Plays

video All's Well That Ends Well (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Helena loves the arrogant Bertram, and when she cures the King of France of his sickness, she claims Bertram as her reward. But her brand-new husband, flying from Helena to join the wars, attaches two obstructive conditions to their marriage – conditions he is sure will never be met Stage director: John Dove. Screen director: Robin Lough. Featuring: Michael Bertenshaw, Sam Cox, Sam Crane, Naomi Cranston, John Cummins, Janie Dee, Ben Deery, Mary Doherty, Sophie Duval, Will Featherstone, James Garnon, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Colin Hurley, Ellie Piercy, Laura Darrall, Nicholas Delvalle, Luke McConnell.

Antony and Cleopatra (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Antony and Cleopatra rival Romeo and Juliet for the title of most famous lovers in Western drama. Shakespeare’s play, probably written around 1606-7 (though not appearing in print until the First Folio of 1623), reflects the popularity of the story in the early modern imagination. Shakespeare’s play is heavily indebted to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of the Greeks and Romans, written in the first century AD, and translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1579.

Marc Antony is one of three triumvirs ruling Rome following the assassination of Julius Caesar. Neglecting his political duties, he lingers in Egypt with Cleopatra, a queen who sees herself as a demigod, an embodied Isis. When unrest threatens Rome, Antony must leave Cleopatra in order to solidify his power against threats from Pompey and fellow triumvir Octavius Caesar. Despite marrying Octavia, the passive sister of Caesar, for the sake of peace, he soon longs for his ‘wrangling queen’ and returns to Egypt. The ensuing war between the lovers and Octavius Caesar engulfs the Roman world. The eponymous lovers are unable to reconcile their martial defeat and its consequent shame with their hyperbolic self-images, and commit two of the most memorable suicides in the Shakespearean canon.

From its earliest audiences, Antony and Cleopatra has received criticism. Post-Restoration critics knocked the play for the way it disregarded the classical unities of drama, which stated that a play should cover one idea, in one place, at one time. With its action historically spanning a decade, and its scenes ranging from Europe to Africa and back again, the play affronted those who desired a neater retelling of the famous love story. John Dryden took it upon himself to rewrite the tragedy in his play All for Love, first performed in 1677: covering only the last day of the lives of Antony and Cleopatra, the play reaches for a grander love affair, removed from the lust, jealousy and self-inflation of Shakespeare’s play. Scholarly criticism has dwelt upon the play’s use of opposites, the imagery of instability, and the performance of gender on the early modern stage (to which Cleopatra metatheatrically refers, when she fears boy actors will portray her ‘squeaking [. . .] i’th’posture of a whore’ [5.2.219-20].

The staging of the play has long been of special interest to critics and theatre-makers alike: the play calls for a sea-battle, and a colossal monument to Cleopatra up to which the dying Antony must be hoisted. Notable Antonys have included John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Patrick Stewart; notable Cleopatras Peggy Ashcroft, Vanessa Redgrave and Mark Rylance, in the 1999 all-male production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London.

video Antony and Cleopatra (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Virtue and vice, transcendent love and realpolitik combine in Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare’s greatest exploration of the conflicting claims of sex and power, all expressed in a tragic poetry of breathtaking beauty and magnificence.

Featuring: Ignatius Anthony, Peter Bankole, Eve Best, Jonathan Bonnici, Philip Correia, Jolyon Coy, Phil Daniels, Kammy Darweish, Paul Hamilton, James Hayes, Rosie Hilal, Sean Jackson, Daniel Rabin, Sirine Saba, Obioma Ugoala, Clive Wood.

video Antony and Cleopatra (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Following Caesar’s assassination, Mark Antony has reached the heights of power. Now he has neglected his empire for a life of decadent seduction with his mistress, Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Torn between love and duty, Antony’s military brilliance deserts him, and his passion leads the lovers to their tragic end.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

A Chaste Maid in Cheapside

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A Chaste Maid in Cheapside is Middleton’s masterpiece of Jacobean city comedy, rich in irony and wordplay. Middleton welds together the themes of corruption, money and sex into a complex whole, in which comedy is mingled with disgust.

Moll Yellowhammer is in love with Touchwood Junior, but her avaricious parents have betrothed her to the rich knight Sir Walter Whorehound, just as they have set up their son Tim to marry a rich Welsh heiress. Sir Walter is conducting an open affair with Mrs Allwit, while her happily cuckolded husband congratulates himself on finding an adulterer to support his household. Meanwhile, Sir Oliver Kix and his wife hope to get their hands on some of Sir Walter’s property, but Lady Kix has been unable to conceive, so they employ the ceaselessly fertile Touchwood Senior (the brother of Moll’s lover) to make Lady Kix pregnant any way possible.

The play signals its ironic nature even in the humorously ironic title: Cheapside maids were not noted for their chastity. London’s busiest commercial area is shown to be a crucible of mercantile greed, where money is more important than either happiness or honour, the most coveted commodities to be bought with it are sex and social prestige, and even true lovers must trick their way to marriage.

The play was probably first performed in 1613 at the Swan theatre, possibly by the Lady Elizabeth’s Men and the Queen’s Revels together.

Coriolanus (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Coriolanus was first published in the First Folio of 1623; we have no recording of a first performance contemporary with Shakespeare. As a result, dating the play has proven to be a difficult task, with most modern critics placing the writing of the play in the second half of the 1610s.

Affording Coriolanus a genre is similarly tricky: it is ‘The Tragedy of Coriolanus’ in the First Folio, but it is deeply indebted to the sub-genre of ‘Roman plays’ that form a significant part of the Shakespearean oeuvre. As with Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare draws on Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans for both historical detail and literary tropes.

