Category Archives: History

WHEN MILTON MET SHAKESPEARE: POET’S NOTES ON BARD APPEAR TO HAVE BEEN FOUND ·

(Alison Flood’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/16.)

Hailed as one of the most significant archival discoveries of modern times, text seems to show the Paradise Lost poet making careful annotations on his edition of Shakespeare’s plays

Almost 400 years after the first folio of Shakespeare was published in 1623, scholars believe they have identified the early owner of one copy of the text, who made hundreds of insightful annotations throughout: John Milton.

The astonishing find, which academics say could be one of the most important literary discoveries of modern times, was made by Cambridge University fellow Jason Scott-Warren when he was reading an article about the anonymous annotator by Pennsylvania State University English professor Claire Bourne. Bourne’s study of this copy, which has been housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia since 1944, dated the annotator to the mid-17th century, finding them alive to “the sense, accuracy, and interpretative possibility of the dialogue”. She also provided many images of the handwritten notes, which struck Scott-Warren as looking oddly similar to Milton’s hand.

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FIONA SHAW AND KIRSTEN SHEPHERD-BARR ON ELEONORA DUSE (BBC RADIO 4) ·

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Fiona Shaw, BAFTA award-winning star of Killing Eve, joins Matthew Parris to explore the life of one of history’s most remarkable actresses whose name has slipped from public memory. She inspired Stanislavski’s ‘method’, changed Chekhov’s mind about acting, and took Chaplin’s breath away – the nineteenth-century performer, Eleonora Duse. Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, professor of English and Theatre Studies at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps Fiona and Matthew uncover the drama of Duse’s life, both on and off the stage. Producer: Camellia Sinclair.

 

WHY DID THE SOVIETS NOT WANT US TO KNOW ABOUT THE PIANIST MARIA GRINBERG? ·

(Damian Thompson’s article appeared in the Spectator, 9/7.)

She was one of only four women to record the complete Beethoven piano sonatas but the state kept her in obscurity

Only four women pianists have recorded complete cycles of the Beethoven piano sonatas: Maria Grinberg, Annie Fischer, H. J. Lim and Mari Kodama. I’ve written before about the chain-smoking ‘Ashtray Annie’ Fischer: she was a true poet of the piano and her Beethoven sonatas are remarkably penetrating — as, alas, is the sound of her beaten-up Bösendorfer. Lim produced her cycle in a hurry when she was just 24; it’s engaging but breathless. Kodama’s set, just completed, is a bit polite.

Which leaves Maria Grinberg (1908–78), whose recordings remain just where the Soviet authorities wanted them. In obscurity. That is shameful — and not because she was the first woman and the first Russian to record all the sonatas. (In those days Jews from Odessa in Ukraine counted as Russians.) This is an unforgettable cycle. Unforgettable, that is, in the unlikely event that you’ve heard it.

(Read more)

THE 10 BEST PLAYS ABOUT POLITICS ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/4.)

As Hansard opens at the National Theatre and drama heats up in Westminster, our critic picks his favourite political theatre

  1. Coriolanus(1607) by William Shakespeare

Whose side is Shakespeare on? As always, it is difficult to tell. Coriolanus is an arrogant military patrician who proves indispensable to the state. The people’s tribunes have a legitimate grievance against a hero who has sanctioned civic starvation, while themselves being devious manipulators. Claimed as both an incitement to revolution and a piece of quasi-fascist hero-worship, the play is magnificently ambivalent.

  1. Fuenteovejuna(1619) by Lope de Vega

This is world drama’s “I am Spartacus” moment. When a brutally rapacious military commander is killed, the inhabitants of a Spanish village are tortured to disclose the name of his murderer. Their joint cry of “Fuenteovejuna did it” is a momentous tribute to the power of collective action. Yet Lope’s ultimate endorsement of monarchical authority suggests that even popular protest, here led by women, is tinged with historical irony.

  1. Mary Stuart(1800) by Friedrich Schiller

No one understood better than Schiller the devious machinations of politics. On the face of it this is a romantic tragedy about two warring queens, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. But the greatest scene shows Elizabeth beset by contradictory arguments about Mary’s fate. Some argue for execution, others for clemency, while Leicester ingeniously suggests that Mary should live “in the shadow of the axe”. This is power in action with each case reflecting the tactical acumen of the speaker.

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Photo: The New York Times

MARCEL PROUST’S IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME WITH DEREK JACOBI (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4—LINK BELOW) ·

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Timberlake Wertenbaker’s adaptation from the French of Marcel Proust’s allegorical reflection on time, memory, art and love.

It begins with the vivid memory of a young boy’s childhood summers spent in the French countryside of Combray and the long nights waiting for his mother to come and kiss him goodnight. The young Marcel takes beautiful walks with his parents and has his first sighting of the young Gilberte Swann, daughter of family friend and well-connected Parisian Dandy, Charles Swann and his wife, the courtesan and seductress Odette de Crecy.

Cast:
MARCEL (narrator) ………Derek Jacobi
FATHER ………Oliver Cotton 
FRANCOISE ………Susan Brown 
MOTHER ………Sylvestra le Touzel 
GRANDMOTHER ………Joanna David 
TANTE LEONIE .……Pamela Miles 
GILBERTE (girl) ………Mary Glen 
ODETTE …………..Bessie Carter 
SWANN ………… Paterson Joseph 
MADEMOISELLE VINTEUIL/PROSTITUTE …. Charlotte Blandford 
THE DUCHESS DE GUERMANTES (Oriane) …………… Fenella Woolgar 
MADAME DE VERDURIN ………Frances Barber 
PIANIST …………Daniel Whitlam 
DOCTOR COTTARD …………Lloyd Hutchinson 
MARCEL(boy) ………Isaac Watts 
MONSIEUR VERDURIN …………Jeff Rawle
FEMALE FRIEND……….Phoebe Marshall

Translated and adapted from the French by Timberlake Wertenbaker
Produced and directed by Celia de Wolff
Production Co-ordinator: Sarah Tombling
Recording and Sound Design: David Chilton and Lucinda Mason Brown
Executive Producer: Peter Hoare

A Pier production for BBC Radio 4

5 GREAT RUSSIAN PLAYWRIGHTS YOU SHOULD KNOW ·

(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond, 8/16.)

