The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1579  Wednesday, 3 July 2002

From:           Nora Kreimer <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 2 Jul 2002 20:17:51 -0300
Subject:        The New Republic

Palace and Garden

Post date: 07.01.02
Issue date: 07.08.02

Maria Stuart may not seem like the perfect project for Ingmar Bergman's
biannual exploration of classical texts. Written in 1800, some years
after Schiller had completed The Robbers and Don Carlos, it is a typical
product of Sturm und Drang--more workable perhaps as an opera libretto
than as a dramatic text. Maria Stuart has a lot of strong scenes,
particularly the confrontation between the two rival queens and the
Machiavellian plotting of the treacherous courtiers. Indeed, it is not
only Schiller's most powerful play; it may be the best imitation extant
of Shakespearean tragedy.

That is not faint praise. Shakespeare was imitated so much that the
proprietary Germans of Schiller's generation used to refer to him as
unserer Shakespeare. Schiller taught himself Shakespeare's knack for
probing the nasty psychological motives beneath the courtly gambits and
the heroic attitudes of political life. But Maria Stuart also displays
some of the limitations of German bardolatry, namely a style that
oscillates wildly between soaring poetry and heavy declamation, between
psychological intimacy and starchy posturing, and a plot driven largely
by the interception of a few incriminating letters. (Brecht was later to
satirize these conventions mercilessly in Saint Joan of the Stockyards.)

Like so many playwrights drawn to this subject (Maxwell Anderson was
another), Schiller was no doubt mesmerized by its two female roles. So,
apparently, is Bergman. Two queens from the same family line, one
Protestant, the other Catholic; one an aging spinster, the other a
sensual inamorata; one a guilt-ridden executioner, the other a defiant
victim--what tasty meat for hungry classical actresses! The current
production certainly gives Bergman regulars Pernilla August (Maria) and
Lena Endre (Elisabet) a splendid opportunity to stalk each other like
two ravenous jaguars. In fact, the production by the Royal Dramatic
Theatre of Sweden, which recently had a four-day run at the Brooklyn
Academy of Music, is filled with striking scenes and strong
performances. (I was particularly moved to see the great Bergman
stalwart Erland Josephson playing the minor role of Mary's counselor

But as one who suffered through another version of this work initiated
two seasons ago by the American Conservatory Theater, what kept me most
engaged during the opening formalities was trying to guess how the
director could make this sometimes stuffy heroic masterpiece conform to
his obsessions with political brutality and unbridled sexual appetite. I
was remembering Bergman's unforgettable Hamlet, in which Claudius took
Gertrude from behind in full view of the court, as well as his Peer
Gynt, in which the horny hero competed with the lubricious trolls for
the prize of Satyr of the Week. In Bergman's theatrical world, there are
no humanitarians or idealists, only vandals and lechers driven by
resentment, vengeance, and insatiable lust--a worldview that begins to
seem prophetic after September 11.

The director certainly manages to keep the play active and moving from
its earliest, most ceremonial moments. Gor 

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