Friday, March 30, 2012

Law and Justice {week 9 response}

I’ve been doing a lot more reading this week that’s been specifically geared towards Merchant and, more particularly, Portia. It really is time (soon, very soon!) to stop reading and start writing. The semester is coming rapidly to a close, and I am having trouble not drowning in the articles and chapters. My thoughts are getting lost in a sea of other people’s arguments,  and I’m feeling uncertain about what I have to contribute to this conversation.
Hopefully I will have something to say, and it will hopefully go a little like this. In the very vaguest of maps for the final paper I am envisioning, I am looking to:
  1. tackle the idea of equity. In a legal sense, what is its history in England?
  2. How is the notion of equity figured in MOV?
  3. Equity is (basically) the legal sense of the idea of mercy in this play. It is set in opposition to the notion of justice, but this opposition seems too simplistic. I think this will be the meat of my paper -- figuring out exactly how this tension works.
  4. If equity is the prerogative of the monarch, then I would like to at least begin considering in the “second half” (or so, ish) of the paper, how this figures into the history plays where the monarch is so central?
Last week, I spent some time with “the quality of mercy,” and I’m really not even close to scratching the surface.
I’m interested in the idea of compulsion in this speech. It begins with Portia’s line “Then must the Jew be merciful” (IV.i.201, emphasis added). Shylock’s answer responds directly to this word “must”: “On what compulsion must I? Tell me that” (203-4). I’ve read a couple different arguments about these lines -- that Portia slips up with the use of “must,” that Shylock misreads “must” as compulsion when really what Portia means is that if Antonio is to be saved, then the only course is for Shylock to be merciful, that the beauty of “The quality of mercy” is that it is completely spontaneous because of this question and answer. The line could certainly be read in a number of ways, but the important argument of the speech is that mercy must be freely given; it cannot be compelled. Whether she is correcting herself or not, Portia is certainly correcting Shylock. There can be no compulsion: “The quality of mercy is not strained” (204). Does this mean that mercy is without strength or power, however?
The “quality of mercy” stands in contrast to “the force of temporal power” (211, emphasis added). Mercy cannot be “strained” or compelled; it is therefore the opposite of forceful. Mercy stands “above this sceptred sway” of forceful, earthly power (214). 
Many critics have commented on Portia’s turn back to the concept of justice at the end of this speech. They often suggest that Portia undercuts her arguments about mercy or that she is even vengefully drawing Shylock away from the idea of mercy and insidiously suggesting that he should push for justice. [Got to find and footnote these!] I would like to suggest, however, that she is returning not specifically to the idea of justice but to the idea of compulsion. If Shylock continues down the path of justice, then the court “Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the Merchant there” (228, emphasis added). By impressing upon Shylock that he is using force, compelling the court to act against Antonio, she is offering a reminder of the umbrage Shylock took at the idea of being himself forced to be merciful. It is a final gesture towards mercy, whose quality is decidedly “not strained” (204).
All in the speech points towards ease and gentleness, including my favorite phrase of the play, “When mercy seasons Justice” (218). The meaning of “seasons” here is “to qualify by a beneficial admixture; to moderate, alleviate, temper” (OED, 1d). When mercy moderates or tempers the harshness of Justice, it softens it. It is the “quality of mercy” to do this, “not strained” but qualified, softened, alleviated. Once again, this is the sense which Portia tries to leave us with. She has spoken “To mitigate the justice of thy [Shylock’s] plea” in hopes of softening his cries for justice into a gentler act of mercy.
This week, I used the Applause First Folio edition edited by Neil Freeman. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Law and Justice {week 8 response}

In working towards my final paper, I've begun compiling an annotated bibliography. There are piles of books everywhere, and I just invested in a file box to keep all the article print-outs and photocopied chapters. I'm trying to balance research, reading, and writing in these last few weeks of the semester so that my seminar paper won't be a complete nightmare on May 4!

In the interest of balance, therefore, I've done some free-writing on "The quality of mercy" from Merchant with some pointed questions at the end thinking towards 2 Henry VI.


