Plays

video Cymbeline (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Britain is in crisis. Alienated, insular and on the brink of disaster. Can it be saved? An ineffectual Queen Cymbeline rules over a divided dystopian Britain. Consumed with grief at the death of two of her children, Cymbeline’s judgement is clouded. When Innogen, the only living heir, marries her sweetheart Posthumus in secret, an enraged Cymbeline banishes him. Behind the throne, a power-hungry figure plots to seize power by murdering them both. In exile, Innogen’s husband is tricked into believing she has been unfaithful to him and, in an act of impulsive jealousy, begins a scheme to have her murdered. Warned of the danger, Innogen runs away from court in disguise and begins a journey fraught with danger that will eventually reunite Cymbeline with a longlost heir and reconcile the young lovers.

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Danton's Death

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Danton’s Death is a thundering dramatization of the most extraordinary scenes of the French Revolution, of eloquence and execution.

In 1794, the Revolution was reaching its climax. After a series of bloody purges the life-loving, volatile Danton is tormented by his part in the killing. His political rival, the driven and ascetic Robespierre, decides Danton's fate. A titanic struggle begins. Once friends who wanted to change the world together, now these two men stand against each other, one for compromise and the other for ideological purity, as the guillotine awaits.

A revolutionary himself, George Büchner was 21 when he wrote the play in 1835, while hiding from the police. With a hair-raising on-rush of scenes and vivid dramatisation of complex, visionary characters, Danton’s Death has a claim to be one of the greatest political tragedies ever written.

In this translation, Howard Brenton captures Büchner's exhilarating energy as Danton struggles to avoid his inexorable fall. This version of Danton’s Death premiered at the National Theatre in 2010.

Delirium

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A radical re-interpretation of Dostoyevsky’s seminal novel The Brothers Karamazov, Delirium is the result of a collaboration between Enda Walsh and acclaimed theatre company, theatre O. It was first performed on 9 April 2008 on tour prior to playing at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and the Barbican, London.

The play loosely follows the plot of Dostoyevsky's novel: at its heart is a bitter rivalry between the tyrannical Fyodor and his eldest son Mitya over money and the affections of a young woman, Grushenka. This is complicated by another love triangle, in which Mitya’s fiancée Katerina is loved by his resentful, intellectual brother Ivan. Observing these tensions, and attempting to introduce benign Christian virtues, is the youngest brother Alyosha. Meanwhile the sinister manservant Smerdyakov looks on from the sidelines, filming the action.

In their Prologue to the published text (Nick Hern Books, 2008), Joseph Alford and Carolina Valdés, Co-Artistic Directors of theatre O, write that 'Delirium explores a world without morals, depicting the human condition in a harsh and uncompromising way. The determined brothers of the title, and their despicable father, are each driven by an individual mix of passion, intellect, faith and frustration. Feuds over women and money ensue and bad blood runs deep, as beliefs and spitefulness ignite a frenzy of emotion so strong it is impossible to contain.'

The theatre O production was directed by Joseph Alford and designed by James Humphrey. It was performed by Joseph Alford, Denis Quilligan, Julie Bower, Dominic Burdess, Carolina Valdés, Nick Lee and Lucien MacDougall.

De Monfort: a Tragedy

Aurora Metro Books
Type: Text

How far can jealousy take you? A rarely revived Othello-inspired tale of love, loss and obsessive passion. After fleeing in shame from a lost duel, De Monfort comes face to face with the man who spared his life. Overwhelmed by the lifelong grudge he holds, he tries in vain to follow the advice of his friends and beloved sister. Is his rival truly working against him or is he lashing out at shadows? As vengeance and envy take hold, friendship cracks and schemes push towards uncertainty and bloodshed. Much admired by Lord Byron, Joanna Baillie explores passions and their ability to take hold of the mind.

Doctor Faustus

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Doctor Faustus is a play about desire: for the best in life, for knowledge, power, material comfort, and influence. Faustus sells his soul to the devil hoping to learn the secrets of the universe, but is fobbed off with explanations which he knows to be inadequate. He is obsessed with fame, but his achievement as a devil-assisted celebrity magician is less substantial than it was previously as a scholar.

