Sunday, February 11, 2007


Between 7:30 pm on Friday and 6:00 pm on Saturday, Clara and I spent nine hours sitting spellbound in the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, watching the absolutely brilliant and breathtaking Royal Shakespeare Company production of Henry VI, Parts I, II and III. The Henry VI plays, the first three plays of the "first tetralogy" (the fourth is Richard III), cover the bloody events of the Wars of the Roses, beginning with the burial of King Henry V and ending with the return to the throne of King Edward IV after years of civil war between the Lancastrians and the Yorkists. A complete understanding of the plays requires an understanding of the complex dynastic politics of fifteenth-century England. It helps to have the family tree of the descendents of King Edward III in front of you—although it is brilliantly laid out in one of the central scenes in Part II. One of the remarkable things about this production was its clarity. The pacing was also remarkable: nine hours of Shakespeare, and never once did the action lag, never once did I find myself stealing glances at my watch. The cycle of Henry VI plays is early Shakespeare—his first attempt at writing history plays. It was interesting to hear his language becoming more sophisticated and assured, and to observe his increasing skill as a dramatist. This was one of only two opportunities this year to see the three plays sequentially over a single weekend (it was also possible to see the four-hour Richard III yesterday evening). Next year, the RSC will be adding the second tetralogy to their repertory: Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V. The plays are directed by the RSC artistic director, Michael Boyd, and the ensemble cast is absolutely brilliant.

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