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Livermore Shakespeare Festival 2012
by Peggy Riley, Dramaturge
Our tenth anniversary season of Shakespeare in the Vineyard promises to be a great one. For the first time we’ll be offering an all-Shakespeare program, both tragedy and comedy: Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most famous play, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, featuring one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, Falstaff. In fact, the title of an early version of the play gives Falstaff top billing: A Most pleasaunt and excellent conceited Comedie, of syr John Falstaffe, and the merrie Wiues of Windsor.
Hamlet, of course, has everything. It’s a tale of murder, revenge, betrayal, madness, love, incest, war, politic maneuvering. Its characters include royalty, nobility, soldiers, politicians, social climbers, a ghost – and, famously, a troupe of traveling players. Our directors, Lisa Tromovitch and Virginia Reed, adapted the concept of the players to introduce Livermore Shakespeare Festival 2012: a troupe of traveling players arrive at Concannon Vineyard to perform in Hamlet’s play-within-a-play The Murder of Gonzalo; while they’re here, the players will also present The Merry Wives in the vineyards outside the town surrounding the castle.
As you can well imagine, Googling Hamlet will bring up enough resources to last a lifetime. Here are a few sources to help you get started: You can find a full text with annotations and other supporting material at http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/hamlet/. “Enjoying Hamlet” is a good browsing site, including a detailed synopsis: http://www.pathguy.com/hamlet.htm. Scroll past the (lo-o-o-ng) synopsis to find links to interesting bits and tidbits. The Charles and Mary Lamb version for young people is available at http://www.eldritchpress.org/cml/tfshamlet.html.
I have not been able to find an annotated version of Merry Wives on-line. The complete play (without notes) is available from Open Source Shakespeare at http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/playmenu.php?WorkID=merrywives. There are brief commentaries at http://www.folger.edu/template.cfm?cid=900 and http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/xMerry.html, which also provides a more extensive synopsis. The Lambs did not include Merry Wives in their Tales from Shakespeare.
A good, brief bio of the Bard is at http://www.playshakespeare.com/study/shakespeares-biography.
Inspired by Artistic Director Lisa Tromovitch, Livermore Shakespeare Festival actors and directors work from acting scripts developed by Neil Freeman directly from The First Folio, the earliest (1623) published collection of Shakespeare’s plays. For Hamlet, Lisa is also drawing upon Quarto 2, an even earlier version. The directors and artists explore the expressivity and use of rhetoric found in the punctuation and spelling of the day, developing an enhanced understanding of Shakespeare’s language and appreciating the movements and rhythm of the play as living art, not as a text to be studied. You can examine reproductions of both the Folio and the Quarto at http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/. The site includes many other resources as well, for both Shakespeare studies in general and for individual plays.
Wikipedia provides a comprehensive list of Hamlet films at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamlet_on_screen#List_of_screen_adaptations. Highly recommended: the BBC version starring Derek Jacobi as Hamlet and Patrick Stewart as Claudius (1980). A more recent production (1996), which, like the BBC’s, is full script, is the Kenneth Branagh film with Branagh as Hamlet and Derek Jacobi as Claudius. Both films last close to four hours and present very different interpretations of Hamlet. Interesting.
The BBC series also includes Merry Wives with Richard Griffiths as Falstaff and Ben Kingsley as Mr. Ford.
And finally, if you like to hunker down with a good book, both plays are available in inexpensive paperbacks (with notes) from the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Arden Shakespeare editions contain more complete scholarly material, including extensive notes and introductions.
For commentary, check out Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare After All. In addition to a fine introduction to all things Shakespearean, Garber offers accessible and engaging critical insights on each of Shakespeare’s plays, including Hamlet and Merry Wives. Isaac Asimov’s Azimov’s Guide to Shakespeare also treats each play individually. Rather than critical commentary or literary evaluation, Azimov supplies historical, mythological, and geographic information about each play as well as an understanding of the topics Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audience would have been familiar with.
We look forward to celebrating with you this summer at Concannon Vineyard. Let’s clink a glass of wine to applaud our all-Shakespeare program and our 10th season in Livermore!