Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England - Vol. 25

Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England - Vol. 25

Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England - Vol. 25

Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England - Vol. 25

Synopsis

MaRDiE 25 offers a variety of essays on fascinating subjects. These span the areas of theater history, literary criticism, and textual studies. Authors address individual plays (Macbeth and The Merry Wives of Windsor), classic textual and historical challenges (the Cobham controversy), analogues (King Leir), issues relating to revenge tragedy and Shakespeare’s reputation, the work produced by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries (George Chapman), and, not least of all, theatrical audiences. A gathering of reviews explores related areas.

Excerpt

Queen Elizabeth takes her seat in the theater, and around her are gathered the glittering ranks of her most important courtiers, senior figures from the aristocracy, and a select band of international diplomats. On stage before them unfolds a sensational drama; sensational because it deals with the stormy and ultimately catastrophic relationship between a queen and the most charismatic but explosive of her subjects, Robert Devereux, the earl of Essex. To the best of my knowledge, history has not revealed what the Queen herself really thought of this extraordinary entertainment, but it has told us how the rest of that illustrious audience responded to this provocative story. For ten minutes or so they were politely attentive, and for the remaining three hours of the performance they grumbled, shifted noisily in their seats, or left them altogether. Some spectators slept soundly, and several audibly snored. By the following day texts denouncing the authors of the drama had appeared, and the career of the best known of them went into a sharp if temporary decline.

Readers of this journal are very likely to have guessed by now that, given Queen Elizabeth I’s almost obsessive anxiety about visual representations of herself—her government repeatedly attempted to ensure that only a single portrait of her should be in circulation, and no playwright dared to portray her onstage during her lifetime1—I am not referring to a royal entertainment in Tudor London, but to a much more recent fiasco: the sad fate that befell the world premiere of the opera Gloriana, composed by Benjamin Britten to a libretto by William Plomer in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.2 If the disapproval Britten aroused at Covent Garden was palpable, it was at least relatively muted. Many of his contemporaries, working in equally prestigious concert halls and theaters, were less fortunate. We might remember that the fashionable Parisian audience at the first performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring virtually wrecked the venue; more recently, howls of disgust and derision greeted Howard Brenton’s Romans in Britain, a powerful parable of English savagery in Ireland, when it first played at the . . .

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