‘Coriolanus’: Nothing Plebeian About Him

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    • Why has “Coriolanus” never been popular? It’s been mounted on Broadway only once—in 1938. The last time that I reviewed a production in this space was eight years ago. Yet connoisseurs need no reminding of the immense stature of Shakespeare’s most explicitly political play. T.S. Eliot ranked “Coriolanus” above “Hamlet,” calling it “Shakespeare’s most assured artistic success.” A man I know who used to work for one of America’s best-known politicians claims that it’s one of only two pieces of literary art that tells the whole truth about politics (the other, he says, is “All the King’s Men”). And if you should be lucky enough to see Shakespeare Theatre Company’s new production, directed by David Muse and featuring a towering performance by Patrick Page, you’ll come away wondering why it doesn’t get done regularly by every drama company in America.
    • Enter Coriolanus (Mr. Page), a paragon of the military virtues who more or less single-handedly defeats the enemy. Physically fearless and noble without limit, he has only one flaw: He knows that he is a great man, and refuses to pretend otherwise. Indifferent to the praise of “the common people,” he will not “flatter them for their love,”
    • He understands that “Coriolanus” is not about any particular politician, or any particular war: Its real subject is pride. Is there room in a democracy for an aristocrat like Coriolanus who refuses to play the popularity game? Or is it his duty to don the hypocrite’s mask in order to serve the greater good?
    • You’ll be paralyzed by the hideous, red-faced howl of horror that he wrenches from his depths when his terrified mother (Diane d’Aquila) begs him not to renounce his family and his country.

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The Hub Review: A post-mortem on Pericles: lost and found at sea

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    • “But anyway, back to Pericles, Prince of Tyre (the play’s full title) – which intrigues because it is so important in the canon while being a strange jumble of a play. Much of it probably isn’t by Shakespeare, in fact; these days the latest software tells us that the first two acts (or more) may be by one George Wilkins (who published his own account of the legend prior to the play’s quarto edition; it didn’t make it into the First Folio).”
    • “Now to many observers, the mixed (or contested) authorship of the play somehow makes it of lesser artistic interest than the rest of the canon. But to my mind, the reverse is actually true. Indeed, Pericles fascinates me precisely because, like Timon of Athens, it seems half-finished, so viewing it is like viewing a cross-section cut out of the Bard’s work process.”
    • “But let’s back up a bit and ponder the whole Shakespearean authorship question. No, not that authorship question – the whole Earl-of-Oxford boondoggle is an utter waste of time. I mean the question of what Shakespearean “authorship” actually means – for I certainly don’t think Shakespeare was an author in the Romantic sense of being the “onlie begetter” of his plays, the lone genius who forged our conscience in the smithy of his soul. Not that educated people quite believe that; even schoolboys know the Bard borrowed his plots – but few seem to grasp what this means, that it makes Shakespeare something of a critic of his own raw material, a re-shaper and re-caster rather than, well, an “original,” for lack of a better word.  Indeed, you could argue (to paraphrase a famous quip about musicals) that a Shakespearean text isn’t written – it’s re-written.”
    • “But why did George Wilkins’ Prince of Tyre capture the imagination of the Bard?  Part of its appeal perhaps lay in its timing: Shakespeare began working on Pericles just as the birth of a granddaughter no doubt inspired a sense of rapprochement with his semi-abandoned wife and family.  But as Celia comments in As You Like It, “There is more in it.” I have little doubt that as Shakespeare surveyed the “rough cut” of Pericles he began to perceive in it an amazing coincidence (rather like the many in the play itself): its stripped-down, cartoonish tropes paralleled and even extended many of the deep themes that had been moving beneath the surface of his own oeuvre.  Storms and shipwrecks, identities lost and found, families broken and healed, societies rejuvenated; twins and doubles and hints of magic; he had been trading in these (in more sophisticated form) since The Comedy of Errors, that is for his entire artistic life.”
    • “Even more artistic wobbles I’m afraid dominated the first two “Wilkins” acts. The opening presentation of incest (Pericles discovers his intended bride has already been bedded by her father) had little threatening force, and director Allyn Burrows played the ensuing pursuit of his hero largely for laughs – as many a misguided production does, even though curious stage directions such as “Enter Pericles, wet” clearly indicate that rebirth is the business at hand.  Real evil is afoot in the action, too (as well as genuine good), but all this seemed lost in broader-than-broad antics… “

