Theater Review of McCarter Theatre Center’s “Antony and Cleopatra”

15854035-mmmainAntony and Cleopatra is classified as a Shakespearean tragedy; and yet, as is the case with much of the celebrated playwright’s work, its lines are infused with comedic relief and romance, as well. A ticket to this particular production at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center is worth its weight in Egyptian gold, simply as a cultural break from our frenetic modern routines. From the minute the house lights darken, until the tragic finale, the Berlind Theatre audience is treated to a sensory spectacle of theatrical proportions.

emily mannDirector Emily Mann’s stark yet effective set, transports the audience between the primary settings of Alexandria and Rome with the use of giant, illuminated obelisks in the background that alternate between hues of languid blue and regal maroon.

This visual effect also mirrors the mood of each scene, contrasting the blithe sanctuary of the lovers to the royal magnificence of Caesar’s palace and other locations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The costumes are classically understated, save Cleopatra’s glorious, gold-winged funeral ensemble. Silken fabrics drape the actors in colors as rich as the jewels of the ancient world.3-costumes2

4210210Sound plays a crucial role in setting the tone and fueling the plot. Surprisingly, while this theatrical element is also minimalist by design, (performed by one musician), its quality enhances the ambiance of the play, voluminously.

Thunderous booms evoke the Roman cavalry storming a battlefield, and delicately struck pipe bells resonate flute-like, as solo percussionist Mark Katsaounis works his harmonious magic from the corner, stage left. At the post-production discussion, several audience members commented on the emotional intensity of the score. Unfortunately, Katsaounis had to catch a train immediately following the performance, and could not accept the audience’s compliments personally.

nicole_ari__parker_and_esau_pritchett,_photo_by_t._charles_ericksonThe two-and-one-quarter-hour performance blew by with only a few bland, Roman soldier scenes that failed to hold my attention. Nicole Ari Parker’s performance as the mesmerizing Cleopatra validated the initial critical reviews; she is, indeed, talented and beautiful. Although I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed in her vocal presence that, at times, sounded shrill and lacked the commanding quality one would expect from a ruler. Due to the relentless performance schedule, as well as Parker’s admitted lack of Shakespearean acting chops, this minor flaw is excusable and did not interfere too much with the overall quality of her performance.

esau_pritchett_as_marc_antony,_photo_by_t._charles_ericksonHer romantic partner, however, played by the imposingly handsome Esau Pritchett, mastered his role with impressive talent. During the post-production discussion, Pritchett confessed to having played the lead in Othello on multiple occasions. Unlike his female counterpart, Pritchett’s Shakespearean expertise is evident in the strength and tenor of his vocal skills.

nicole_ari_parker_and_zainab_jah,_photo_by_t._charles_ericksonOne actor who particularly shone onstage was Zainab Jah, who played a secondary role as one of Cleopatra’s two female servant-companions. It was no surprise when Jah announced that she’d performed in at least half a dozen Shakespearean plays to date.

There were a few awkward moments when laughter erupted from some areas of the audience during scenes that were scripted as somber. One such occurrence was during the dramatic dual-suicide scene in which Antony’s personal guard, Eros, stabs himself after refusing Antony’s wishes to be killed. Antony then follows suit, driving the sword into his own chest in melodramatic Shakespearean fashion.

The actors, who seemed more curious, than disappointed, mentioned this peculiar reaction during their post-production discussion. While they attributed it to the genius of Shakespeare, I am more inclined to ascribe it to the relative immaturity of approximately one third of the audience who may have been experiencing Renaissance theatrics for the first time. Nonetheless, more convincing acting during these particular moments, might have achieved the intended reaction from the entire crowd, Shakespeare newbies as well as veteran theatergoers.

