Players Of Shakespeare Essays In Shakespearean Performance

King James I: Shakespeare's Patron

From Shakespeare's patrons & other essays by Henry Brown. London: J. M. Dent & sons.

King James I was a great admirer of poetry and the drama from his earliest days, and later in life he appears chiefly to have regarded and favoured dramatic art. He had been tutored by the celebrated George Buchanan and had well profited by his instructions; he was one of Scotland's greatest poets, and had produced political and religious works, and also poems and dramas. Under this famous scholar he made great progress in learning. It has been usual to ridicule the weaknesses of this king, but he had his nobler qualities, that far outweighed his foibles and weakness. Lord Bacon thought highly of his judgment. Mr. D'Israeli gives the character of the King: "He was called a pedant, but," says he, "he was no more a pedant than the ablest of his contemporaries, nor abhorred the taste of tobacco, nor feared witches, more than they did: he was a great wit, a most acute disputant," &c.1

Queen Elizabeth, probably to gain the friendship on a particular occasion, sent in 1589 a select company of players to the Scotch capital, and they appear to have paid a previous visit to Scotland, as we find "The King at a sumptuous banquet prepared by the Earl of Arran at Direleton, after a Council held there; divers of the nobility and gentry passed the time right pleasantly with the play of Robin Hood."2

The names of only two of the players sent by the Queen are known, Fletcher and Martin; they were probably both managers of the company. Fletcher was the head, and he seems quickly to have won great favour with the King, and on his return to England suffered some ill-treatment for some service and for special favour he had received from the King. And we learn from the State papers under date March 22, 1595, Edinburgh, George Nicholson to Mr. Bowes — the English Ambassador, among other news, says that "The King heard that Fletcher, the player, was hanged, and told him and Roger Aston so, in merry words, not believing it, saying very pleasantly that if it were true he would hang them also."3

Roger Aston was a gentleman residing at the Scottish Court, a correspondent to Sir Robert Cecil of affairs at the Court of King James. Whatever was Fletcher's fault, he was soon in favour again with the English ministers.

In 1599, Fletcher and Martin were sent for by the King, and Elizabeth sent them with a company of comedians on a visit to Edinburgh in November of that year. The King was greatly pleased with them, and they received from him warrant to act in public, and defended them against the Kirk Sessions, who were denouncing them, and who sought to silence them, but the King forbade and overruled this insult to the actors and the drama. The State papers say of this transaction, in a letter dated Edinburgh, November 12, 1599, George Nicholson to Sir Robert Cecil: "Performance of English players, Fletcher, Martin, and their Company, by the King's permission; enactment of the Town Sessions, and preaching of the ministers against them. The bellows blowers say that they are sent by England to sow dissension between the King and the Kirk." These papers also contain the King's full proclamation on the subject, the players were neither to suffer restraint nor censure.4 These players were held by some at the time to be vile fellows unworthy of any honourable person's regard, but the King would not hear of their being slandered, and gave them the highest possible honour. The company of English actors were in Scotland from Oct. 1599 to Dec. 1601, and Laurence Fletcher received the freedom of the city of Aberdeen on Oct, 22, 1601, as "Comedian to his Majesty."

It has long been supposed that Shakespeare visited Scotland at this time as one of the company of players; no proof, however, have come down to us, and it is not probable that as an occasional actor, as Shakespeare was, he should have been enrolled in the company. It would perhaps be nearer the mark to suppose that the poet between 1599 and 1600 paid a visit to Scotland; professional interests might induce him to take some of his latest MS. plays to be performed before the Scotch Court by the company of players to which he belonged. Shakespeare probably, like many in the Court of Elizabeth at this time, had his eye upon King James as the successor to the throne of England, and by this means may have prepared the way for his regard and favour. And the poet seems to have been absent from London late in 1599 to sometime in 1600, perhaps for about nine months; of this lengthened absence from the metropolis at this period there appears several indications, as also of his having visited Scotland. But three short years and "the spacious times of great Elizabeth" were over, and King James ascended the throne of England, and one of his first acts was to favour the drama. The good estate and position of the players were at once regarded; Laurence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, and others, on May 17, 1603, but a few days after the King's arrival in London, by letters patent under the great seal, were granted a licence to perform in London at the Globe theatre, and in the provinces at town-halls, and other suitable buildings. The company were now styled the King's players.

The far-seeing poet doubtless quickly added to his praise of Elizabeth the vista of newly and more widely extending glories of the reign of her successor, and in King Henry VIII, Act V., Sc.iv., he appends to his sketch of Elizabeth's reign, when paying that noble tribute to her life and death which we have noticed, and in reference to the blessed times of peace and prosperity enjoyed in her reign, he quickly foresaw the like happiness would be extended onward in the reign of King James I. He says of the new King:

"Nor shall this peace sleep with her: but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new-create another heir,
As great in admiration as herself;
So shall she leave her blessedness to one,
When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,
Who from the sacred ashes of her honour
Shall star-like rise, as great in fame as she was,
And so stand fix'd: peace, plenty, love, truth, terror,
That were the servants to this chosen infant.
Shall then be his, and like a vine grow to him:
Wherever the bright sun of heaven shall shine,
His honour and the greatness of his name
Shall be, and make new nations: he shall flourish,
And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches
To all the plains about him: — our children's children
Shall see this, and bless heaven."
Shakespeare would hardly allow this twofold eulogy of his royal patrons to be delegated to any other than his own golden pen. The present writer will endeavour in a separate work to conclusively prove that Shakespeare wrote the supposed Fletcherian portions of Henry VIII.