Marlowe's most famous play is a tragedy, but also extremely funny. It involves hideous representations of the Seven Deadly Sins, and of Helen of Troy, the world's most beautiful woman. With its fireworks and special effects, it was one of the most spectacular and popular on the Elizabethan stage. Yet, ever since Marlowe's death, it has been regularly rewritten. Its mix of fantastical story, slapstick, and raw human emotion still arouses conflicting interpretations, and presents us with endlessly fascinating problems.

This student edition is based on the earlier so-called A-text of the play, with the B-text scenes included in an appendix. It contains a lengthy Introduction with interpretation of the play in its historical and cultural context, stage history, discussion of the complex textual problems, and background on the author, date and sources.

video Doctor Faustus (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Doctor Faustus is Christopher Marlowe's most renowned and controversial work. Famous for being the first dramatised version of the Faustus tale, the play depicts the sinister aftermath of Faustus's decision to sell his soul to the Devil's henchman in exchange for power and knowledge. Stage director: Matthew Dunster. Screen director: Ian Russell. Featuring: Charlotte Broom, Michael Camp, Nigel Cooke, Jonathan Cullen, Arthur Darvill, Robert Goodale, Paul Hilton, Sarita Piotrowski, Will Mannering, Pearce Quigley, Iris Roberts, Felix Scott, Chinna Wodu, Richard Clews, Jade Williams, Beatriz Romily.

video Doctor Faustus (Stage on Screen)

Stage on Screen
Type: Video

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, to give it its full title, by Christopher Marlowe, was first published in 1604, at least twelve years after its first performance, although the basic story of the play is much older.
Having decided he has accumulated all he can of conventional knowledge, Doctor Faustus turns to magic in a quest for greater truths. Before long, he ends up selling his soul to the devil – the famous 'Faustian pact' that has entered everyday language. Dr Faustus gradually realises his terrible mistake. He apparently repents, but finally dies, the devil coming to collect his soul, and his friends the dismembered body.
A classic that never dates
Is Doctor Faustus a tragic hero or a terrible example? It's not clear. But with its themes of sin, Satanism, death, damnation and magic, the play naturally holds great appeal for modern students, as well as theatre lovers across the ages.
In addition, Dr Faustus is a good choice for anyone studying Shakespeare, as he and Marlowe were contemporaries. Both wrote for the same acting company and influenced each other's work. Certainly, as an Elizabethan tragedian, Marlowe is considered second only to the great man himself. Notoriously, there are even those who believe that Marlowe actually wrote Shakespeare's plays, his early death notwithstanding.
Director: Elizabeth Freestone.
Featuring: Joanna Christie, Amy Rockson, Harvey Virdi, Jonathan Battersby, Guy Burgess, Samuel Collings, Mark Extance, Gareth Kennerley, Adam Redmore, Tim Treloar, Conrad Westmaas

A Doll's House (trans. Stephens)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The slamming of the front door at the end of Ibsen’s delicate and electrifying play shatters the romantic masquerade of the Nora and Torvald’s marriage. In their stultifying and infantilised relationship, they have deceived themselves and each other into thinking they are happy. But Nora’s concealment of a loan she had to take out for her husband’s sake forces their frivolous conversation to an irrevocable crisis, until Nora claims her right to individual freedom.

Ibsen’s 1879 play shocked its first audiences with its radical insights into the social roles of husband and wife. His portrayal of his flawed heroine, Nora, remains one of the most striking dramatic depictions of late-nineteenth century woman.

