Plays

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.

video Othello (NT)

National Theatre
Type: Video

Age recommendation: 12+

Recorded through National Theatre Live on 26th September, 2013.

Othello, newly married to Desdemona – who is half his age – is appointed leader of a major military operation. Iago, passed over for promotion by Othello in favour of the young Cassio, persuades Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair.

This acclaimed production of William Shakespeare’s play about the destructive power of jealousy was nominated for Best Revival at the 2013 Olivier Awards. Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear jointly won the Evening Standard Best Actor Award for their performances in the iconic roles of Othello and Iago.

For teacher resources, visit this page.

CAST
Roderigo: Tom Robertson
Iago: Rory Kinnear
Brabantio: William Chubb
Othello: Adrian Lester
Cassio: Jonathan Bailey
The Duke of Venice: Robert Demeger
Lodovico: Nick Sampson
Senator: Joseph Wilkins
Official: Rebecca Tanwen
Official: David Carr
Desdemona: Olivia Vinall
Montano: Chook Sibtain
Soldier: Sandy Batchelor
Soldier: Gabriel Fleary
Officer: Scott Karim
Emilia: Lyndsey Marshal
Bianca: Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi
Gratiano: Jonathan Dryden Taylor
Soldier: Adam Berry
Soldier: David Kirkbride
Soldier: Tom Radford

CREATIVES
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Music: Nick Powell
Lighting Designer: Jon Clark
Sound Designer: Gareth Fry
Fight Director: Kate Waters

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