by Julia Sommer
Controversy has raged for centuries over what exactly Shakespeare did and didn't write. The Bard has been called a plagiarist, a front for the Earl of Oxford, an unmatched genius, a hack.
"Edward III" is one of those plays thought to be at least partially by him.
In an effort to solve the long-standing mystery, the Center for Theater Arts will host a staged reading of the rarely performed "Edward III" by the California Shakespeare Festival Saturday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. in Zellerbach Playhouse.
The reading will be directed by Kent Nicholson, literary manager of San Francisco's Magic Theatre, with the role of Edward III taken by Joe Vincent, artistic director of the California Shakespeare Festival. Dominique Lozano, actress with ACT and the Berkeley Repertory Theater, plays the Countess of Salisbury.
The reading will be preceded by a panel discussion of the play with Vincent; Nicholson; Shakespeare scholar and Professor Emeritus of English Hugh Richmond; and self-described amateur scholar Alan Wachtel.
After the reading, the audience will decide whether or not this is a Shakespeare play.
Vincent predicts that the reading, along with the first-time inclusion of "Edward III" in the 1997 Riverside edition of Shakespeare's complete works, will soon prompt the more established theater companies to stage the play. "We're giving it a beginning," he says.
Even the editor of the venerable Oxford edition of Shakespeare's complete works now says he will include "Edward III" in the next edition.
According to Vincent, a Shakes-pearean actor for 26 years, 14 of them with the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, "if 'Edward III' isn't all Shakespeare, his hands are all over it. It deserves to be his."
Richmond, who is now education director for Shakespeare Globe Center-USA, finds "so many resemblances to Shakespeare's turns of phrase and to his other history plays, that it's very hard not to believe that Shakespeare either copied 'Edward III,' or wrote part or all of it."
Richmond points out that one line is identical to the last line of Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 94, both of which were written around 1590: "Lillies that fester, smell far worse than weeds."
Nicholson, who has worked on several California Shakespeare Festival productions, thinks that Shakespeare wrote "portions... probably the whole thing. There's too much similarity to his later plays to be coincidence."
"Shakespearean scholars are moving toward feeling "Edward III" is wholly or in part Shakespeare's," says Richmond. "We will carry on the debate at the reading."
CTA will offer workshops for Berkeley students with California Shakespeare
Festival artistic staff for three days following the reading. They will
include a makeup workshop with Vincent, another on classical stage movement,
and panel discussions on the business of theater-one for actors and another
for designers and production staff.
True Story Behind the Plays
Richmond, director of Berkeley's Shakespeare Program for many years, explains that Shakespeare started as a "hack" writer, revising other people's scripts for pay-a customary procedure in those days.
"Shakespeare rewrote at least half his plays from earlier versions," says Richmond. "There are two versions of 'King Lear'; two of 'The Merry Wives of Windsor.' 'Macbeth' looks as if it was rewritten four times."
Richmond has championed those questionable plays. In 1990, he and his student troupe performed "Henry VIII," another play thought to be Shakespeare's.
"It's easier to stage a less-performed play than the 4,000th production of 'Hamlet,'" he points out.
Why is it so difficult to determine exactly what Shakespeare wrote?
First, explains Richmond, there were no copyright laws in those days. When a playwright sold his wares, he gave up all control over them.
Second, Shakespeare's complete works were not published until seven years after his death, and they were edited.
Third, the Puritans, who came to power in the mid-1600s, closed the theaters, breaking the Shakespearean tradition. The Globe was torn down.
Fourth, many theatrical records were destroyed in the 1666 Fire of London.
When Charles II returned from France to take back the throne, he brought French tastes with him, resulting in tidier, happier revisions of Shakespeare plays, explains Richmond.
Victorian-era editors and publishers cut out the dirty bits and directors cut the scripts heavily.
But today, in the age of Internet, email and video, interest in Shakespeare
has never been higher. Some 130 Shakespeare festivals thrive in the United
Why the continued interest in Shakespeare and his work?
"He's such a clever, lively writer," says Richmond. "Shakespeare's plays cover the whole history of Western civilization-hardly a theme is left untouched. And so many of our popular phrases come from Shakespeare plays, it's almost impossible not to echo him. Despite attacks on the canon, Shakespeare is just too good to ignore. He's even survived the deconstructionists."
Vincent thinks Shakespeare is even more popular now than he was in his own day. "There's a vitality...in his plays that audiences respond to," he says. "They show us who we are. They speak to people in every time."