Plays

The Two Noble Kinsmen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Shakespeare and Fletcher rewrite Chaucer’s A Knight’s Tale as a tragicomedy of the limits of chivalry and friendship. Other than discussing the mechanics of the collaboration, critics have examined the play’s treatment of heroism and chivalry, its attitudes to courtly love and sex, its use of Chaucer, and its abrupt reversals and generic ambivalence.

The play is generally dated to 1613-14. This text is based on the 1634 Quarto – the play was not included in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works.

In Athens, the wedding of King Theseus and Hippolyta is interrupted by three queens, who beg Theseus to make war on Thebes’s ruler Creon, who will not allow them to bury their husbands who were killed in battle. The Theban cousins Palamon and Arcite are resolved to fight for Thebes, despite their hatred of Creon. They are both wounded in the battle, which Theseus wins; they are captured by the Athenians.

From their prison, they see Emilia walking in a garden, and both fall in love with her. Arcite is released and banished by Theseus; he disguises himself and triumphs at a sporting competition, allowing him to meet Emilia. Palamon is released by the Jailer’s Daughter, who has fallen deeply in love with him; he hears Arcite boasting of his meeting with Emilia and they agree to a duel. Theseus, coming across them, declares a tournament instead, at which the winner will marry Emilia and the loser will be executed. Arcite is victorious, but is thrown from his horse, and Theseus declares that Palamon will marry Emilia instead.

The Daughter, who has been driven mad by her love for Palamon, appears to be cured when her devoted Wooer dresses up as him.

video The Two Noble Kinsmen (Globe on Screen 2)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Inspired by the play’s Morris language and references, The Two Noble Kinsmen is set in pastoral ‘Merrie England’ and brought to life with original music composed by acclaimed folk musician Eliza Carthy, and dance choreographed by Ewan Wardrop.

How long is forever? When the imprisoned Palamon and Arcite vow eternal friendship, they don’t expect that anything will come between them. But then from their cell window they see the beautiful Emilia, and their priorities take a sudden and violent turn. In this late romance, Fletcher and Shakespeare examine love in all its fluid and complex forms.

The Village  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Village life for Jyoti is simple: the people work hard, sing and live off the earth. She would rather devour a delicious meal than think about a suitable partner. But when the Inspector and his men arrive in town, things begin to sour. The Inspector's reign of terror sees him commit unspeakable acts against the village with young Jyoti in his sights, pushing everyone to breaking point.

De Vega's Fuenteovejuna is transported to contemporary India and set against a backdrop of political unrest in this adaptation by April De Angelis.

The Village premiered at Theatre Royal Stratford East, London, in September 2018.

video Volpone

Stage on Screen
Type: Video

Volpone has long been a popular choice as a set text for students. Written by Ben Jonson, it was first produced in 1606 and billed as a comedy, although it also includes elements of tragedy and even animal fable (Volpone is Italian for 'fox'). In essence, it's a dark satire on greed and lust, and remains Jonson's most performed work.
The action takes place in seventeenth-century Venice, over the course of one day. The chief characters are Volpone, a rich libertine and conman, and Mosca, his self-seeking servant. They cause chaos with an audacious fraud designed to part the city's wealthiest from their fortunes. The tale twists and turns, as all the characters attempt to deceive each other, until the whole scheme finally collapses, with disastrous consequences for Volpone.
A great choice for students and theatre lovers
There are themes galore to explore in Volpone, a key reason for its popularity in schools and colleges. One of the most important is the power of stagecraft - Volpone doesn't merely lie, but turns his deception into a whole production, complete with make-up, wardrobe and props. This is therefore truly a play to be seen, not just read.
In addition, it's an excellent play to study alongside Shakespeare. Jonson and Shakespeare were contemporaries, although their approach to drama was quite different.
Of course, whether you're a teacher, student or simply a theatre lover, Volpone, is, quite simply, great fun - its messages clearly resonating today.
Not surprisingly, Volpone is Jonson's most performed work. As the inscription over his Westminster Abbey grave states: 'O Rare Ben Johnson' (sic) – and this play is indeed a rare treat to study and watch.
Director: Elizabeth Freestone.
Featuring: Richard Bremmer, Mark Hadfield, Conrad Westmaas, Harvey Virdi, Edmund Kingsley, Tim Treloar, Maxwell Hutcheon, Tim Steed, James Wallace, Aislín McGuckin, Peter Bankolé, Brigid Zengeni

Volpone or the Fox

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Volpone is the sharpest, funniest play about money and morals in the seventeenth century – a play still wickedly relevant four centuries later. Jonson’s comedy depicts selfishness thinly veiled by sanctimonious speeches, lust and possessiveness poorly disguised as love and marriage, and cynical legalism passing itself off as pure justice – as well as examining snobbery, class warfare, and greed.

Volpone is partly a rewriting of beast fable, with the cunning ‘fox’ Volpone pulling the strings at its centre. He is a Venetian gentleman, who pretends to be dying in order two dupe three men into making him extravagant presents of plate, money, gems – and in one case, a beautiful daughter. Assisted by his wily servant Mosca, the two tricksters keep a dozen conventional plots spinning in the minds of their dupes, and when their amazing juggling act finally unravels, there are yet more twists – and an even deeper cynicism – to Jonson’s skilful satire.

Volpone was first performed by the King’s Men at the Globe in 1606, and was printed in quarto in 1607.

The Witch

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A lurid and sensational tragicomedy, Thomas Middleton portrays a court mired in sexual intrigue and deception, and the gruesome witch who keeps them well supplied with love charms and poisons.

At the start of the play, Sebastian returns from abroad to find his fiancée Isabella married that day to Antonio. (Antonio’s courtesan Florida is also upset about the marriage.) Antonio determines to prevent the marriage being consummated so he can claim Isabella back, and asks the witch Hecate to make Antonio impotent. Meanwhile, the Duchess is plotting revenge against her husband the Duke, incensed by his use of her father’s skull as a drinking cup. The courtier Almachildes asks Hecate for a charm to make the Duchess’s woman Amoretta fall in love with him. And Francisca, Antonio’s sister, is panicking about her illegitimate pregnancy. These multiple intrigues pave the way for a tangled combination of bed tricks, misfiring love charms and murders.

The story is twisting and highly complex – possibly because the play’s emphasis is not on plot, but upon topical satire, referencing the contemporary witchcraft scandal of Frances Howard, Robert Carr and Sir Thomas Overbury.

The court tragedy is counterweighted by the lusty, ghastly antics of Hecate, her son Firestone and her familiars. Cooking dead children, practising voodoo, having sex with her cat-spirit and cooking up foul potions, Hecate is the black, potent heart of Middleton’s play.

The Witch, which survives in manuscript form and was not printed until 1778, is thought to have been written between 1613-1616 and performed by the King’s Men at the Blackfriars.

A Woman Killed With Kindness

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A woman struggles to survive, and then struggles to die, in Heywood’s startling domestic tragedy about the possession and punishment of women, probably first published in 1607.

The marriage of John Frankford, a middling country gentleman, and his wife Anne is comfortable, if uneventful, until he gives his friend Wendoll the free use of his table and purse. Wendoll takes even more than was offered, and confesses his desperate love to Anne, who takes pity on him, and they commit adultery. When they are discovered John banishes his wife to a distant manor, forbidding her to see their two children, and it is in the comfort of her exile that she will starve herself to death. In the subplot, a woman devoted to her brother is offered as payment for his debts.

Usually considered to be a domestic tragedy, A Woman Killed with Kindness is complex in its didacticism, as Heywood explores the boundaries of marital punishment, and the moral weight of mercy.