The exploration of the public voice and the body politic in Coriolanus is immediately displayed in the play’s opening, where Roman citizens are rising up against the mounting price of grain. (It has been argued that this is a contemporary reference to the Midland Revolt of 1607, where peasants in the Midlands of Britain rioted against the enclosure of common land.) Menenius, a wise old Roman generally respected by the people, recites a parable narrating the breakdown of the body when its individual parts are not in accord. For the body politic to function, the head (here, the General; in Shakespeare’s England, King James I) and the belly (the people) must support each other.

One of the play’s central explorations, that of the battle between public and private identity, and political and personal duty, is encapsulated in the figure of Coriolanus, much as it is in other Roman figures (e.g. Brutus in Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra). His identity is unfixed, and manipulated by the patricians and his ambitious mother, Volumnia.

Unlike other Shakespearean tragic heroes, Coriolanus only has one lengthy soliloquy, in which he laments the ‘dissension’ and ‘bitterest enmity’ to which ‘friends now fast sworn’ have turned. As his affinity shifts from Romans to Volscians, his own identity gets lost, until he cries at the end of Act IV that ‘only that name remains’ – the irony being that ‘Coriolanus’ is not the name he started off with at the beginning of the play (he was ‘Caius Martius’ until he was granted the toponym Coriolanus, after his defeat of the town of Corioles). He is murdered at the end of the play in a bloody attack perpetrated by conspirators, mirroring Caesar’s death in his eponymous Roman tragedy. The opacity of the play’s central figure has rendered theatrical and cinematic interpretations of Coriolanus manifold in the past century especially: Laurence Olivier (twice), Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Ian McKellan and Ralph Fiennes have all portrayed the general.

video Coriolanus (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Caius Martius Coriolanus is a fearless soldier but a reluctant leader. His ambitious mother attempts to carve him a path to political power, but he struggles to change his nature and do what is required to achieve greatness. In this new city state struggling to find its feet, where the gap between rich and poor is widening every day, Coriolanus must decide who he really is and where his allegiances lie.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

The Coronation of Poppea

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Coronation of Poppea, freely adapted from the libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello for L'incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi, depicts the triumphant adultery between Poppea and the Roman emperor Nero. Ravenhill updates Tacitus’s scathing portrayal of imperial degeneracy with language which is contemporary, spare and brutally powerful.

This version of the The Coronation of Poppea opened at the King’s Head theatre, Islington, in April 2011, in a production directed by the author.

Cymbeline

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The intricate plot of Cymbeline folds comic, romantic, tragic and historical modes into a bittersweet and experimental play. Though listed under the ‘Tragedies’ in its first appearance in the 1623 First Folio, the play’s diverse elements of murderous jealousy, Roman invasion, dark schemes of sexual assault, female transvestism, passionate love, court, country and fairy-tale are all harmoniously and peacefully reconciled in marriage. Thought to have been written around 1608-10, the playgoing doctor Simon Forman noted seeing the play at the Globe in April 1611. Some critics have wondered if Cymbeline, as other late Shakespeare plays, could be a collaboration; the play’s similarity to Beaumont and Fletcher’s Philaster (c.1608-10) has led to debate as to which may have borrowed from which. Sources for Cymbeline include Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (c.1136), Boccaccio’s Decameron (1353), Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577-87), and the anonymous romantic drama The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune (1582).

Cymbeline, King of Britain is furious with his daughter Imogen for marrying Posthumus, because he wanted to marry her step-brother Cloten (son of Cymbeline’s second wife, the Queen). Posthumus is banished. In Rome, he meets Iachimo, who wagers that he will be able to sleep with Imogen.

Iachimo, failing to seduce Imogen, hides in a chest and is carried into her bedchamber. Once she is asleep he steals a bracelet given to her by Posthumus. Back in Rome, this convinces Posthumus of Imogen’s infidelity.

Cymbeline refuses to pay the tribute due to Augustus Caesar, and the Roman ambassador Lucius promises war. Posthumus writes to his servant Pisanio instructing him to kill Imogen; instead Pisanio advises Imogen to dress as a man and accompany Lucius to Rome. She goes as ‘Fidele’ to Milford-Haven to meet the departing Lucius. Cloten, believing that Posthumus will also be at Milford-Haven, wears Posthumus’ clothes and follows Imogen there. He intends to kill her husband and rape her.

On her way ‘Fidele’ meets Belarius and his two sons Guiderius and Arviragus – who are actually Cymbeline’s sons, stolen away in their infancy. Cloten arrives and Guiderius kills him.

‘Fidele’ is ill, and drinks a potion given to her by Pisanio, thinking it is a remedy. The Queen thought it was poison and intended it for Posthumus, but the potion creates the only the appearance of death. Her brothers, believing ‘Fidele’ to be dead, place her next to Cloten’s body - still in Posthumus’ clothes. Imogen wakes to what appears to be her husband’s headless corpse. She is found by Lucius and taken into his service.

The returned Posthumus, disguised as a peasant, fights against the Roman invaders. Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus also fight, saving Cymbeline. Posthumus re-disguises as a Roman, hoping for death; in prison he has an apparition of ghosts and Jupiter. The characters gather in front of Cymbeline. The Queen has died and her trick with the poison is exposed, as is Iachimo’s deception. Posthumus and Imogen are reunited, the identity of Belarius and Cymbeline’s sons is revealed, and Cymbeline makes peace with Rome.

The Devil is an Ass

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Ben Jonson's play The Devil is an Ass is a Jacobean comedy first performed in 1616 by the King's Men and first published in 1631.

The play opens in Hell, with a junior demon called Pug persuading his master Satan to let him spend a day in London doing the Devil's work of tempting men to evil. Satan thinks Pug isn't up to the job; the world has grown so sophisticated in its vices, especially in the moral cesspool of London, that a simple devil like Pug will be severely out of his depth. Pug pleads his case, however, and Satan sends him into the world, specifically to plague an eccentric and foolish gentleman named Fabian Fitzdottrel. Taking over the body of a recently hanged thief, Pug persuades Fitzdottrel to take him on as a servant. The squire doesn't believe that Pug is a devil, despite Pug's insistence that he is, but is happy that he asks no wages. Meanwhile, Fitzdottrel is the target of various conmen, who befriend him hoping to take advantage of his eccentric foolishness and to seduce his beautiful young wife. Pug, in looking for opportunities for villainy, is beaten, manipulated, and generally abused, and ends up in Newgate Prison, from where he is rescued by Satan, triumphant in his prediction that London was more than Pug could handle. Fitzdottrel, discovering that Pug was a devil after all, abandons his new friends, exposing them as the conmen they really are.

