From TLS - 'Uniter of his enemies'

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.026  Monday, 1 February 2016


From:        Hardy Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 30, 2016 at 9:59:05 AM EST

Subject:    From TLS - 'Uniter of his enemies'


[Editor’s Note: The following appeared in a recent TLS. I will provide excerpts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]


Richard III, uniter of his enemies

Reviewed by David Abulafia

David Horspool


A ruler and his reputation

336pp. Bloomsbury. £20. 

978 1 4729 0299 3

Published: 27 January 2016


The century before the Battle of Bosworth was a bad time for the dynasties of Europe. From Poland to Portugal and from Sweden to Sicily kings and queens faced armed challenges to their authority from the greater nobility, generally led by their own close relatives. Usurpers abounded and often triumphed, with the result that we write the political history of the period as a series of success stories for rulers who might easily have failed to gain power – Henry VII at Bosworth, in 1485, Ferdinand and Isabella at Toro in 1476, Ferrante of Naples at Troia in 1462. Worse still, many of the major dynasties failed to maintain the line of succession; this was a disease-ridden period in which one royal prince after another died prematurely, while in several kingdoms, such as Naples under the vacillating Joanna II, the ruler remained childless.


Even when children were born, rivals for the crown flung accusations of illegitimacy at those best placed to succeed to the throne, most famously in the case of Queen Isabella of Castile, who ruthlessly exploited the accusation that her half-brother King Henry IV could not have fathered a daughter because he was apparently homosexual and therefore, supposedly, impotent. In Italy, if one could win the approval of Vatican City, illegitimacy was no bar to succession, as the troubled career of King Ferrante of Naples shows, though the shadow of French challenges lay over him and his successors, culminating in the French invasion of Naples in 1494–5. One of the major actors in those events was the ambitious and cultured duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro, whose hold on power was consolidated by the untimely – or should one say timely? – death of his nephew and predecessor Giangaleazzo Sforza; and the accusation that Ludovico poisoned his way to the ducal throne still hangs in the air.


Ludovico has often been compared to his near contemporary, Richard III of England, and has been portrayed as a wicked uncle who, like Richard, developed to a high level the art of losing political friends when he needed them most. Over all these figures, Ferrante of Naples, Ludovico il Moro and Richard III, there hangs the question of how they justified in their own mind the killings that they reputedly fostered. There is a temptation to label the late fifteenth-century European rulers, in particular, as Machiavellians before Machiavelli.

David Horspool’s account of the life of Richard III, from his childhood (about which we know very little) to his death in battle (about which we now know a great deal, following the excavation of his skeleton by Dr Jo Appleby) raises these issues sensitively and thoughtfully. Even though the figure he describes is decidedly unattractive, Horspool shows appreciation for the attempts of the Richard III Society to steer away from the staunchly negative view of the king fostered by Thomas More and the Crowland chronicle. He stresses how, even more than Shakespeare, Laurence Olivier has fixed in the mind the image of a scheming devil, intent on clearing the way to the throne. This is true even when the blame lay elsewhere, as in the case of his endlessly rebellious brother the duke of Clarence. King Edward IV had suffered more than enough from Clarence’s disloyalty; but Clarence was condemned to death in the High Court of Parliament. By contrast, Shakespeare’s Richard is found muttering: “Simple plain Clarence, I do love thee so that I will shortly send thy soul to heaven”.


As for the Princes in the Tower, it is hard to see how Richard can be excused from their murder; as Horspool points out, Richard had the chance to parade the princes, if alive, or to show their bodies, if dead, and did neither; he could not afford to display a living Edward V, whose presence would undermine his own claim to the throne, despite his accusation that Edward was a bastard; and he could not admit to the scandalous murder of two children, his own nephews. One only has to look at Richard’s appalling record in executing rivals to see that he was addicted to purges: Earl Rivers, a member of the Woodville family into which Edward IV had married, was executed even before Richard seized the crown; Lord Hastings too was beheaded without trial; the long list of victims makes plain Richard’s determination to purge the English nobility of those who contested his claim to power. The evidence is silent on how his conscience dealt with this carnage.