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“Henry VIII” Reborn in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Fiery Production

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    • “So why has this play been so neglected? Perhaps it is because some scholars believe it to be a work of joint authorship — written late in Shakespeare’s career in collaboration with his successor, John Fletcher. Some might be superstitious knowing that during a performance of the play at the Globe in 1613, a cannon shot used for special effects ignited the theatre’s thatched roof and beams, resulting in a fire that burned the original building to the ground.”
    • “As with many of Shakespeare’s plays about the monarchs of England, this one is awash in political intrigue, chicanery, hypocrisy, betrayal and dissembling, all shot through with a particularly strident battle between the competing (and often overlapping) powers of the church and state.”
    • “Although King Henry is obsessed with securing a male heir to the throne, Ann Boleyn gives birth to a daughter. She will be the future Queen Elizabeth I — the woman who just happened to be Shakespeare’s great patron.”

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Will the real Shakespeare please stand up | Illawarra Mercury

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It’s a subject that divides a lot of people and everyone has an opinion on it.

Did William Shakespeare write Shakespeare? And if he didn’t, then who did?

These knotty questions are wrestled with, in Workshop Theatre’s latest production, the Australian premiere of Mark Rylance’s I Am Shakespeare.

The debate over the Shakespeare authorship question has been going since the middle of the 19th century, driven in part by how little we know about the man, William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, outside of his plays and sonnets.

In the play, philosopher Sir Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, are presented as alternative authors of the works.


‘Being Shakespeare’ With Simon Callow at BAM – NYTimes.com

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    • In the invigorating “Being Shakespeare,” now playing at the BAM Harvey Theater, Mr. Callow testifies in support of the playwright. His collaborator, the Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate, has supplied all sorts of contextualizing facts, figures, segues and suppositions, allowing Mr. Callow to point his finger unwaveringly at the title character: He did it.
    • Shakespeare’s authorship has come under increasing fire in recent decades, with challengers disputing that a man of his relatively humble background could have amassed the knowledge — the book smarts, street smarts and existential smarts — to write the way he did. Various high-born types have been suggested instead, as well as the comparably middle-class but Cambridge-educated Christopher Marlowe.
    • Other writers may have presented the ties between Shakespeare’s life and work more thoroughly and insightfully (Garry Wills on the rhetorical flourishes of “Julius Caesar,” Stephen Greenblatt on the transformation of Shakespeare’s deceased son Hamnet into Hamlet). Still, “Being Shakespeare” has the propulsive energy of a particularly juicy membership-drive PBS special.

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    • Playgoers may be wondering why, out of all of Shakespeare’s works, Richard II has captured the imaginations of two theatre companies on both sides of the Atlantic (at the same time). 

    • In New York, it’s difficult to watch the play without thinking of contemporary American politics.

    • The Pearl Theatre Company, which is producing Richard II at New York City Center Stage II, presents work with political reverberations, as need be (if you aren’t already convinced that putting on a play isn’t a political act in itself). A case in point would be Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, whose director Elinor Renfield saw a parallel between partisan sniping in Norway in the 1880s and our own ideological wars in the U.S. in 2010. In Richard II, director J. R. Sullivan works more stealthily: you’ll either see the play as a cautionary tale for the 2012 election or you won’t.  You’ll either see Richard as a stand-in for the 1% or you won’t.  You won’t think that it’s reflecting nothing back. 

    • Richard II ends, of course, the way it begins with a king pretending that he doesn’t have any blood on his hands

    • May Shakespeare be wrong in only predicting more politics as usual.

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Richard II – A Cautionary Tale of Improper Forms of Kingship