This edition of the text, edited by Peter Happé and introduced by Simon Trussler, was published in 1995 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series.

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.

video The Duchess of Malfi (Globe on Screen 2)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

First performed by the King’s Men – Shakespeare’s own company – ‘privately at the Blackfriars and publicly at the Globe’, The Duchess of Malfi is a thrilling combination of brilliant coups de théâtre, horrific set-pieces and vivid characters – notably the tragic Duchess and the subtly villainous Bosola – all lit by Webster’s obsessional imagination.

video The Duchess of Malfi (Stage on Screen)

Stage on Screen
Type: Video

The Duchess of Malfi is a popular choice as a set text, despite (or perhaps because of) the violence and horror of its later scenes. Generally considered to be the masterpiece of Jacobean playwright John Webster, it was first produced in around 1613. It’s a macabre tragedy, based on actual events, and tends to be either loved or hated by critics – while consistently captivating audiences across the centuries.
Set in Italy in the early fifteenth century, it starts out as a love story, with the Duchess marrying beneath her class. However, her two brothers, one cool and corrupt, the other secretly violent and warped, have other ideas. With incredible plot twists along the way, the play ends as an utter tragedy, as the brothers take revenge on her, destroying themselves in the process.
Dark, complex…and feminist?
The main themes of The Duchess of Malfi include revenge and corruption. It also looks at the status of women in society - Webster’s use of a strong, virtuous woman as the central character was rare for the time.
The play was originally written for and performed by The King’s Men, the same company which Shakespeare belonged to. Indeed, this Jacobean classic makes an interesting text to study in comparison to many of Shakespeare’s works.
The language is poetic, and subtle at times, but infinitely rewarding. Its complex characters are also rewarding to watch, as the play develops towards the highly dramatic climax.
Director: Elizabeth Freestone.
Featuring: Peter Bankolé, Edmund Kingsley, Tim Treloar, Mark Hadfield, Tim Steed, Richard Bremmer, Conrad Westmaas, James Wallace, Aislín McGuckin, Harvey Virdi, Brigid Zengeni, Maxwell Hutcheon.

The Dutch Courtesan

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The eponymous Dutch courtesan Franceschina, passionate and vengeful, is at the centre of Marston’s volatile morally complex play about irrepressible lust.

The young gentleman Freevill has been intimately involved with Franceschina, but as his marriage to the respectable Beatrice, the daughter of Sir Hubert Subboys, approaches, he resolves to cast the courtesan aside. Goaded into visiting the same courtesan by Freevill’s taunts about his sexual abstinence, the puritanical Malheureux finds himself irresistibly drawn to the enchanting prostitute, despite the promptings of his conscience.

As the two young men scheme to help Malheureux sleep with Franceschina, the courtesan herself plots her revenge upon Freevill, whom she loved sincerely (to the frustration of Mary Faugh, her bawd). Though the play reaches a neatly comic conclusion, there is no room in it for the fiery, controversial Franceschina.

Marston mixes rhetorical debate and furious passion to create a morally turbulent discussion of human desire.

This text is based on the 1605 Quarto.

Eastward Ho!

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A collaboration between Jonson, Chapman and Marston, Eastward Ho! is a masterpiece of city comedy. Unique among the ‘coterie’ city comedies written for boy players, Eastward Ho! gives all classes a full satiric treatment simultaneously didactic, ironic, and triumphantly comic.

Touchstone is an upright London citizen, a goldsmith. He has one modest and one ambitious daughter, and one righteous and one disreputable apprentice. He marries his respectable daughter to his respectable apprentice, but his wilful daughter is determined to become a lady and marries herself off to a lord of doubtful finances, while his other mercurial apprentice casts aside his indentures in order to climb the social ladder. A series of chaotic accidents ensures that virtue is rewarded, and ruthlessness comes to grief – receiving a drenching in the muddy Thames.

Eastward Ho! was performed at the Blackfriars playhouse in 1605. The play may well have been provoked by Dekker and Webster’s Westward Ho!, produced by Paul’s Boys in 1604; Eastward Ho! parodies the earlier play’s form.

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.

Fuente Ovejuna

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Lope de Vega's play Fuente Ovejuna is a recognised masterpiece by a major writer of the Spanish Golden Age, depicting one of the most memorable acts of resistance in world drama. First published in Madrid in 1619, the play is believed to have been written between 1612 and 1614. It is based upon an actual historical incident that took place in the village of Fuente Ovejuna (now called Fuente Obejuna) in Castile in 1476.

This translation by Laurence Boswell was published by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series in 2009.

The play's action follows the historical incident closely. A military Commander, Fernán Gómez de Guzmán, under the command of the Order of Calatrava, mistreats the villagers of Fuente Ovejuna, who revolt against their tyrannical overlord and murder him. When a magistrate sent by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella arrives at the village to investigate, the villagers, even under the pain of torture, respond only by saying 'Fuente Ovejuna did it'. In the face of this claim to collective responsibility, the village is pardoned and placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Crown.

audio Hamlet

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Shakespeare’s timeless story of revenge, corruption, and murder is considered one of the greatest works in the English language. Prince Hamlet sets out to avenge his beloved father's death at the hand of his uncle Claudius — but Hamlet's spiral into grief and madness will have permanent and immutable consequences for the Kingdom of Denmark. Composed over 400 years ago, Hamlet remains one of the theater’s most studied and performed works, and is presented here in a stunning, sound-rich full-cast recording.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Josh Stamberg as Hamlet Stephen Collins as King Claudius JoBeth Williams as Queen Gertrude Stacy Keach as Ghost Alan Mandell as Polonius Emily Swallow as Ophelia JD Cullum as Laertes Matthew Wolf as Horatio Mark Capri as Ambassador and others Josh Clark as Gravedigger, Voltemand and others Henri Lubatti as Rosencrantz and others Jon Matthews as Guildenstern and others Darren Richardson as Player Queen and others André Sogliuzzo as Reynaldo and others Directed by Martin Jarvis. Recorded at the Invisible Studios, West Hollywood in August, 2011.