In spite of my minor criticisms, I encourage others to claim a seat for one undeniably entertaining night at the Berlind Theatre, before this performance run ends on October 5th. Travel in time, back to an ancient civilization where all roads led to Rome, yet one rogue Roman general and his Egyptian queen, were guided by their blind passion down a path to self-destruction.A&C

All photos courtesy of McCarter Theater Center’s website exclusively designed for this production:  http://www.mccarter.org/antonyandcleopatra/

Theater Alert: “Antony & Cleopatra” in Princeton!

A&C

As the summer melds gradually into autumn, it’s time to take in some theatrical delights.

And…I’m lucky to live very close to a wonderful theater in the vicinity of Princeton University campus:  McCarter Theatre.

This month, (from September 5 – October 5) theater-goers will be treated to a sultry rendition of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Emily Mann, an award-winning director and playwright who, as Artistic Director of McCarter Theatre for 25 years, directed over 125 productions.

The leads are played, respectively, by Esau Pritchett (Fences) and Nicole Ari Parker (Boogie Nights, Soul Food).

Click Antony and Cleopatra to be redirected to the informative website that contains links to educational resources regarding Shakespeare’s play, as well as the historical context.

The theater is located at 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ 08540.  For student and/or group discount rates, call McCarter Theatre Center directly at 609.258.ARTS(2787).

Start a fall tradition that enriches the soul by treating yourself to a little culture, Shakespeare style!

What’s John Lennon got to do with Shakespeare?

ImageFirst, I must apologize to my readers for the long hiatus I’ve taken from my blogging.  As most of you know, I’m a non-traditional college student writing my way to my first bachelor’s degree in English.

This semester, I took a break from my Shakespearean studies and just completed a class entitled:  “The Beatles and Their World” at The College of New Jersey.

I’ve never had more fun reading, researching, and writing than I’ve had while taking this course.

For my final paper, I chose to research the Beatle I had become fascinated with:  John Lennon.

John’s persona grew to mythical proportions during his lifetime.  After his murder, his image morphed into that of a martyred hero – at least for awhile.

Then the ugly stories began pouring out, page after page.

I wanted to play armchair psychologist and investigate a hunch that had nagged at me while reading about John’s volatile nature, which resonated with “Jeckyl and Hyde” overtones:

Could John Lennon have suffered from mental illness?

If you were ever curious to learn a little more about John Lennon, or wondered about this yourself, please take the time to read my paper.  (click on link below)

John was known for cutting through the bull—- and emphatically rejected the public’s idolatry of the Beatles; just feel the sarcasm in his ballad, “Working Class Hero.”

So, OK, this post has NOTHING to do with Shakespeare.  But consider this,

both Shakespeare and the Beatles are British “institutions”  AND both have developed into revered myths of the Modern World.

With that in mind, I think John would have forgiven me for stripping away his facade in order to get to the truth.

Exposing the Voice of Truth: A Psychological Profile of John Lennon

 

Julius Caesar conquers Philly!

For those of you in the NY/NJ/PA metro area looking for a Shakespeare fix, I’ve got a recommendation:

The Tragedy of Julius Caesarat the Lantern Theater in Center City PhiladelphiaDirected by Charles McMahonFebruary 6 - March 16, 2014

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
at the Lantern Theater in Center City Philadelphia
Directed by Charles McMahon
February 6 – March 16, 2014

This stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy stars Tony award nominee Forrest McClendon who thrilled the Philly audience last year with his powerful performance as Othello at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre.

forrest-mcclendonI had the pleasure of meeting Forrest after a performance of the aforementioned play last year; he is a warm and charismatic soul (and a brilliant talent) with a contagious enthusiasm for performing Shakespeare.  So, I look forward to witnessing his transformation into yet another Shakespearean tragic figure.

Tickets are selling quickly, so purchase yours now.  Student discounts are available, so I’m going to snag one ASAP!

For further information, check out the Lantern Theater Company’s website:  http://www.lanterntheater.org/

Reflections on my Southampton Project

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (circa 1618)

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (circa 1618)

After creating over 28 posts for my ongoing blog, Shakes-Query, I’ve completed my independent study focusing primarily on the assumption that Henry Wriothesley, the Third Earl of Southampton, was Shakespeare’s patron, as well as the poet’s muse.  I have read and referenced the following biographies:  The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton Shakespeare’s Patron by Charlotte Carmichael Stopes, and Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, by J.P.V. Akrigg.

