Plays

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.

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

The Merchant of Venice (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Merchant of Venice, technically a comedy, has proven controversial in its portrayal of the complex figure of the money-lender Shylock. Debate continues over the presence of distressing anti-Semitism, and the extent to which Shylock can be considered victimised or villainous. Shylock as a character has in some ways gradually disengaged from the play as a whole, becoming a famous topic of study that stands independent from Shakespeare’s original text.

Like Othello, The Merchant of Venice is a play which has evolved dramatically since its creation due to the changing contexts in which it is now read and performed. Although the texts themselves stay the same, the societal significance of an issue like anti-Semitism, as well as racism more generally, give greater weight to those elements within the play. Therefore, modern productions and interpretations must carefully consider these changes in attitude along with the original contexts of the plays.

Apart from the complicating presence of Shylock and various other anti-Semitic elements, scholars traditionally classify The Merchant of Venice as a comedy because it includes a number of classical comedic conventions, such as a complicated courtship process, mistaken identities, and transvestism. Bassanio needs 3,000 ducats in order to woo a wealthy heiress, Portia. His best friend, the merchant Antonio, is waiting on some ships he has invested in to return to Venice; in the meantime, he arranges a short-term loan with Shylock, a Jewish usurer. Shylock hates Antonio for his past insults, but agrees that the merchant can have 3,000 ducats, but they must be repaid within three months; if not, he may take a pound of Antonio’s flesh. When Antonio’s ships go missing and he defaults on the loan, Shylock demands his flesh. Hearing of her husband’s best friend’s dilemma, Portia disguises herself as a lawyer and defends him in court, overturning the bargain with her own logic. Various other love stories and hijinks ensue amongst the supporting characters while the main action takes place, and as in most comedies, the difficulties faced by the main characters (with the exception of Shylock) are resolved by the close of the play.

The Arden Third Series edition of The Merchant of Venice is based on the first quarto text printed in 1600.

video The Merchant of Venice (Globe on Screen 2)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

In some of his most highly-charged scenes, Shakespeare dramatises the competing claims of tolerance and intolerance, religious law and civil society, justice and mercy; while in the character of Shylock he created one of the most memorable outsiders in all theatre.
Double Olivier and Tony award winner Jonathan Pryce plays Shylock in his first appearance at Shakespeare’s Globe.

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Merry Wives of Windsor is Shakespeare’s only English comedy (though it has arguably Italianate roots), following the trend for comedies of ‘humours’ that were popular on the late Elizabethan stage. It continues the story of Sir John Falstaff, who the audience had last seen being taken away to the Fleet prison at the end of Henry IV Part 2. Now a poor knight of Windsor (a retired soldier given accommodation and a small allowance), Falstaff once again plays the lovable rogue in this merry conceit of cozening, linguistic delight and social cross-sectioning.

As the play begins, Falstaff has been poaching deer from his old nemesis Justice Shallow. He soon starts on his next scheme: to seduce both Mistress Ford and Mistress Page in order to get at their husbands’ money. He writes identical love letters to each of them, but his companions Pistol and Nim reveal his plans to the wives. Mistress Ford and Mistress Page plan to accept his overtures in order to trick him in return. Meanwhile, Mistress Ford’s jealous husband disguises himself to test her fidelity; as ‘Brook’, he pays Falstaff to woo his wife.

Ford arrives as Falstaff begins to woo Mistress Ford, so the wives hide Falstaff in a laundry basket, and throw him in the Thames, as they’d planned all along. After his dunking, Falstaff once again pursues Mistress Ford; once again Ford arrives, and the wives disguise Falstaff as the ‘fat woman of Brentford’. His final humiliation comes as the wives tell Falstaff to disguise himself as ‘Herne the Hunter’ and wait in Windsor Park that night. There he is confronted by children dressed as fairies, and the two laughing couples.

A secondary plot concerns Anne Page and her several suitors. Her mother wants her to marry the French Doctor Caius; her father wants her to marry the foolish Slender; she loves Fenton, a gentleman. While her suitors squabble and her mother and father both separately plot her elopement, Anne takes matters into her own hands and marries Fenton.