The King during his first regular progress through his new kingdom after leaving the city of Salisbury on August 26, 1603, was, with the royal party entertained on the 29th and 30th of the same month at Wilton, the noble seat of William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke, and on the 6th October the King and Queen were again at Wilton, and at this noble mansion they stayed several weeks. And on the 2nd December the King and Court were again at the seat of the Earl of Pembroke witnessing a theatrical performance by the company of players to which Shakespeare belonged, and again during the Christmas holidays the same company gave several performances before the Royal party at Hampton Court.

The list of plays they performed has unhappily not been preserved. There is little doubt but that Shakespeare was with his company at Wilton on some of these highly important occasions, if not on all, and that the King first noticed the poet on this occasion, even if he had not already become acquainted with him in Scotland; and the famous "Amicable Letter" which on good authority, we are told, was written by the King to Shakespeare, may have been in reference to his desire to see a play written by him upon the subject of Macbeth. This play was produced we may well suppose upon receipt of the letter and in haste for a special Court performance. The King was proclaimed King of Great Britain and Ireland in 1604, and the play may well be assigned to the first year of his coronation. If not in Scotland, at Wilton and elsewhere the King was already acquainted with Shakespeare, and the position he held and the company to which he belonged. The new monarch it should be remembered was a descendant of Banquo; this the poet has kept in his mind's eye —

"Some I see
That two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry."
Macbeth has the appearance of a bold, impromptu, hastily conceived sketch, emanating from the poet's brain in fiery flashes; the entire background and scenery is as lurid as the boldest sketches of Salvator Rosa, the figures are dashed in as bold as from the pencil of Rubens, and the ancient lieges of Scotia's land and the witches and ghosts pass before us like the titanic weird figures of Blake or Fuseli; and as the poet conceived it so he left it — a splendid sketch, but not a full and completely finished work.

A great change had come over the country, "the old order passeth away and giveth place unto the new." It was like a new world, if we glance back to 1567, when Queen Elizabeth gave order to the Bishop of London to find how many Scotsmen were in the metropolis, and we are told by Dr. Robertson there were but fifty-eight — now they came in streams following the King. This evoked much banter and sarcasm amongst the wits, dramatists, and actors of the day, several of them openly showing their dislike by satirizing the King, his Court, and countrymen; they failed to see the benefit that would arise from the union of the kingdoms. Shakespeare appears most fully and clearly to have seen it, and heralded the advent, as we have seen, by a full tribute of gratulation and praise.

That King James would be very likely to suggest the play of Macbeth is highly possible. George Buchanan, who, as before observed, had been preceptor to the King in his "History of Scotland," published in Edinburgh in 1582, states in the 7th book that the history of Macbeth was well adapted for the stage, "Multa hie fabulose quidam nostrorum affingunt; sed quia theatris aut Milesies fabulis sunt aptiora quam historiae, ea omitto." And the King himself had written his famous work, "Demonology," in 1597, relating to witchcraft and demoniacal possessions. Viewed in this light the poet had several objects in view in producing his Macbeth at this juncture, and moulding it, though roughly, yet in weighty and attractive metal a masterpiece of skill and power.

In the play Measure for Measure, written in 1604, a passage appears to refer to the proclamation of the Scottish King on his accession to the throne of England, forbidding the populace to assemble to meet him on his entry to his new kingdom, a proceeding on the part of the people both of Scotland and of England of which he soon grew weary, and told the people how greatly he disapproved of it. The poet notes the mood of the King —

"I love the people,
But do not like to stage me to their eyes.
Though it do well, I do not relish well
Their loud applause and aves vehement;
Nor do I think the man of safe discretion,
That does affect it." — Act I., Sc. i.
This comedy was acted before the Court at Whitehall on December 26, 1604. These lines would be at once recognised as aptly alluding to the extreme aversion of the King, long well known alike in regard to his Scotch subjects, as also lately proclaimed to his new people.

Some lines attributed to Shakespeare on King James have been handed down in old MS. collections as early as the time of Charles I, but it does not seem to be known upon what occasion they first appeared; they have always, however, been assigned to our poet in every collection in which they are preserved. Their first appearance in print we now find was under a very rare engraved portrait of King James I, published about the year 1610, The various MS. style them alike as —

"Crownes have their Compasse length of dayes their date
Triumphs their Tombes, felcitie her fate
Of more then earth can earth make none partaker,
But knowledge makes the King most like his maker."
The portrait was published by the King's printer; the lines may be accredited to our poet for their solemnity and dignity of thought.

It is not a little remarkable that this King was also in close connection from this time onward to the last with both of Shakespeare's patrons; the special honours the King at once bestowed upon the Earl of Southampton, after granting his immediate release from imprisonment in the Tower, and the various other signal favours granted later in life, both to him and to William Earl of Pembroke, reveal the fact that he at once regarded Southampton with a favourable eye, and at the same time exhibited a devoted regard for Pembroke, whom he also favoured highly but with a more constant favour and more attached and friendly regard, as he ever after retained the latter in office or at the Court in what appears to have been a bond of most sympathetic friendship. He was evidently attracted at once by the merits of both these lords, and in every way he could, expressed his admiration for them by conferring honours upon them upon several important occasions. His love for Pembroke, however, was far more constant and uniform, but he retained it would appear to the last also a regard, if not adoration, for Southampton; Pembroke, however, was his assured friend, confidant, and counsellor.

