Plays

Tamburlaine The Great: Part Two

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Tamburlaine is Marlowe’s seminal play: with the story of a complex and ruthless conqueror he created a magnificent theatrical architecture of power and ambition and proclaimed a new kind of verse.

From humble beginnings as a Scythian shepherd, Marlowe’s conquering hero rises, through his ferocity in war and the sheer force of his personality and imaginative ambition, to become Emperor of the Turks, King of Persia and Arabia and mighty sultan of vast tracts of what is now the Middle East. The play follows his ascent, his triumph and his destruction in two parts full of theatrical splendour and spectacular cruelty, and Marlowe’s ‘high-astounding’ as well as lyrical poetry.

Part two sees Tamburlaine grow more vicious as his imperial power becomes permanent. Family members are dispensed with; rivals and local chieftains summarily murdered; even God is challenged. Tamburlaine dies unrepentant, telling his sons to continue to conquer the world in his memory.

Tamburlaine was a major success in the theatres of the 1580s and 1590s. Marlowe’s blasphemous hero was a challenge to the orthodoxies of his culture, and whether the play constitutes a tragedy, a celebration or an ironically ambivalent study of the heroic is still a much debated question.

Copyright © 1997 A & C Black Publishers Limited

The Taming of the Shrew (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The story of a ‘shrewish’ woman who is roughly courted and subjugated by her husband cannot fail to be controversial, and often disturbing. The Taming of the Shrew has been considered a portrait of the trials of marriage, a love story, a historical treatise on the treatment of women, a sexist polemic, and an exuberant farce - the perceived balance between misogyny and sympathy changing with every production and interpretation. The text is further complicated by its stress on fiction and performance.

The likely period of composition is between 1590-1594. This text is based on the 1623 First Folio text, as the 1594 quarto of an anonymous play entitled The Taming of a Shrew is here considered related but independent.

The drunken Christopher Sly is thrown out of a pub and falls asleep, and a Lord decides to play a trick on him. The Lord’s servants dupe Sly into believing that he is a rich Lord. A group of players act ‘a kind of history’ for him, and the story of Christopher sly becomes a ‘frame narrative’ for their performance.

The play-within-a-play begins with the arrival of Lucentio and his servant Tranio in Padua. Lucentio hopes to court the beautiful Bianca, as do Hortensio and Gremio, but Bianca’s father will not allow her to marry until her sharp-tongued older sister Katherina is married. Both Lucentio and Hortensio disguise themselves as tutors in order to woo Bianca in private, while Tranio takes the place of his master Lucentio.

Petruccio is also newly arrived in Padua and, hearing about Katherina’s wealth, decides that he will marry her. Their combative first meeting ends in Petruccio announcing their engagement. He turns up to their wedding late and ludicrously attired, and whisks Kate away to his house. There he deprives her of food and sleep in order to tame her.

After having the true identities of Hortensio and Lucentio revealed to her, Bianca choses Lucentio. So that they can be married, Tranio tricks a Merchant into pretending he is Vincentio, Lucentio’s father. The plan works for long enough for Bianca and Lucentio to marry; it is spoiled by the appearance of the real Vincentio, but Lucentio confesses and all is settled. At a banquet that evening, Petruccio reveals the newly obedient Katherina.

video The Taming of the Shrew (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Two wealthy sisters in Padua must be married off. The modest, demure Bianca has no shortage of suitors, but who on earth will take the wild, ungovernable, shrewish Katherina?  Stage director: Toby Frow. Screen director: Ross MacGibbon. Featuring: Samantha Spiro, Simon Paisley Day, Michael Bertenshaw, Pearce Quigley, Joseph Timms, Helen Weir, Tom Anderson, Jamie Beamish, David Beames, Pip Donaghy, Patrick Driver, Tom Godwin, Chris Keegan, Sarah MacRae, Rick Warden.

Titus Andronicus (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Dismemberment, rape, cannibalism and murder make Titus Andronicus Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy. The boundless grief and savage justice of Titus explores the expression of tragic passion, the Senecan tradition, Roman history and government, the body and structures of interpretation.

