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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Friday, January 31, 2014

Folger Shakespeare Theatre's Richard III



I went to see Richard III last night at The Folger Shakespeare Library Theatre in Washington, D.C.
It’s a great show!
You should definitely go see it -- it runs through 9 March.

Drew Cortese as Richard III (all photos by Teresa Wood)

If you are anywhere near Washington, do yourself a favor and buy tickets now:

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share my thoughts about this production.
This is the third production at the Folger I’ve seen directed by Robert Richmond. I saw his Henry V (review here) and Twelfth Night (review here).
His productions are excellent, and of very high quality. Not only does he seem to get very good actors, he also gets great performances out of them.
The theatre in the Folger itself is modeled after the Globe Theatre. But for this production, the seats have been dramatically re-arranged to resemble how plays would have been performed at Inn-yards.



This is the first time in the Folger’s history that the theatre has been staged in the round, and it brings a very different energy to the production. 
Overall, I was impressed by the staging and the innovative use of the stage itself, how it is lighted from below and the use of trap doors.
The cast was excellent, and very professional. I don’t want to single out any of the actors. They are all good.
But I do want to mention some of the performances that surprised me the most.
I have to mention the superb Richard Sheridan Willis, in the role of Stanley. He was great as Malvolio in the Richmond’s earlier Twelfth Night, and as the Chorus in Henry V

Richard Sheridan Willis as Stanley, crowning Richard

I was very excited to see the role of Queen Margaret. I have never seen it staged before, and I was really looking forward to it. It is a crucial role, and the play really suffers without it. I also think that it was originally played by Shakespeare himself.
I want a Queen Margaret who just rips into the rest of the characters, and Naomi Jacobson was great -- she tore into them like a buzzsaw. She was thrilling!
When Richard gets her to curse herself, the moment doesn’t have the punch it should, but nevertheless I was very pleased to see this role done so well.

Naomi Jacobsen as Queen Margaret

When Richard argues with Queen Elizabeth about marrying her daughter, I really want Elizabeth to abuse him, both physically and verbally. The actress Julie Motyka didn’t disappoint. It’s a great scene, and done very well.

Julie Motyka as Queen Elizabeth

I really liked the two young actors who played the Princes -- and they are real brothers -- Holden and Remy Brettell. 
My only complaint is that I wanted more of them, and the talk about Julius Caesar was cut, which I think is a crucial element in a play regarding how history is re-written, and how “truth” does not “live from age to age.”

The Bretell brothers

But ultimately, this play all boils down to the actor who plays Richard III. 



Drew Cortese was great as the Duke of Gloucester. He had a very good menacing quality throughout, and he was excellent at turning that into humour. 
I was surprised that he didn’t play Richard as a hunchback with a withered arm, especially since the recent skeletal remains of Richard confirmed that he suffered from scoliosis, and therefore had a curved spine.
He played Richard who walks with difficulty, but otherwise he came across as a very strong and energetic villain.
He never left the stage very often, nor for very long, and that is a great choice. In fact, much of the time he stepped off the stage, he lurked in the shadows right in front of me! 
Creepy, but very effective. 
He looked the part of a seducer, and was convincing with Anne, played by the great Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan.

Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan as Anne


What he was lacking, and the play lacked overall, however, was the complicity between Richard and the audience.
He spoke to the audience often, but he didn’t really engage us. With the stage in the round, he should have made use of it, and come closer to the audience, and talk face to face with us. 
Unfortunately, without the complicity, there is less humor. And this can be a very funny play, at almost every single moment.
I recently saw Mark Rylance as Richard (review here) in New York. He was excellent. But even he didn’t fully exploit the comedy in the play.
Richard is supposed to be a wild rampaging boar, and the other characters are in his way.
Queen Elizabeth is a pain. King Edward is a boorish fool. Anne is melodramatic. Queen Margaret is crazy. And so on. Even the Princes are stupid brats. Clarence insults his assassins by saying they are not royal!
Shakespeare wants us to want Richard to kill them all. And laugh.
It’s a strange play for sure, but that was the kind of entertainment 400 years ago in London, at a time when more people were paying money to see bears and hounds kill each other than were going to plays.
Nevertheless, this production at the Folger is well worth seeing, and definitely worth your time.
It is funny enough, engaging enough, and very well acted and directed.
And I can't wait to see director Robert Richmond's next production at the Folger.
Cheers,

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Shakespeare and Christian Bale

Christian Bale is one of the most talented and hardest working actors in the world, so it comes as a real surprise to me that he has not done much Shakespeare.





There seems to be a lot of interest these days for Shakespeare films -- there are TWO versions of Macbeth coming out in 2014 alone. 

There is also a lot of activity on stage, what with Jude Law in Henry V, Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus, Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth, David Tennant as Richard II and so on.

But what about Christian Bale?







He played Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1999, and before that he played Amled in A Royal Deceit in 1994, which is a re-telling of Hamlet. He even co-starred with Kenneth Branagh in Henry V in 1989.


So, he is no stranger to Shakespeare.

I could easily imagine him as Richard III, Macbeth for sure, Coriolanus, and Edgar in King Lear. He would make a very exciting Iago, and a great Henry V.





It would be thrilling to see him live on stage in any of these roles.

Perhaps with his busy film schedule he can't find the time.

If he is committed to making only films for the foreseeable future, then it comes a real surprise that no one has cast him in any more Shakespeare adaptations, like the Macbeth films coming out soon.





