Now I want to reread Hamlet.
What a fun play! Written by Lauren Gunderson, The Book of Will at the Northlight Theater till December 17th tells the story of how without the effort of his friends, we wouldn’t have an authentic collection of William Shakespeare’s plays. In 1620 after Will had passed on, his friends were fed up with bad Shakespearean plays. Some were bad versions patched up with garbled versions of the plays made from copyists in the audience who tried to take down everything that was said. Some were just plays written by hacks who tried to copy Shakespeare’s style.
The play begins in a pub near The Globe theater where three of Shakespeare’s friends Richard Burbage, John Heminges, Henry Condell, actors from the King’s Men’s troupe and Condell’s daughter Elizabeth bemoan the horrible fakery that passes for Shakespeare. When Burbage dies suddenly they realize the only chance for passing these masterpiece plays down to posterity is to collect and publish a folio. It’s an expensive undertaking that is complicated by the lack of a full set of originals. A few plays are here, another bunch are with a scrivener, most actors only got their part, not the full play so some had to be carefully put together. No respectable printer wanted to touch the project so Heminges and Condell had to settle for a slimy, greedy cheat.
The play is delightful as it weaves memorable passaged of the Bard’s work throughout the story, which is well paced. The characters include Shakespeare’s wife, daughter and mistress, and Heminges’ and Condell’s wives and and so there is some female influence supporting the impossible project. The Northlight’s set and costumes were perfect. I’m tempted to go again.
What’s great about the Northlight is free parking and every seat has a clear view.
Now I want to visit the Newberry Library and see the First Folio in person.
I’m reading the absorbing Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard by English professor and Shakespeare expert, Laura Bates. Bates grew up in a poor neighborhood with plenty of crime and troubles. After getting her doctorate, she begins teaching in an Indiana prison a few days a week. Her employer, University of Indiana offered courses to prisoners. After awhile she convinces the prison to allow her to teach in prisoners in solitary confinement. Her school’s not on board so she does this for free.
Bates describes the details of the high security section of the prison, all the thick double doors she has to go through and all the perils she must avoid. The heart of the book is her engagement with the convicted murders she works with. Their insights and engagement with the plays are a far cry from what you’d expect from men imprisoned for life. Bates’s book also relates the men’s narratives – how they got where they are. It’s an absorbing read. I’d love to see Steppenwolf or the Chicago Shakespeare Theater dramatize it.
While it’s over their heads, I’m going to share the sonnet with my students. I’ll break it down for them. Perhaps with the One Tree Hill episode that uses this.
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