On a simplistic level, in the quality of mercy speech, the text is pitting the notions of mercy and justice against each other. They feel at first like opposites, but they are not entirely mutually exclusive concepts. Although Portia suggests that if we proceed exclusively “in the course of Justice”,  mercy is not possible, she also suggests that it is indeed possible, even desirable, for mercy to attenuate justice: “when mercy seasons Justice” (IV.i.195). This is after all what she is arguing.
Mercy also is seated in a power relationship. Mercy is offered to and begged by those in a position of weakness. Antonio hopes for mercy; he is entirely in Shylock’s power. Portia acknowledges this relationship: “‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest” (186). Those who can offer mercy have power over those who seek it. Mercy is most powerful in the hands of the most powerful. It places spiritual power in the hands of those who already possess earthly power, most notably, of course, “The throned Monarch.” Mercy is the prerogative of kings, or rather when kings exercise mercy it has a more powerful effect than when a commoner does. Perhaps Portia hopes to sway Shylock with this idea of kingly power?
In this speech, Portia clearly argues for the preeminence of mercy. It is above all the other symbols of power the king possesses: his crown and scepter: “But mercy is above this scepter’d sway” (191). Although crown and scepter are the visible symbols which identify the king’s position and power, they are less significant. If the king shows mercy, he shows himself to be beyond “temporal power” (188) and more “likest God’s” (194). A crown, a scepter, a throne, awe, majesty, dread, and fear are also subject to the power of the divine, which is specifically identified not with Justice but with mercy.
It is worth noting that Portia herself does not take on the power of distributing mercy. She deflects it to the Duke -- the seated monarchical power in Venice. “Down and beg mercy of the duke.” Antonio becomes conflated in this position as well since Shylock’s wealth is to be split between the treasury of Venice (represented by the Duke) and Antonio. This is where I become frustrated by arguments of Portia’s “con.” I don’t see her as acting entirely out of self-interest. If she were, she could take Bassanio’s suggestion that she “Wrest once the Law to your authority” (213). The law must take precedence. Portia is here, then, identified with the law. The law itself is identified with justice. Mercy is seated in the human (divine?) figure of the monarch. If Portia speaks for the law, then mercy is not her prerogative.
Looking to the early histories (2 Henry VI in particular), what then do we see as the king’s relationship to the law? In the courtroom of Merchant, the figure of Portia seems to separate the voice of the law from the voice of mercy, which is the voice of the monarch. The voice of King Henry VI, however, is weak. He seems strongest when banishing Suffolk (unmercifully?), yet this is at the force of Warwick and the commons. What is the king’s relationship with justice and equity? Is he unjust in the hearing of accusations against Gloster? Is he just in his banishment of Suffolk? Where does Henry exercise mercy? Although it feels like he preaches it, where does he enact it?

**Line numbers are from Bevington, Complete Works, 4th edition. Capitalizations are preserved from First Folio.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Audition Sides for Kingship Part 1

Things are falling into place for our first round of Kingship Cycle auditions coming up on April 1. Studio space is reserved. The info sheets are typed. Over a hundred submissions from actors came in in the first 24 hours after sending the announcement. Audition appointments will be sent out soon!

In the meantime, you can check out the acting company matrix that I'll be drawing on for casting here. See how roles are pairing up across the shows. Mind you, these are not set in stone, but they're a great beginning point to see what we're thinking of right now.

And you can also download our selection of sides for the audition day here. We have selections from 1, 2, 3 Henry VI and Richard III as well as two sides from 1 Henry IV and Henry V. Here's the list to preview:

One correction: The Duchess is not included in the side from Richard III, Act IV scene iv.

All roles are open. All roles are paid.

If you would like to be considered for The Kingship Cycle, please send an email with your current headshot and resume to