The play’s first performance is uncertain. Some critics argue that it was first conceived as a court entertainment to celebrate the election of five new knights to the Order of the Garter on St. George’s Day in 1597; while it is unlikely that the full-length comedy was acted here, it is possible that the fairy masque was presented for the Queen, with the lecherous Falstaff and his motley crew acting as anti-masque. Most likely written in full after 1599, perhaps ‘compensating’ for Falstaff’s recorded death in Henry , the play first appears in quarto in 1602 (a much abridged ‘acting version’ of that which appears in the 1623 Folio). Its first recorded performance was at the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall in 1604, in front of the new king. Perenially popular onstage, The Merry Wives of Windsor has been operatized several times since the eighteenth century, most famously in English in Vaughan Williams’ Sir John in Love (1933). Hailing from a medieval English background, the figure of Falstaff has come to be seen, since the twentieth century, as a universally recognizable figure of folklore across cultures.

video The Merry Wives of Windsor (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Imagining that Mistress Ford and Mistress Page have each fallen for him, the fat knight Sir John Falstaff decides to seduce them both, as much for their husbands’ money as for their personal charms. Wise to the old rogue’s tricks, the women turn the tables on him with a series of humiliating assignations and a very damp, extremely smelly laundry basket. Stage director: Christopher Luscomeb. Screen director: Robin Lough. Featuring: Nathan Amzi, Gareth Armstrong, William Belchambers, Christopher Benjamin, Edward Holtom, Philip Bird, Serena Evans, Peter Gale, Michael Garner, Gregory Gudgeon, Andrew Havill, Jonty Stephens, Sue Wallace, Paul Woodson, Sarah Woodward, Gerard McCarthy, Ceri-Lyn Cissone, Barnaby Edwards, Richard Linell.

audio A Midsummer Night’s Dream

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Shakespeare combined his love of theater with Greek mythology and the supernatural to create what is arguably his most playfully imaginative work. From love potions to bizarre transformations to the unforgettable play-within-a-play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a non-stop delight, and remains one of the milestones of the Bard’s canon.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Tara Barr as Hermia Erin Bennett as Moth and Second Fairy Jamie Bamber as Oberon Janine Barris as Peaseblossom and First Fairy Brendan Bradley as Lysander Chris Butler as Theseus Kyle Colerider-Krugh as Egeus and Robin Starveling Sue Cremin as Hippolyta Hector Elizondo as Peter Quince Logan Fahey as Francis Flute Glenne Headley as Titania Simon Helberg as Demetrius Stacy Keach as Nick Bottom David Krumholtz as Puck Danny Mann as Snug Jon Matthews as Cobweb and Mustardseed Kira Sternbach as Helena André Sogliuzzo as Philostrate and Tom Snout Directed by Martin Jarvis.

Featuring: Jamie Bamber, Tara Barr, Janine Barris, Erin Bennett, Brendan Bradley, Chris Butler, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Sue Cremin, Hector Elizondo, Logan Fahey, Glenne Headly, Simon Helberg, Stacy Keach, David Krumholtz, Danny Mann, Jon Matthews, Andre Sogliuzzo, Kira Sternbach

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!

English drama during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558–1603) showcased England’s first great era of the theatre, crowned by the emergence of the world’s most renowned dramatist, William Shakespeare. Other prominent writers of the Elizabethan age included the University Wits – Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, John Lyly, and others – whose work for the stage shows the influence of ancient Greek and Roman playwrights, especially Seneca.

The first English tragedy, Gorboduc, was written and performed by law students of London’s Inner Temple in 1562 with Elizabeth in the audience. The first extant English comedy, Ralph Roister Doister by Nicholas Udall, was performed around 1563. Distinct genres to emerge during the era include Revenge Tragedy and the Citizen Comedy.

Some 21,000 Londoners, or one-eighth of the population, attended the theatre at least once a week. Elizabeth herself saw only about five professional productions a year, for which she paid each company about ten pounds. She banned plays about religious or political subjects because these had been used as propaganda in earlier reigns; the mystery play was also prohibited.

As unlicensed actors were classified as vagabonds, they often sought the patronage of noblemen; among the companies supported in this way were the Chamberlain’s Men and the Admirals’ Men, together with several boy companies. During plague periods, the London theatres closed and actors went on gruelling tours of the regions in order to survive. Many actors became famous, however, such as Richard Burbage, Edward Alleyn, and William Kempe, while those who had financial interests in the theatres in which they performed also became wealthy.

The first permanent public playhouse in England, the Theatre, was opened in 1576 by James Burbage, Richard’s father. Others quickly followed: the Curtain Theatre in 1577, the Rose Theatre in 1587, the Swan Theatre in 1594, and the famous Globe Theatre, at which many of Shakespeare’s works were given their first performances, in 1599. The average audience capacity was 2000 to 3000 people. The venues were classified as ‘liberties’ beyond the city’s jurisdiction.

from Jonathan Law ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011).