King James remained an admirer of the drama all his life, and on many occasions witnessed the plays of Shakespeare at various performances at Court, and his plays doubtless added joy and brightness to the festivities of many a passing hour; and the Court, upon our poet's retirement to his native town, missed the great luminary amongst men, though they had to abide the fate of the hour; the poet doubtless needed rest and peace, and the pleasurable and constant circle of his family and friends. However that may be, we find that on December 31, 1614, Mr. Chamberlain, in a letter to Sir Dudley Carleton, says —

"We have Plays at Court every night, — wherein they shew great patience, being for the most part such poor stuff that, instead of delight, they send the auditory away with discontent. Indeed our Poets' brains and inventions are grown very dry, insomuch that of five new Plays there is not one that pleases, and therefore they are driven to furbish over their old; which stand them in best stead and bring them most profit."
Such news as this was no doubt transmitted to Shakespeare in his affluent retirement amidst his townsmen in his quiet retreat at New Place. He may have laughed and given them over to Ben Jonson, and the rest of his fellow dramatic wits, but he had ceased producing more great works; he had poured forth his best of sparkhng wit and wisdom, the most joyous humour, the sweetest and noblest verse, and the profoundest philosophy, and now he finally rests in the haven of domestic peace in true felicity and perfect happiness, and if ever man deserved this consummation it was William Shakespeare. We do not view him as a hale, hearty, strong man, but as a good and worthy man. And we may gather from the dramatic writings of the poet, and from his other various poems and sonnets, that he would not fail to make due preparation for the higher as for the present life; and this is especially revealed in that noble CXLVI sonnet, as well as in several others, and finally in the opening declaration of his will it is fully, solemnly, and emphatically expressed in these his last recorded words.

The London play-goers nor the Court of King James knew not fully the great light that was passing away; the poet's patron, the Earl of Pembroke, appears to have seen that light clearest and followed it closest, but its full glory was not possible to discover till after the publication of the first folio, seven years after Shakespeare's death. Yet, as we have seen, King James had welcomed the poet and beheld with pleasure his plays, and Ben Jonson in his poetical tribute to Shakespeare, prefixed to the folio of 1623, speaks of the delight Elizabeth and James took in witnessing the plays of Shakespeare —

"Those flights upon the banks of Thames
That so did take Eliza and our James."

1: "Calamities of Authors," vol. ii p. 245.

2: Reg. Com. Scot., May 5, 1585.

3: Cal. St. Pap., Scottish Series, by M. J. T., vol. 2, p. 676.

4: Cal. St. Pap., Scottish Series, vol. 2, pp. 777-8.

How to cite this article:

Brown, Henry. Shakespeare's patrons & other essays. London: J. M. Dent & sons, 1912. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < >.


Related Articles

 The King's Men
 King James and the Gunpowder Plot
 Did Shakespeare write Macbeth for James I?
 Catering to the Tastes of James I
 Shakespeare, James, and the Witches
 Witchcraft in Shakespeare's England

 Queen Elizabeth: Shakespeare's First Patron
 Entertaining Queen Elizabeth (bear-baiting)
 Elizabeth I Demands Falstaff
 Life in Stratford
 Shakespeare's Audience in his Day
 Going to a Play in Shakespeare's London
 London's First Public Playhouse

 Shakespeare's Boss
 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time
 Theatre Closures Due to Disease
 Entertainment in Elizabethan England
 Shocking Elizabethan Drama

Thousands (perhaps even millions) of performances of William Shakespeare'splays have been staged since the end of the 16th century. While Shakespeare was alive, many of his greatest plays were performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men and King's Men acting companies at the Globe and Blackfriars Theatres.[1][2] Among the actors of these original performances were Richard Burbage (who played the title role in the first performances of Hamlet, Othello, Richard III and King Lear),[3]Richard Cowley, and William Kempe.

Shakespeare's plays continued to be staged after his death until the Interregnum (1642–1660), when most public stage performances were banned by the Puritan rulers. After the English Restoration, Shakespeare's plays were performed in playhouses, with elaborate scenery, and staged with music, dancing, thunder, lightning, wave machines, and fireworks. During this time the texts were "reformed" and "improved" for the stage, an undertaking which has seemed shockingly disrespectful to posterity.

Victorian productions of Shakespeare often sought pictorial effects in "authentic" historical costumes and sets. The staging of the reported sea fights and barge scene in Antony and Cleopatra was one spectacular example.[4] Such elaborate scenery for the frequently changing locations in Shakespeare's plays often led to a loss of pace. Towards the end of the 19th century, William Poel led a reaction against this heavy style. In a series of "Elizabethan" productions on a thrust stage, he paid fresh attention to the structure of the drama. In the early 20th century, Harley Granville-Barker directed quarto and folio texts with few cuts,[5] while Edward Gordon Craig and others called for abstract staging. Both approaches have influenced the variety of Shakespearean production styles seen today.[6]

Performances during Shakespeare's lifetime[edit]

The troupe for which Shakespeare wrote his earliest plays is not known with certainty; the title page of the 1594 edition of Titus Andronicus reveals that it had been acted by three different companies.[7] After the plagues of 1592–3, Shakespeare's plays were performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, a new company of which Shakespeare was a founding member, at The Theatre and the Curtain in Shoreditch, north of the Thames.[8] Londoners flocked there to see the first part of Henry IV, Leonard Digges recalling, "Let but Falstaff come, Hal, Poins, the rest ... and you scarce shall have a room".[9] When the landlord of the Theatre announced that he would not renew the company's lease, they pulled the playhouse down and used the timbers to construct the Globe Theatre, the first London playhouse built by actors for actors, on the south bank of the Thames at Southwark.[10] The Globe opened in autumn 1599, with Julius Caesar one of the first plays staged. Most of Shakespeare's greatest post-1599 plays were written for the Globe, including Hamlet, Othello and King Lear.[11]

