My fellow History Hoyden Lauren Willig had a great post last week on authors are characters in fiction. It’s fascinating topic and very timely for me, as one of the plays my friend Penny and I just saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland was the world premiere production of a fabulous new play called Equivocation by Bill Cain.
Equivocation begins with James I’s minister, Robert Cecil, demanding that Shakespeare write a play about the Guy Fawkes plot, adding almost apologetically “The King wants witches.” Shakespeare, called Shagspeare or Shag, is torn, seeing the impossibility and dangers of writing the play, seeing the risks of refusing. The members of the Globe Theater company are torn as well, but in the end agree he should take the commission. Then Shag begins to investigate the Gunpowder Plot and to question is the official version of events is really the truth.
In addition to the actor who plays Shag, four actors play members of the Globe company and also play Cecil, James I, the conspirators, and other characters. The one other actor plays Shag’s daughter Judith, with whom he has a fraught relationship owing to the death of her twin brother and the fact that, in his words, “We both know I wish she was the one who had died.”
Equivocation is a brilliant play on a number of levels. It’s exciting storytelling as Shag attempts to unravel the truth behind the Gunpowder Plot. There are fascinating philosophical layers about power, forgiveness, the nature of truth, the nature of theater. Much of the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny, but there are also moments that make you gasp at the tension, and the end had me in tears. One thing that struck me in terms of Lauren’s blog is that the portrait of Shakespeare really seems like the man who might have written Shakespeare’s plays. I felt the same about the Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love (with it’s brilliant script by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman). What’s more, both characters thought and talked like writers
The actor characters in Shakespeare in Love and Equivocation also ring true. There’s a wonderful scene early on in Equivocation where they’re rehearsing King Lear and complaining it doesn’t make any sense (everyone’s mad or pretending to be mad and no one’s listening to anyone else). Richard Burbage says “if we got through his comedies-don’t-have-to-be-funny period, we can get through whatever this is.” :-).
A sampling of some other favorite lines:
Robert Cecil: “What’s the word for a person who waits till the last minute? A…”
Judith: “Lear’s about an old man who causes the death of his three daughters and, when it’s over, everyone feels sorry for him.”
Shag: “He [Cecil] insulted me. He said my work would last fifty years.”
Shag [to one of the young actors]: “Anyone who has the looks, energy, needs approval as much as you do and doesn’t care about anyone but himself–can be a great actor. A rare combination, but you have it.”
Do you have favorite plays or books or movies that depict writers and/or actors? What makes them work?
This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Mélanie to Charles on his birthday in 1814.