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RSC, Here I Come!

10 Sep

My theatre challenge demands going to the theatre a lot and when better to start than with the Royal Shakespeare Company, which will be coming to London for a period of about 10 weeks between November and early February. For the last weeks I was a bit worried whether it would be very difficult to get tickets because the company is rather famous.

This morning, finally, it was possible to buy tickets and so I used my brandnew credit card for the very first time to order a bunch of them. I couldn’t really bring myself to buying tickets for all 9 Shakespeare plays because I am still not sure about my timetable and the exact dates of a holiday in Barcelona and a holiday at home for christmas which makes it rather hard to coordinate everything. BUT I have got 5 tickets for the following plays:

  • King Lear
  • Romeo & Juliet
  • Hamlet
  • The Winter’s Tale
  • Julius Caesar

There would still be The Comedy of Errors (but only for two daytime performances), Anthony & Cleopatra and As you like it.

I’m really looking forward to all of the performances and hope that I will not have to cancel one because of unforeseen appointments. For those of you who are interested in theatrical performances, I recommend the RSC’s promotional trailors on youtube.

Here are two examples:


The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

7 Sep

Having finished my flathunt earlier than anticipated I had the day off and could use it to explore London again. And, as is the case with nearly everything in life, London doesn’t only have all good parts but also some disadvantages and ugly sides to it. Therefore, I chose the title to this post in homage to an old Clint Eastwood western movie: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly.

my university

My day started off great! The sun was shining and I was in a good mood to discover my new home. So I chose to walk to the next bus stop just around the corner and go to my new university again where I wanted to have breakfast on the terrasse. However, I got into rush hour and today’s tube strike lead to the unfortunate consequence that most buses were so crowded that the drivers wouldn’t let anyone get on. So I had to walk for an hour to find a good spot to go on a bus which would take me to my university… not directly to the university, however, which wouldn’t have bothered me if it hadn’t started raining cats and dogs. I had no umbrella with me (stupid… really stupid) and had to spend another half an hour waiting (coincidentally in a book store 😉 ).

Musicians on Stage

So, my breakfast became a lunch and I was quite wet but it didn’t really matter because the next part of the day was just great. I went to the Globe Theatre were I had a guided tour (and spotted a mistake!), then I heard a talk about early modern stage costumes (and also started a discussion about a female casting of Richard III with an employee 🙂 ) and then I went to see The Merry Wives of Windsor! (Which is then play nr. 1 on my Theatre Challenge) It was really great and I enjoyed it a lot. Normally I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare’s comedies but the performance was incredibly funny and witty. 

Afterwards I made a huge step towards becoming a real Londoner: I bought me an Oyster Card. This is a prepaid

The world's mine oyster!

 card which can be used for the public transport in London and everyone here has one. But as I like to be a bit individual, I also bought me a wallet for me Oyster Card at the Globe Souvenir Shop, saying “The world’s mine oyster”.

So, these were all good and bad things about London. Now you might wonder, what I meant by “ugly”. Easy! I will never get used to seeing girls wearing plain black tights (which are never 100 % opaque anyway) and normal shirts. Why can’t they wear normal pants here?

Forget Juliet and Ophelia! Here comes Margaret!

27 Aug

Every Friday on facebook, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust  asks the question: “Which is your favourite female character in a Shakespeare play?” The answers are not really surprising most of the time with Juliet and Ophelia coming up again and again. I do understand this and can see why Ophelia, whose destiny as Hamlet’s rejected lover, is so alluring to young women. Ophelia’s fate is very universal and many women can identify with her at some stage of life. And in the case of Juliet, her story has become the archetypal image of endless, unconditional (and tragic) love not least through the countless reproductions in pop culture. Sometimes someone also mentions Much Ado’s Beatrice or Cleopatra but there are so many less famous Shakespearean women and I want to use this post to introduce my personal favourite: Queen Margaret.

[Spoiler Alert: This post includes spoilers concerning the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III.]


Margaret of Anjou, about 1445

Who’s Margaret?