Featuring: Mark Capri, Josh Clark, Stephen Collins, JD Cullum, Stacy Keach, Henri Lubatti, Alan Mandell, Jon Matthews, Darren Richardson, Andre Sogliuzzo, Josh Stamberg, Emily Swallow, JoBeth Williams, Matthew Wolf

video Hamlet (Globe on Screen 2)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Encompassing political intrigue and sexual obsession, philosophical reflection and violent action, tragic depth and wild humour, Hamlet is a colossus in the story of the English language and the fullest expression of Shakespeare's genius.

Learning of his father's death, Prince Hamlet comes home to find his uncle married to his mother and installed on the Danish throne. At night, the ghost of the old king demands that Hamlet avenge his 'foul and most unnatural murder'.

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’.

Hamlet (The First Quarto, 1603, 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 Tragicall Historie of HAMLET Prince of Denmarke, printed in quarto version (Q1) in 1603, is often known as the ‘bad’ quarto due to its significant differences from both the Q2 and F texts, rendering it ‘artistically inferior’ in the eyes of some readers. The plot, though essentially the same as in the older versions, is much abridged – Q2 is 79% longer than Q1. Several characters names are reworked: ‘Gertred’, ‘Leartes’, ‘Ofelia’, ‘Rossencraft’, ‘Gilderstone’, ‘Voltemar’, ‘Cornelia’ and ‘Fortenbrasse’ are all recognisable alternate spellings of characters familiar from Q2, whilst Polonius and his man Reynaldo undergo a sea-change to become ‘Corambis’ and ‘Montano’ respectively. In addition, many iconic monologues, particularly ‘To be or not to be’, will seem odd, both in position and wording, to readers familiar with Q2 and F. Q1 also includes an important scene between Gertred and Horatio, absolving the queen from knowledge of her new husband’s guilt, that does not appear in either of the other versions of the texts. Since its discovery in 1823, many theories have been posited regarding Q1, with some readers suggesting that it is a ‘first draft’ of the play, others that it is a ‘memorial reconstruction’ compiled from players’ memories, and still others that it is a theatrical abridgement, Q2 and F both being too long to have comfortably appeared on the early Jacobean stage as ‘two hours’ traffic’ (though in recent years the duration of early modern performances has been disputed as anywhere between two hours and up to three and a quarter hours long). Q1’s unique stage directions have, since the quarto’s discovery, become standardised: despite only appearing in Q1, stage business such as Ophelia’s mad lute-playing and Hamlet and Laertes jumping into the grave have become iconic moments in the play.

Hamlet (The Second Quarto, 1604-05, 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 second quarto (Q2), the text presented here, was printed in 1604 as The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET, Prince of Denmarke. Despite being nicknamed the ‘second’ quarto, scholars have argued that it is probable that Q2 actually pre-dates Q1, as it is conjectured to be based on Shakespeare’s manuscript copy, his ‘foul papers’. The supposed proximity of Q2 to the authorial hand has therefore led this text frequently to be chosen as the authoritative version of Hamlet. As its titlepage makes no mention of performance (unlike Q1), it has been argued that this Hamlet was a version crafted by Shakespeare’s hand before the cuts required by performance were put into place: a play ‘for the closet, not for the stage’. At 28,628 words, ‘Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie’, it is the longest extant play in the canon. Although it resembles the Folio text, both contain a number of unique lines. Even so, this is the version of Hamlet most familiar to readers in terms of language and scene structure, particularly in relation to iconic monologues such as ‘To be or not to be’.

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.

video King Lear (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

Ian Holm stars in the title role of this award-winning film version of Richard Eyre’s National Theatre production of William Shakespeare's King Lear. The cast also includes Timothy West as The Earl of Gloucester, Finbar Lynch as his bastard son, Edmund and Paul Rhys as his legitimate son, Edgar; Barbara Flynn, Amanda Redman and Victoria Hamilton as Lear's daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia; and Michael Bryant as the Fool.

Credits:

Director: Richard Eyre; Writer: William Shakespeare; Writer (Screen): Richard Eyre; Producer: Susan Birtwistle; Music: Dominic Muldowney; Production Design : Bob Crowley; Art Direction: Andrew Sanders; Cast: King Lear: Ian Holm, Edgar: Paul Rhys, Edmund: Finbar Lynch, Gloucester: Timothy West, Kent: David Burke, Goneril: Barbara Flynn, Regan: Amanda Redman, Cordelia: Victoria Hamilton Fool: Michael Bryant, Oswald: William Osborne.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

video King Lear (Globe on Screen 2)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

King Lear’s tempestuous poetry is shot through with touches of humour and moments of heart-rending simplicity, as the notion of familial love is questioned and torn apart. Best known as Artistic Director of Shared Experience for 22 years and with numerous credits including the RSC and National Theatre, Nancy Meckler brings her charismatic style to the Globe for the first time.

audio The Liar

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

The Liar by Pierre Corneille, translated by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Martin Jarvis.

In this classic farce, a young man pretends to be a war hero to impress a pretty girl. As his lies progress, so do his troubles – with hilarious results. Playwright Pierre Corneille’s comedy of manners is considered a groundbreaking work which influenced contemporaries such as the young Molière.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast production, starring Tara Lynne Barr, Janine Barris, Sue Cremin, Danny Mann, Christopher Neame, John Sloan, Mark Sullivan, and Matthew Wolf

Includes a conversation about Corneille and French drama with Larry F. Norman of the University of Chicago.

