King Lear is a work of obvious genius, so what to say about it in fifteen minutes that can illuminate it? Using the historical idea of service, and the relationship between service and – believe it or not – love, we can get a handle on all sorts of relationships in the play. And Sheldrake thinks these handles can help us whether we are in a classroom, sitting room or rehearsal.
This is not the first time genre has been used as a critical tool for understanding Shakespeare’s process and plays, but Sheldrake – never one to dismiss an idea merely because it has been heard before – draws together some big ideas about comedy and tragedy and shows the way that Shakespeare messes about with them.
Shakespeare nicked stuff from everywhere; prose narratives, history books, other plays. Sheldrake rattles through a few of the old chestnuts and a few of the lesser-known borrowings, showing Shakespeare as a great adapter of stories.
Testing the patience of listeners once again by talking about someone who isn’t Shakespeare, Sheldrake investigates the peculiar career of John Marston; satirist, dramatist, tragicomedian. He had some great successes, then there was a bit of a lean patch, then he appears to have thrown in the towel. Why? In one word – tragicomedy.
As social politics continue to change with gathering speed, works of literature have to catch up or fall by the wayside. The plays of Shakespeare, written in a very different age from our own, must be scrutinised. Does this play, a notorious battle of the sexes, pass the test? Sheldrake thinks so.
The current production of Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theatre in London has the sort of theatrical courage that all Globe productions, indeed all Shakespeare productions, should have. Much like the play, this production takes risks, and they pay off big time.
Richard II has grown in fame in recent years, but is hounded by the fact that the central character is brilliant whilst the rest of the play is the usual run-of-the-mill History drama. But is it that simple? By paying closer attention, can we see that the true genius of this play is in its combination of genres in order to understand history? Sheldrake thinks so.