The Globe, like London's other open-roofed public theatres, employed a thrust-stage, covered by a cloth canopy. A two-storey facade at the rear of the stage hid the tiring house and, through windows near the top of the facade, opportunities for balcony scenes such as the one in Romeo and Juliet. Doors at the bottom of the facade may have been used for discovery scenes like that at the end of The Tempest. A trap door in the stage itself could be used for stage business, like some of that involving the ghost in Hamlet. This trapdoor area was called "hell", as the canopy above was called "heaven"

Less is known about other features of staging and production. Stage props seem to have been minimal, although costuming was as elaborate as was feasible. The "two hours' traffic" mentioned in the prologue to Romeo and Juliet was not fanciful; the city government's hostility meant that performances were officially limited to that length of time. Though it is not known how seriously companies took such injunctions, it seems likely either that plays were performed at near-breakneck speed or that the play-texts now extant were cut for performance, or both.

The other main theatre where Shakespeare's original plays were performed was the second Blackfriars Theatre, an indoor theatre built by James Burbage, father of Richard Burbage, and impresario of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. However, neighborhood protests kept Burbage from using the theater for the Lord Chamberlain's Men performances for a number of years. After the Lord Chamberlain's Men were renamed the King's Men in 1603, they entered a special relationship with the new court of King James. Performance records are patchy, but it is known that the King's Men performed seven of Shakespeare's plays at court between 1 November 1604 and 31 October 1605, including two performances of The Merchant of Venice.[12] In 1608 the King's Men (as the company was then known) took possession of the Blackfriars Theatre. After 1608, the troupe performed at the indoor Blackfriars Theatre during the winter and the Globe during the summer.[13] The indoor setting, combined with the Jacobean vogue for lavishly staged masques, created new conditions for performance which enabled Shakespeare to introduce more elaborate stage devices. In Cymbeline, for example, Jupiter descends "in thunder and lightning, sitting upon an eagle: he throws a thunderbolt. The ghosts fall on their knees."[14] Plays produced at the indoor theater presumably also made greater use of sound effects and music.

A fragment of the naval captain William Keeling's diary survives, in which he details his crew's shipboard performances of Hamlet (off the coast of Sierra Leone, 5 September 1607, and at Socotra, 31 March 1608),[15] and Richard II (Sierra Leone, 30 September 1607).[15] For a time after its discovery, the fragment was suspected of being a forgery, but is now generally accepted as genuine.[16] These are the first recorded amateur performances of any Shakespeare plays.[15]

On 29 June 1613, the Globe Theatre went up in flames during a performance of Henry VIII. A theatrical cannon, set off during the performance, misfired, igniting the wooden beams and thatching. According to one of the few surviving documents of the event, no one was hurt except a man who put out his burning breeches with a bottle of ale.[17] The event pinpoints the date of a Shakespeare play with rare precision. Sir Henry Wotton recorded that the play "was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and ceremony".[18] The theatre was rebuilt but, like all the other theatres in London, the Globe was closed down by the Puritans in 1642.

The actors in Shakespeare's company included Richard Burbage, Will Kempe, Henry Condell and John Heminges. Burbage played the leading role in the first performances of many of Shakespeare's plays, including Richard III, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear.[19] The popular comic actor Will Kempe played Peter in Romeo and Juliet and Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, among other parts. He was replaced around the turn of the 16th century by Robert Armin, who played roles such as Touchstone in As You Like It and the fool in King Lear.[20] Little is certainly known about acting styles. Critics praised the best actors for their naturalness. Scorn was heaped on ranters and on those who "tore a passion to tatters", as Hamlet has it. Also with Hamlet, playwrights complain of clowns who improvise on stage (modern critics often blame Kemp in particular in this regard). In the older tradition of comedy which reached its apex with Richard Tarlton, clowns, often the main draw of a troupe, were responsible for creating comic by-play. By the Jacobean era, that type of humor had been supplanted by verbal wit.

Interregnum and Restoration performances[edit]

Shakespeare's plays continued to be staged after his death until the Interregnum (1642–1660), when most public stage performances were banned by the Puritan rulers. While denied the use of the stage, costumes and scenery, actors still managed to ply their trade by performing "drolls" or short pieces of larger plays that usually ended with some type of jig. Shakespeare was among the many playwrights whose works were plundered for these scenes. Among the drolls taken from Shakespeare were Bottom the Weaver (Bottom's scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream)[21] and The Grave-makers (the gravedigger's scene from Hamlet).[22]

At the Restoration in 1660, Shakespeare's plays were divided between the two newly licensed companies: the King's Company of Thomas Killigrew and the Duke's Men of William Davenant. The licensing system prevailed for two centuries; from 1660 to 1843, only two main companies regularly presented Shakespeare in London. Davenant, who had known early-Stuart actors such as John Lowin and Joseph Taylor, was the main figure establishing some continuity with earlier traditions; his advice to his actors is thus of interest as possible reflections of original practices.

On the whole, though, innovation was the order of the day for Restoration companies. John Downes reports that the King's Men initially included some Caroline actors; however, the forced break of the Interregnum divided both companies from the past. Restoration actors performed on proscenium stages, often in the evening, between six and nine. Set-design and props became more elaborate and variable. Perhaps most noticeably, boy players were replaced by actresses. The audiences of comparatively expensive indoor theaters were richer, better educated, and more homogeneous than the diverse, often unruly crowds at the Globe. Davenant's company began at the Salisbury Court Theatre, then moved to the theater at Lincoln's Inn Fields, and finally settled in the Dorset Garden Theatre. Killigrew began at Gibbon's Tennis Court before settling into Christopher Wren's new theatre in Drury Lane. Patrons of both companies expected fare quite different from what had pleased Elizabethans. For tragedy, their tastes ran to heroic drama; for comedy, to the comedy of manners. Though they liked Shakespeare, they seem to have wished his plays to conform to these preferences.

