"Shakespeare's Worst Plays? Performing the three parts of Henry VI"
Stuart Hampton-Reeves (University of Central Lancashire)Although Henry VI was a big hit in Shakespeare's day and helped to launch his career, today this three-play epic is regarded by many people as his worst work. I will defend Henry VI as a theatrical masterpiece which threw a huge shadow over Shakespeare's later works. Henry VI is a play cycle about an empire in ruins and about a King facing the horrors of civil war. The play includes some of Shakespeare's best characters, including Queen Margaret, Joan of Arc, John Talbot, the Machiavellian Duke of York and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who ends the cycle plotting to take throne to become Richard III. Modern theatre has rediscovered Henry VI's theatrical vitality and its keen relevance to modern times and it is through a study of Henry VI in performance that we can best confront the challenging questions that the play raises.
November 6, 2010
Wing Haven (near Queen's University)
Stuart Hampton-Reeves is the author (with Carol Chillington Rutter) of Shakespeare in Performance: the Henry VI Plays and has also written books on Measure for Measure, Othello and the history plays. He is Chair of the British Shakespeare Association and co-editor of the forthcoming Palgrave series Shakespeare in Practice. He is currently Professor of Research-informed Teaching at the University of Central Lancashire and leads the British Conference of Undergraduate Research.
"Henry VIII on Trial"
Professor Helen Hull (Queens College)
England's King Henry VIII is probably most recognized today for his six wives, his expansive girth, and his part in the Protestant Reformation-by divorcing his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, he "divorced" England from the Pope and Catholicism. Modern productions about the Tudors, such as The Other Boleyn Girl and Showtime's The Tudors, emphasize the young King Henry's lusty appetite, and so we might expect to find some seed for that in Shakespeare's play. However, Shakespeare's King Henry VIII is more concerned with the political intrigue surrounding Henry, in particular the legal proceedings against characters like Catherine and his lord chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. The play's most compelling moments generally happen during these trials. (Think Law and Order, rather than Sex and the City!) We'll talk about who's on trial and why in this play, and we'll consider how performance emphasizes how much the monarch is subject to the court of public opinion.
Dr. Helen Hull teaches literature and composition courses in the English department at Queens University of Charlotte. She earned her PhD in Renaissance English drama from the University of Maryland. Her research interests include the intersections of literature, politics, and religion in early modern England, in particular the representation of officeholders such as the lord mayor and lord chancellor in drama and prose writing. She is also interested in modern environmental issues.