Monday, March 19, 2012

Kingship Cycle Auditions

Kingship Cycle Audition Announcement
Adirondack Shakespeare Company will be holding auditions for the 2012-2013 Kingship Cycle on Sunday, April 1 and Monday, May 14 at CAP21 Studios (18 W 18th Street, NYC). Please email a headshot and resume to if you are interested in being seen.
The Kingship Cycle is a two-part project. The first half will take place in the fall of 2012 and includes productions of 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, and Richard III. We are seeking a company of 12 actors for this project. The second half will take place in the spring of 2013 and includes productions of Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V, for which we are also seeking a company of 12 actors. These auditions will consist of readings from all eight plays. Auditions held on April 1will consist mostly of readings from Part 1 of the Cycle. Auditions held on May 14 will consist of readings from Part 2 of the Cycle.
Dates for this project are tentatively set for October 18 - November 17, 2012 for Kingship Part 1 (1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, and Richard III) and for March 28 - April 27, 2013 for Kingship Part 2 (Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V). Rehearsals and performances will take place on both the Queens and Manhattan campuses of St. John’s University.
Please note that for roles spanning multiple plays (Richard III, Prince Hal, Margaret, for example), one actor will be cast to play the same role across each of the plays in which this character appears. The idea of these productions is to create as clear a through-line as possible for the story, the characters, and the ultimate question of this project: What makes a (good/bad) king? The culmination of this project will be my doctoral dissertation in English Literature, which will focus on the text of the plays as literature, but also on elements of theatrical performance and original practice-influenced production.
We will be casting a company of 12 actors for each Kingship Part. This means there will be a cast of 12 actors for Kingship Part 1 (1, 2, 3 Henry VI and Richard III). Actors will also be considered for Kingship Part 2 (Richard II, 1 & 2 Henry IV, and Henry V). Each contract represents a commitment for the four shows within each Kingship Part. Casting in one Part does not guarantee casting in the other.
Auditions on Sunday, April 1 and Monday, May 14 will held in groups of 8-10. Each group session will last one hour and consist entirely of cold readings from the plays. If you have not auditioned for the company in the past, we will ask you to present a prepared monologue (1-2 minutes in length, classical verse ONLY).
This project differs from past Shakespeare IN THE RAW productions in that it will include several workshop rehearsals prior to the shortened, intensive rehearsal period (which is comprised of approximately 12 hours of rehearsal per production). These workshops will incorporate movement, text analysis, and discussions of political, social, and historical context for these plays. I anticipate a series of three to five workshops (one per week) in the weeks preceding the opening dates listed above. Read-throughs will also take place several weeks in advance of the rehearsal and performance dates listed above.
Our intensive rehearsal period will consist of a speak-through of the entire text of each play; small group scene work focusing almost entirely on text; working through any music and/or violence; and a final cue-to-cue of each play. The cue-to-cue is the last portion of rehearsal, in which we work entrances, exits, music, violence, and any tricky staging. There is no run-through of the show prior to performance. I’ll say that again -- the very first time we run through the play is in the first performance.
All company members must arrive for the first rehearsal on fully memorized and able to run through all of their assigned roles off-book.  Preparation is a crucial element to this process, so please consider your ability to dedicate ample time ahead of the performance weekend when determining your availability. With only 12 hours of rehearsal for each play, there is no time to dedicate to learning your lines.
Company members must have a high degree of comfort with the mechanics and musicality of verse-speaking.  
All roles are paid. Non-Equity contracts only.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Heads ... heads ... heads ...

Check out the artwork for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead! I am particularly proud of this one. Even though I did not do any of the design whatsoever, I did suggest to Patrick the idea for the coin.

At the start of the play, Rosencrantz is tossing a coin up in the air over and over again, and every time the coin lands heads up. I thought this would be a cool starting place for the design image ... and now here you go!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Alas, hungry Yorick.

Although it's only March, summer is deceptively close. We are cementing our summer calendar, adding children's show tours, and putting together the artwork. Lots of behind the scenes things are happening now to make sure that our summer season is successful!

One of those things is art design. Patrick has been hard at work designing the images for our 2012 main stage shows. These images appear on the website, our Facebook page, our promotional postcards and posters, and go out with our press releases. We'll be living with them for a long time! Lucky thing I kind of (read: really, really) love these designs for this summer's shows. Here's a sneak peek at the first design Patrick has done for Summer 2012.

Alas, Hungry Yorick.
Meet Hungry Yorick! He's a very fun combination of our traditional "Hungry Will" image of Shakespeare with some Adirondack antlers and the famous skull from Hamlet: "Alas, poor Yorick."

Stay tuned for more of our summer art tomorrow!

Fun fact: While typing this post, I had two interesting typos. Instead of "kind," I typed "king." And for "Yorick," "York." Too much kingship on the brain?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hercules: 2012 Summer Tours

Today I am blasting out some emails for our summer touring production. Last year we toured The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) around Adirondack Park, but this year we are switching gears a bit. We will be touring an original children's production of Hercules, written by Jessica Hackett, a young lady of many talents who will also be serving as our Assistant Stage Manager for the summer and managing our PR & Marketing.

