Social Distancing in Elizabethan England in the Time of the Plague
In William Shakespeare’s time, London was ravaged by the bubonic plague. Public health regulation was haphazard at best in Elizabethan England, but one official measure that people seem to understand was that isolation of plague victims seem to slow down the spread of the disease. Hence the nailing shut of quarantined houses. They grasped too the relationship between the progress of the epidemics and large crowds. Authorities did not cancel church services, but when plague deaths began to rise they did shut down the theaters. This, of course, included the Globe Theater in which Shakespeare mounted his productions. The rule of thumb to shutter the theaters was 30 deaths per week. The enemies of the theaters became even more strident in their criticism, shouting that God had sent the plague to punish London for its sins, above all whoredom, sodomy, and playacting.
The Globe Theater
Source: Will in the World, by Stephen Greenblatt
Photos: by Benn Bell
Comedy of Errors
Saw a production of Kentucky Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors in Central Park last night in Old Louisville. Matt Wallace’s merry band of players brought this hilarious play of mistaken identity to vivid life on the outdoor stage. Even if you don’t understand every single word of the Elizabethan tongue you will have no problem following the action.
Kudos to Matt Wallace for his fine directing and stage blocking. Many scenes were staged to look like paintings or tableaus. And the costumes! Divine. Colorful, flowing, rich, sensuous materials; candy to the eye and music to the ear. All against a color coordinated set dominated by brown with white furniture, windows, doors, and lattice works. Baskets of brightly colored fruits and vegetable accented the tables.
At no time did the action drag. As one character leaves the stage another enters, usually talking.
Really liked the Greek dance at the end. A nice grace note to end upon.
All in all, it was a Comedy Tonight!
“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”
-William Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar
“The quality of mercy is not strained. It falls to the ground like the gentle rain.” – William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
The best way to shoot a squirrel is with a camera. When I was a young man I used to hunt squirrels with a 12 gauge shotgun. Now that I have grown older and have been influenced by Buddhism I have lost my taste for killing.
Once, when I was a teenager visiting my grandfather’s farm in Kentucky, I was out early one morning with the shotgun. As I came upon the grainery in the early morning mist I noticed a motion just to my right. A groundhog had just climbed a fence post and was sitting on top of it just as pretty as you please.
Well, I drew a bead on the varmint and slowly cocked back the hammer of the single action shotgun. I had him in my sights and I wrapped my finger around the trigger and took a deep breath as I prepared to pull the trigger. But something happened at that moment. I began to think about what a cute little feller he was and he was well known to the family and everyone would be unhappy if I shot the creature.
I looked down the barrel of the gun and in my minds eye I shot the groundhog but I could not bring myself to actually kill he beast. I slowly applied the web of my right thumb to the cocked hammer of the gun and gently released it to the non-firing position. The ground hog ran off to live another day.
I had an epiphany that day. One might say a moment of clarity. And I learned a valuable lesson that day about the use and abuse of power: It is more powerful to exercise mercy by granting life than it is to execute an innocent creature who only wants to live as much as you do. I never killed again after that.
This is where they disposed of the bodies…..
Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s more out there plays. It was presented recently by Kentucky Shakespeare at a warehouse in the heart of Butchertown near downtown Louisville just in time for Halloween. How very appropriate in both cases for this was the most bloody and horror haunted of all the Bard’s pieces.
Titus was one of Shakespeare’s early plays and written when he was quite young. It is not one of his best plays but it is certainly one of his goriest. Perfect for the October Country and very fitting fare for Halloween.
Director Matt Wallace gives us plenty of atmosphere by staging the play in an abandoned warehouse with with dark interiors, concrete floors, exposed pipes, and plenty of fog. Lighting was from utility lamps pressed into service. The play is set in set in ancient Rome but the warehouse space and the costuming of the actors give the play the right horror haunted feel. Just right for torture and mayhem. The cast was dressed in black leather and Tamora, Queen of the Goths, was appropriately outfitted in a black leather corset suitable to her name.
Harold Bloom has called this play a testimony to patriarchy’s ultimate oppression of its females. In an act of revenge, Lavinia, Titus’s daughter, is savagely raped by Tamora’s sons, Demetius and Chiron. Tamora says to them, “…when you have the honey of your desire, let not this wasp outlive, us both to sting.” After raping Lavinia the boys cut out her tongue and slice off both her hands so that she cannot identify them.
Later Titus continues the cycle of revenge by killing both of Tamora’s sons by cutting their throats. He drains their blood and bakes their remains into a pie and then feeds the meal to Tamora unbeknownst to her. When she finds out horror ensues.
The actors were uniformly excellent and the play was as good a Shakespeare as you will see anywhere in the country. Titus Andronicus was a marvel to behold.