Restoration writers obliged them by adapting Shakespeare's plays freely. Writers such as William Davenant and Nahum Tate rewrote some of Shakespeare's plays to suit the tastes of the day, which favoured the courtly comedy of Beaumont and Fletcher and the neo-classical rules of drama.[23] In 1681, Tate provided The History of King Lear, a modified version of Shakespeare's original tragedy with a happy ending. According to Stanley Wells, Tate's version "supplanted Shakespeare's play in every performance given from 1681 to 1838,"[24] when William Charles Macready played Lear from a shortened and rearranged version of Shakespeare's text.[25] "Twas my good fortune", Tate said, "to light on one expedient to rectify what was wanting in the regularity and probability of the tale, which was to run through the whole a love betwixt Edgar and Cordelia that never changed words with each other in the original".[26]

Tate's Lear remains famous as an example of an ill-conceived adaptation arising from insensitivity to Shakespeare's tragic vision. Tate's genius was not in language - many of his interpolated lines don't even scan - but in structure; his Lear begins brilliantly with the Edmund the Bastard's first attention-grabbing speech, and ends with Lear's heroic saving of Cordelia in the prison and a restoration of justice to the throne. Tate's worldview, and that of the theatrical world that embraced (and demanded) his "happy ending" versions of the Bard's tragic works (such as King Lear and Romeo and Juliet) for over a century, arose from a profoundly different sense of morality in society and of the role that theatre and art should play within that society. Tate's versions of Shakespeare see the responsibility of theatre as a transformative agent for positive change by holding a moral mirror up to our baser instincts. Tate's versions of what we now consider some of the Bard's greatest works dominated the stage throughout the 18th century precisely because the Ages of Enlightenment and Reason found Shakespeare's "tragic vision" immoral, and his tragic works unstageable. Tate is seldom performed today, though in 1985, the Riverside Shakespeare Company mounted a successful production of The History of King Lear at The Shakespeare Center, heralded by some as a "Lear for the Age of Ronald Reagan."[27]

Perhaps a more typical example of the purpose of Restoration revisions is Davenant's The Law Against Lovers, a 1662 comedy combining the main plot of Measure for Measure with subplot of Much Ado About Nothing. The result is a snapshot of Restoration comic tastes. Beatrice and Benedick are brought in to parallel Claudio and Hero; the emphasis throughout is on witty conversation, and Shakespeare's thematic focus on lust is steadily downplayed. The play ends with three marriages: Benedick's to Beatrice, Claudio's to Hero, and Isabella's to an Angelo whose attempt on Isabella's virtue was a ploy. Davenant wrote many of the bridging scenes and recast much of Shakespeare's verse as heroic couplets.

A final feature of Restoration stagecraft impacted productions of Shakespeare. The taste for opera that the exiles had developed in France made its mark on Shakespeare as well. Davenant and John Dryden worked The Tempest into an opera, The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island; their work featured a sister for Miranda, a man, Hippolito, who has never seen a woman, and another paired marriage at the end. It also featured many songs, a spectacular shipwreck scene, and a masque of flying cupids. Other of Shakespeare's works given operatic treatment included A Midsummer Night's Dream (as The Fairy-Queen in 1692) and Charles Gildon's Measure for Measure (by way of an elaborate masque.)

However ill-guided such revisions may seem now, they made sense to the period's dramatists and audiences. The dramatists approached Shakespeare not as bardolators, but as theater professionals. Unlike Beaumont and Fletcher, whose "plays are now the most pleasant and frequent entertainments of the stage", according to Dryden in 1668, "two of theirs being acted through the year for one of Shakespeare's or Jonson's",[28] Shakespeare appeared to them to have become dated. Yet almost universally, they saw him as worth updating. Though most of these revised pieces failed on stage, many remained current on stage for decades; Thomas Otway's Roman adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, for example, seems to have driven Shakespeare's original from the stage between 1680 and 1744. It was in large part the revised Shakespeare that took the lead place in the repertory in the early 18th century, while Beaumont and Fletcher's share steadily declined.[29]

18th century[edit]

The 18th century witnessed three major changes in the production of Shakespeare's plays. In England, the development of the star system transformed both acting and production; at the end of the century, the Romantic revolution touched acting as it touched all the arts. At the same time, actors and producers began to return to Shakespeare's texts, slowly weeding out the Restoration revisions. Finally, by the end of the century Shakespeare's plays had been established as part of the repertory outside of Great Britain: not only in the United States but in many European countries.


In the 18th century, Shakespeare dominated the London stage, while Shakespeare productions turned increasingly into the creation of star turns for star actors. After the Licensing Act of 1737, one fourth of the plays performed were by Shakespeare, and on at least two occasions rival London playhouses staged the very same Shakespeare play at the same time (Romeo and Juliet in 1755 and King Lear the next year) and still commanded audiences. This occasion was a striking example of the growing prominence of Shakespeare stars in the theatrical culture, the big attraction being the competition and rivalry between the male leads at Covent Garden and Drury Lane, Spranger Barry and David Garrick. In the 1740s, Charles Macklin, in roles such as Malvolio and Shylock, and David Garrick, who won fame as Richard III in 1741, helped make Shakespeare truly popular.[30] Garrick went on to produce 26 of the plays at Drury Lane Theatre between 1747 and 1776, and he held a great Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford in 1769.[31] He freely adapted Shakespeare's work, however, saying of Hamlet: "I had sworn I would not leave the stage till I had rescued that noble play from all the rubbish of the fifth act. I have brought it forth without the grave-digger's trick, Osrick, & the fencing match."[32] Apparently no incongruity was perceived in having Barry and Garrick, in their late thirties, play adolescent Romeo one season and geriatric King Lear the next. 18th century notions of verisimilitude did not usually require an actor to be physically appropriate for a role, a fact epitomized by a 1744 production of Romeo and Juliet in which Theophilus Cibber, then forty, played Romeo to the Juliet of his teenaged daughter Jennie.

