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Life at the Globe

Life at the Globe

26 January 2019

9:00 AM

26 January 2019

9:00 AM

 
 
IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON
Merian Global Investors

I quoted last week that rather Brexit-flavoured passage from John of Gaunt’s deathbed speech in Richard II — noting how it chimed with the times. I didn’t mention that the Globe’s forthcoming production, opening at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on 22 February, has an unusual distinction: it will be the first Shakespeare production on a major UK stage to feature a company – directed by and starring Adjoah Andoh — entirely made up of black and minority ethnic women. That adds an extra layer of irony to the play’s treatment of national identity.


Is that, as some will grumble, a politically correct anachronism? Only the very literal-minded will think so. Shakespeare’s own times chimed with our times. Immigration and the status of minority groups preoccupies us now, and it was a preoccupation then. London quadrupled in size over the course of the 16th century, and the same old tune was playing. When the price of flour went up, taxes rose and vagrancy increased: outsiders tended to get the blame. The so-called Dutch church libel of 1593, which saw an anonymous doggerel poem posted on a church door, warning immigrants to ‘fly, fly and never returne’, brought mobs of apprentices out onto the streets.

Shakespeare’s England was not ethnically uniform. There were relatively few black people but they were free citizens, usually in domestic service. And they were visible. Shakespeare wrote black characters, Othello being the best known. But then as now, there was more to native mistrust than bare numbers. In 1596 Queen Elizabeth, who herself had a black maidservant, issued a proclamation complaining: ‘There are of late divers blackmoores brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are allready here to manie.’

The first black actor to play Shakespeare on a West End stage, incidentally, is thought to have been the American-born Ira Aldridge (1807-67). He remains the only black actor to be honoured with a plaque at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

 
IN ASSOCIATION WITH THE PRINCIPAL PARTNERS OF SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE’S 2019 SUMMER SEASON
Merian Global Investors


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