This version is translated by Olivier Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens, and was first performed at the Young Vic, London on 29 June 2012

The Duchess of Malfi (adapt. Brecht and Hays)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Written in collaboration with H. R. Hays and intended for performance by Elisabeth Bergner, (described by the editors of the Collected Works as ‘the most famous of all the exiled German actresses’), Brecht and Hays’s adaptation of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi was born of a tortuous set of drafts, redrafts and recriminations, which led to several versions of the script, including a Broadway staging of a version by W. H. Auden. H. R. Hays sets the scene:

‘Early in 1943 Brecht came to New York and broached the idea of The Duchess of Malfi to me as a vehicle for Elisabeth Bergner, who was currently playing on Broadway in a whodunit. Brecht and I were both fond of the Webster piece and both felt that it sprawled too much for a successful production. The idea was to eliminate the anticlimactic series of deaths at the end, tighten up the script and emphasize the implicit incest motivation of the duke . . . We began working in April 1943 . . . We had a meeting in my agent’s office, at which Mr Czinner [producer] announced that what the project needed was “a British poet”. I hit the roof and told them to take my name off the script. Needless to say, the poet was Auden, whose name they hoped would be success insurance. Brecht did not at first withdraw, but later, when he saw what was happening, he too removed his name . . .’

This version of the script, written directly in English by Hays, with Brecht advising on story and structure, reproduces a copy that was in the possession of Hays. It is complemented here by notes and letters by Brecht himself on how the play ought to be performed.

The Duchess of Malfi (ed. Gibbons)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

One of the most haunting tragedies written in the Jacobean period, The Duchess of Malfi is a violent and macabre story of lust, madness, cruelty and revenge. First performed c. 1613-4 by the King’s Men, probably at the indoor Blackfriars theatre and later at the outdoor Globe playhouse, this text is based on the only authoritative extant edition, the first quarto of 1623.

Webster adapts the true story of a noble Italian widow, the eponymous Duchess, who secretly marries her steward, Antonio, and bears his children. Her two corrupt brothers, Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, and the Cardinal, enraged by this act of female self-determination across class boundaries, begin to spy on the family in a conspiracy against her happiness that ends in psychological torture, mutilation and murder.

While following many of the conventions of revenge tragedy (like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it employs a courtly setting, surveillance, a malcontent), The Duchess of Malfi affords its protagonists a psychological depth that has prompted discussions, amongst others, of incest and lycanthropy. Nevertheless, it also contains some of the most memorable props of the early modern stage, including the waxwork ‘bodies’ of the Duchess’ family, and a poisoned Bible.

Unlike his sources, Webster does not condemn the Duchess for lasciviousness – she remains one of the most fascinating and complex female characters of the early modern stage. She exercises power politically and domestically, and is sexually autonomous: she takes the active role in her wooing of Antonio, refusing to bow down to her brothers’ prescriptive demands of her heart and body. She has been regarded as an archetypal Protestant martyr against the tyranny of Catholic Europe, such as was celebrated in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563).

The Duchess of Malfi is one of the major tragedies of the period and continues to prompt both new adaptations and critical interpretations. It has had a long and successful stage history, and was played by candlelight as the inaugural production at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London (2014), an indoor playing space designed to replicate the early seventeenth-century Blackfriars theatre, a little way across the river from where the Globe now stands.

A tragedy is a serious play with an unhappy ending. The word is often said to mean ‘goatsong’ (Greek: tragos, goat; ode, song), although modern etymologists have disputed this. It was Aristotle who provided the classic definition of tragedy, stating (in his Poetics) that tragedy should move one “by pity and terror” at the fall of a great person: the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place.

The genre developed in ancient Greece, where tragedies were expected to follow a fairly strict form. Tragic protagonists were drawn only from deities, royalty, and the upper classes, and their inevitable suffering and downfall was brought about by a combination of fate and their own hubris. The three great authors of classical tragedy were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, all of whom wrote in the 5th century BC. The rules of classical tragedy were rediscovered at the Renaissance, as were many of the Greek and Roman texts. The gory tragedies of the Roman Seneca proved particularly influential on the playwrights of the time.

Typically, the tragedies of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras combined violent and sensational action with acute psychological insight and intense poetry. The great tragedies of Shakespeare are usually considered the pinnacle of world drama. In the 17th century the Frenchmen Corneille and Racine led a return to the stricter Greek forms of tragedy. Thereafter the tradition of serious tragic writing declined, being largely displaced by sentiment and melodrama.

It did not revive until the late 19th century, when such writers as Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov managed to combine the sombre themes and moral seriousness of tragedy with a realistic depiction of contemporary life. Perhaps the only modern writer to attempt the classic tragic form was the US dramatist Eugene O’Neill.

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