I also incorporated information from non-traditional Shakespearean sources including:  Charles Beauclerk’s Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom and Hank Whittemore’s The Monument:  “Shake-Speare’s Sonnets” by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.  Work on the project began during the summer but continued on throughout the fall semester.

As of this date, Shakes-Query has 183 followers and is constantly promoted via Facebook and Twitter.  My blog’s readership includes:  college and high school students, college professors, primary and secondary ed teachers, other WordPress bloggers, and professionals in various fields of expertise.  My goal was to offer an approachable discussion platform to discuss all things “Shakespearean” and to encourage interest in the Shakespeare Authorship Question, and I believe I achieve this goal in increments every time I blog.  I’ve never referred to myself as a professional educator but rather as a student who enjoys passing on the knowledge I glean along my academic journey on and off campus.

Unfortunately, I was not able to add any new insight to the already exhaustive biographical research of authors Stopes and Akrigg.  To do so, I would first need access to historical documents and correspondence located in the archives of England, then time to sort through this information and see if I could connect any dots that previous biographers failed to recognize.  Needless to say, that’s a feat that would require much more time than one semester allows, in addition to funding for an overseas literary expedition.

What I have learned was that the foundation for designating Southampton as Shakespeare’s Patron is based primarily on conjectureThere was never any evidence discovered that proves a relationship existed between William Shakspere of Stratford-Upon-Avon and Henry Wriothesley the Third Earl of Southampton In fact, based upon my knowledge of class prejudices of Elizabethan England, interclass intimacy between a nobleman and a businessman was highly unlikely.  The only factual evidence is that the writer of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece dedicated these works to Southampton.  Mere speculation is all that connects Shakespeare’s Sonnets to this earl.

To me, there is reasonable doubt that “Shakespeare” was the man from Stratford and is most likely the pseudonym of someone else, most likely a member of the noble class.

I am grateful to the overwhelming literary information provided by my friends and mentors: Shelly Maycock, Professor of English at VA Tech; Sallie DelVecchio, Professor of English at Middlesex County College; Dr. Roger Stritmatter of Coppin State University; author Hank Whittemore; and other intellectual acquaintances of mine who continue to teach me, on a daily basis, about the many avenues and fine nuances yet to be explored in Shakespearean studies.

Keeping up with the new theories and scholarly discoveries is overwhelming at times, but always intellectually stimulating.  I’ve already learned so much about the key figures in Shakespeare’s world and will continue my research both on and off campus for years to come.

Finally, I would like to thank Professor Kathleen Webber for agreeing to mentor me in this academic endeavor.  Prior to taking her class, “Writing for Interactive Multimedia” at The College of New Jersey last semester, I never considered blogging.  Her class introduced me to the world of social media and taught me how to utilize its diverse outlets in both a professional and educational manner.  Shakes-Query was initiated as an assignment in Professor Webber’s class but continues to be a labor of love and an important part of my educational journey.

Southampton and the Tudor Rose Theory (Part 2 of 2)

In the Prince Tudor theory, Elizabeth I was only the Virgin Queen figuratively not literally.

It is rumored that during one of her royal progresses, particularly the one she took in August of 1572, she was intimately involved with the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.  He was, after all, the Queen’s favorite courtier at that point in time.  In a letter written at that time by Gilbert Talbot to his father the Earl of Shrewsbury, the queen “delighteth more in [Oxford's] personage and his dancing and his valiantness than any other” (Brougham 171).