This attempt to clear away all opposition was in reality his undoing. His most bizarre achievement was that he managed to bring together supporters of the house of Lancaster, loyal to the memory of King Henry VI, and of the house of York, loyal to the memory of King Edward IV. The death in childhood of his heir, Prince Edward, shattered Richard’s hope of establishing a line of succession, though he may well have planned to take as his second wife Elizabeth of York, his niece, a story brilliantly enhanced by Shakespeare. However, York and Lancaster were not the opposing sides at Bosworth Field; Henry Tudor had already brought together the white and the red rose before he became king and married Elizabeth of York. Dynastic exhaustion had set in, and precisely because he was a relatively minor figure Henry could be seen as a fresh beginning.


[ . . . ]




From TLS - 'Emotional stranglehold'

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.025  Monday, 1 February 2016


From:        Hardy Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 30, 2016 at 9:49:32 AM EST

Subject:    From TLS - 'Emotional stranglehold'


[Editor’s Note: The following appeared in a recent TLS. I will provide excerpts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]


Emotions in stranglehold

Lucy Munro

William Shakespeare



William Shakespeare and George Wilkins


Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, until April 21


The current season in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse deserts the intriguing Jacobean and Caroline curios of the previous two years for something more familiar. “Winter Shakespeare” presents four of the “late” plays – Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest – omitting the collaborations with John Fletcher that occupied Shakespeare’s final years: Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen. Part of the considerable allure of this season is the chance to see these plays by candlelight. The late plays are often associated with the indoor Blackfriars playhouse, used by the King’s Men in tandem with the outdoor Globe from late 1609 or early 1610. This is somewhat misleading, given that Pericles was first performed around 1607–08. However, there was probably little difference between the Globe and Blackfriars repertories in the 1610s; it is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Dominic Dromgoole’s Pericles feels wholly at home in the Wanamaker while, conversely, Sam Yates’s Cymbeline sometimes feels confined by it.


Both productions make use of the full auditorium in terms of their staging, repeatedly placing actors in the area in front of the stage and in the walkway leading to the foyer. However, the lighting for Cymbeline is more centred on the stage: most of the lights are placed on or above it, and in the first half a set of trays with candles act almost as conventional spotlights. The action thus feels more restricted, though this sensation is exploited to great effect in the battles of the second half, which constantly give the impression that they might explode beyond the stage’s confines.


One of the sternest challenges for a director staging Cymbeline is knowing quite what to do with its humour – are the characters in on the joke? Or are they blissfully unaware of their own potential absurdity? With its gleefully wicked stepmother, lost children and host of reversals and revelations, it is not always easy to know whether one is laughing at or with Cymbeline. And despite some striking moments, Yates’s production seems not yet to have worked out fully where it stands.


[ . . . ]


In contrast, Pericles emerges in Dromgoole’s vibrant production as a bravura piece of storytelling. It opens with the entire cast either on or around the stage, singing and talking to audience members. The cast then blow out the candles, and Sheila Reid’s kindly, bird-like Gower emerges from the trapdoor, taper in hand, to introduce the oppressive court of the incestuous king Antiochus (Simon Armstrong). The two storm scenes, the second of which separates Pericles (James Garnon) temporarily from his wife Thaisa (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) when she appears to die in childbirth, are staged with economy and flair. The first leaves Pericles tangled in rigging, suspended above the stage, in which undignified position he is found by the fishermen whose humour first helps to dispel the aura of Antiochus’s court. The second uses simple means – a plank thrust out from the stage into the auditorium, a sail stretched across the centre of the stage, a welter of drums and swaying actors – to support and sustain the raw emotion of Pericles’s reaction to Thaisa’s death.


