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Epicoene or The Silent Woman

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Jonson’s buzzing satire on gender and language enjoyed enormous prestige for more than a century after its first performance. The central figure is Morose, who hates noise yet lives in the centre of London, and who, because of his decision to marry a woman only because he is duped into believing she is silent, exposes himself to a fantastic cacophony of voices, male, female and – epicene.

The title signals Jonson’s satiric and complex concern with gender and performance: the play interrogates sexual decorum and the performance of gender, asking how men and women should behave both as fit examples of their sexes and to one another. The characters – knights, barbers, female collegiate and tricksters – present a cross-section of wrong answers, enabling Jonson to create riotous entertainment out of lack, loss and disharmony. Jonson is fascinated by the denigration of language into empty chatter or furious abuse: it is teeming with idiomatic vitality.

Epicoene was first performed in 1609 or 1610 by a children’s company. This text is based on the only authoritative text, from the 1616 folio Works.

Hamlet (The First Folio, 1623, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

The text presented here is taken from the 1623 First Folio, a collection of thirty-six Shakespeare plays collated by John Heminges and Henry Condell (two actors from Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men), where it appears as The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. It is the longest play in the Folio, and, although 4% shorter than Q2, it contains 1,914 words not found in Q2. It has been argued that this version is from a copy prepared for performance, possibly by Shakespeare and fellow company members, as the play contains fuller and more systematic stage directions than Q1 and Q2. It has been posited that F is based partly on a copy of Q2 annotated in the playhouse or after performance, and thus is authoritative given its derivation from the authorial ‘foul papers’ theorised to be the basis of Q2. Character names and the placing of key soliloquies are on the whole consistent between Q2 and F, although F lacks Hamlet’s final soliloquy in Q2, ‘How all occasions do inform against me...’, in which he decides once and for all to ‘be bloody’.

video Henry VIII (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

The Tudor Court is locked in a power struggle between its nobles and the Machiavellian Cardinal Wolsey, the King's first minister and the most conspicuous symbol of Catholic power in the land. Stage director: Mark Rosenblatt. Screen director: Robin Lough. Featuring: Michael Bertenshaw, Sam Cox, John Cummins, Ben Deery, Mary Doherty, John Dougall, Will Featherstone, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Anthony Howell, Colin Hurley, Miranda Raison, Dominic Rowan, Dickon Tyrell, Kate Duchene, Amanda Lawrence, Ian McNeice.

King Henry VIII (All is True)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A play obsessed with historical, political and performative truth, King Henry VIII was first performed under the title All is True at the Globe in 1613, when the charging of a small cannon near the end of the play famously set fire to the thatch at the top of the playhouse, and burnt it to the ground. As well as possibly being staged at the indoor Blackfriars theatre (where Henry and Katherine’s divorce trial had been held 84 years previously), it has been hypothesised that the play was performed at the wedding of James I’s daughter, Elizabeth, to the Elector Palatine, in 1613: its Protestant moralising and mythologizing, as well as the significance it places on a young princess named Elizabeth, would have suited such an occasion. With the sudden death of the young Prince Henry the year before, England’s hope of a proselytising Protestant monarch had been shaken. Such a play, with its suggestion of James I as a mythic heir, may have soothed the national consciousness.

As the play begins, Norfolk, Buckingham and Abergavenny are talking about the meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. They complain about Cardinal Wolsey, who ensures that Buckingham is accused of high treason and executed. At a dinner given by Wolsey, Anne Bullen (Boleyn) attracts the attention of Henry, who is married to Queen Katherine of Aragon, and is made Marchioness of Pembroke. Henry sets up a court judged by Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius from Rome to consider his divorce; Katherine pleads with him and then leaves. The court is adjourned until she returns; the two Cardinals persuade her to relent.

Henry secretly marries Anne. Some of Wolsey’s letters to the Pope and an account of his wealth have found their way to Henry; Wolsey is disgraced, and Sir Thomas More is appointed Lord Chancellor in his place. Henry’s new marriage is announced, and Anne is crowned. Katherine is dying, and sees a vision of spirits of peace. After commending her daughter Mary to Henry, she dies. Anne falls pregnant. Henry’s secretary Gardiner plans to bring down Cranmer and Cromwell who are close to the King, but Henry intervenes. There is great rejoicing for the christening of Anne’s new-born daughter, who will become Queen Elizabeth I.