This text is based on the 1594 First Quarto, with corrections from the 1600 Second Quarto and the addition of III.ii from the 1623 First Folio. It has been suggested that the first act shows signs of the involvement of George Peele, whose work Shakespeare may have revised.

Titus returns to Rome from war against the Goths, in which two of his sons have died. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and her three sons Alarbus, Chiron and Demetrius, as well as her servant and lover Aaron the Moor. Titus gives Alarbus up for sacrifice. Titus suggests Saturninus for emperor. Saturninus offers to marry Titus’ daughter Lavinia, but her fiancé Bassianus (Saturninus’ brother) claims her. There is a struggle, and Titus kills one of his sons for assisting Bassianus. Saturninus marries Tamora instead, who privately promises to avenge her son.

Demetrius and Chiron fight over Lavinia; Aaron interrupts them and advises them on how they may rape Lavinia during the hunt the next day. Aaron and Tamora conspire to bring Lavinia and Bassianus to a pit, where Bassianus is killed by Chiron and Demetrius. Lavinia begs Tamora for mercy, but is dragged away to be raped by her sons. Aaron and Tamora frame Titus’ sons Martius and Quintus for Bassianus’ murder. They are condemned to death; Titus’ other son Lucius is banished.

Titus’ brother Marcus discovers Lavinia with her tongue cut out and her hands cut off. Aaron brings word that if Titus cuts off his hand his sons will be spared; Titus does so but his sons are executed anyway. Lavinia silently explains who raped her. Aaron flees the city with his son, the black baby that Tamora has given birth to. He meets the army of the Goths outside Rome, who are led by the banished Lucius.

Tamora visits Titus disguised as the spirit of Revenge, with her sons as Rape and Murder. Titus kills her sons and serves them to Tamora baked in a pie. Titus kills Tamora; Saturninus kills Titus; Lucius kills Saturninus and is elected emperor.

video Titus Andronicus (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

The smash hit of Shakespeare's early career, Titus Andronicus is one of the Bard's most experimental works, a revenge tale of the utmost brutality that centres around the honoured Roman general who fatally refuses to show mercy to the eldest son of Tamora, Queen of the Goths, whom he has defeated in war. Director Lucy Bailey's staging of the Roman tragedy sees the great London theatre transformed into a temple of death, one in which swathes of black fabric coalesce with horrific violence and stand-out performances to create shatteringly powerful drama.

Featuring: Obi Abili, Steffan Donnelly, Dyfan Dwyfor, Samuel Edward-Cook, Ian Gelder, Paul Ham, Nicholas Karimi, William Houston, Jake Mann, Brian Martin, Matthew Needham, Bryonie Pritchard, David Shaw-Parker, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Indira Varma, Jamie Wilkes, Jude Willoughby.

video Titus Andronicus (RSC)

The Royal Shakespeare Company
Type: Video

Titus has returned from a brutal 10-year war having lost 21 sons in battle. Betrayed by his nation, and with his family in pieces, a series of bloody events follows as he and Tamora, Queen of the Goths, begin a violent cycle of revenge. Rape, cannibalism, mutilation and murder are the gruesome tools in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play.

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Troilus and Cressida

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In staging the famous story of the Trojan war and the doomed relationship of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare stages the demystification of the classical heroes and the deflation of their chivalric ideals. The play is generically indeterminable, combining history, comedy and tragedy into a sceptical analysis of war-politics, potent sexuality and disillusionment.

Troilus and Cressida was written around 1601-2, in the aftermath of the abortive rising of the Earl of Essex. The play’s earliest extant text is the 1609 Quarto, whose preliminary pages exist in two states; this text is based on the 1623 First Folio, supplemented and corrected from the 1609 Quarto.

The city of Troy has been besieged by the Greek army for seven years. The Trojan prince Troilus is preoccupied by his love for Cressida; Cressida’s uncle Pandarus is assisting him. In the Greek camp outside the city walls, the commander Agamemnon complains about his army’s listlessness; Ulysses blames the renowned warrior Achilles, who spends all day in his tent with Patroclus instead of fighting. Hector sends a challenge to single combat, and Ulysses suggests choosing Achilles’ rival Ajax.