The question is simple, the answer not so much and this is exactly what makes Margaret so interesting to me. The first important fact about Margaret is that she appears not in one play (as Juliet or Ophelia for instance 😉 ) but in all four plays of Shakespeare’s York tetralogy, namely the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III. She is introduced as young French princess in 1 Henry VI, ends up as old woman in Richard III and in between her first and last scene she assumes a wide range of different roles.

Appearing in Shakespeare’s history plays, his Margaret is based on a historic model: Margaret of Anjou (*1429, † 1482). I have to admit that I am not very well informed in terms of history and hence decided simply to refer you to the wikipedia article (so you can blame them in case of mistakes! 😉 ). Nevertheless, I can tell you something about Shakespeare’s Margaret.


The Many Lives of Margaret

Margaret’s first appearance on stage depicts her as a prisoner to the Earl of Suffolk who is very impressed by her beauty. When questioned about her identity, Margaret replies:

Margaret, my name, and daughter to a king,

The King of Naples, whosoe’er thou art. (1 Henry VI, 5.5.7 f.)

Suffolk then falls in love with her and decides to woo her… well, but not for himself but rather for the King of England, Henry VI, in order to establish peace between England and France and also to have Margaret close to him.

In the second part of Henry VI Margaret is the wife of Henry VI and therefore Queen of England. And believe me, she takes her role seriously! Considering the influence of the Duke of Gloucester on the king as dangerous, Margaret and some courtiers plot against him. And now you may guess who is one of her supporters: Suffolk! Margaret and Suffolk end up having an affair but of course the king is not amused and orders Suffolk’s banishment (and death) which leaves Margaret devastated.


To France, sweet Suffolk. Let me hear from thee.

For wheresoe’er thou art in this world’s Globe

I’ll have an Iris that shall find thee out.


I go.


And take my heart with thee. (2 Henry VI, 3.2.409-413)


Up to now we have seen Margaret as cunning queen and devoted lover but there are still more roles to play for her. In 3 Henry VI she appears as loving mother who fights for her son’s rights when her husband (a Lancastrian) wants to disinherit his son by transfering the right to the throne to the opposing House of York during the Wars of the Roses after his death. Margaret becomes a ruthless warrior queen then and personally kills the Duke of York… but only after having given him a handkerchief soaked with the blood of his murdered son to dry his tears.

But Shakespeare would not be Shakespeare if Margaret weren’t punished for her cruel behaviour. The three sons of the Duke of York take revenge and kill both Margaret’s husband, King Henry VI, and her son.

O Ned, sweet Ned, speak to thy mother, boy.

Canst thou not speak? O traitors, murderers!

They that stabbed Caesar shed no blood at all […]

How sweet a plant have you untimely cropped! (3 Henry VI, 5.5.51-53, 62)

So, now the Yorkist are in charge of England and Margaret is sent to exile in France, where the historic Queen Margaret died. BUT, not in Shakespeare! Shakespeare decides to give Margaret one last role to play and to rewrite the chronicles by bringing her back to the English court in Richard III. Here, Margaret acts as wise prophetess. She is “neither mother, wife, nor England’s queen” (Richard III, 1.3.208) and has nothing to lose anymore. Her curses in Richard III are powerful and her prophesies are accurate and only after having taught the rather powerless and weak women in the play how to curse, she can leave the stage for good.

So much diversity and complexity in her transformation from the romantic French princess to the ruthless queen and mother and finally to cursing crone makes Margaret my favourite Shakespearean character!

Theatre Challenge

19 Aug

London has many things to offer: pubs, sights, museums and.. theatres!

For a few days now, I am constantly bragging about how many theatre performances I want to watch when I am in London and today an interesting thought came to my mind: Would it be possible to watch a performance of every single Shakespeare play (38, not including plays like Double Falsehood which are problematic in terms of authorship) in London in one year?

