything and he has acted opposite some of the biggest stars and greatest actors -- like Nicholas Cage in The Weather Man, Kenneth Branagh in Wallander, Colin Firth in A Single Man -- Tom Ford's directorial debut no less.


I thought he was perfect in Skins -- and I really liked the huge reversal for the character. I don't know many young actors who could be such a creep, but then be so sweet. Impressive.


He has a very busy schedule ahead of him -- he's in the new Warm Bodies (as a zombie Romeo in love with a human Juliet!), he's Jack in Jack the Giant Slayer, and of course he will be in the second X-Men reboot.


I just read that he has just signed on to act in a new adaptation of Sebastian Faulks' novel Birdsong. I can't wait to see it.


And finally, he has expressed interest in one day being a new James Bond. He has my vote.







But wouldn't he be great in some Shakespeare?

There are so many parts he could play. Naturally, he would be great as all of the big parts, like Hamlet, Romeo and Macbeth, Richard III, Henry V.






He has only to start doing it. Whether he does them on stage or he does them on film, he has time to do them all. I strongly recommend he do them all, as often as possible.

But what about his doing some Solved Shakespeare?


I would love to see him as an Elizabethan actor on the stage of the Globe in the year 1600, for example, performing many of the greatest roles in literature and drama, for the very first time to the very first audiences who ever saw them.






He would be a natural as one of Shakespeare's fellow actors in the Lord Chamberlain's Men, later the King's Men. 


In my versions of Hamlet, and Merchant of Venice for example, he would be perfect in roles like Laertes, or Bassanio.


But he would be equally as great as someone like Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, who was one of Shakespeare's greatest friends and patrons.


Southampton is featured in all three of my versions, and his relationship with Shakespeare is one of the most important insights into Shakespeare's life and work.


Romeo and Juliet was written for Southampton, and I think Nicholas Hoult would be perfect as the man who inspired Shakespeare's Romeo.


What do you think?


If you agree with me that he should do some Shakespeare, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.

Your support will really make a difference!

And your comments are always welcome!

Cheers,

David B. Schajer



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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shakespeare's Hamlet, Macbeth and the Murder of Darnley


King James's father Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was murdered on 10 February 1567.

Shakespeare was only 3 years old at the time, but later in his life he would hear this story and it would inspire some of his greatest plays.


A poster seen in Edinburgh after the murder, implicating Mary (the Mermaid)
and Bothwell (the Hare)


Darnley was married to Mary, Queen of Scots. They were first cousins, and since they were both descended from King Henry VII, they both had very strong claims to the English throne.


Mary and Darnley


Any child of theirs would have an even greater claim to the throne. Their son, James, would in fact become king after Elizabeth died in 1603.

Darnley and Mary did not get along very well. It would appear that she did everything to put him down and weaken his position as the husband to the Queen of Scotland. He was the king consort, which meant that he was the king but he had little to no actual power.




She also had an affair with James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell. It is possible that her son James was in fact Bothwell's son. There is a certain logic to it. Why would she name the child James, when her husband's name was Henry?

Not long after the child was born, Darnley was sick. He retired to an estate at Kirk o' Field, in Edinburgh. In the middle of the night there were two explosions, and his body was discovered in an orchard.

He was dead.

His body showed no signs of injury from the explosion of the two barrels of gunpowder hidden under his bedroom.

It appeared that he had survived the explosions, but was strangled to death in the orchard.

It is possible that the illness he was suffering was due to poisoning.

Mary and Bothwell were both accused of murdering Darnley. Bothwell and Mary went on the run (although some say that she was kidnapped) and were eventually caught.

Bothwell was found not guilty and while Mary's investigation and trial dragged on, she was found guilty of plotting the death of Queen Elizabeth, and Mary was executed.

Such an exciting story as this would have amazed any man or woman in Europe.

William Shakespeare heard these stories and they were especially important for him since he had the opportunity to write and perform plays for Queen Elizabeth and later King James.

It is very clear that Shakespeare's Hamlet is inspired in part by the story of Bothwell, Darnley and Mary.

Bothwell kills Darnley, sick with poison, in an orchard, and then marries Mary. Claudius poisons King Hamlet in an orchard, and then marries Gertrude.

The boy James would therefore be a model for Prince Hamlet.

Many years later, in 1605, Shakespeare wrote Macbeth.

It is a story set in Scotland of Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth who plot together to kill, in order to seize power.

It is rather clear that Shakespeare was thinking of Bothwell and Mary when he wrote these characters.

It is important to keep in mind that James never knew his parents. He may have lived his entire life not understanding who and what they really were.

Shakespeare, in a rather bold gesture, gave King James a story that would help him understand his bloody Scottish past.


Judi Dench and Ian McKellen in Macbeth


Would James have been offended by Shakespeare's rummaging around with the skeletons in James's closet?

Probably not. He was very sophisticated, and from what I have learned about him, there was little that would shock him.

There was a reason that he made Shakespeare and his company into the King's Men, his royal acting troupe. Shakespeare didn't play it safe, and the king must have enjoyed and appreciated that fact.

And who wouldn't be flattered to have Hamlet written for him?

Cheers,

David B. Schajer


Related Articles:

Something Rotten in the State of Scotland

Mary Queen of Scots, Henry Stuart and Shakespeare

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