Elsewhere in Europe[edit]

Some of Shakespeare's work was performed in continental Europe even during his lifetime; Ludwig Tieck pointed out German versions of Hamlet and other plays, of uncertain provenance, but certainly quite old.[33] but it was not until after the middle of the next century that Shakespeare appeared regularly on German stages.[34] In Germany Lessing compared Shakespeare to German folk literature. Goethe organised a Shakespeare jubilee in Frankfurt in 1771, stating that the dramatist had shown that the Aristotelian unities were "as oppressive as a prison" and were "burdensome fetters on our imagination". Herder likewise proclaimed that reading Shakespeare's work opens "leaves from the book of events, of providence, of the world, blowing in the sands of time."[35] This claim that Shakespeare's work breaks though all creative boundaries to reveal a chaotic, teeming, contradictory world became characteristic of Romantic criticism, later being expressed by Victor Hugo in the preface to his play Cromwell, in which he lauded Shakespeare as an artist of the grotesque, a genre in which the tragic, absurd, trivial and serious were inseparably intertwined.[36]

19th century[edit]

Theatres and theatrical scenery became ever more elaborate in the 19th century, and the acting editions used were progressively cut and restructured to emphasize more and more the soliloquies and the stars, at the expense of pace and action.[37] Performances were further slowed by the need for frequent pauses to change the scenery, creating a perceived need for even more cuts in order to keep performance length within tolerable limits; it became a generally accepted maxim that Shakespeare's plays were too long to be performed without substantial cuts. The platform, or apron, stage, on which actors of the 17th century would come forward for audience contact, was gone, and the actors stayed permanently behind the fourth wall or proscenium arch, further separated from the audience by the orchestra (see image at right).

Victorian productions of Shakespeare often sought pictorial effects in "authentic" historical costumes and sets. The staging of the reported sea fights and barge scene in Antony and Cleopatra was one spectacular example.[4] Too often, the result was a loss of pace. Towards the end of the century, William Poel led a reaction against this heavy style. In a series of "Elizabethan" productions on a thrust stage, he paid fresh attention to the structure of the drama.

Through the 19th century, a roll call of legendary actors' names all but drown out the plays in which they appear: Sarah Siddons (1755—1831), John Philip Kemble (1757—1823), Henry Irving (1838—1905), and Ellen Terry (1847—1928). To be a star of the legitimate drama came to mean being first and foremost a "great Shakespeare actor", with a famous interpretation of, for men, Hamlet, and for women, Lady Macbeth, and especially with a striking delivery of the great soliloquies. The acme of spectacle, star, and soliloquy of Shakespeare performance came with the reign of actor-manager Henry Irving and his co-star Ellen Terry in their elaborately staged productions, often with orchestral incidental music, at the Lyceum Theatre, London from 1878 to 1902. At the same time, a revolutionary return to the roots of Shakespeare's original texts, and to the platform stage, absence of scenery, and fluid scene changes of the Elizabethan theatre, was being effected by William Poel's Elizabethan Stage Society.[38]

20th century[edit]

In the early 20th century, Harley Granville-Barker directed quarto and folio texts with few cuts,[5] while Edward Gordon Craig and others called for abstract staging. Both approaches have influenced the variety of Shakespearean production styles seen today.[6]

The 20th century also saw a multiplicity of visual interpretations of Shakespeare's plays.

Gordon Craig's design for Hamlet in 1911 was groundbreaking in its Cubist influence. Craig defined space with simple flats: monochrome canvases stretched on wooden frames, which were hinged together to be self-supporting. Though the construction of these flats was not original, its application to Shakespeare was completely new. The flats could be aligned in many configurations and provided a technique of simulating architectural or abstract lithic structures out of supplies and methods common to any theater in Europe or the Americas.

The second major shift of 20th-century scenography of Shakespeare was in Barry Vincent Jackson's 1923 production of Cymbeline at the Birmingham Rep. This production was groundbreaking because it reintroduced the idea of modern dress back into Shakespeare. It was not the first modern-dress production since there were a few minor examples before World War I, but Cymbeline was the first to call attention to the device in a blatant way. Iachimo was costumed in evening dress for the wager, the court was in military uniforms, and the disguised Imogen in knickerbockers and cap. It was for this production that critics invented the catch phrase "Shakespeare in plus-fours".[39] The experiment was moderately successful, and the director, H.K. Ayliff, two years later staged Hamlet in modern dress. These productions paved the way for the modern-dress Shakespearean productions that we are familiar with today.