So far I have been in communication with Ticonderoga, Indian Lake, Schroon Lake, and Bolton Landing. We are set in stone to be at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts on Wednesday, August 15 (hooray!), and I'd love to be in Mid's Park again right in the middle of town in July. I'll be sending more emails out to public libraries in Jay, Keene, Saranac, Warrensburg, Glens Falls, and further afield. Where would you like to see ADK Shakes perform Hercules this summer?

We have several dates available between July 11 - 21, with some flexibility to perform in early August as well. Send an email to if you'd like to see Hercules in your town!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Same Name Syndrome

I'm working through editing and re-setting the scripts for the first tetralogy of The Kingship Cycle, and last night was devoted to 3 Henry VI. Luckily, this script is in really good shape. I fixed a few typos and reset the character names. King Henry VI is sometimes set as "Henry" and sometimes as "King." King Edward IV - same thing. But there's also Prince Edward, son of Henry VI, who fortunately is usually set as Prince.

Throughout these 8 history plays, the characters have good, strong English names. How are we supposed to keep them straight?

My approximate count (since I'm certain to be missing at least a few) is:
  • 7 Henrys
  • 6 Edwards (technically Edward III and the Black Prince of Wales are only mentioned)
  • 4 Richards
  • 4 Edmunds
  • 2 Humphreys
  • 1 George
  • 8 Johns
  • 3 Thomases
  • By the time I got to William, I gave up.

I finally feel after having performed in 5 of these 8 plays in the past, seen films and theatrical productions, read them multiple times like I can begin to keep many of these names straight with titles. How do I make this easier on an audience member who perhaps has never seen 1 Henry IV? Or an actor who is familiar with Richard III but not 2 Henry VI? Maybe I should invest in a wall poster on the genealogy of England's Royal Houses.

Monday, March 12, 2012

King-Sized To Do List

The preparation for The Kingship Cycle is occasionally overwhelming. This is the largest project that ADK Shakes has undertaken to date, so there's a lot to keep up with. I really enjoy writing posts about what is taking place behind the scenes on all our projects, so here's a look at the many things going on right now in order to prepare for next fall and spring's two-part Kingship Cycle.

Tudor Rose Window. Source.
  • Character Maps

Also known as "French Scenes," these maps track each character's trajectory throughout the course of the play. This helps me build Character Tracks to assign to each individual actor, as I can see how the roles can conceivably double up. Luckily, since we have already produced 1, 2, 3 Henry VI and Richard III, we already have maps for these shows complete. I reorganized the doubles based on the concept for this project, but I didn't have to start from scratch. Henry V is also already complete, and we just finished Richard II yesterday.
To Do: 1 & 2 Henry IV

  • Casting Matrix

You can view the Casting Matrix for the first part of The Kingship Cycle and get an idea for how complex this project is! I have only just begun the Matrix for Part Two, but I won't be able to complete it without the aforementioned Character Maps. What makes this project particularly difficult to map is that I want individual actors to follow a character through multiple plays. For example, Falstaff appears in 1 & 2 Henry IV, and therefore the same actor will play Falstaff in both plays. Exciting stuff! But it can be messy when building the Matrix. I learned last weekend that it's better to start from the end and work backwards. The Richmond / Edward double in Richard III is clear from the Map, so that meant Edward and Richmond double in 3 Henry VI. OK, no problem, but where I had Edward placed in 2 Henry VI (in which he speaks only 1 line) didn't work at all. I had to unravel and re-do the Matrix three plays back. Now I know! I will start from Henry V and work backward!
To Do: R2-HV Matrix