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    • The diverse theories which delineate the dialectical nature of the work are both informative and well-reasoned. Rather than viewing the play as a series of dichotomies, I will argue that the play views both Richard and Bolingbroke as essentially failed rulers for having limited the liberty of their subjects and exposed the state to unnecessary questions relating to the legitimate uses of power and of monarchical succession. Finally, I will argue that the play, presented in this light, would serve as a warning to Elizabeth regarding the use of her power and her inability to provide a successor to the throne.
    • According to Stubbs) ‘There can be little doubt that the proceedings of 1397 and 1398 were the real causes of Richard’s ruin.he had resolutely and without subterfuge or palliation, challenged the constitution.’ this ‘grand stroke of policy,’ continues Stubbs, ‘has remarkable significance. It was a resolute attempt not to evade but destroy the limitations which for nearly two centuries the nation, first through the baronage alone and latterly through the united parliament, had been laboring to impose upon the king.’ (608-9) (1)
    • Considerations that the play may, in fact, be a commentary on the reign of Elizabeth I are supported by the acknowledgement, made by the queen herself, that aspects of her reign were similar to those of Richard. Samuel Schoenbaum, in his paper Richard II and the Realities of Power, notes that the queen remarked to one of her courtiers, Thomas Lamberde:
    • Such considerations (that they play may have served as a commentary on Elizabeth’s reign) serve only to whet pursuit and the trail, in truth, is not an utter blank. ‘I am Richard II, know ye not that?’ the Queen declared in Lamberde’s presence, and she was not the first to make the comparison. (49)(Schoenbaum)
    • But history is also presented in Richard II as a current action, a living process that directly involves and implicates the audience in the theatre. Queen Elizabeth’s often-quoted comment, ‘I am Richard II, know ye not that?’; the suppression of the deposition scene during her lifetime; the fact that Essex’s followers saw fit to sponsor a performance of Richard II on the afternoon before their rebellion – all these things indicate that for Shakespeare’s contemporaries this play was not simply an exercise in historical recreation or nostalgia. (262)(Rackin)
    • The concept of rights or privileges is central to the main theme of the play. It is after all, Richard’s seizure of Bolingbroke’s lands after the death of John of Gaunt, which precipitates Bolingbroke’s return to England and ultimately forces Richard’s deposition. The granting and inheritance of property rights was one of the cornerstones of the Magna Carta, and had been honored by all monarchs for several hundred years until the time of Richard. As York admonishes Richard:

      Take Hereford’s rights away, and take from time

      His charters and customary rights;

      Let not tomorrow then ensue today;

      Be not thyself; for how art thou a king

      But by fair sequence and succession? (II.i.195-99) (Shakespeare)

    • A gloss of these lines reveals the magnitude of Richard’s unlawful act. If Bolingbroke is not entitled to his lawful possession of land through the inheritance of his father, then how is Richard entitled to the possession of the throne through inheritance from his father? Indeed, the act is so unnatural that tomorrow will not ensue today, i.e., the natural order of events will be violated.
    • Richard then, violated the rights of his subjects in seizing Bolingbroke’s property. But his failings were greater than this: he was also complicit in the murder of Gloucester, a point which is emphasized in the opening of the play, and is the motive behind the banishment of Mowbray and Hereford. Finally, Richard left no legitimate heir in the form of a son or daughter, which allowed Bolingbroke to sweep aside the weak claim of the Earl of March as Richard’s successor.
    • The central issue for Bolingbroke’s rule, and one to which every play in the rest of the second tetralogy will return, is the threat to the realm when the king is not legally titled. .nevertheless, because the deposition is an interruption of the tradition of legal succession, Bolingbroke’s power exists without the clear sanction of either the law or God
    • In this speech, the usurpation of the throne by Bolingbroke is seen as the proximate cause of the War; but more than that, it is seen as a violation of the natural order of things. The king, as the chosen representative of God on earth, held his office through succession and by upholding God’s laws. Bolingbroke was neither the rightful successor of Richard, nor did he uphold the laws: in point of fact, he broke with law in seizing the throne.
    • That the play dealt with the loss of liberty and freedom has hopefully been demonstrated. The applicability to Elizabeth’s reign can be seen in the following ways: at the time of the writing of the plays, Elizabeth had not produced a lawful heir (nor would she at the time of her death). Elizabeth’s right to rule through lawful succession was affected by her illegitimate birth; a fact which obtruded itself in her consciousness in the person of her half sister, Mary Queen of Scots. The suppression of Catholicism during Elizabeth’s reign was another manifestation of the challenge of certain freedoms in the Tudor era. Finally, Elizabeth’s censure of publication of any writing concerning her succession (not to mention possible censorship of other writings which, as has been previously noted, cannot be conclusively proven) points to a curtailment of freedom which was acknowledged by Elizabeth’s subjects. Elizabeth’s comment I am Richard II, know ye not that? is more than mere rhetoric. For a monarch who walked a tightrope between the granting and taking of liberties to her nobles, and the suppression of freedom to the commons, the lessons of Richard and Bolingbroke would seem ominous, indeed.

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