Shakespeare Season

Today, Shakespeare’s Globe announced their autumn/winter season at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Four Shakespeare plays will be performed; all were written in the final stage of Shakespeare’s career. Two of these plays – The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale – are staged regularly, but the other two – Pericles and Cymbeline – are not as commonly performed. It is hoped that the season will yield some interesting insights into how these apparently demanding plays were staged. In Cymbeline, Jupiter descends on an eagle and throws a thunderbolt. That’ll be interesting. People clamour for Shakespeare, and that’s understandable. There are commercial imperatives at work and, in any case, it will be good to get an extended opportunity to see Shakespeare plays in the environment of the SWP. 

But I do have a gripe. In its first two years, the SWP was home to a number of Renaissance plays. Most of them were tragedies, which was a bit of a shame, especially since The Knight of the Burning Pestle was such a success, but I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to see these plays, even if I didn’t always like the productions themselves. It’s a shame, then, that there are no not-Shakespearean Renaissance plays in the new season, but worse than that is the accompanying advertising rhetoric, which imagines the last two seasons as a kind of experiment. The implication here is that the plays performed at the SWP during this time, many of them wonderful in their own right, are awkward failures, or half-successes. The experimenting is over, it is implied, and now the finished work will be revealed: Shakespeare. I’m not really surprised by this, but it is disappointing, especially since the Globe have done great work in making these plays available. Indeed, later tonight, they’ll be using the SWP for a very worthy event: the Back by Popular Demand Read Not Dead. Sadly, the experiment rhetoric does Renaissance drama no favours. It risks making things like Read Not Dead seem a token.

Retrospectively, the solution to this might have been to have integrated Shakespeare into the programme from the beginning. That two years of non-Shakespeare have been followed by one year of all-Shakespeare has only served to strengthen the divide between the Shakespearean and the non-Shakespearean.

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13 thoughts on “Shakespeare Season

  1. Reblogged this on non sanz droict and commented:
    I understand the gripe, and I agree it would be a shame if both houses at the Globe did not go on and strive to give a fuller view of the Early Modern stage than we ususally have, by staging Shakespeare among other playwrights. But I am not convinced it is to be feared from that tweet. I also understand the need to maybe find one’s bearings in a new playhouse while producing more straightforward scripts (if that’s what they were), before tackling Cymbeline or The Tempest.

  2. I understand the gripe, and I agree it would be a shame if both houses at the Globe did not go on and strive to give a fuller view of the Early Modern stage than we ususally have, by staging Shakespeare among other playwrights. But I am not convinced it is to be feared from that tweet. The experimenting might not be over, just of age. I also understand the need to maybe find one’s bearings in a new playhouse ,while producing more straightforward scripts (if that’s what they were), before tackling Cymbeline or The Tempest.

  3. On its own, the tweet is simply careless at worst, but I think it’s part of a wider picture (including press releases, facebook posts etc). The difficulty is that the Globe and SWP have done enterprising work opening up the drama of this period to a wider public. On the one hand, I should give them a break – they do more than most. On the other hand, I have to be hard on them, because they have undermined the good work they’ve done. That, more than the scheduling, is my real gripe. They had a chance (and maybe even an incentive) not to belittle their own productions, but they went for Shakespeare veneration instead.

    I’m not sure that the plays they staged were necessarily more straightforward. Pestle worked really well, but it’s a mad and tricky play. Equally, they could have done a more straightforward Shakespeare play in the earlier seasons, and kept space for a less straightforward non-Shakespeare play in the third season, if that is the logic.

    No problem about duplication: I think I’ve got rid of it and anyway, I once posted three replies in one go so I feel your pain! I do think that it will be interesting, also, to see what the Globe do with Pericles and Cymbeline especially.

    1. I get it— spare the rod… Well I hope they get it too and the change of director will not mean a less adventurous take on their mission.
      And thank you for your understanding!

      1. No problem at all! If anything, the new director is likely to be more adventurous, I think, though whether that means more adventurous Shakespeare, or more adventurous Renaissance drama, is less clear!

  4. I agree – it’s a really hamfisted tweet! But perhaps this will help assuage your fears?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/11636055/Dominic-Dromgoole-We-have-a-tradition-in-the-British-theatre-of-knowing-when-your-time-is-up.html

    Here’s what he has to say: “This winter’s season in our indoor Sam Wanamaker Playhouse will therefore be my last, and the run of four Shakespeare plays that we announced today – Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, known collectively as the late plays or romances – feel like the right way to say goodbye.”

    It sounds like this choice may have more to do with Dominic Dromgoole’s exit than the Globe’s stance on non-Shakespearean early modern drama as a whole (despite the terrible wording of that tweet).

    1. I think it’s definitely possible that this is a Dromgoole thing, rather than a Globe thing, as you suggest, but to a large extent what Dromgoole goes defines the Globe. I think this season sends out a message about the relative value of the Shakespearean and the non-Shakespearean which is at odds with what the previous seasons seem to have been saying. The tweet may simply be hamfisted, but I’m concerned it does actually capture something of what the Globe are doing here.

      I’m looking forward to seeing what Emma Rice does when she takes over. Will she be interested in staging non-Shakespeare? I’d be curious to see whether this kind of situation occurs again.

      1. I guess what I mean is that I think the message is inadvertent, rather than an actual indication that people at the Globe think they’re now “done” with other early modern dramatists and can now get back to the important one. It looks to me like it’s a case of Dromgoole wanting to do these plays in this particular space because it’s his last chance to do so, and unfortunately without that back story, it does look as though the Globe is turning away from other early modern drama. But I suppose we’ll all have to wait and see!

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