The Old Globe launches ambitious 'Henry 6' project
The Old Globe Theatre has an ambitious project. It will present a new two-play adaptation of "Henry VI, Parts I, II, and III" in summer 2023.
But it's not just about staging the plays. The Globe is launching a yearlong program of citywide arts engagement and humanities events to invite the community to get involved by sharing ideas, learning more about the story behind Henry VI and even being a part of the cast as a sort of extra in crowd scenes.
The Henry 6 Project will kick off this Saturday at the Globe's "Happy Birthday Mr. Shakespeare!" free event.
Long before James Bond, Star Wars or Marvel thought of creating cinematic franchises, a very young William Shakespeare, just starting his playwriting career, already had his eye on the business end of things. He wrote a cycle of history plays about Henry VI and presented them in three parts. The history the plays tackle the Wars of the Roses, a decades-long civil war fought in early-modern England between the York and Lancaster branches of the Plantagenet dynasty.
"You can't just do one of them. The story only makes sense if you get the sweep of all three plays," said Barry Edelstein, a Shakespearean scholar and the Globe's artistic director.
So the young Shakespeare knew he could lure audiences back with an early version of "the sequel."
Edelstein said there is something fun and exciting about looking at the early work of such an accomplished writer as the Bard.
"They have a certain kind of show-off quality to them," Edelstein said. "Shakespeare, when he wrote the plays, was really young. He was in his 20s, and he was trying to make his reputation as a writer in London. So he said, 'Watch me do this. Now I'm going to do a battle scene. Now I'm going to have somebody walk in with a decapitated head. Now I'm going to do some big bomber soliloquy.' And you watched him kind of fledge his wings and see little traces of what we know he's going to grow into over the subsequent couple of decades of his writing career. And throughout the three plays, you hear the voice of Shakespeare — that amazing, kind of unmistakable, tremendously powerful voice suddenly peak out. So it's fun just to hang out with these plays because we know who this writer is going to become."
Edelstein will be adapting the trilogy into a more manageable pair of plays to be presented at next year's Summer Shakespeare Festival. The production will mark the Globe’s completion of the Bard’s canon (37 plays), a rare achievement for an American theater company.
In conjunction with this impressive feat, The Globe will present an array of free, citywide arts engagement and humanities events leading up to and accompanying "Henry 6."
The plays may be some four centuries old but they are surprisingly contemporary in their views on politicians and people in power.
"The big political insight that Shakespeare has in the plays is that these figures begin to start to chase power for power's own sake," Edelstein said. "Any idea that there are values that are larger than themselves or larger than power itself goes away."
The plays might be about 15th century England but Shakespeare's insights apply today.
"It's kind of a cautionary tale about what happens when political power becomes divorced from values. And the answer to what happens is only violence results," Edelstein said. "And so again and again in the play, these leaders come into power, and all they want is their own self-interest to be served. And violence follows war, death, chaos on the streets. And it's just a remarkably sobering and insightful and incisive reading of how political power can go awry. There's some stuff in it that's kind of shockingly current. International conquest just for the sake of the reputation of a leader, or at one point there's a populist rebellion where the people themselves kind of rise up. There are authoritarian leaders that show up. So, yeah, the brilliant thing about Shakespeare always is that he seems to have lived the things that we're living through 400 years before we did. And that's absolutely the case here."
The Globe will share more information about the Henry 6 Project at the "Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare!" event taking place from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 16 at the Globe’s outdoor Copley Plaza.