So I saw the Phyllida Lloyd-directed production of The Tempest. She and Harriet Walter (a leading British actress) did this trilogy of Shakespeare plays set in a women’s prison, with the conceit that the women are inmates performing the play as part of a drama club. And I know it’s a concept that comes off as “Shakespeare, but underwater!!” in that kind of weird way that people put Shakespeare in contexts where it doesn’t quite belong. I was skeptical coming in, especially since the first 2 were Julius Caesar and Henry IV Part 1 and I was mystified as to how this context would work with a comedy but this production was inspired. It made me see the play in a whole new light.
I was describing The Tempest to @lookwhathappenedtomack the other night, and I talked about it as this weird fantastical comedy with 3 plots, none of which made much sense. I thought of it as light, airy, detached, frivolous, and I thought of Prospero the same way; a commanding, detached figure. But in this production, there were stakes, to everything, and they couldn’t be higher. Rather than being a towering, cool sorcerer, Harriet Walter’s Prospero was someone who both meted out punishment and imprisonment to the courtiers and Ariel, but also knew deeply what it was to be punished and imprisoned (because she’s really playing an inmate who’s playing Prospero) This goes for everyone else else in the play, especially Ariel. When Prospero asked her “What is’t thou canst demand,” Ariel yelled “MY LIBERTY!” and a shock went through me. I thought “This is the only way this person can express that desire with a hope of it coming true. In the confines of the play, she can be free in two hours’ time. In the prison, she still has to serve the rest of her sentence.”
I learned at this production that The Tempest is a play about people who want freedom, who want the rights denied to them, who want to come home. And setting it in a women’s prison was a genius way to bring those desires to the forefront. I’m gonna stop here because I could ramble on about this for paragraph after paragraph, but it was an incredible production.
‘So, when this loose behaviour I throw off And pay the debt I never promised, By how much better than my word I am, By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes; And like bright metal on a sullen ground, My reformation, glittering o'er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes Than that which hath no foil to set it off. I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill; Redeeming time when men think least I will.’
Were I a man, a duke, and next of blood, I would remove these tedious stumbling blocks And smooth my way upon their headless necks; And, being a woman, I will not be slack To play my part in Fortune’s pageant.
Henry VI, Part 2 (1.2.63-69)
KEY YORKIST FEMALE FIGURES DURING THIS PERIOD:
❀ Anne Beauchamp, 16th Countess of Warwick - wife of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick; the Kingmaker ❀ Cecily Neville, Duchess of York - wife of Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York; mother to Edward IV of England ❀ Anne of York, Duchess of Exeter - wife of Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter ❀ Alice Montacute, 5th Countess of Salisbury - wife of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury ❀ Joan Fauconberg, Baroness Fauconberg - wife of William Neville, 1st Earl of Kent ❀ Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk - former lady in waiting to Margaret of Anjou; Castellan of Wallingford; Custodian of the Duke of Exeter
♔ First Battle of St Albans - 22nd of May 1455 ♔ Battle of Blore Heath - 23rd of September 1459 ♔ Battle of Ludford Bridge - 12th of October 1459 ♔ Battle of Sandwich - January 1460 ♔ Battle of Northampton - 10th of July 1460 ♔ Battle of Wakefield - 30th of December 1460 ♔ Battle of Mortimer’s Cross - 2nd of February 1461 ♔ Second Battle of St Albans - 17th of February 1461 ♔ Battle of Ferrybridge - 28th of March 1461 ♔ Battle of Towton - 29th of March 1461