Lead funding for this production is provided by the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.

Featuring: Tara Barr, Janine Barris, Sue Cremin, Danny Mann, Christopher Neame, John Sloan, Mark Sullivan, Matthew Wolf

audio Macbeth

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Infamously known as the cursed Scottish play, Macbeth is perhaps Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy. When General Macbeth is foretold by three witches that he will one day be King of Scotland, Lady Macbeth convinces him to get rid of anyone who could stand in his way – including committing regicide. As Macbeth ascends to the throne through bloody murder, he becomes a tyrant consumed by fear and paranoia.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: James Marsters as Macbeth Joanne Whalley as Lady Macbeth Josh Cooke as Banquo and others JD Cullum as Macduff and Second Murderer Dan Donohue as Ross Jeannie Elias as Second Witch and others Chuma Gault as Lennox and Servant Jon Matthews as Malcolm Alan Shearman as Angus and others André Sogliuzzo as Donalbain, Third Witch and others Kate Steele as Lady Macduff, First Witch and Apparition Kris Tabori as Duncan and others Directed by Martin Jarvis. Sound effects by Tony Palermo. Recorded at the Invisible Studios, West Hollywood.

Featuring: Josh Cooke, JD Cullum, Dan Donohue, Jeannie Elias, Chuma Gault, James Marsters, Jon Matthews, Alan Shearman, André Sogliuzzo, Kate Steele, Kris Tabori, Joanne Whalley

Macbeth (Arden Shakespeare Second Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

‘The Scottish Play’ is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, but its characters are some of the most memorable in his oeuvre: the misguided Macbeth, the ruthless Lady Macbeth and the otherworldly Weird Sisters are recognisable as classic Shakespearean roles. Saturated with blood and despair, the tragedy of Macbeth is a concentrated study of guilt and ambition inflamed by the supernatural. The protagonists’ visceral soliloquies are much prized as revelations of desperate and harrowed psychology, and as Shakespearean reflections on the multifaceted nature of good and evil.

On their return from battle, Macbeth and Banquo encounter three witches, who prophesise both Macbeth’s rise to the Scottish crown, and that of Banquo’s ancestors (including the monarch at Shakespeare’s time of writing, James I and VI of England and Scotland). Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to murder the current king of Scotland, Duncan, and as the dead king’s sons flee the country, Macbeth continues on a murderous and paranoid rampage, removing anyone who threatens his vision of a lengthy rule.

Desperate to know more, Macbeth revisits the witches, who warn him to beware Macduff and tell him that his life will remain unthreatened until Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane. They say that he is safe from any man ‘of woman born’. Meanwhile, Macduff and Malcolm join together in England to raise an army against Macbeth. Their army carries branches from the trees of Birnham wood towards Dunsinane to disguise themselves – thus fulfilling part of the witches’ prophecy. Before the armies meet, Macbeth receives word that Lady Macbeth, having lost her mind, is dead. The armies meet: Macbeth fights with Macduff, discovering in the course of the action that he was delivered by Caesarean section, and is therefore not ‘of woman’. Macduff kills Macbeth, and Malcolm is made king.

Witchcraft was a real and frightening concern in Shakespeare’s England. King James I was himself fascinated by and fearful of witches, and had even published a book, Daemonologie, in 1597, advocating witch-hunts. Criticism of the play has frequently noted, however, that it is not the Weird Sisters who force Macbeth’s hand; they merely prophesise events, and have no physical effect. This leaves us with troubling and unanswerable questions about free will, and how and why good people can be led down dark and evil paths – how ‘Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.’

Macbeth first appears in the 1623 Folio, though its date of composition is usually agreed at 1606: several plays appear around that date (including Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle (1607)) which make reference to and/or parody the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. Simon Forman, a doctor and diarist from Salisbury, records seeing ‘Mackbeth at the Glob’ in 1611. The Folio text is thought to be taken from a prompt book, due to its many stage directions. Shakespeare’s play takes the entries for Duncan, Macbeth and Banquo in Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587) as its source matter, although it plays with these historical narratives to a great extent. Several of the witches’ scenes and songs, and the introduction of the queen of the witches, Hecate, have been credited to another playwright, Thomas Middleton, as they also feature in his later tragicomedy The Witch, produced by the King’s Men in the later 1610s. It is thought that these extracts were inserted around 1618.

video Macbeth (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

When three witches tell Macbeth that he is destined to occupy the throne of Scotland, he and his wife choose to become the instruments of their fate and to kill the first man standing in their path, the virtuous King Duncan. Stage director: Eve Best. Screen director: Sue Judd. Featuring: Samantha Spiro, Joseph Millson, Bette Bourne, Phil Cumbus, Finty Williams, Jess Murphy, Moyo Akande, Cat Simmons, Geoff Aymer, Stuart Bowman, Jonathan Chambers, Gawn Grainger, Harry Hepple, Billy Boyd, Colin Ryan, Marc Borthwick, Ed Pinker.

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.

video Measure For Measure (BBC film adaptation)

BBC Video
Type: Video

A modern dress version directed by David Thacker with Corin Redgrave as Angelo and Juliet Aubrey as Isabella. Modern themes are explored in an age-old play as William Shakespeare explores the darker side of society. Sexually transmitted disease is reaching epidemic proportions. Prostitution, licentiousness and petty crime are on the increase and a new government reintroduces capital punishment for sexual offences.

Credits:

Director: David Thacker; Adapted by: David Thacker; Producer: Peter Cregeen; Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Juliet Aubrey, Corin Redgrave, Sue Johnstone.

Distributed under licence from Educational Publishers LLP

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Arden Shakespeare Second Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Midsummer was a significant part of the early modern calendar, falling between 21st and 24th June. The point of the year when the sun is at its highest in relation to the equator, by Shakespeare’s time, the festival was a Christianized pagan celebration of life, love and fertility. Midsummer’s Eve was a night of mirthful misrule, where bonfires were lit and spirits thought to roam freely.

