With a record-breaking sixteen Tony Award nominations for his hit musical “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda will soon have to clear some space on his trophy shelf next to his Grammy and Pulitzer. But there is something remarkable about the play that all the critical acclaim has missed entirely. Reviewers have rightfully celebrated Miranda for telling the life story of one of America’s greatest Founders using energetic numbers, a multiethnic cast, and a strong emphasis on hip-hop.
Mortality is not a theme that Shakespeare shies away from in his works, and in many cases death serves an integral part of a play’s plot. Occasionally his deaths are tragic, others are gruesome and violent, and others are just creative (we’re looking at you, Antigonus), but they play move the play along or resolve its final conflict.
Tango is a multidimensional art form including music, dance and poetry. It grew out of the confluence of cultures in the Río de la Plata region in South America and has since had over a century-long history. Here are ten things that you might not know about Argentine tango music.
Although Shakespeare employed disguises in many of his plays for the sake of comedic effect — take Sir Falstaff dressed as the obese aunt of Mistress Ford’s maid, for example — many more of his characters are entangled in other serious, deceptive plots. The majority of disguises are assumed with the sole purpose of concealing the individual’s true identity, many times for the assurance of his or her safety.
There is a wonderful Christopher Rush novel, Will (2007), in which Shakespeare says that what he does best is death: “I do deaths you see. And I can do the deaths of children. Their lips were four red roses on a stalk… – that sort of thing.” From the death of young Rutland in 2 Henry VI to the unexpected death of Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s plays are full of loss.
In early modern England, social violence and recurring diseases ensured death was a constant presence, so it is only natural to find such a prominent theme in Shakespeare’s plays, especially his tragedies. His characters died at the hands of one another more often than from natural causes, whether stabbing, poisoning, or beheading (or a combination of the three!).
Forever demanding new performers to interpret them for new audiences under new circumstances, and continuing to elicit a rich worldwide profusion of editions, translations, commentaries, adaptations and spin-offs, Shakespeare’s works have never behaved like unchanging monuments about which nothing new remains to be said.
In 2012, when the world tuned in for the opening ceremony of London’s Olympic Games, they were witness in part to a performance of one of Shakespeare’s most famed speeches, delivered by one of today’s most revered Shakespearean actors. Kenneth Branagh, dressed as English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, offered lines from The Tempest in the spirit of the ceremony’s larger theme, “The Isles of Wonder”.
It’s 1608. You are passing by the bookstall of the publisher Thomas Pavier on Cornhill, a stone’s throw from the elegant colonnades of London’s Royal Exchange, when something catches your eye: a sensational play dramatising a series of real-life gruesome domestic murders. A Yorkshire Tragedy has that enticing whiff of scandal about it, but what persuades you to part with your hard-earned cash is seeing the dramatist’s name proudly emblazoned on the title-page: “Written by W. Shak[e]speare”.
Certain facts surrounding Shakespeare, his work, and Elizabethan England have been easy to establish. But there is a wealth of Shakespeare knowledge only gained centuries after his time, across the globe, and far beyond the Anglophone realm.
We’ve heard a lot lately about what Shakespeare would do. He’d be kind to migrants, for instance, because of this passage from the unpublished collaborative play ‘Sir Thomas More’ often attributed to him: ‘Imagine that you see the wretched stranger / Their babies at their backs, with their poor luggage / Plodding to th’ports and coasts for transportation (Scene 6: 84-6).
The first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays printed in 1623 – known as the First Folio – has a rich history. It is estimated that around 700 or 750 copies were printed, and today we know the whereabouts of over 230. They exist in some form or another, often incomplete or a combination of different copies melded together, in libraries and personal collections all over the world.
Many playwrights have explored race relations, particularly in America. The growth of the Civil Rights Movement gave rise to a range of plays protesting racism and exploring the African-American experience. Lorraine Hansberry made history as the first black woman to have a play on Broadway: A Raisin in the Sun, also the first play on Broadway to be directed by a black director.
Easter was late in 1916, falling on 23 April, St George’s Day. This coincidence of faith and patriotism was inevitably both heightened and tempered by the ongoing struggles of the First World War. April 1916 came amidst the protracted fighting of the Battle of Verdun, a long and bloody conflict yet one which was only a foretaste of the horrors to come at the Somme the summer following. It also happened to mark the Tercentenary of the death of William Shakespeare.
How do we understand Shakespeare today versus one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred years ago? Through efforts like archaeological digs and excavations, studies of word spelling and linguistic patterns, researchers and experts can reconstruct an early modern theatre experience: plays performed in original pronunciation inside facsimile Elizabethan theatres.
It was only after I finished writing The Founding Fathers: A Very Short Introduction that I got to see the off-Broadway version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton: An American Musical” at New York City’s Public Theater. I was lucky enough to see the Broadway version (revised and expanded) last month.