Elizabeth I looms in the background of Shakespeare’s early-to-mid work like the spectre at the feast.
It isn’t solely the question of censorship: she is, I think, the yardstick for every depiction of monarchy, leadership or indeed of strong women. Remember, too, that after a frantic period when the monarch (and ruling religion) changed every few years, she assumed the throne before Shakespeare was born, and was perhaps one of the few constants in that dangerous, fluid age, until she died in 1603.
She was also a real anachronism – a woman ruler in an incredibly patriarchal society. But was she a feminist? Should she be regarded as a feminist icon now?
“this it is, when men are ruled by women” – or at least by their groins …
Although I’m never going to end up on stage, I often compare teaching to acting.
Non-teachers, think for a second: up to six performances a day, with audiences who require subtly different characterisations from you. (My timetable goes from Y12 to Y7 without interval on a Friday afternoon, for instance). That plus the teacher persona you can only shrug off when you’re safely indoors (because even walking down the street you end up intervening when you see pupils in uniform mucking about). To say nothing of the range of people you have to be – in five minute chunks – at Parents’ Evenings …
No wonder I’m perpetually exhausted.
But if I were asked to play a Shakespearean role, what would be my top three choices?
… is that the job is, frankly, shit. And that you have to be a shit to do it successfully.
PTS read-through: King John, Act IV.
If you’re not ‘born great’, if you want to achieve greatness, you have to put in the hours, right? Just think of the graft involved: wheeling and dealing; equivocating; making and breaking alliances; sucking up; marrying well (not, alas, for love); adding colours to the chameleon; changing shapes with Proteus; and generally setting the murderous Machiavel to school.
I mentioned the other day that I was coming into King John blind, apart from the Disney film and a vague notion of the Magna Carta. The little I am beginning to accumulate through secondary reading and the play itself is startling.
Having broken out of my Romeo and Juliet-induced enervation, I approached King John with a sense of excitement bolstered by my positive experiences with the Henry VI plays. Unusually, maybe impatiently, I skipped my Arden’s introduction and got stuck in after finding these hopeful signs elsewhere:
“a neglected play about a flawed king” [a]
“King John has all the beauties of language and all the richness of the imagination to relieve the painfulness of the subject.” [b]