Plays

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.