Monumental Play

Commemoration, Post-war Britain, and History Cycles

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 Webster University ahagerman@jburroughs.org
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Shakespeare's histories have been staged as cycles increasingly often in the post-war era, with cycles from the 1950s and 60s proving particularly influential on successive cycles. But the features of those early cycles are due as much to the commemorative contexts of their production as to the qualities of their interpretations. Cycles were mounted by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre for the 1951 Festival of Britain, an event ambiguously commemorative of both older and more recent pasts that also looked self-consciously ahead to an increasingly technological future. A decade later, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged their 'Wars of the Roses'; acclaimed as innovative, it is in fact shaped by the same commemorative impulse as the Festival of Britain cycles. Asking why the histories were appealing and how they fit - or failed to fit - into their commemorative, celebratory contexts elucidates how and why the histories have become essential to the post-war English stage.

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