Or, perhaps he has just not found the right Shakespeare project to do. 

Perhaps he thinks there is nothing new and exciting in performing Shakespeare on stage or on screen. He's absolutely right. 

There is very little that is new. Most all of the versions of Shakespeare we are seeing are not much different than what has been made before.





That's why I think he would be excellent in my Shakespeare Solved versions of the plays.

They are very different. They are completely unlike any Shakespeare we have come to know.

My versions of HamletRichard III and The Merchant of Venice take us back to the time when the plays where first performed, by Shakespeare himself and his company of actors, the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

As well as you may think you know those plays, there were entirely different when Shakespeare first performed them. They were funnier, much bawdier, and much more political.

The audiences at the time were not quiet and polite. They were loud, rude and they heckled the actors every chance they got. I have never seen anyone throw food at an actor, but it was very common, probably a daily experience in Shakespeare's time.

When we look at the plays in their original historical context, they are exciting and funny and nothing like what you would expect.

Perhaps Christian Bale would want to make some Shakespeare like that. Shakespeare that revolutionizes our understanding of the plays and of the man.





He seems to like period films -- like The New World, and The Flowers of War. He is playing Moses in a new biblical epic Exodus.

I think he would enjoy playing an Elizabethan actor, on stage in London performing with William Shakespeare, and re-interpreting the plays for future generations.






I would love to see Christian in such a role. I would love to see him in that kind of Shakespeare.

What do you think?



If you want him to do some Shakespeare, or be in this series of Shakespeare Solved films, please show your support on facebookTwitterPinterestGoogle Plus or Tumblr.


You can even send messages to this Christian Bale Fan page, or this one.


Your support will really make a difference!


And your comments are always welcome!



Cheers,


David B. Schajer






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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Shakespeare and Nicholas Hilliard


Nicholas Hilliard, who died on 7 January 1619, was one of the most important figures during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and King James.




Self Portrait, 1577



He was one of the principal artists of the time, and his paintings and miniatures captured the faces of some of the most important and significant people in history.

Here are some of his works, and as we look at these faces, we can come closer to understanding the people that Shakespeare knew.

Some of these people Shakespeare loved, and some he feared. Many of them Shakespeare turned into characters in his plays.

First and foremost is Queen Elizabeth I. Shakespeare repeatedly put her in his plays. For example, she is the inspiration for Portia in The Merchant of Venice.




Queen Elizabeth, 1572 -- when Shakespeare was 8 years old



Queen Elizabeth, The Pelican Portrait, 1572




Queen Elizabeth, The Phoenix Portrait, 1575

Around the same period of time, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was Queen Elizabeth's "favourite." She favored him more than any other man at the time. 

Shakespeare may have been thinking of Leicester when he created the character of Claudius in Hamlet.




Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1572


Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester,  1576



I think Leicester is the man whom Elizabeth would have married had she ever married.

In 1575, Leicester held a 19 day celebration at his Kenilworth Castle in her honor.

Kenilworth is only 23 kilometers, or about 14 miles, from Stratford-upon-Avon. It is very likely that an 11-year-old William Shakespeare saw this Kenilworth celebration.

Most likely, it would have been the first time he saw Queen Elizabeth in person.

These miniature paintings of Queen Elizabeth and Leicester were probably painted for this Kenilworth event:


Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1575


Leicester eventually married another woman, Lettice Knollys:



Lettice Knollys



While she was previously married to Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, she had given birth to a son in 1565 and named him Robert.

It was rumored that while she was married, she had an affair with Leicester. 

I think that Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex is in fact the son of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

When Leicester died in 1588, Essex was 23 years old.

Essex quickly became Queen Elizabeth's new "favourite" at court. She also transferred many of Leicester's titles and property to him.

It is my theory that Queen Elizabeth loved this young man as if he were the son she never had with the man whom she had wanted to marry. It would go a long way towards explaining the degree to which she loved and would later fear him.

As far as Shakespeare is concerned, Essex would become Shakespeare's patron around 1593.

Essex was an inspiration for several of Shakespeare's characters, including Henry V and Hamlet.



Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, 1588 -- the same year that Leicester died



Young Man Among Roses, believed to be Essex, 1588



Essex, c. 1587 -- I think this is actually much later, when Essex fought in Ireland in 1599


One of Essex's closest friends was Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Southampton was also Shakespeare's patron, and is believed to be the Fair Youth in Shakespeare's Sonnets.


Both Essex and Southampton are featured in my versions of Richard III (written about 1593) and The Merchant of Venice (1596).




Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton


One of Essex's greatest foes at court was William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Shakespeare's character of Polonius is a caricature of him.



William Cecil, Lord Burghley


It was due to this battle between Cecil and his son Robert Cecil that Essex and Southampton led a failed rebellion in 1601. Essex was executed. Southampton was sent to the Tower.

Shakespeare's friends and patrons were gone, and it must have been a very dark time in his life.

I write about these events in my version of Hamlet, which I argue was written in 1601 in response to this Essex Rebellion.

But whatever troubles Shakespeare faced during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, they were nothing compared to what would happen during the reign of King James.

For Shakespeare, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire.

As I will show in my forthcoming versions of Shakespeare's plays, most all of Shakespeare's next plays were written for, about and featuring characters based on King James himself.



King James, 1603-9




The Lyte Jewel, with miniature portrait of King James,  1610


There is much more of Hilliard's work well worth seeing, and you can start here.


Cheers,