Where the production succeeds most brilliantly, however, is in the scenes featuring Pericles and Thaisa’s daughter, Marina (Jessica Baglow). Carried away from certain death by a pack of energetic pirates, Marina is deposited in the brothel at Mytilene, where she proceeds to convert all its customers to “honest” behaviour, much to the disgust of Kirsty Woodward’s Bawd, Fergal McElherron’s Pander and Dennis Herdman’s Bolt. Woodward, McElherron and Herdman almost steal the show, riffing on Shakespeare and George Wilkins’s lines with easy confidence and creating an effortlessly sleazy backdrop for Marina’s miracles. Dromgoole also handles Marina’s conversion of the governor of Mytilene, Lysimachus (Steffan Donnelly), with a sure hand. Many recent productions of Pericles have distrusted the original text, in which Marina’s speeches are comparatively brief, and they have often supplemented it with material taken from Wilkins’s “novelization”, The Painful Adventures of Pericles, published in 1608, shortly before the play itself. In these adaptations, Marina is given far more to say, but her conversion of Lysimachus depends on her making herself abject: “O my good lord”, she tells him, “kill me but not deflower me / Punish me how you please but spare my chastity”. Although Dromgoole takes some four or five lines from Painful Adventures, Baglow’s Marina does not weep or abase herself; instead, she takes Lysimachus’s hand and then places her hand on his chest, a gesture that she repeats in her later conversion of Bolt. Crucially, Lysimachus is unusually young and, apparently, sexually inexperienced, and his response to Marina’s words and gestures is to collapse and sob violently.


[ . . . ]




From TLS - 'Banish all the world'

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.024  Monday, 1 February 2016


From:        Hardy Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 29, 2016 at 1:27:22 PM EST

Subject:    From TLS - 'Banish all the world'


[Editor’s Note: The following appeared in a recent TLS. I will provide excerpts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]


Banish all the world

Charles Shafaieh



St Ann’s Warehouse, New York, until December 13

Published: 25 November 2015


“Make way! Prisoners coming through!” shouts a guard in the foyer of St Ann’s Warehouse. Twelve women in chains and matching grey uniforms follow him through the room, paying no attention to the voyeurs finishing their pre-show espressos. The entire affair lasts less than a minute, and almost instantaneously, the crowd’s energy picks up again. The air of seriousness that the director Phyllida Lloyd hopes to convey with this spectacle seems strained, however, as it does occasionally elsewhere in her otherwise faultlessly delivered and emotionally charged Henry IV.


Lloyd returns to the same prison setting of her acclaimed Donmar production of Julius Caesar, in which the actors are inmates performing Shakespeare’s play. The Roman tragedy is a favourite in programmes like Shakespeare Behind Bars in America and the UK’s Clean Break, which bring theatre into prisons for rehabilitation purposes. For some of the incarcerated, killing is not an abstract concept. In their performances, lines like Brutus’s assertion that “we shall be called purgers, not murderers” for killing Caesar are imbued with a potency inaccessible, for better or worse, to actors living calmer lives. By evoking this harsh reality, the conceit – inspired, it seems, by the text itself – was brilliant, giving the work an immediacy often lost on contemporary audiences.


Henry IV too contains parallels with this cold environment. Much like the royal line of succession dismantled by Henry when he deposed Richard II, hierarchy in prisons can rest on shaky foundations. Most respected, or at least feared, at the start of this production is the inmate who assumes the role of the king, played by an unrecognizable Harriet Walter with slicked back hair and a gaunt, steely-eyed complexion. Subtly alluding to Henry’s anxiety regarding his reign’s questionable legitimacy, she utters every word with immense gravity and conviction, as if aware that her authority may vanish in an instant. Jade Anouka’s firecracker Hotspur, topped with a flash of red hair, convinces as the threatening leader of a rival gang. She bounces around the stage in perpetual motion, a boxer with her hands wrapped in red tape as she trains for battle. Hers is not the only faction with stakes in a potential change in the power structure, as Jackie Clune’s feisty Glendower and the Douglas (Susan Wokoma) make evident – though the former is most memorable for introducing unexpected levity to the Welshman’s grand claims that “the earth did shake when I was born”. This violence can also break families apart, which makes the impassioned pleas of a bathrobe-clad Lady Percy (Sharon Rooney), begging her husband and father-in-law not to leave her side, that much more anguished.