From late November to early February the Royal Shakespeare Company will be performing 9 Shakespeare plays in London’s Roundhouse Theatre and I would be able to watch 3 plays of this year’s Globe Theatre season in September and early October. This would add up to 12 plays…

I am not sure whether this challenge is possible because I am aware of the problem that some plays are not performed very frequently compared to others. It would probably more likely be possible to watch 15 different Hamlets. Nevertheless, I decided that I am going to try it! I will try to get tickets to each of the 9 RSC performances (which will be difficult anyway) and I will watch the 3 Globe performances. And of course I will keep you updated about my progress in this challenge! Keep your fingers crossed!

P.S.: Whoever comes to London to visit me, is likely to be forced to accompany me to a performance… or alternatively you can wait in the next pub and already pre-order a glass of whiskey for me! Cheers

Plays Seen:

1. The Merry Wives of Windsor – Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – 7.9.2010

Who’s afraid of Anonymous?

15 Aug

Forget the freemasons! Forget the Illuminati and forget the whole Jesus-and-Mary-Magdalene-had-a-baby-thing. The new hip conspiracy theory circles around the greatest poet of all times: William Shakespeare. Well… to be more precise  it deals with this guy from Stratford-upon-Avon called William Shakespeare who pretended to be the playwright when actually Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, wrote all the plays. 


But first things first

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

 Those of you who have read Jasper Fforde’s Thursday-Next-Novels are already familiar with the Oxfordian theory and I guess most of the others will also already have heard of it. The theory claims that William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon is not the author of the plays and poems but merely acted as a dummy in order to protect the royal Edward de Vere, the actual playwright.

The so-called Anti-Stratfordians claim that there is no actually significant evidence that Stratford-Will is the author and they strengthen their assumptions by pointing out flaws in the mainstream view. They claim that Stratford-Will was not educated enough to have written all those highly complex plays, that he did not travel and could not have known all those places he wrote about or also that none of the six surviving signatures of Stratford-Will actually spells out “Shakespeare” (instead they are spelled Shaksp, Shakspe, Shakspe, Shakspere, Shakspere and Shakspeare). Furthermore, they often hint at supposed parallels concerning the life of de Vere and events in the plays and the sonnets. Among the Anti-Stratfordians (but not necessarily Oxfordians… there are more theories) were many famous people including Charlie Chaplin, Charles Dickens or Walt Whitman.

“All the rest of [Shakespeare’s] vast history, as furnished by the biographers, is built up, course upon course, of guesses, inferences, theories, conjectures — an Eiffel Tower of artificialities rising sky-high from a very flat and very thin foundation of inconsequential facts” by Mark Twain

But as is the case with every good conspiracy theory, this one also has a crucial flaw: Edward de Vere died in 1604.

Shakespeare's sonnets, published 1609

This is 5 years before Shakespeare’s sonnets were published and it is also before the supposed publication of plays like The Tempest or Macbeth. The Oxfordians’ counter-argument is that date of publication does not equal date of composition and that the actual composition predates 1604.

Why am I bringing this up?

The reason why I wrote this post is the upcoming Roland Emmerich movie entitled “Anonymous” (2011) starring Rhys Ifans (Hugh Grant’s freakish flatmate from Notting Hill) as the Earl of Oxford along famous Shakespearean actors including Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance who consider themselves Oxfordians. This movie has provoked a lot of outrage in the Shakespeare community and some scholars seem to be a bit intimidated by the threat this film might pose to their academic work.

Still, maybe we should be more aggressive in fighting our corner. Even though we are unlikely to change minds that are already made up we might be able to convince the waverers and defeat the proselytizers. I feel a campaign coming on. Wait for it! [by Stanley Wells. Source: ]

The main threat, however, is not seen in the movie itself. When a film plays with conspiracy theories, this does not automatically imply that the audience takes everything for granted. An entertainment film like Anonymous might actually also animate more people to read Shakespeare. What is considered the main problem about Anonymous is that – unlike The DaVinci Code or Illuminati – it comes with a full-length documentary.

Personally, I am curious how this is going to develop and how much Shakespeare will suddenly pop up in newspapers, magazines and on television after the release of Anonymous. Also, I am curious about how seriously they will handle the problem in the documentary which is accompanying the movie. Will they take care to show both sides of the medal? Will they try to advertise their movie by radically strengthening their claim? And how many people will actually watch the documentary?