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.
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.
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.
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
Injustice, hypocrisy and the challenge of inflexible virtue combine in Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s most searching exploration of sexual politics and social justice.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.