Written c.1590-1595, around the time of Shakespeare’s other ‘lyrical plays’ (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Romeo and Juliet and Richard II), A Midsummer Night’s Dream is unusual in Shakespeare, in that it has no direct source for the narrative of the play, although it draws on Chaucer, Lyly and Spenser for some of its characters and imagery.

Theseus, Duke of Athens, is preparing to marry Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Egeus wants his daughter Hermia to be married to Demetrius, but she is in love with Lysander. Theseus rules that she must decide between Demetrius, a nunnery or death. Lysander and Hermia plan to elope; they confide in Hermia’s friend, Helena. Helena is hopelessly in love with Demetrius, and informs him of the lovers’ plan.

In the woods outside the city, the ‘mechanicals’ Quince, Snug, Bottom, Flute, Snout and Starveling are rehearsing a play about Pyramus and Thisbe to be performed at the Duke’s wedding. Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies, are quarrelling over Titania’s adoption of a human boy. In retaliation, Oberon orders his servant, the mischievous fairy Puck, to drop the juice of the flower ‘love-in-idleness’ into her eyes. This will make her love the first thing she sees – Puck ensures that this is Bottom, with an ass’s head instead of his own.

Oberon overhears Helena pleading with the uninterested Demetrius, and orders Puck to anoint Demetrius’ eyes also. But Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius, and it is Lysander that falls in love with Helena. Puck tries to fix his error, and makes Demetrius fall in love with Helena as well; both men who were pursuing Hermia now pursue Helen.

Oberon discovers the quarrelling four, and commands Puck to fix everything. Oberon removes the spell from Titania and they are reconciled. Theseus finds the four lovers asleep in the forest, now neatly paired off: Demetrius with Helena, and Hermia with Lysander. The triple wedding is celebrated with a ludicrous performance of ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’.

Though no record of first performance exists, it has been hypothesised that the play was composed for an aristocratic wedding, possibly in the presence of the queen, who would have been flattered by Oberon’s reference to the ‘imperial votress’. During the Interregnum, the mechanicals’ subplot was often played as a ‘droll’, and in 1692, Henry Purcell adapted the play as a new masque, The Fairy Queen. It has spawned multiple ballets, operettas and film versions, whilst remaining perennially popular onstage thanks to its mirth and magic. Recent criticism, however, has challenged the play’s reliance on male dominance and the sublimation of female independence in inevitable marriage.

video A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Hermia loves Lysander and Helena loves Demetrius – but Demetrius is supposed to be marrying Hermia… When the Duke of Athens tries to enforce the marriage, the lovers take refuge in the woods and wander into the midst of a dispute between the king and queen of the fairies. Stage director: Dominic Dromgoole. Screen director: Robin Lough. Featuring: Fergal McElherron, Michelle Terry, Pearce Quigley, Huss Garbiya, Tom Lawerence, John Light, Sarah MacRae, Edward Peel, Olivia Ross, Joshua Silver, Luke Thompson, Tala Gouveia, Christopher Logan, Molly Logan, Stephanie Racine, Matthew Tennyson.

video A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe on Screen 2)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Fusing music, dance and some serious comedy, Emma Rice’s first production as Artistic Director brings the Dream crashing into the Globe’s magical setting. Naughty, tender, transgressive and surprising, it promises to be a festival of theatre. Let the joy begin!

Much Ado About Nothing (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Much Ado About Nothing, probably composed in 1598-9 and first appearing in quarto in 1600, is a play of two pairs of lovers: the meek Hero and the impressionable Claudio, and the acerbic Beatrice and chauvinistic Benedick.

After Claudio is told by the troublesome Don John that Hero is unfaithful, he humiliates her on her wedding day. Hero faints and is presumed dead. The repentant Claudio agrees to marry whoever Hero’s father chooses for him: he prepares to marry a veiled bride, who, at the last minute, is revealed to be the still-living Hero. Meanwhile, friends trick old sparring partners Beatrice and Benedick into admitting their love for one another, by means of forged letters and overheard conversations.

Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s best-loved and most frequently performed comedies. Having its sources in Italianate literature of the preceding centuries, scholars have argued that Shakespeare’s play takes on an expanded psychological scope from the usual tales of mistaken cuckoldry and bawdy flirtation. While earlier writing on the play was exuberant in its delight in Beatrice and Benedick’s ‘merry war’, recent criticism has concentrated just as much on the Hero and Claudio plot, and in particular on the gender conventions that the play propagates. Hero becomes the silent woman, veiled and playing dead, whose worth is lost along with the notion of her chastity to the patriarchal world the play inhabits. Beatrice, on the other hand, becomes the embodiment of the period’s stereotype of the shrew, the overly talkative woman, who must be dealt with by the clichéd banter of the misogynistic Benedick.The play’s performance history has thus been of note more for its portrayals of Beatrice and Benedick than those of Hero and Claudio. A nineteenth-century trend to sentimentalize Beatrice as one who is struck by her own sudden longing gave way, in the twentieth century, to spunkier Beatrices unashamed of their wilful tongues.

video Much Ado About Nothing (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

One of Shakespeare's most popular comedies, Much Ado about Nothing contrasts the happiness of lovers Claudio and Hero, and the cynicism of sparring partners Beatrice and Benedick, who are united in their scorn for love. Stage director: Jeremy Herrin. Screen director: Robin Lough. Featuring: Matthew Pidgeon, Eve Best, Philip Cumbus, Charles Edwards, Marcus Griffiths, Adrian Hood, Paul Hunter, Joseph Marcell, Lisa McGrillis, David Nellist, Ewan Stewart, Ony Uhiara, Helen Weir, John Stahl, Joe Caffrey.