Elizabeth_I_Rainbow_PortraitMiniature_of_Henry_Wriothesley,_3rd_Earl_of_Southampton,_1594._(Fitzwilliam_Museum)_cropped487px-Edward-de-Vere-1575

In a nutshell, the Prince Tudor/Tudor Rose theory suggests that Elizabeth and Oxford had a son.  He was placed in the Southampton household as the “Changeling Boy,” Henry Wriothesley, who eventually became the 3rd Earl of Southampton (Whittemore xxxviii).

Elizabeth_de_Vere

Portrait of Elizabeth de Vere, Countess of Derby

As previously stated, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, had been pressuring Wriothesley to marry his granddaughter Lady Elizabeth Vere.  As you may remember, she was also Oxford’s daughter.

If those first 17 Sonnets I’ve been referring to were written by Oxford using the pseudonym “Shake-speare,” wouldn’t it be incestuous for Oxford to be encouraging his own children to marry each other?

But according to records, Oxford initially rejected Elizabeth Vere as his child; in fact, he separated from his wife Anne in 1576 on charges of her alleged infidelity, and refused to see his daughter until almost 6 years later when he accepted her as his own.

This insight conveniently clears up the incest factor, at least during the Wriothesley-Vere marital negotiations.

MonumentsmNow, let’s return to those 17 Procreation Sonnets, and view them through the Prince Tudor lens as per Hank Whittemore‘s The Monument: “Shake-Speares Sonnets” by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.  The following is a brief excerpt from Whittemore’s 860+ page exposition on the entire collection of Shake-speare’s Sonnets.

“BEAUTY’S ROSE”

Opening the Fair Youth series, Oxford uses the royal “we” to command “fairest creatures” (royal children) to beget “increase” (heirs) to ensure that “beauty’s Rose” (Elizabeth’s Tudor Rose dynasty) might not end upon her death (“Rose” is capitalized and italicized in Q):

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die
– Sonnet 1, lines 1-2

This translates as the announcement of a dynastic diary:

From royal children the Queen and I command heirs,
So Elizabeth’s Tudor Rose Dynasty might not perish

From here on, we can view Edward de Vere as consistently using “fair” for Southampton’s royalty and “beauty” for Elizabeth and the Tudor lineage he inherited from her.

The Queen was known as “Beauty,” while “Rose” could not fail to echo the Tudor Rose dynasty begun by her grandfather, Henry VII, in 1485.

(Whittemore lxvi)

Tudor Rose

Tudor Rose

The symbolic Tudor Rose represents the union between the waring English houses of Lancaster and York which came as a result of a marriage between Henry VII of the Tudor dynasty and Elizabeth of York.

After this historical marriage in 1486, the War of the Roses came to an end and the Tudor Rose symbol, which combined the white and red roses of the two houses, was created.

And, yes, within that excerpt from Whittemore’s book lies another zinger which connects to a variant of the Prince Tudor theory.  This is referred to as Prince Tudor Theory Part 2 (“PT 2″).

This extension of the theory posits Edward de Vere as yet another bastard son of the Queen with her “stepfather,” Thomas Seymour as the father.  Elizabeth would have been merely 14 at the time of conception.

In the 2011 film Anonymous, Robert Cecil, played by Edward Hogg, relishes the moment as he reveals the identity of Oxford’s biological mother to the Earl.  At this point in the film, the devastated de Vere has just witnessed the failure of Essex and Southampton in their revolt against Cecil’s factions.  (See my earlier post “Guilty of Treason: Part 1″ for some historical info on this event.)

In the DVD commentary on the film, writer John Orloff states that he did not want the PT 2 scene included but that director Roland Emmerich wanted it to remain.

Edward Hogg portraying Robert Cecil in Anonymous

Edward Hogg portraying Robert Cecil in Anonymous.

Yes, this is the issue that divides otherwise like-minded Oxfordians into separate camps.  So, you can choose to opt in or out!  What are my feelings on the topic?  While I am intrigued by the evidence that shows a correlation between Elizabeth, Oxford, and the Earl of Southampton, I am also hesitant to assume full-membership into the PT camp.

I am curious if there is any evidence that can prove a connection between Oxford and Mary Browne.  I would like to study that possibility more in depth.

