Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Journey to Richard II: Part 20

Richard II
Shakespeare & Co.; Lenox, MA
July 2013
A series of posts about my journey through the works of Shakespeare--on the page, on the stage.

As I've written here before, when I was a senior at Hiram College, my parents gave me the forty-volume set of the Yale Shakespeare. A little blue volume for each play, a volume of sonnets, another of poems, a volume about the Bard himself. A couple of times I read my way through all of them. But there was one problem: That particular set did not include The Two Noble Kinsmen, a play Shakespeare wrote in collaboration with John Fletcher, who was fifteen years younger than the Bard and was his playwriting heir at the Globe and Blackfriars. The play now does appear in Bard collections, including the one I like the best, Complete Works edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen and published by the Modern Library in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company (picture at left).

Here's what Bate and Rasmussen say about it: "Active collaboration is generally assumed but the possibility of Fletcher taking over an incomplete Shakespearean work cannot be ruled out" (2357). They date the play around 1613-1614 and think there's an allusion in the text to the fire that destroyed the Globe in 1613. Shakespeare was pretty much done by this time. His great play The Tempest was in 1611. He would write no other work by himself--that we know of--between then and his death back in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616.

I probably don't need to say that Kinsmen is rarely produced? It was not included in Shakespeare's First Folio (the thirty-six plays collected and published in 1623 by his former shareholders in the Globe), and producers today of the Bard's plays, as I've indicated before in these posts, are often fearful of mounting productions of plays that are not going to attract audiences. Romeo and Juliet: crowd; Pericles, Prince of Tyre: no crowd. And such, of course, is the case with The Two Noble Kinsmen.

As Joyce and I were nearing the end of our quest to see all the plays onstage, I was perfectly ready to claim we'd seen them all once we'd seen Richard II. But then we learned late last winter that the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA, was doing Kinsmen. I got online, bought tickets, and Joyce and I drove down to Staunton again (remember, we'd seen Titus Andronicus for the first time there), about 400 miles southeast of us (it's not far from Charlottesville, VA--about forty miles). You'll recall that in Staunton the ASC uses a replica of Shakespeare's Blackfriars Theater, the indoor venue they used from 1610 on. And the ASC works to produce the plays in a fashion that would be familiar to Elizabethan audiences: not much in the way of props and scenery, low-level lighting the entire production, musicians onstage, lots of interplay with the audience (some of whom are sitting on the stage), etc.

Here's a little note I wrote in my journal that night ...

... stopped at a coffee shop ere heading over to the theater where we saw a fine production of The Two Noble Kinsmen, a play that is a comedy—but with a dark center, as well (the death at the very end of one of the kinsmen, who have been fighting over the same woman virtually the entire play); love makes you crazy, a definite theme; fine performances all around ...

The Two Noble Kinsmen
ASC, March 2013
And now, with the Kinsmen in our rear-view mirror, only Richard II remained, a wonderful play, but one, again, that is rarely produced.  

NEXT: At last--we fins a production of Richard II ...

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