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

audio Shakespeare's Greatest Hits

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Shakespeare's Greatest Hits contains some of the most memorable scenes from 13 of the Bard’s greatest plays, including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello and many more. Intertwined with the greatest hits of music, this highly engaging introduction to William Shakespeare is performed by the famous Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Peter Aylward, Johnny Lee Davenport, Henry Godinez, Kevin Gudahl, Susan Hart, Amy Irving, Linda Kimbrough and Ross Lehman.

Featuring: Peter Aylward, Johnny Lee Davenport, Henry Godinez, Kevin Gudahl, Susan Hart, Amy Irving, Linda Kimbrough, Ross Lehman

The Tamer Tamed

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed acts as a sort of ‘sequel’ to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (c. 1590-4). Written nearly twenty years after Shakespeare’s violent Padua comedy, Fletcher’s city comedy relocates the ‘tamer’ Petruchio to London for his remarriage to the seemingly docile Maria, after the death of his shrewish first wife, Katherina. Maria, however, turns the tables on Petruchio and quickly takes control of all aspects of their marriage, from sexual relations to interior décor. Meanwhile, her sister Livia attempts to avoid marriage to the elderly Moroso and win back her nervy fiancé, Roland.

Recent decades have seen a desire to bring Shakespeare’s and Fletcher’s plays together in performance, such as Greg Doran’s 2003-4 RSC productions, which changed the names of some of the later play’s character in order to heighten the continuance of the narrative, and thus highlight Petruchio’s rise and fall and the similarities of the social backdrops of London and Padua.

Whereas Shakespeare’s play focuses on the ‘taming’ of an individual ‘shrew’ (a wayward, over-talkative, sexually available woman), Fletcher’s reworking reaches out to the wider cultural co-ordinates of early modern misogyny and proto-feminism. Written at a time when the London theatre scene was abounding with plays about ‘excessive’, transgressive women, shortly before the battle of the sexes would heat up with the ‘pamphlet wars’ of the 1610s, the play inverts commonplace gender hierarchies to put women – at least, temporarily – on top. Maria and her fellow ‘shrews’ dominate the stage spatially, verbally, and sexually. Dramaturgically mimicking rural customs such as the charivari and the skimmington, the coming-together of the city and country wives in support of Maria overturns the play’s patriarchal agenda with a jubilant carnival of women’s noise. In the face of this seeming celebration of female empowerment, then, critics and theatre-goers alike have found the play’s ending, as that of Shrew, hard to swallow: Maria vows to Petruchio that she will dedicate her life ‘in service to your pleasure’.

The Tempest (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Tempest has long been regarded as Shakespeare’s swan-song. Critical readers from Coleridge onward have interpreted Prospero’s epilogue, ending ‘Let your indulgence set me free’, as Shakespeare’s own farewell to the stage; however, this interpretation has since been queried by more recent chronologies that suggest the playwright went on to compose Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen after The Tempest.

In its first publication (in the First Folio of 1623), The Tempest appears in the ‘Comedies’ section. In modern criticism, it is more likely to see The Tempest described as a ‘late play’ (written towards the end of what we perceive to be Shakespeare’s writing career, c. 1607-13) or a ‘romance’ – a group of plays set in an unspecified time and/or place, whose loose plots revolve round familial reunion and fantastical happenings.

Prospero, a magus and the usurped Duke of Milan, and his spirit-servant Ariel, conjure a storm that casts Prospero’s treacherous brother (the current Duke of Milan), the King of Naples and their courtiers onto an unnamed island. The king’s son, Ferdinand, now alone on the island, meets Prospero and falls in love with his daughter, Miranda. Meanwhile, Caliban, the deformed offspring of the island-witch Sycorax, encounters Naples’ jester Trinculo and butler Stephano, who desire to overthrow Prospero and become kings of the island themselves. All parties are eventually reunited, and Prospero forgives his brother and reclaims his dukedom. Miranda and Ferdinand are married, and Ariel is set free, whilst Caliban is castigated for his actions.

The first recorded performance of the play is in November 1611 before King James I at Whitehall. A year previously, in 1610, word had reached England of the shipwreck of an exploratory vessel, the Sea Venture, in the Bermudas. One survivor, William Strachey, wrote a lengthy letter home narrating their encounter of the ‘dreaded I[s]land . . . given over to Devils and wicked Spirits’. His account has been seen as a major influence of The Tempest, along with the essay ‘Of the Caniballes’ by sixteenth-century French humanist Michel de Montaigne, whose Essais (translated into English by John Florio in 1603) have been perceived as a significant influence upon Shakespeare’s Jacobean oeuvre.

The play’s dramatic opening (with the stage direction ‘A tempestuous noise of thunder and lightning heard’), its abundance of music and its lavish masque suggest that The Tempest was written for the indoor theatre at Blackfriars, which Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, had taken over in 1608. Unlike the ‘wooden O’ of outdoor amphitheatre venues such as the Globe on Bankside, Blackfriars offered a much darker, more intimate space, suited not to the large battles of Elizabethan plays such as we see in the Henriad, but to the psychological drama and fantastical set-pieces of ‘romances’ such as The Winter’s Tale.

The trajectory of responses to The Tempest has moved from a Restoration emphasis of the centrality of the patriarchy, to Romantic enthusiasm for the individual creative genius represented by Prospero, to post-colonial readings of the enslaved native Caliban, to feminist re-appropriations of the play’s only living female character, Miranda.

video The Tempest (Donmar)

Donmar Warehouse
Type: Video

The final instalment in the Donmar Warehouse’s all-female Shakespeare Trilogy sees Harriet Walter take on the role of Prospero in this evocation of the eternal struggle for freedom, morality and justice.

Directed for both stage and screen by Phyllida Lloyd. Set on an isle ‘full of noises’, this magical production features a glowing score by Joan Armatrading. Critics celebrated the original staging as ‘A glorious reminder that genuine diversity offers astonishing creative benefits’.