But I do highly recommend Hank Whittemore’s blog: http://hankwhittemore.wordpress.com/

or purchase a copy of either Shakespeare’s Son and His Sonnets or The Monument for a more comprehensive look into his interpretation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, as well as other matters regarding Oxford and the Shakespeare Authorship Question.

Southampton and the Tudor Rose Theory (Part 1 of 2)

I’ve hesitated to write this blog post for quite some time now because just the mention of it can trigger a volatile debate.  What I’m referring to is the Prince Tudor, or Tudor Rose theory.

Since I have hinted at it in several posts already, it’s time for me to elaborate for those who are new to the concept.

CAUTION:  For those of you who feel strongly against this theory, this would be the time to change the channel!

beauclerkThere are a few variations to this theory, but I will focus primarily on excerpts from Charles Beauclerk’s book, Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom and in The Monument by Hank Whittemore.  Since this project’s main focus is on Southampton, I won’t get too involved in de Vere’s story right now.

To begin, I have chosen to discuss this theory because it provides a specific lens for interpreting the Sonnets and therefore relates to my independent study.  In this blog project, however, I’ve only focused upon the 17 Procreation Sonnets and the interpretation that implies they were written by Shakespeare to a young man.

If this is true, and if Henry Wriothesley was the addressee of these poems, it appears as if the poet is encouraging the young earl to marry and start making “copies” of himself.

The language is intimate, indeed, but it can be viewed from a homosexual lover-to-lover perspective or even from that of a father-to-son relationship.  Let’s assume the collection of Sonnets are of an autobiographical nature, and that the poet is addressing the young man as if he was his own son.

If you recall, in my previous post entitled “The Young Earl: ‘Harry’ Wriothesley,” I mentioned that the 2nd Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley “Senior,” had been imprisoned for his involvement in the Ridolfi Plot.

Portrait of Mary (Browne) Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton, aged about 13, at the time of her marriage, 1565 as painted by Hans Eworth.

Portrait of Mary (Browne) Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton, aged about 13, at the time of her marriage, 1565 as painted by Hans Eworth.

When an earl spent time in the Tower, he did not necessarily live in squalor, and may have been allowed conjugal visits.

So, we cannot completely rule out “HW Sr.” as the biological father of “HW Jr.,” but, suspiciously, soon after the elder Wriothesley was released from prison, his relationship with his wife, Mary Browne, went downhill.

The Countess was moved to another estate and forbidden to see her young son.

To quote Beauclerk:

Mary Browne, the Countess of Southampton, had given birth to a son on October 6, 1573, but there is no record of a baptism for the baby, who may have died in infancy or been placed with another family in preparation for the adoption of the queen’s son.  Either way, her child was probably illegitimate and not a Wriothesley at all, for the earl, her husband, was in the Tower when the child was conceived and she was rumored to be having an affair with “a common person” by the name of Donesame, pretext enough in those days for the removal of the baby.  (106)

Stopes explains how young Harry was kept in his father’s custody and that the “Earl secluded himself more and more among his followers and estranged himself from his wife” (3).

Although the Countess attempted to make contact and explain herself to her husband, her attempts were hampered by the messengers, the Earl’s servants.  One in particular, Thomas Dymock, seems to have been the most influential in keeping the couple separated and was even designated an executor of the Earl’s will.

As mentioned in my post, “The Young Earl: Harry Wriothesley,” Harry’s wardship was “sold” and as an underage “Queen’s Ward” (Stopes 17), William Cecil became Harry’s legal guardian.

Yes, I’m sure you caught those ominous words in Beauclerk’s quote:  “the adoption of the queen’s son.”

More details to follow in “Southampton and the Tudor Rose Theory (Part 2 of 2)!”

lhertzel_1303424945_quill-penTo Be Continued…

“To Be Or Not To Be: Shakespeare”

Middlesex County College’s Honors Program Lecture Series
Professor Sallie DelVecchio
presents:

Photo of Holy Trinity church, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, England.