  • Scripts

When Patrick and I prepare scripts for performance, we begin with the First Folio. I love the Applause texts of the individual plays. Neil Freeman's notes are terrific. He marks alterations between the various Folio and Quarto texts and describes in detail the changes that appear in each iteration. In our scripts, we preserve First Folio capitalizations and punctuation always, and spelling sometimes. Decisions on alterations to the line are discretionary, and sometimes I will make a note in our script so an actor can see the change and make the decision for themselves. Here's a peek into how different the versions can be. When we first started producing Shakespeare IN THE RAW, though, we had not yet developed this method. So our early scripts are ... well ... kind of a hot mess. I'm currently going through and re-setting the format, fixing typographical errors, and adding footnotes. I won't lie, it's kind of tedious. And there's a giant ticking clock ... the actors are going to need these scripts just as soon as possible. The actor who will be playing Richard III will have approximately 1900 lines to learn. To put that in perspective, an uncut Hamlet speaks 1476 lines. Yeah! What?!?
To Do: Formatting and editing for 1 Henry VI. Light editing for 3 Henry VI and Richard III.
Footnotes for 1, 2, 3 Henry VI, Richard III, Henry V
Everything (!) for Richard II, 1 & 2 Henry IV

  • Auditions

Right! I have to cast these shows! Because the actors playing Richard III and Henry V in particular have such a massive line load, I need to cast and get these scripts out so they have time to actually learn all these lines and prepare these intricate characters. That means auditions have to happen soon! So -- any actors reading this blog, this is for you! -- I'm planning to hold auditions for Part 1 of The Kingship Cycle on Sunday, April 1 and for Part 2 of The Kingship Cycle on Monday, May 14. You can send me your interest at now, but I'll also be emailing a notice to our Actor Mailing List. (If you're not on that and you want to be, email
To Do: Actor Info Sheets and Sides from all eight plays.

  • Calendar

We have come up with a schedule for these rehearsals and performances. It's intense, and I love it! I'm planning a series of weekly workshops leading up to our intensive Shakespeare IN THE RAW style of rehearsal and performance. These workshops will include read-throughs, movement rehearsals, discussions on the genealogy, history, and socio-political issues in the plays. The rehearsals will be set up to put up two plays over the course of a weekend (as we have done in the past with the Bookend and Justice Projects) and then perform the same two plays the following weekend. Weeks 3 and 4 will be putting up and performing (twice each) the second two plays. And Week 5 (my favorite!) will be a marathon of all four plays. This week we have a meeting to ensure that we can hopefully get the specific dates we are looking at -- keep your fingers crossed!
To Do: Reserve all dates for workshops, rehearsals, and performances.

  • Research

This is just an ongoing piece of the puzzle. I am fortunate to be doing a portion of this work as my directed research for the spring semester. It's fascinating reading, and it's great exercise for my brain. I can't wait to dig into more reading on the law and history of the period. I'm swimming around in the first tetralogy of plays right now and also looking forward to diving into the second tetralogy.

Even though this To Do List is big and long and complicated, it's a wonderful feeling to realize that there's nothing else I'd rather be doing.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Reading List

Since heading back to school last year, I've noticed that I have developed a pretty consistent trend over the course of the semester. I start out reading like crazy (which never really lets up), and perhaps I also have an overarching idea that I'm interested in pursuing throughout the class (which sometimes changes drastically). Around midterms (usually just after I've written my midterm paper), I start researching with my final paper in mind. I've read around enough to have a good (if sometimes basic) idea of what's out there, or at least where I should start looking. And I've refined my "overarching idea" enough to make a final paper out of it.

That's about where I am right now in my Emergence of Modernism class and in my directed research. I spent most of Friday trolling library online catalogs and databases. I've got a list of books to pick up and a pile of articles in my downloads folder to sift through - exciting! I'm working towards writing on the legal notion of equity and its historical place as the purview of the monarch. It's the perfect marriage between The Justice Project and the beginnings of The Kingship Cycle. I still have to do the legal part of the research, so I'm hoping for some help researching on West Law and Lexis Nexis. Here are a few of the titles on my reading list:

Law and Empire in English Renaissance Literature by Brian C. Lockey

Rhetoric and Law in Early Modern Europe by Victoria Kahn

The Poetics of English Nationhood, 1590-1612 by Claire McEachern

Shakespeare and the Legal Imagination by Ian Ward

Treason by Words: Literature, Law, and Rebellion in Shakespeare's England by Rebecca Lemon

Metadrama in Shakespeare's Henriad by James Calderwood

Forms of Nationhood by Richard Helgerson

I'd better put some tea on and get reading!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A talk on Holinshed

Last night, I attended a talk at Columbia University on "Shakespeare and Holinshed's Use of Anecdote," which was given by Barbara Traister of Lehigh University. Her talk focused on the 1577 and 1587 editions of Holinshed's Chronicles, of which Raphael Holinshed himself edited the earlier 1577 version. Professor Traister discussed the use of anecdotes throughout both editions and how they function differently in each.

