July 14, 2012

“Mary Stuart”at the Shakespeare Festival

Riddled with intrigue, jealousy, murder, deceit, and religious strife, the play Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller and translated by Peter Oswald depicts the political atmosphere of Shakespeare’s England.

Cousins, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, claim legitimacy to the throne of England.  Threatened by their rivalry, Elizabeth has Mary imprisoned for 18 years for the murder of her husband Lord Darnley.

Torn between her desire to rule freely and her fear of Mary’s Catholic allies, Elizabeth hesitates to sign Mary’s death warrant.  Meanwhile, Mary finds support from the nephew of one of her guardians, the newly converted Catholic, Mortimer.  Even among Elizabeth’s advisers, the Earl of Leicester secretly sympathizes with Mary and joins with Mortimer.  But as the Earl’s loyalty comes into questions, he has Mortimer seized as a traitor in order to reestablish his reputation.  Afraid of incriminating Mary, Mortimer kills himself in the arms of the guard.

Elizabeth finally decides that in order to truly be free, she must sign Mary’s death warrant, but she leaves it to Leicester to carry it out and further prove his loyalty.  In order to absolve herself of her cousin’s death, Elizabeth blames her advisers and either imprisons or banishes them.  In the end, she is secure in her reign but all alone.

Friedrich Schiller, the play write, said: “The theater has the power to punish the thousand vices which justice must patiently tolerate; the thousand virtues which the latter must let pass without comment, on the stage are held up for general admiration.” (Translated by John Sigerson and John Chambless, Theatre considered as a Moral Institution, Schillerinstitute.org)

For those who have seen the play or are familiar with the story, did one queen demonstrate greater virtue or vice?  Did one have greater claim to the throne?

go to http://www.bard.org/plays/stuart2012.html for the complete synopsis, history, essays, and photos of the play.

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