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Tony Grist

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Interrogating James Shapiro [May. 8th, 2012|11:10 am]
Tony Grist
James Shapiro relates the plots of The Winter's Tale and The Tempest to James I's attempts to arrange splendid dynastic marriages for his children. Perhaps. James's daughter the Princess Elizabeth ended up marrying a Prince of Bohemia- and it's probably no accident that that's where Florizel comes from. 

Shapiro thinks the move to the Blackfriars Theatre inspired Shakey to try things he'd never attempted before like the statue scene from The Winter's Tale. Yes, but if that scene depends for its effectiveness on candlelit intimacy how did they manage it when the show transferred to The Globe?  Personally I think it would work on any stage. Again, there's only the one statue scene. It's not as though the later plays were littered with these show-stopping visual effects. 

Towards the end of his career Shakey stopped referring to the audience as "auditors" and started calling them "spectators". That's interesting if it's true. And, no, I'm not going to work my way through the canon checking up. Shapiro's point is that the new indoor theatre offered an experience that was primarily visual not aural. I'm unconvinced. The Blackfriars would have allowed more scope for stage "magic" but not for large-scale spectacle- fights, battles, processions. Also its acoustics would have been better.

Shapiro has Shakey retiring to Stratford after Henry VIII and never writing anything else for the stage. So what about Cardenio and The Two Noble Kinsmen? Cardenio is lost to us, but I'm an enthusiast for The Two Noble Kinsmen. OK, it didn't make it into the folio, but it's as much Shakey's as Henry VIII is- and a much more interesting play.

[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-05-08 10:59 am (UTC)
Interesting idea. As a fan of Dame Frances Yates and her work, I'm inclined to see a relationship between James VI and I, "The Tempest", and the "Winter Kingdom" of Frederick and Elizabeth, but I'm almost certain that it is not the connection Shapiro is attempting to make.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-08 12:41 pm (UTC)
Shapiro's theory doesn't go beyond Shakespeare picking up on the issues of the day. What is Yates's view?
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-05-09 12:41 pm (UTC)
Yates maintained that the direct inspiration for Prospero was Shakespeare's somewhat infamous contemporary, Dr John Dee. She also believed that Dee and his odd brand of Protestant mysticism was ultimately the inspiration behind the "Winter Kingdom" itself. I think her theories are not quite as free from controversy as one might hope, but I'm inclined to agree with her conclusions.

Under Yate's influence, I see the union of Frederick and Elizabeth as more an attempt to gain James's support for the anti-Catholic cause, rather than the other way around. Given that James, ever the craven coward, failed to defend his daughter and son-in-law, if he was hoping for a return on his socio-political investment, James certainly abandoned that investment without hesitation.

The whole episode is fascinating, from an historical perspective. Crushing Frederick was the obvious course for Mother Church, yet it marked the beginning of the end of Her temporal power. Our modern concept of the state was also born of this same incident. If there were such a thing as angels, and if they did take an interest in human affairs, then this would be one of the more amazing examples.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-05-09 04:12 pm (UTC)
Sounds fascinating. I know next to nothing about any of this. I need to investigate.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-05-10 12:20 pm (UTC)
Her principal text discussing the Winter Kingdom is, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, and she explores Dee and Prospero in, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. Both works are a bit on the scholarly side, but the content is intriguing.

Dee and his work occupy a rather special niche in my life. He's been restored to much of his rightful place and dignity just within the span of my lifetime.
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