The play was a collaboration between the ageing Shakespeare and the young John Fletcher, who would go on to work together on The Two Noble Kinsmen (c.1613-4). It differs from other Henrican plays of the era which focus on or parody ‘Bluff King Harry’; here, the eponymous king is treated with gravitas as his marital meanderings enable a providential outcome for the English church and crown, as implied in Samuel Rowley’s earlier play When You See Me, You Know Me (1605), which was probably the play’s principal source. Generically, the play has been subject to debate: categorised under ‘Histories’ at its first appearance in the 1623 Folio, it has also been labelled a tragicomedy, a romance, and a late play by critics.

The Folio text is uniquely detailed in Shakespeare’s plays for its abundance of stage directions. As a result, the play has often been staged for its theatrical effect over its dramatic content. It was perennially popular throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in productions dominated by static sequences of tableaux and grandiose set speeches. Throughout the twentieth century, however, this spectacular performance style began to wane in favour of more ‘authentic’ renderings, and the play is now one of the most rarely performed of the Shakespearean canon.

King Lear (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

King Lear is an anguished tragedy of man’s cruelty to man. The play is extremely rich, encompassing every level of society and the extremes of emotion in the human experience. The play is shaken by a radical instability that is political and existential – a vast backdrop to the figure of the mad king, broken by politic flattery and injustice, howling into the wind.

In King Lear, family relations are continually called into question, as the text is concerned with the strength of blood in determining loyalty. The play itself has a corresponding plot and subplot, wherein Lear’s relationship with his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, is mirrored in Gloucester’s relationship with sons Edmund and Edgar.

Critics have commonly focused on the juxtaposition of Edmund, Regan, and Goneril’s valuation of power, property, and inheritance, with Cordelia and Edgar’s familial devotion. The characters assess the importance of family by different means, but they are not immediately ‘greedy’ or ‘moral’, as a result. Moreover, the strain of kinship in the text can be seen as a transition from an old order to a new one; the younger generation is at ideological odds with their elders, explaining their difficulty to connect with one another.

King Lear is thought to have been composed in 1605-6. Two, exceedingly different versions of the play text survive: the Quarto of 1608 and the First Folio of 1623. The choices of the Arden text rely mainly on the Folio, but the editor has also included lines from the Quarto which are not found in the Folio, and has thoughtfully explained such textual variations.

Measure for Measure

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In a city swamped by impotent law and sexual decadence, Shakespeare reveals repressed desire, skewed hypocrisy and arbitrary justice. His only play to be set in Vienna, Measure for Measure has, along with Troilus and Cressida and All’s Well That Ends Well, been labelled a ‘problem play’, although in its first appearance in print in the 1623 First Folio, it is listed under the ‘Comedies’. Using conventional literary and dramatic devices such as the bed trick and the disguised ruler (whose humanist piety some critics have seen as a direct nod to the newly crowned James I), the play’s main source lies in the Italian writer Cinthio’s prose Hecatommithi (1565) (whence Shakespeare had also drawn the inspiration for Othello). Shakespeare reworks Cinthio’s tragic ending of rape and execution so that his play ends, as is usual for a comedy, in multiple marriages.

The Duke of Vienna lends his power to the uncompromising Angelo and pretends to leave the city, but remains disguised as a friar. Angelo begins to enforce the city’s neglected laws, and condemns Claudio to death for getting Juliet pregnant out of wedlock. Claudio’s sister Isabella, who is about to become a nun, begs Angelo for mercy, but he falls in love with her. He offers her a bargain: Claudio will be released if Isabella sleeps with Angelo. Isabella will not consent, even when her brother encourages her.

The Duke, who was visiting Claudio in prison still disguised as a friar, overhears Isabella talking to Claudio. He suggests they trick Angelo into thinking that he is sleeping with Isabella, but he will really be sleeping with Marianna, his ex-fiancée whom he abandoned.