“Shakespeare monument” at Holy Trinity church, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, England.

“To Be Or Not To Be: Shakespeare” 

This presentation (click on hyperlink above) features a discussion of new scholarship, new movies and suggests avenues for further searching into the identity of The Bard. (57:51)  Published on Mar 21, 2012 to YouTube.

Southampton: Shakespeare’s Patron?

OK, time for some personal commentary on my Southampton independent study project.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton; date uncertain, c. 1590

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton; c. 1590

I’ve had my nose buried in two well-respected biographies about Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, since the spring semester ended:

The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton Shakespeare’s Patron by Charlotte Carmichael Stopes and Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton by G.P.V. Akrigg.

While I’ve learned so much about this nobleman from these authors, what baffles me the most is their assumptions that Southampton was Shakespeare’s patron.

In the Elizabethan era, when a writer had secured the patronage of a wealthy nobleman, an expression of gratitude for receiving payment from the writer to the patron would typically grace the opening page.

Diana Price, in her book Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography:  New Evidence of an Authorship Problem, writes:  “Shakespeare’s two dedications to Southampton make no mention of ‘bounty’ received or ‘pay and patronage'” (143).

If we read over the wording on the dedication pages of both Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, we can confirm Price’s statement.  (click on images to enlarge)

venus & adonis dedDedication_page_of_The_Rape_of_Lucrece_by_William_Shakespeare_1594

In following orthodox authorship theory, we can view these dedications as the poet’s attempt to gain patronage; yet, nothing in the wording implies it was ever accepted.  Furthermore, there is no evidence connecting the man from Stratford-upon-Avon with SouthamptonIn fact, neither Stopes nor Akrigg were able to produce anything more than conjecture on this imaginary relationship.  Here are some examples of the writers’ assumptions I came across in my research:

Here must be introduced … the present writer’s theory of Southampton’s life, based upon long work and logical inferences. … It seems most likely that Southampton introduced himself, willing the player to come to him … because [Southampton] felt that the poet also was suffering something of what he suffered, rebellion against his fate and its limitations.  He felt he must have a private talk with this “man from Stratford,” and took him home with him to supper. (Stopes 40-41)

AND

If the present writer must add his own guess as to where and when Shakespeare and Southampton first met, he would suggest a backstage meeting in a London playhouse sometime in 1591-92.  The person who first presented Shakespeare to the Earl may have been Sir George Carew, whose marriage in 1580 to a Clopton heiress had made him a great man around Stratford … he could be expected to take an interest in a Stratford man with a mounting reputation in London.    (Akrigg 193)

Even though Akrigg had gained access to the Wriothesley Papers the late 1960s, he was no more successful at connecting the dots as Stopes had been in her 1922 endeavor.

640px-Elizabeth_I,_Procession_Portrait.

Procession portrait of Elizabeth I of England c. 1601. Attributed to Robert Peake the Elder

Now I want you to peruse the personal tone of those dedications again.  Keeping in mind the social class ideology of Elizabethan England, where class barriers existed, how do you suppose Shakespeare got away with such a public display of intimacy between himself and an earl?  When pondering this, leave out whatever romantic notions you may have acquired from Hollywood!

Take this thought one step further; assuming that Sonnets 1-17the so-called Procreation Sonnets, were directed to  the 19-year old Henry Wriothesley, what was Shakespeare’s impetus to urge this young earl to marry and procreate?

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford

Hence, we return to the Authorship Debate, and the leading candidate:  Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

If he authored the sonnets, the aforementioned poems, and perhaps other masterpieces from the famous canon we attribute to Shakespeare, what was his connection to Southampton?

(to be continued…)

Watch “Anonymous” for free!

Anonymous

I’ve mentioned the 2011 Roland Emmerich film, Anonymous, in several of my blog posts.  If you have yet to see this film, here’s a way you can do so for free online via Crackle.com.

Enjoy!

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