Russian plays are no less famous in the theater and opera world than the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in the literary. If you see any of the following authors on the bill, grab a ticket quick!

So you think Russian theater began with Anton Chekhov? Nyet. Pieces for the stage started appearing in Russia in the 18th century, largely composed under the influence of ancient dramatists and the French playwrights Moliere and Beaumarchais. One of the most famous (and funny) of that time is Denis Fonvizin’s The Minor, about a mummy’s boy fussed over so much that he is incapable of tying his own shoelaces.

Russian drama was in some ways revolutionized by diplomat Alexander Griboedov’s Woe from Wit (1822–24), which introduced political satire into the set-piece predicaments of older plays, and spoke to the audience in livelier, more colloquial language.

Unfortunately, Fonvizin and Griboedov were both one-hit wonders. However, the coming generations churned out masterpiece upon masterpiece, nearly all of which are still regularly staged to this day. Here are the must-sees.

  1. Alexander Pushkin

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Ateneum, Tretyakov Gallery, Public domain

FREDERICK DOUGLASS, A SHAKESPEAREAN IN WASHINGTON ·

(John Muller’s article appeared in Shakespeare and Beyond, 7/19; via Pam Green.)

In his life and times Frederick Douglass was known around the world as an orator, abolitionist, suffragist, and reformist. While living in Washington, DC, where he spent the last quarter-century of his life, he was also known to many as an admirer of William Shakespeare.

Today, tens of thousands of people visit the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site each year at Cedar Hill, Douglass’s home in Anacostia, where the library shelves hold volumes of Shakespeare’s complete works and a framed print of Othello and Desdemona hangs above the mantle in the west parlor.

Douglass frequently alluded to Shakespeare in his oratory and was known to attend performances of Shakespeare at local Washington theatres. On at least two occasions Douglass served as a thespian for the Uniontown Shakespeare Club, a community theater company.

Furthermore, as a philanthropic patron of the arts, Frederick Douglass used his networks and influence within Washington society to support and advance the careers of Black artists, nearly a century before the Black Arts Movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

(Read more)

Listen to a BBC Radio 4 “In Our Time” broadcast on Douglass 

ANDREA ANDRESAKIS: MY WOODSTOCK ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE ·


Andrea Andresakis, Stage Director/Choreographer, has written about her Woodstock Anniversary Tribute*: “I just finished editing this short video in time for the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock. (I wasn’t there, but I’ve been to Bethel for other Anniversaries and have fond memories).”

Perfect for the heart of August, heat and dreams–can it really be half a century ago? 

Angel, by Jimi Hendrix

Choreographed by Andrea Andresakis

Danced by Megan Roup

Filmed by Rodney Thornton at the Chernuchin Theatre, NYC

I hope you enjoy it,

Andrea

Stage Director/Choreographer

SDC

www.Andresakis.com 

*  If you are having trouble playing the video, press the Pop-out box on the upper right hand side of the screen (with the diagonal arrow). 

 

BECKETT’S LAST TAPES ·

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Robert McCrum explores the elusive Samuel Beckett’s astonishing literary career through rare audio tape recordings from the Samuel Beckett Research Centre at the University of Reading.

Housed in the unlikely spot of the Museum of English Rural Life, Beckett – the lifelong outsider – would have enjoyed the absurdity of finding his archives next to dairy farming data and combine harvester records. As a result, perhaps not unintentionally, Beckett’s tapes have remained here as a well-kept secret.

Many of the tapes are interviews recorded by Beckett’s friend, the scholar James Knowlson, while he was researching an official biography. The interviews they contain reveal fascinating insights into the way Samuel Beckett worked closely and collaboratively with his actors and friends – including Sian Phillips, Paul Daneman, Billie Whitelaw and Harold Pinter – and the respect they showed for him in return.

Taking Krapp’s Last Tape as inspiration for this programme, Robert tells the story of the Samuel Beckett archive at Reading and invites surviving collaborators, friends and those who have found inspiration in Beckett’s work – including Tom Stoppard, Edna O’Brien, Sian Phillips, Lisa Dwan, Lady Antonia Fraser and James Knowlson – to listen to extracts from the tapes and reflect on his unique method and the expression of his genius.

Robert aims to gain new insight into the mind of one of the 20th century’s literary giants, while bringing out the poignancy and nostalgia involved in revisiting memories and life-events through the tapes.

Produced by Melissa FitzGerald
A Blakeway production for BBC Radio 4

EXIT BURBAGE – THE MAN WHO CREATED HAMLET ·

Listen on BBC Radio 3

Imagine where we’d be without Shakespeare’s plays. It’s difficult to contemplate now. But it was thanks to another man that many of them were brought to life. 

Today, Richard Burbage is a not a household name. But he should be. He’s the man for whom many of the great Shakespearean roles were created. One of the founding members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, playing at the newly built Globe in 1599, he’s one of the foundations upon which British theatre was built. Andrew Dickson talks to leading actors, rummages among the archives and dissects some of the greatest parts in acting to discover Burbage’s crucial role – and realises that without Richard Burbage, there could be no Shakespeare.

Producer: Penny Murphy