WIL Festival 6.2: “The First Part of Henry IV”

 Plays about the life and times of Henry V, affectionately referred to as Hal (Nikolas Hoback), were big business in 1580s and ’90s England. There were multiple versions, some treating him as a hero and others as a villain who comes to be reformed, before William Shakespeare came on the scene. The History play genre was a new thing, brought to great success by an earlier company called the Queen’s Men. (Check out their plays, here.) I am convinced by Jim Marino’s argument that “The First Part of Henry IV with the life and death of Henry sir-named Hotspurre” was a revision, rethought by Shakespeare as part of a tetralogy, what some call the “Henriad” after Homer’s Iliad, rather than a stand-alone piece.

Similar to thinking about Shakespeare as an expert reviser, watching an “original practice” or First Folio performance take on any of the plays challenges your assumptions about what is and isn’t there. I discussed in a previous post the useful and necessary fiction that are critical editions of plays: they pull together all the extant versions of a play with a name like “King Lear” into one place. This isn’t really a different act than Shakespeare’s revising an old play new again, except that critical editing isn’t interested in (and typically doesn’t retain) performative coherence. And it’s not objective either: critical editing creates its own myths about what we want a play to mean at a particular point in time. Watching an O.P. production, a performance that picks one version of Shakespeare’s text and sticks with it, illuminates just what those myths are.

So what happened in this performance, where the actors trust their text?

From left: Mikki Lipsey (Duke of Northumberland) and Isabella Buckner (Hotspurre).

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WIL Festival 3.2: “The Tempest”

 “The Tempest” is a play concerned with books and authority. Caliban has a great deal of anxiety about books especially, arguing that they are the root of Prospero’s power:

Why, as I told thee, ’tis a custom with him,
I’ th’ afternoon to sleep: there thou mayst brain him,
Having first seized his books, or with a log
Batter his skull, or paunch him with a stake,
Or cut his wezand with thy knife. Remember
First to possess his books; for without them
He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command: they all do hate him
As rootedly as I. Burn but his books.

And where exactly did Prospero get his books? You might say that the conflict of the play is the elderly Gonzalo’s fault, who, when helping Prospero and Miranda escape the coup,

Out of his charity, being then appointed
Master of this design, did give us, with
Rich garments, linens, stuffs and necessaries,
Which since have steaded much; so, of his gentleness,
Knowing I loved my books, he furnish’d me
From mine own library with volumes that
I prize above my dukedom.

By the end of the play, Prospero connects the dismissal of his books and end of his powers—saying,

I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.

—with his own death. Having discarded these, married his daughter well, he plans his return to Milan, “where every third thought shall be [his] grave.” Like the play, the ways in which we talk about the relationship between William Shakespeare’s plays and their printing has much to do with managing narratives about death and books.

Brian Allard (Prospero).

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