To celebrate the opening of its svelte new black box in Rosslyn’s Artisphere complex—a major upgrade from its old digs at the Clark Street Playhouse—the 20-year-old Washington Shakespeare Company has doubled down on British history, preparing concurrent stagings of Richard III and Mary Stuart, Friederich Schiller’s 19th century tale of 16th century royal intrigue.
It’s a truly, er, dynamic duo, in the sense that the plays talk to one another: In Richard, inspired by historical events a hundred years before Shakespeare’s prominence, we have his most outsized malefactor. In Mary Stuart, which looks back on Elizabethan tymes from a vantage point of two centuries (four, if we’re talking about the 2005 Peter Oswald translation used here), we see how it was in Shakespeare’s interest to flex even more artistic license than usual immortalizing Richard as a “hellhound that does hunt us all to death.”
The Bard of Avon was a subject of Queen Elizabeth I, whose legitimacy was contested. It was flattery to the playwright’s sovereign that fueled this depiction of Richard as a beast whose deformity reflected interior corruption, and whose prodigious devilry ultimately served God’s plan to drag England, however bloodily, into a new Golden Age of benign Tudor rule. It would be ungrateful to question the royal credentials of whoever delivered the realm from Richard’s gnarled hands. Oh, was that your grandpappy who did that, my queen? You must be so proud! I can see the resemblance! Continue reading