The Trojans debate whether keeping Helen (who eloped with the Trojan prince Paris from her husband the Greek Menelaus) is worth the lives that have been lost, but Troilus persuades his brother Hector that it is the honourable thing to do. Pandarus has arranged for Troilus and Cressida to meet privately, attended by himself. But Cressida’s father Calchus, who defected to the Greeks, arranges an exchange: Cressida will come to the Greek camp and the Greeks will release their Trojan prisoner Antenor.

After the lovers’ farewells, Cressida is escorted out of Troy by the Greek Diomedes. The Trojans arrive at the Greek camp for the combat between Hector and Ajax, but it is interrupted because they are cousins. Achilles swears to meet Hector in battle the next day. Having accompanied Hector, Troilus sees Cressida being familiar with Diomedes, and furiously vows to kill the Greek. In battle the next day, Troilus fights with Ajax, Patroclus is killed, and Achilles treacherously kills Hector.

Twelfth Night (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, twelfth night celebrations were a much-anticipated part of the New Year festivities, marking the end of the Christmas period and the coming of Epiphany. The Lord of Misrule would instigate a feast that would revel in the subversion of social roles, accompanied by drinking, merriment and ‘what you will’, as this play’s subtitle suggests. Shakespeare’s play was probably written for one such celebration: its first recorded performance was at Middle Temple Hall in February 1602. It does not appear in print, however, until it is listed under the ‘Comedies’ in the First Folio of 1623. One of his last Elizabethan plays, Twelfth Night shares such tropes of Shakespearean comedy as crossdressing, mistaken identity and ambitious social climbers.

Twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked upon the shores of Ilyria, separated following a storm. Viola disguises herself as a eunuch, Cesario, and becomes a trusted servant of the Duke Orsino. Orsino loves the countess Olivia, but she is in mourning for her late brother, and has rejected Orsino’s courtship several times already. Orsino sends Cesario to woo Olivia on his behalf, but Olivia falls in love with Cesario, who is in turn falling in love with Orsino.

Meanwhile, Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, is attempting to control the hijinks of the amorous Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Olivia’s drunkard uncle, Sir Toby Belch. After receiving a letter from ‘Olivia’ (actually forged by her waiting-woman, Maria), Malvolio adapts his sober appearance and stern behaviour to please the countess, who he believes is smitten with him: these drastic changes, however, lead to him being declared mad, imprisoned, and tormented by Olivia’s fool, Feste.

Viola’s twin-brother, Sebastian, re-appears with his new-found friend Antonio. On seeing him, Olivia mistakes him for Cesario, and they wed in secret. Viola reveals her true identity, and she and Orsino prepare to marry.

Literary critics and theatre-practitioners alike have returned repeatedly to Tweflth Night for its exploration of identity and acting, encapsulated in Viola’s confessional ‘I am not that I play’. It is a play abounding in disguise and doubling, the crossdressing of Viola (like the crossdressing of Rosalind in As You Like It, first performed c.1599) highlighting the ambiguities of the Elizabethan transvestite theatre, in which a boy actor was, in this instance, playing a woman playing a eunuch. Trends in modern criticism have led to a focus on the subjectivity of the female body, and to an exploration of homoeroticism both within the playtext and within the context of all-male performance of the play. The self-fashioning of upstarts such as Sir Toby Belch, the impact on self-hood of Malvolio’s ‘madness’ and the linguistic trickery of the fool, Feste have also sparked discussions of the flexibility of identity in Twelfth Night.

video Twelfth Night (Globe on Screen)

Globe on Screen
Type: Video

Filled with a cast of unforgettable characters, Twelfth Night combines cruelty with high comedy and the pangs of unrequited love with some of the subtlest poetry and most exquisite songs Shakespeare ever wrote. Stage director: Tim Carrol. Screen director: Ian Russell. Featuring: Paul Chahidi, Samuel Barnett, Liam Brennan, John Paul Connolly, James Garnon, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Colin Hurley, Mark Rylance, Ian Drysdale, Johnny Flynn, Stephen Fry, Jethro Skinner, Ben Thompson, Roger Lloyd Pack.

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).