Each character feels necessary to the narrative, and as a result, no actor seems less important than any other. Showcasing one star above the rest of the cast is a tradition these women want abolished (among many other patriarchal practices, including non-gender-blind casting). This pure sense of ensemble is not the only way the company has produced a progressive kind of Shakespeare. Myriad accents – Irish, Indian, Scottish, cockney – and even the Spanish languge itself sing through the theatre. That not a word is lost or intent made unclear should give more conservative directors pause. The single instance of RP, or at least a conscious parody of it, elicits the evening’s biggest laughs, as Sophie Stanton’s show-stealing Falstaff impersonates Henry as a cross between Lady Bracknell and Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess. At no point does it feel awkward or unnatural for these women (or the women they portray) to take on these parts. On the contrary, it even feels necessary at times, as they subvert Part I simply by being on stage at all, considering it has the fewest lines for women in all the history plays. They also bring instances of misogyny in the text to the foreground, such as a series of lewd insults Falstaff makes about Mistress Quickly which here devolve into an off-book moment of intensified sexual degradation that drives the woman playing the hostess to tears.


Less effective, however, is the invented frame story. Like many critics and directors, Lloyd ignores the obvious: that the Henry IV plays are actually about Henry IV. Instead, she heavily condenses both texts (using Part I primarily) and builds the narrative too much around Hal’s maturation. She then turns this into a rehabilitation story of sorts for the inmate playing the prince (Clare Dunne) who, the moment the show begins, shares news of her impending release. Some alterations do work to the production’s advantage. Conflating the civil conflicts from Part II with Shrewsbury raises the dramatic tension surrounding the final battle, and were this Part I alone, we could not witness Walter’s masterly turn berating Hal when he prematurely takes up the crown. Other changes feel ironic though, such as the excision of Doll Tearsheet, one of the few “female” roles, which in turn removes the scene in which both she and Mistress Quickly are arrested on murder charges and taken away – to prison.


[ . . . ]




From TLS - 'Sombre Revels'

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.023  Monday, 1 February 2016


From:        Hardy Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         January 29, 2016 at 1:12:58 PM EST

Subject:    From TLS - 'Sombre Revels'


[Editor’s Note: The following appeared in a recent TLS as did the next three to follow. I will provide excerpts here; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]


Mistress of sombre Revels

Katherine Duncan-Jones



Garrick Theatre, until January 16, 2016

Published: 18 November 2015


To take first things first: Dame Judi Dench’s Paulina is charismatic, tender and subtle, and brilliantly holds the episodic Winter’s Tale together. Whether speaking or silent, she functions as its essential Chorus and the charismatic Mistress of this play’s rather sombre Revels, as well as a figure of calm wisdom. Her choric presence helps us to tune in to the mood of each dramatic segment. Her performance is further complemented by the gentle authority of Michael Pennington’s smaller but highly significant role as Antigonus, Paulina’s courageous husband.


At first sight, this splendid Winter’s Tale resembles a traditional Christmas show – exactly what a newcomer to the West End might expect to encounter in the opulently refurbished red-and-gold Garrick Theatre. Visually, it evokes the Nutcracker, showing a doted-on boy eagerly preparing to open his presents and play with his new toys. Looking beyond the royal drawing room, we glimpse the beautiful eight-month-pregnant Queen Hermione (Miranda Raison) flirting and canoodling with the Bohemian Polixenes (Hadley Fraser), and a few minutes later the pair skate on unseen ice together. These opening tableaux are far too pretty to be true. We may wonder whether the flirtatious Hermione is merely performing the correct diplomatic role of a good hostess – but if so, she certainly seems to be overdoing it – especially when we learn that she has been behaving like that for eight months. Meanwhile, there are hints that her husband may feel most at home among his male courtiers.


The ensuing metamorphosis of Leontes (Kenneth Branagh) from proud, playful father to manic and furious cuckold is genuinely terrifying. He never becomes ridiculous, as supposed or actual cuckolds often do in other plays, but commands the theatre with his rage. Since we ourselves have so recently witnessed Hermione’s distinctly overplayed good hostess role, we can empathize with him. Indeed, audience members encountering the play for the first time will probably do so. When news arrives of the utterly unexpected death of the sprightly child Mamillius, that opening Christmassy gathering appears to foreshadow the destiny of the doomed Romanovs. The Russian theme is not irrelevant, for later we hear the innocent, doomed Hermione deliver one of the best lines in the play: “The Emperor of Russia was my father”.