Their trick is successful but Angelo does not pardon Claudio: he is still to be executed, and his head sent to Angelo. The Duke intervenes, and gets the Provost to agree to send another prisoner’s head instead – initially Barnadine’s, but then Ragozine’s when Barnardine refuses to be executed.

The Duke ‘returns’ to the city as himself. Isabella, not recognising him as the Friar who helped her, begs him for justice. The Duke pretends to dismiss her. Mariana arrives as a witness. The Duke re-enters as the Friar. When he reveals himself, Angelo confesses and the Duke orders him to marry Mariana then condemns him to death: Angelo is pardoned when Mariana pleads for him. Claudio is revealed to be alive. The Duke proposes to Isabella.

The first record of performance for Measure for Measure was at the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall, on 26th December 1604, though it was probably composed and performed earlier that year. The play’s exploration of illicit sexuality led to it being underperformed or bowdlerised throughout the centuries that followed its publication; at the start of the twentieth century, critics and practitioners ‘uncovered’ the play’s emphasis on grace and divine atonement.

Othello (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Quite apart from the brilliance of its language and characters, Othello is remarkable amongst other early modern plays for its inversion of traditional, racially-defined roles in tragedy – the black man, Othello, becomes the hero, whereas the white man, Iago, is the obvious villain. Although ‘black’ characters were common on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, a black hero was unique.

More recent criticism has also expanded this discussion by considering Othello’s identity not just as a Moor, but as a Muslim. In doing so, it allows modern readers to examine the larger question of ‘otherness’ in relation to race, religion, and culture. Othello is now studied as part of a wider tradition of ‘Turk plays’, which also include Philip Massinger’s The Renegado and Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. This critical lens allows scholars to expand their understanding of the relationships between early modern European countries and the Ottoman Empire.

Despite the tendency of modern audiences to focus on the racial element, however, Othello is only partially about race. It is also a deeply moving and tragic depictions of the consequences of passion and the effects of jealousy. The insidious Iago has become the archetypal agent provocateur, and the shocking final scene is one of Shakespeare’s greatest.

The Arden edition prefers to date the play to late 1601-1602, (it is traditionally dated to 1603–4). Two early texts of Othello survive – a Quarto from 1622 and the text in the First Folio of 1623. This edition preferences the Quarto text, but in instances of textual cruxes, the editor has produced a carefully thought-out meditation between the two texts.

video Othello (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

With its racing concentrated plot and intense dramatic details, Othello is one of Shakespeare's most exciting, atmospheric and heartbreaking plays. By introducing to early 17th-century England a black character as complex as Othello, it is also one of his most extraordinary imaginative achievements. Stage director: Wilson Milam. Screen director: Derek Bailey. Featuring: Eamonn Walker, Nick Barber, Tim McInnerny, Sam Crane, Johnathan Newth, Nigel Hastings, Dickon Tyrrell, Micael O'Hagan, Paul Lloyd, Zoe Tapper, Lorraine Burroughs, Zawe Ashton, Micael Taibi, Che Walker, Anthony Bailey, Gabby Wong, Fanos Xenofos, John Stahl.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Pericles is classed as a ‘late play’ and a ‘romance’, filled sequentially with archetypal episodes of riddles, storms, supernatural intervention and long-lost children, and illuminated by flashes of the hero’s psychology. Thought to have been composed in 1607-8, Pericles first appears in a ‘bad quarto’ of 1609, a badly damaged text that was not included in the First Folio of 1623. In 1664, it appeared in the Third Folio as one of seven apocryphal ‘Shakespeare’ plays ‘never before Printed in Folio’, though it is the only one of these plays to have been accepted into the Shakespearean canon. Based on the tale of Appollonius in the medieval poet John Gower’s narrative poem Confessio Amantis (1393), it is now generally accepted that Shakespeare collaborated on the play with the pamphleteer, inn-keeper and possible bawd George Wilkins, who, in 1608, published a prose reworking of the play, The Painful Adventures of Pericles.

The action of the play is introduced by the poet Gower, who acts like a chorus throughout. He explains how King Antiochus had an incestuous affair with his daughter, and demanded that her suitors answer a riddle to gain her hand. Pericles solves the riddle, which suggests incest, and flees the city in fear of his life – first to his home city of Tyre, then to Tarsus. There he relieves the city from famine, to the joy of the governor Cleon and his wife Dionyza.