I was most interested by how the anecdote of the Armorer and the Apprentice (which appears in the 1587 edition only) gets picked up and used by Shakespeare in 2 Henry VI as Thomas Horner and Peter Thump. This was especially fun as I've just reread this play for my directed research and I'm editing our script right now. It was pointed out during the Q&A that Shakespeare uses anecdotes much more frequently (and simplistically) in the earlier tetralogy. Professor Traister briefly addressed how there is a string of anecdotes running throughout 2 Henry VI. Another scholar speculated that the Eastcheap contingent of the second tetralogy might be the more sophisticated development of the anecdotal "string" or line of the earlier works.

What I loved most about attending this talk last night was the sense of shared work, interest, and community. Certainly we all have different points of view and specific projects, but it was great to come together, hear about the research that Professor Traister is doing, and feel the support from others for this work. And it's also great to see how my interests coincide with other scholars'. It makes me feel less like a humble student, and more like a "real" scholar doing "real" work

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kingship Acting Company Matrix

*UPDATE 4/23/12* - It's come to my attention what a useful tool this Matrix is for others and that all our hard work is totally up for grabs here on the interwebs. Since this Matrix represents dozens of hours of work, I am going to take the images of it out of the post. If you are interested in using it for production, you may contact me at Thanks!

Whenever it is time to look forward to the next batch of productions, I get really excited to think about doubles (or sometimes more accurately, triples, quadruples, and so forth -- what's nine?). It's fascinating to consider roles that seem to fit naturally together, though much more often I like to disrupt those kinds of doubles. For me, they seem too easy and therefore less challenging and interesting -- for both the actor and the audience member.

Casting for the Kingship Cycle are (I'm already certain) the most difficult maps I will ever put together. So much so that I decided I can't call it a map. Too simplistic. So it's a matrix instead. This bit of stuff took eleven or twelve hours to put together, and that was only so "short" because Patrick and I have already laboriously made out the character maps (or French scenes as they are sometimes called) for each of the four plays in Part 1 of the Kingship Cycle.

I love putting together different versions of the character tracks for each play, experimenting with different doubles. I'm limited by the number of actors and, of course, by who's on stage when. The Kingship Matrix quickly became even more insane than usual, because I really want to have the same actors continuing through each character's entire journey across the plays. Margaret is the only character to appear in all four plays -- what a survivor. Hard-favored Richard appears for the first time at the very end of 2 Henry VI, and we follow his play for and rise to power through 3 Henry VI and Richard III. What a fascinating journey for the actor and the lucky audience members who get to see these shows!

In some ways I suppose I'm a glutton for punishment. As much time as it takes to get this matrix "just so," when I walk out of the audition room from hours of callbacks, I will come right back to this matrix and shift things around. So trust me that this matrix is not going to be exactly what you read in the program next fall. But maybe you will start getting as excited about some of these pairings as I am!

Images removed by author. Below is a sample from the Matrix.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Law and Justice {week 6 response}

It is post-Spring Break. I have finally recovered from two sinus infections and two Shakespeare IN THE RAW productions. It is time to get back on track with my reading responses.

I am a bit sad and a bit nostalgic to leave behind The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure, but I am also feeling invigorated to completely switch gears to the early history plays. I have a much larger question in mind for my dissertation project of The Kingship Cycle (Part 1, Fall 2012: 1, 2, 3 Henry VI and Richard III and Part 2, Spring 2013: Richard II, 1 & 2 Henry VI, and Henry V) about the education of a king. Looking for questions of law, equity, and justice feels like a good basis for this.

This week I've been focusing my reading on 1 & 2 Henry VI. I'm interested in the legality of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York's claim to the English throne over our titular king of these plays, Henry VI. Throughout these Big 8 history plays is the lingering of question of legal succession to the throne. In order to make some semblance of sense of the line of succession:

Edward III (incredibly fertile)
Richard II (deposed)
Henry IV ("usurps")
Henry V (succeeds)
Henry VI (succeeds at 9 months old)
Richard, Duke of York
(claims throne according to descent from Lionel, Duke of Clarence,* never crowned)
Edward IV (son of Richard, Duke of York)
Edward V (never crowned, deposed)
(one of the famous Princes in the Tower allegedly murdered by Richard III)
Richard III

This is possibly the most simplistic and rudely basic line of succession that I can draw in a blog post without proper tools.