To put The Winter’s Tale into a Jacobean context: four plays categorized as Shakespeare’s Late Romances share familial themes. With a fruitful royal family on the throne, Jacobean subjects anticipated royal marriages, and would soon celebrate that of the Princess Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine. Topically, each of these plays chronicles premarital trials to be endured by young royals. The sea-tossed Marina in Pericles (1608) suffers most: she meets her future husband in the inauspicious setting of a brothel, where, worryingly, he appears to be a regular customer. In Cymbeline the spurned and wandering Imogen fares better, finding herself a Snow White-like occupation as housekeeper to two pleasant young men who prove to be her princely brothers. Less agreeably, in The Tempest the biddable Miranda is bullied by her control-freak father Prospero. In contrast to all three, the outcast Perdita in The Winter’s Tale is fortunate in her thoroughly good-humoured adoptive father, the Old Shepherd (charmingly played by Jimmy Yuill). He has fostered Perdita’s natural talents for household management and botany – accomplishments which will stand her in good stead when her royal status is revealed. (I always wonder how the newborn Perdita was nourished, but must keep reminding myself that this is a fictitious Tale, not a History.)


[ . . . ]




Guardian Shakespeare Solos

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 27.022  Monday, 1 February 2016


From:        Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Monday, February 1, 2016

Subject:    Guardian Shakespeare Solos


Leading actors film new Shakespeare Solos series for the Guardian


Leading actors film new Shakespeare Solos series for the Guardian

Adrian Lester, David Morrissey and Eileen Atkins are among the stars performing some of Shakespeare’s greatest speeches in a set of videos to mark the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death


Adrian Lester returns to the role of Hamlet and Roger Allam takes on King Lear for the first time in a major new series of Guardian videos, launched today. Shakespeare Solos, a project to mark the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death, brings together a lineup of outstanding actors who each perform a key speech from the plays. The first six videos also star Eileen Atkins, Ayesha Dharker, Joanna Vanderham and David Morrissey.

Lester gained acclaim when he played Hamlet for director Peter Brook in a stripped-back production at the Bouffes du Nord theatre in Paris in 2000 and the Young Vic in London the following year. For Shakespeare Solos, he delivers the “to be or not to be” soliloquy which the actor describes as “Shakespeare at his best”. Lester said he hardly had to relearn the soliloquy before filming the video as he and Brook had spent “so long getting it in the blood” for the stage production. Lester, who is currently appearing in Red Velvet at the Garrick theatre in London, said the speech captures the “quiet, profound nature” of Hamlet’s despair and that it is also “an intellectual outpouring, because Hamlet is a very bookish person. But at the heart of it is a very fundamental question about whether he should live or die.”


For Lester, playing Shakespeare on camera was “quite liberating, because the complexity of all of those thoughts can be brought right down for the screen. You don’t have to do anything but believe what you’re saying … rather than turning front and centre [on stage] and firing it down to the audience. The complexity of thought has a delicacy to it. You have to be careful about it – at times, it can be slightly destroyed when you’re concentrating on technically making sure the audience can hear you and delivering the kind of bombast required.”


While Lester’s solo found him returning to a familiar speech, Roger Allam’s gave him the opportunity to play a part he has long desired a crack at: King Lear, which is often described as a mountain of a role. One stormy night, when he was playing Falstaff at Shakespeare’s Globe in London in 2010, Allam surprised audiences by suddenly going into Lear’s “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks” speech. He performs those lines for Shakespeare Solos.


The videos, directed by Dan Susman, have been mostly shot at the Guardian’s multimedia studio but Atkins was filmed on location at a restaurant for her performance as Emilia from Othello. We are put in Desdemona’s place as Atkins intimately addresses the camera: “But I do think it is their husbands’ faults if wives do fall.” Emilia is one of the characters Atkins is currently playing in her one-woman show at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.


[ . . . ]




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