If there’s one thing my (currently stuttering) Pony Tail Shakespeare read-through project has given me so far, it’s a greater love for the History Plays. Once the project is (eventually) finished, I’m looking forward to reading them again merely for pleasure.
Despite variously labelling them ‘Shakespeare for the Game of Thrones generation‘, ‘Shakespeare for people who think they don’t like Shakespeare‘, and occasionally, ‘dumbed-down Shakespeare‘, I’m a big fan of the BBC‘s Hollow Crown productions (NOT a complete Shakesnob, honestly)! They inevitably bring the stories more easily into the real world, particularly with their use of location: the history seems to come alive, and we are reminded that much of this – very broadly – actually happened.
They’re also very useful for teaching purposes. Firstly, the OCR A Level Richard III students are required to ‘explore different interpretations of the texts’ (AO5, troops), so figuring out director Dominic Cooke‘s vision and methods are useful, if not essential, skills – anything he actually says is therefore worth listening to – hence one of the quotations I have selected below. It’s hard to resist the view that (despite not being written in chronological order), the eight-play history cycle running from RII to RIII is a coherent narrative of the travails of a nation following the unlawful usurpation of its rightful king: even if that does play into the hands of Tudor propagandists. This makes RIII, in the TV parlance that The Hollow Crown invites me to use in class, the ‘season finale‘ for season 2 – and that helps students access the back story, it seems.
In fact, RIII is the programme’s final episode. Ever. This pleases me, at a time when other texts, like Margaret Atwood‘s unforgettable The Handmaid’s Tale are being ruthlessly over-exploited by risk-averse TV executives. [a] and [b] This is where I put on my political hat and liken capitalism to a plague of locusts – eating everything of value and then leaving a ruin behind it, and sometimes that includes a writer’s reputation amongst non-readers. Not that too much has changed, I guess: in this Marlovian Summer, it’s worth pointing out that Kit produced a sequel to capitalise on the success of Tamburlaine the Great …
Anyway, from one Margaret to another – every long-running show needs its long-standing characters, and Margaret of Anjou, the ‘tiger’s heart wrapt in a woman’s hide’ [c] has survived whilst – much like Game of Thrones – minor heroes and villains, Talbot, Gloucester, Joan of Arc, Warwick, have come and gone. I’ve therefore included the second extract from Cooke’s interview to reflect the fact that it’s not just me who believes Margaret to be pivotal to the overarching narrative.
In essence, we shaped the films retrospectively from the killing of the Princes in Richard III, and focussed on the gradual moral disintegration of England. For us, England is the central character, which is why the opening shot of the first film is the white cliffs of Dover. Through the four plays England has a kind of nervous breakdown until the healer, Richmond, appears and she finds her equilibrium again. […]
Margaret is a choric figure. She’s a protagonist but also a witness to the whole cycle. She starts as a young woman and ends as a battle-scarred survivor in her sixties who turns the tables on Richard. Sophie [Okonedo] has access to Margaret’s range as a character – from the wild warrior to the wily politician.[d]
It’s also worth pointing out what a superb job Sophie Okonedo does with such a varied role, channeling Margaret’s allure, pride, grief and power absolutely convincingly. What a brilliant piece of casting …
Thankfully, we can’t have a third series of The Hollow Crown, but what about adaptations of the Roman plays? Are you listening, Dominic Cooke?
* it’s probably about time I stopped calling it Quote of the Week, when that’s patently incorrect … new year of QotW, new era of pedantic accuracy …
[a] Lanre Bakare, ‘TV’s Boom and Bust Cycle: why shows are hot and then suddenly not’, (The Guardian, 02 August, 2018)
[b] Lucy Todd, ‘Handmaid’s Tale: was it right to take the series beyond the book?’, (BBC, 13 August 2018)
[c] William Shakepeare, King Henry VI part III (act I, sc,iv), accessed at www.opensourceshakespeare.org
[d] Dominic Cooke, interviewed by Pat Reid, Shakespeare Magazine, issue 10, http://www.shakespearemagazine.com