* Here's what I want to be more specific about. The claim actually proceeds from before Richard II. Edward III had seven sons. His eldest son (also named Edward and more famously known as the Black Prince of Wales) would have succeeded Edward III, but died. His son Richard succeeds as king. But because Richard II is #1) usurped and #2) dies without heirs, the claims to the throne following are messy (to put it lightly).

Henry IV descends from Edward III's fourth son, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster. Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York and his son Edward IV claim the throne through Edward III's third son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence:
YORK  The third Son, Duke of Clarence, 
              From whose line I claim the Crown, 
              Had Issue Philippe, a Daughter,
              Who married Edmond Mortimer, Earl of March:
              Edmund had Issue, Roger, Earl of March;
              Roger had Issue, Edmund, Anne, and Elianor. 
SALISBURY This Edmund, in the Reign of Bolingbroke,
              As I have read, laid claim unto the Crown,
              And but for Owen Glendower, had been King;
              Who kept him in Captivity, till he died.
              But to the rest.
YORK                         His eldest sister, Anne,
              My Mother, being Heir unto the Crown,
              Married Richard, Earl of Cambridge, 
              Who was to Edmund Langley, 
              Edward the third’s fifth Son’s Son;
              By her I claim the Kingdom:
              She was Heir to Roger, Earl of March, 
              Who was the Son of Edmond Mortimer, 
              Who married Philippe, sole Daughter 
              Unto Lionel, Duke of Clarence.
              So, if the Issue of the elder Son
              Succeed before the younger, I am King. 
WARWICK What plain proceedings is more plain than this?
              Henry doth claim the Crown from John of Gaunt,
              The fourth Son, York claims it from the third: (II.ii)
This excerpt is taken from ADK Shakespeare's prepared performance script, based on First Folio.

York's argument convinces Warwick and Salisbury. Is it supposed to convince the reader/the audience? The average audience member of Shakespeare's day would certainly have a greater level of familiarity with the line of British kings than today's average American audience member. The claim is filled with such intricacies, twists and turns, that Shakespeare no doubt thought his average audience member would not perfectly follow this history. Warwick's response, "What plain proceedings is more plain than this?" aims for (and likely receives) a hearty chuckle. Of course, these proceedings are far from plain! Warwick then reduces the claim to the more digestible germ: Henry VI claims "the Crown from John of Gaunt, / The fourth son, York claims it from the third". Insert collective "Oh!" here.

The basis of York's argument is a legal one. His claim must be legal if he hopes to have full support. My question is what kind of law and legality do we have in these plays (specifically 1 & 2 Henry VI, but even more broadly through 3 Henry VI and Richard III too)? Do we have strict readings of the law such as Angelo and Shylock respectively advocate in Measure and Merchant? Or are these technicalities, such as what Portia finds in the bond? Or are either of Henry VI's and York's respective claims to the crown too liberally interpreted?

So much of what I am reading is clearly setting up events-to-come. What I want to look for as I continue to read:
  • the legality of establishing a claim to kingship
  • the contrast of liberty / justice (like what we saw in Measure and Merchant)
  • who is interpreting law and how? And whose side is the play on?

From the desk of the Casting Director

In one of my favorite TV series, Slings and Arrows, Oliver Welles (the Artistic Director of the New Burbage Festival) bemoans the nature of his work, "It's lonely at the top." I've always laughed at Oliver's rather melodramatic attitude at this line ... so it pains me just a little to admit: I think he's right.

Slings & Arrows, Acorn Media.
Maybe I'm being a little melodramatic, too. But here's why a few times a year I feel ... well ... I'm not sure exactly how to describe it except: Lonely.

Like Oliver Welles, I too am an Artistic Director. (Although I prefer to identify with Geoffrey Tennant...)

And I am responsible for casting each of the Adirondack Shakespeare Company's shows.

Our Company is young. We began producing plays in 2008. We began producing a Summer Festival in 2010, so this year marks only our third annual summer season in upstate New York.