Pericles is pursued by Antiochus’ servant Thaliart, so he leaves Tarsus. He is shipwrecked and rescued by fishermen in Pentapolis, who escort him to the court of King Simonides. He wins a tournament and the hand of the princess Thaisa.

Pericles and Thaisa set off for Tyre, but during a storm Thaisa appears to die in childbirth, and her body is thrown overboard. Pericles leaves his newborn daughter Marina with Cleon and Dionyza. Thaisa is washed ashore at Ephesus, where she is revived by Cerimon.

Fourteen years later, Marina is kidnapped by pirates just before Dionyza has her murdered. Marina is sold into prostitution at Mytilene, but she is determinedly chaste. A grief-stricken Pericles, having heard that Marina is dead, arrives at Mytilene, and the governor Lysimachus brings Marina aboard his ship. Father and daughter are reunited. The goddess Diana tells Pericles to go to Ephesus where he finds Thaisa.

Although apparently popular from its first performance to the late seventeenth century, Pericles has been relatively underperformed ever since, perhaps due to the difficulties of its trans-Mediterranean structure. Conversely, the play has been subject to trends in feminist, spatial and perhaps most significantly, psychoanalytic and criticism: the latter reads the play as part of the ‘late play’ dynamic of familial violation, loss, recovery and wish-fulfilment. The play’s ending has been read, alongside other ‘late plays’ such as The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, a Christianized redemption.

audio Pericles: Prince of Tyre

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

This musical audio adaptation of Shakespeare’s timeless tale opens when our hero is at the palace of Antioch with King Antiochus to solve the riddle that will win the King’s daughter’s hand in marriage. They are surrounded by the heads of men who have died trying before him. Pericles solves the riddle, learning the terrible truth about the incestuous relationship between the Princess and the King. Pericles flees Antioch, fearing Antiochus’ wrath.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Akuyoe, Phyllis Applegate, Patti Austin, David Downing, Judyanne Elder, Bennet Guillory, Rif Hutton, Bob Devin Jones, Ted Lange, Eugene Lee, Carl Lumbly, Don Reed, Michele Lamar Richards, Don Willis

Singers: Mary Bond Davis, Edie Lehmann and Raymond Patterson.

Featuring: Akuyoe, Phyllis Applegate, Patti Austin, David Downing, Judyanne Elder, Bennet Guillory, Rif Hutton, Bob Devin Jones, Ted Lange, Eugene Lee, Carl Lumbly, Don Reed, Michele Lamar Richards, Don Willis. Singers: Mary Bond Davis, Edie Lehmann, Raymond Patterson

The English theatre during the reign of James I (1603–25) was known as Jacobean theatre. Although Shakespeare was still writing major works until around 1611, the leading dramatist of the era was Ben Jonson. Other noted Jacobean playwrights included John Marston, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Heywood, John Ford, Thomas Dekker (c. 1570–1632), Cyril Tourneur (c. 1575–1626), and Samuel Rowley (c. 1575–1624).

In comedy, the Elizabethan concerns with characterization and romantic love began to give way to a vogue for harsh satire and increased realism from about 1610. Jacobean tragedy shows a similar obsession with the idea of moral corruption; examples include Webster’s The White Devil (1612) and The Duchess of Malfi (1619), as well as Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy (1610). The plays, which are often horrifically violent, display a generally cynical and pessimistic outlook on life. From 1605 Jonson collaborated with Inigo Jones to create the extravagant and scholarly court masques beloved by James I and his queen.

Although James was an enthusiast for the theatre, he imposed strict regulations on companies, specifying in which theatres they could play. One effect of this was to bring public performances into the cities of London and Westminster; before 1608 all theatres had to be outside the municipal boundaries. The leading troupe of the day, the Chamberlain’s Men, became the King’s Men on James’s accession. Similarly the Blackfriars Boy Company became the Children of the Revels of the Queen, although the popularity of child actors came to an end during the Jacobean era. Other features of the period include the growing influence of neoclassical theories from the Continent, increasingly violent opposition to the theatre from the Puritans, and a general decline in audience numbers.

from Jonathan Law ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011).