The Donmar Shakespeare Trilogy began in 2012 with an all-female production of Julius Caesar led by Dame Harriet Walter. Set in a women’s prison, the production asked the question, ‘Who owns Shakespeare?’ Two further productions followed: Henry IV in 2014 and The Tempest in 2016, all featuring a diverse company of women. The Trilogy enthralled theatre audiences in London and New York and was shared with women and girls in prisons and schools across the UK. The film versions were shot live in a specially built temporary theatre in King’s Cross in 2016.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

For more videos about the trilogy, visit this page.

video The Tempest (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Twelve years ago, Prospero, formerly the Duke of Milan, was usurped by Alonso, King of Naples, and Alonso's brother, Sebastian and cast adrift with his three-year-old daughter, Miranda. They now live on an island. Desiring revenge, Prospero uses his powerful magic to cause a great storm which shipwrecks his enemies. Stage director: Jeremy Herrin. Screen director: Ian Russell. Featuring: James Garnon, Jessie Buckley, Roger Allam, Jason Baughan, Sam Cox, Pip Donaghy, Trevor Fox, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Will Mannering, Joshua James, Colin Morgan, Sarah Sweeney, Amanda Wilkin, Matthew Raymond.

Timon of Athens

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Timon of Athens combines de casibus tragedy and urban satire, and ends in fury and bitter pathos. This probable collaboration between Thomas Middleton and Shakespeare produces a virulent and allegorical critique of the barrenness of economic relations, mocking greed and social pretension with a corrosive irony. First appearing in the ‘Tragedies’ section of the 1623 Folio, it is thought that the play was originally composed around 1606-7.

The brief story of Timon appears in one of Shakespeare’s most frequently used sources, Plutarch’s Lives (translated into English by Thomas North in 1579), in the ‘Life of Antony’, Shakespeare’s principal source for Antony and Cleopatra. It is unknown whether the anonymous Inns of Court revel Timon, based on Lucian’s dialogue on ‘Timon the Misanthrope’ (whose Latin translation by Erasmus was widely used as a school text in early modern England) pre- or post-dated Shakespeare and Middleton’s work. The play’s focus on the destructiveness of economic relations in fifth century Athens simultaneously explores the burgeoning world of transaction, credit and debt in the nascent capitalist society of early modern London; the play’s key themes of money and alienation have ensured that the play has interested Marxist and psychoanalytic criticism throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Timon is the most generous man in the city of Athens, handing out expensive gifts and loans to all who befriend and flatter him. He gives a banquet for the Athenian lords, as well as the cynic Apemantus, who mocks Timon and his fawning companions, and Alcibiades, a military captain.

Timon’s steward Flavius is beset by Timon’s creditors, who are calling in the many loans he has taken out; Timon has been spending far beyond his means, despite Flavius’ warnings. Timon sends to Lucius, Lucullus and Sempronius, but all of them refuse to lend him money, finding various excuses. Timon invites his ‘friends’ to a second banquet, but serves only lukewarm water, and accuses them. He leaves the city in disgust. Alcibiades begs the Senators for mercy for a fellow soldier who is condemned to death; they refuse to revoke the sentence and banish Alcibiades.

In the woods outside Athens, Timon digs in the ground for food and discovers a cache of gold. He gives some away to Alcibiades, who is going to attack Athens, to the whores Timandra and Phrynia, and to some thieves. Apemantus and then Flavius find him in the woods. Having heard the rumour of his wealth, the Poet and the Painter, and then the Senators hoping for help against Alcibiades, seek out Timon, but he drives them away.

A soldier in the woods finds Timon’s tomb. The senator’s surrender to Alcibiades, who promises justice.

There is no record of a performance of Timon contemporary to its authors, and its loose ends and unrefined structure may suggest that it never appeared on the early modern stage. A series of adaptations operatized the tragic pathos of Timon’s situation in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, until George Lamb restored much of the original play in the early 1800s. The twentieth century’s onstage response to Timon was manifold: it has, in different decades, been performed as theatre of the absurd, as a response to various banking crises, and as an apocalyptic nightmare.

Troilus and Cressida

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In staging the famous story of the Trojan war and the doomed relationship of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare stages the demystification of the classical heroes and the deflation of their chivalric ideals. The play is generically indeterminable, combining history, comedy and tragedy into a sceptical analysis of war-politics, potent sexuality and disillusionment.

Troilus and Cressida was written around 1601-2, in the aftermath of the abortive rising of the Earl of Essex. The play’s earliest extant text is the 1609 Quarto, whose preliminary pages exist in two states; this text is based on the 1623 First Folio, supplemented and corrected from the 1609 Quarto.

The city of Troy has been besieged by the Greek army for seven years. The Trojan prince Troilus is preoccupied by his love for Cressida; Cressida’s uncle Pandarus is assisting him. In the Greek camp outside the city walls, the commander Agamemnon complains about his army’s listlessness; Ulysses blames the renowned warrior Achilles, who spends all day in his tent with Patroclus instead of fighting. Hector sends a challenge to single combat, and Ulysses suggests choosing Achilles’ rival Ajax.

The Trojans debate whether keeping Helen (who eloped with the Trojan prince Paris from her husband the Greek Menelaus) is worth the lives that have been lost, but Troilus persuades his brother Hector that it is the honourable thing to do. Pandarus has arranged for Troilus and Cressida to meet privately, attended by himself. But Cressida’s father Calchus, who defected to the Greeks, arranges an exchange: Cressida will come to the Greek camp and the Greeks will release their Trojan prisoner Antenor.

After the lovers’ farewells, Cressida is escorted out of Troy by the Greek Diomedes. The Trojans arrive at the Greek camp for the combat between Hector and Ajax, but it is interrupted because they are cousins. Achilles swears to meet Hector in battle the next day. Having accompanied Hector, Troilus sees Cressida being familiar with Diomedes, and furiously vows to kill the Greek. In battle the next day, Troilus fights with Ajax, Patroclus is killed, and Achilles treacherously kills Hector.