In 1936, Orson Welles was hired by the Federal Theatre Project to direct a groundbreaking production of Macbeth in Harlem with an all African American cast. The production became known as the Voodoo Macbeth, as Welles changed the setting to a 19th-century Haiti run by an evil king thoroughly controlled by African magic.[40] Initially hostile, the black community took to the production thoroughly, ensuring full houses for ten weeks at the Lafayette Theatre and prompting a small Broadway success and a national tour.[41]

Other notable productions of the 20th century that follow this trend of relocating Shakespeare's plays are H.K. Ayliff's Macbeth of 1928 set on the battlefields of World War I, Welles'Julius Caesar of 1937 based on the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg, and Thacker's Coriolanus of 1994 costumed in the manner of the French Revolution.[42]

In 1978, a deconstructive version of The Taming of the Shrew was performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.[43] The main character walked through the audience toward the stage, acting drunk and shouting sexist comments before he proceeded to tear down (i.e., deconstruct) the scenery. Even after press coverage, some audience members still fled from the performance, thinking they were witnessing a real assault.[43]

21st century[edit]

The Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK has produced two major Shakespeare festivals in the twenty-first century. The first was the Complete Works (RSC festival) in 2006–2007, which staged productions of all of Shakespeare's plays and poems.[44] The second is the World Shakespeare Festival in 2012, which is part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and features nearly 70 productions involving thousands of performers from across the world.[45] More than half of these productions are part of the Globe to Globe Festival. Each of the productions in this festival has been reviewed by Shakespeare academics, theatre practitioners, and bloggers in a project called Year of Shakespeare.

In May 2009, Hamlet opened with Jude Law in the title role at the Donmar Warehouse West End season at Wyndham's. He was joined by Ron Cook, Peter Eyre, Gwilym Lee, John MacMillan, Kevin R McNally, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Matt Ryan, Alex Waldmann and Penelope Wilton. The production officially opened on 3 June and ran through 22 August 2009.[46][47] The production was also mounted at Elsinore Castle in Denmark from 25–30 August 2009[48] and on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York.

The Propeller company have taken all-male cast productions around the world.[49]Phyllida Lloyd has continually staged all-female cast versions of Shakespeare in London.[50][51][52]

Shakespeare on screen[edit]

Main article: Shakespeare on screen

More than 420 feature-length film versions of Shakespeare's plays have been produced since the early 20th century, making Shakespeare the most filmed author ever.[53] Some of the film adaptations, especially Hollywood movies marketed to teenage audiences, use his plots rather than his dialogue, while others are simply filmed versions of his plays.

Dress and design[edit]

For centuries there had been an accepted style of how Shakespeare was to be performed which was erroneously labeled "Elizabethan" but actually reflected a trend of design from a period shortly after Shakespeare's death. Shakespeare's performances were originally performed in contemporary dress. Actors were costumed in clothes that they might wear off the stage. This continued into the 18th century, the Georgian period, where costumes were the current fashionable dress. It was not until centuries after his death, primarily the 19th Century, that productions started looking back and tried to be "authentic" to a Shakespearean style. The Victorian era had a fascination with historical accuracy and this was adapted to the stage in order to appeal to the educated middle class. Charles Kean was particularly interested in historical context and spent many hours researching historical dress and setting for his productions. This faux-Shakespearean style was fixed until the 20th century. As of the twenty-first century, there are very few productions of Shakespeare, both on stage and on film, which are still performed in "authentic" period dress, while as late as 1990, virtually every true film version of a Shakespeare play was performed in correct period costume. The first film in English to break this pattern was the 1995 Richard III which updated the setting to the twentieth century and has Richard and his followers costumed as Nazis, but changed none of Shakespeare's dialogue.

See also[edit]