Each year for the last two years, we have received around 1,000 resumes from actors around the country. We schedule around 100 people for in-person auditions, and receive dozens of video auditions. I then have to cast only 12 actors for each of our respective projects. For this winter's Justice Project, that meant 12 people to cast in two shows. For this year's Summer Season, that's 12 people across three shows. For this fall's Kingship Cycle, that will be 12 actors across four shows. FOUR.SHOWS. (I think my head may just explode...)

I used to be an Actor. I used to travel to different cities to audition for any company that was producing Shakespeare. I used to wait and wait for casting offers and often never received a response. I used to commute hours to rehearsals and performances for the chance to work with great companies on great shows. And then I would go out and do it all over again. And again. And again. I've been through the ringer of auditioning, so believe me when I say, I get it. I know what it's like to be on your side of the table.

I also want you to know what it's like on mine. As an actor, I truly did not appreciate what it was like to cast a show. I had After I sat in the casting seat, I walked into the audition room with a completely different sense of the "other side" of the table. So, Actors, here are a few things I would like to share with you about what it's like sitting in this particular hot seat.

1. It's not personal.
This is an incredibly difficult decision with a lot of different factors weighing in -- artistic, professional factors. It's like constructing a giant puzzle. There's 1,000 pieces in front of you, and you have to find the 12 that go in the middle. Those 12 pieces have to make two different, seamless pictures. (I know! It hardly makes any sense!) Choosing those 12 pieces really can't be a personal decision. It's a decision based on finding and upholding the artistic integrity of the work. I have to choose the 12 pieces that go in the middle, fit perfectly together, and also make two-pictures-in-one (or three- or four-pictures).

I do realize and appreciate how personal this work is. Great actors will come into the audition room and share the innermost part of themselves with you. It's an honor and a privilege to be the recipient of that. Yet while the work you share with us must be personal on some level, my decision really cannot be a personal one. Perhaps this is the hardest thing to communicate, most especially to actors who are also my friends. I work really hard to keep these decisions strictly professional. What is of the utmost importance is the artistic integrity of the work. I know my friends (who are also amazing artists) can understand the importance of not compromising that work. It's never easy mixing work and friendship. But my casting decisions are professional, not personal. I don't love you any less. Please don't love me any less.

2. It's time-consuming.
It takes me weeks to cast an ensemble. I want to get back to everyone quickly, and I know it is frustrating and agonizing to wait on tenterhooks, but I cannot expect every piece of the puzzle to fit into place. I have to start with a single piece. Sometimes the piece fits, and sometimes it doesn't. If it fits, I can move on to the next piece, but if it doesn't then I have to go back to the drawing board and re-think the picture of the ensemble. A single "No, I'm sorry, I have already been hired on another contract" will set me back hours, even days in the casting process.

3. I value your time.
I know many companies have a policy of only contacting an actor if that person is cast. When I was auditioning all the time, I hated how dehumanizing that felt. That was something as a casting director that I didn't want to do. I value the time you spent in my audition room and the personal nature of this work. So I am going to try my damnedest to get back to you as soon as I can. I don't have a staff to do this for me. I personally send out each email that says, "I'm sorry, not this time." (And believe me, this is the worst part of my job.) It's important to me to have that personal connection with each actor: I know your headshot and your resume. If we've never met before, I try to remember your name as you walk into the room. I know your name when you send me an email. You aren't just a number on my list, and I refuse to spend less than an hour getting to know you and your work in the audition room. I really appreciate that time you spend with us. It's important, so I am going to spend time for you as well.

4. Not this time really means not this time.
One of the hardest emails to write is the one to actors I have worked with in the past. Amazing actors, who are not only incredibly talented but also really spectacular human beings. But here's the rub: not every actor is right for every show. We have more and more people coming into our family, and there just are not enough roles to go around. Everyone has to sit out sometimes. There will be another time. Hang in there.

This message also goes out to actors who keep on coming out for our auditions. I am always happy to see you! I keep inviting you to audition, because I am really interested in working with you. Sometimes it is hard to find the right project to begin our work together. Thank you for continuing to be interested in us, as we continue to be interested in you.

I wish we had the budget and the demand to be constantly producing shows, so that I could cast a hundred shows and hire every one of you wonderful people! In the meantime, keep coming out. Keep in touch. Keep things in perspective. And most importantly, keep valuing yourself. You're worth it.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...