  1. ^Editor's Preface to A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare, Simon and Schuster, 2004, page xl
  2. ^Foakes, 6.
    • Nagler, A.M (1958). Shakespeare's Stage. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 7. ISBN 0-300-02689-7.
    • Shapiro, 131–2.
  3. ^Ringler, William jr. "Shakespeare and His Actors: Some Remarks on King Lear" from Lear from Study to Stage: Essays in Criticism edited by James Ogden and Arthur Hawley Scouten, Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 1997, page 127.
    King,T.J. (Thomas J. King, Jr.) (1992). Casting Shakespeare's Plays; London actors and their roles 1590–1642, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32785-7 (Paperback edition 2009, ISBN 0-521-10721-0)
  4. ^ abHalpern (1997). Shakespeare Among the Moderns. New York: Cornell University Press, 64. ISBN 0-8014-8418-9.
  5. ^ abGriffiths, Trevor R (ed.) (1996). A Midsummer's Night's Dream. William Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Introduction, 2, 38–39. ISBN 0-521-57565-6.
    • Halpern, 64.
  6. ^ abBristol, Michael, and Kathleen McLuskie (eds.). Shakespeare and Modern Theatre: The Performance of Modernity. London; New York: Routledge; Introduction, 5–6. ISBN 0-415-21984-1.
  7. ^Wells, Oxford Shakespeare, xx.
  8. ^Wells, Oxford Shakespeare, xxi.
  9. ^Shapiro, 16.
  10. ^Foakes, R. A. (1990). "Playhouses and Players". In The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama. A. R. Braunmuller and Michael Hattaway (eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 6. ISBN 0-521-38662-4.
    • Shapiro, 125–31.
  11. ^Foakes, 6.
    • Nagler, A.M. (1958). Shakespeare's Stage. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 7. ISBN 0-300-02689-7.
    • Shapiro, 131–2.
    • King, T.J. (Thomas J. King, Jr.) (1971). Shakespearean Staging, 1599–1642. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-80490-2.
  12. ^Wells, Oxford Shakespeare, xxii.
  13. ^Foakes, 33.
  14. ^Ackroyd, 454.
    • Holland, Peter (ed.) (2000). Cymbeline. London: Penguin; Introduction, xli. ISBN 0-14-071472-3.
  15. ^ abcAlan & Veronica Palmer, Who's Who in Shakespeare's England. Retrieved 29 May 2015
  16. ^Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; pp. 262, 426-7.
  17. ^Globe Theatre Fire.
  18. ^Wells, Oxford Shakespeare, 1247.
  19. ^Ringler, William Jr. (1997)."Shakespeare and His Actors: Some Remarks on King Lear". In Lear from Study to Stage: Essays in Criticism. James Ogden and Arthur Hawley Scouten (eds.). New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 127. ISBN 0-8386-3690-X.
  20. ^Chambers, Vol 1: 341.
    • Shapiro, 247–9.
  21. ^Nettleton, 16.
  22. ^Arrowsmith, 72.
  23. ^Murray, Barbara A (2001). Restoration Shakespeare: Viewing the Voice. New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 50. ISBN 0-8386-3918-6.
    • Griswold, Wendy (1986). Renaissance Revivals: City Comedy and Revenge Tragedy in the London Theatre, 1576–1980. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 115. ISBN 0-226-30923-1.
  24. ^Stanley Wells, "Introduction" from King Lear, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 63.
  25. ^Wells, p. 69.
  26. ^From Tate's dedication to The History of King Lear. Quoted by Peter Womack (2002). "Secularizing King Lear: Shakespeare, Tate and the Sacred." In Shakespeare Survey 55: King Lear and its Afterlife. Peter Holland (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 98. ISBN 0-521-81587-8.
  27. ^See Riverside Shakespeare Company.
  28. ^Dryden, Essay of Dramatick Poesie, The Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works of John Dryden, Edmond Malone, ed. (London: Baldwin, 1800): 101.
  29. ^Sprague, 121.
  30. ^Uglow, Jenny (1997). Hogarth. London: Faber and Faber, 398. ISBN 0-571-19376-5.
  31. ^Martin, Peter (1995). Edmond Malone, Shakespearean Scholar: A Literary Biography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 27. ISBN 0-521-46030-1.
  32. ^Letter to Sir William Young, 10 January 1773. Quoted by Uglow, 473.
  33. ^Tieck, xiii.
  34. ^Pfister 49.
  35. ^Düntzer, 111.
  36. ^Cappon, 65.
  37. ^See, for example, the 19th century playwright W. S. Gilbert's essay, Unappreciated Shakespeare, from Foggerty's Fairy and Other Tales
  38. ^Glick, 15.
  39. ^Trewin, J. C.Shakespeare on the English Stage, 1900–1064. London, 1964.
  40. ^Ayanna Thompson (2011). Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America. Oxford University Press. p. 79. ISBN 9780195385854. 
  41. ^Hill, 106.
  42. ^Jackson 345.
  43. ^ abLooking at Shakespeare: A Visual History of Twentieth-Century Performance by Dennis Kennedy, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pages 1 to 3.
  44. ^Cahiers Elisabéthains: A Biannual Journal of English Renaissance Studies, Special Issue 2007: The Royal Shakespeare Company Complete Works Festival, 2006–2007, Stratford-upon-Avon, Edited by Peter J. Smith and Janice Valls-Russell with Kath Bradley
  45. ^
  46. ^Mark Shenton, "Jude Law to Star in Donmar's Hamlet."The Stage. 10 September 2007. Retrieved 19 November 2007.
  47. ^"Cook, Eyre, Lee And More Join Jude Law In Grandage's HAMLET." 4 February 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
  48. ^"Jude Law to play Hamlet at 'home' Kronborg Castle."The Daily Mirror. 10 July 2009. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
  49. ^Theatre programme, Everyman Cheltenham, June 2009.
  50. ^Michael Billington (2012-01-10). "Julius Caesar – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-07-05. 
  51. ^"Henry IV". St Ann's Warehouse. Retrieved 2016-07-05. 
  52. ^Katie Van-Syckle (2016-05-24). "Phyllida Lloyd Reveals Challenges of Bringing All-Female 'Taming of the Shrew' to Central Park". Variety. Retrieved 2016-07-05. 
  53. ^Young, Mark (ed.). The Guinness Book of Records 1999, Bantam Books, 358; Voigts-Virchow, Eckart (2004), Janespotting and Beyond: British Heritage Retrovisions Since the Mid-1990s, Gunter Narr Verlag, 92.


  • Arrowsmith, William Robson. Shakespeare's Editors and Commentators. London: J. Russell Smith, 1865.
  • Cappon, Edward. Victor Hugo: A Memoir and a Study. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1885.
  • Dryden, John. The Critical and Miscellaneous Prose Works of John Dryden. Edmond Malone, editor. London: Baldwin, 1800.
  • Düntzer, J. H. J., Life of Goethe. Thomas Lyster, translator. New York: Macmillan, 1884.
  • Glick, Claris. "William Poel: His Theories and Influence." Shakespeare Quarterly 15 (1964).
  • Hill, Erroll. Shakespeare in Sable. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.
  • Houseman, John. Run-through: A Memoir. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.
  • Jackson, Russell. "Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, 1994-5." Shakespeare Quarterly 46 (1995).
  • Nettleton, George Henry. English Drama of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century (1642–1780). London: Macmillan, 1914.
  • Pfister, Manfred. "Shakespeare and the European Canon." Shifting the Scene: Shakespeare in European Culture. Balz Engler and Ledina Lambert, eds. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2004.
  • Sprague, A. C. Beaumont and Fletcher on the Restoration Stage. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1954.
  • Tieck, Ludwig. Alt-englischen drama. Berlin, 1811.

External links[edit]

Frontispiece to The Wits (1662), showing theatrical drolls, with Falstaff in the lower left corner.
Restoration actor Thomas Betterton as Hamlet, confronted by his father's ghost (with both Hamlet and Gertrude in contemporary dress) (1709)

One thought on “Players Of Shakespeare Essays In Shakespearean Performance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *