English Renaissance Plays on YouTube

The renaissance was a lot better in Italy. And Germany, of course. It got worse as more and more people jumped on the bandwagon.

The renaissance was a lot better in Italy. And Germany, of course. It got worse as more and more people jumped on the bandwagon.

It's hard to find solid performances of English Renaissance plays. Most of the dialogue is written in verse, which makes it incompatible with the modern theatre acting style that favours realism and self-aware melodrama over gravitas and natural charisma. Not only that, but Western culture has over the past few hundred years become very limited in its tonal expression which is, once again, incompatible with the batshit insane smorgasbord of styles that can be contained in even a single soliloquy of the renaissance. The insanity of anime ain't got shit on The Revenger's Tragedy, for instance.

Luckily for you, and unfortunately for myself, a few months ago I watched a lot of plays on YouTube. Here are most of the ones that were good. Some feature a standout performance that carries the play, others are entirely successful productions wherein everyone plays their role well, or all the principle actors do.

Richard II is one of Shakespeare's less well-known plays. Written before he'd moved away from rhymed verse (Shakespeare was behind the times), it features much awkward writing. But his use of a broad metaphor that is repeated throughout the play, expressing both the feelings of the characters and encapsulating the dramatic events occurring in the background, is all the more powerful for the consistent focus on poetry. It's all about the earth, by the way. ;) Oh, and Richard II is the classic Shakespeare sap of a poet king, wandering miserably through the events of history, and failing to make England the great nation it should be. Shakespeare was a nationalist.

This is the cool version of Richard II, and was probably a big influence on Shakespeare when he wrote Richard II. Edward II is head-over-heels in love with Piers Gaveston, and dotes on him extravagantly. This not only pisses off a bunch of other dudes in tights, their codpieces hiding their raging erections while they watch Piers and Richard II all but fuck in the court in front of them, vying for the throne. Like Richard II, Edward II is oblivious to their conniving, but he's not a sappy poet. He's a horny macaroni, played by the then in the closet Ian MacKellan.

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's lesser plays. It's about as bad as Julius Caeser, but doesn't have Mark Antony's great speech to make the rest of a Shakespeare Mary Sue power fantasy bearable. But the great thing about theatre is that even if the play is shit, a great performance can save it. And here there are two! Mark Gatiss is both annoying and endearing as he tries to reason with Mary Sue, played by Tom Hiddleston, who just wants to wrestle with dudes, strip, and tell everyone how cool he is. Shakespeare was a facist.

The changeling has the decency to separate its comedy and its drama. William Rowley probably wrote the Carry On-like farce, while Thomas Middleton probably wrote most of the serious bits. The serious bits are the main reason we're here, as The Changeling is sort of like a feminist Romeo and Juliet. Don't believe anyone that tells you Shakespeare's female characters are distinctive for the era, or that he has feminist undertones. He's positively Victorian compared to many of the other chaps of his era. Shakespeare was a chauvinist. But I digress, here there's just one good performance, but it's enough to carry the whole play: Thomas Middleton's soliloquies are beautiful, and the lady playing Beatrice nails them.

George Bernard Shaw (a noted anti-vaccer and Nazi) described John Webster as the Taussad Laurete due to the sensational brutality of The Duchess of Malfi. And it is brutal. And sensational. So yeah, he's the Taussad Laureate.

This performance of The Tempest shows how an intimate and engaged audience can transform a performance, as the actors and audience energise one another. It also features a body-painted Ariel, who acts his arse off; recieving a well-deserved standing ovation at the end. For comparison, you can also watch it at The Globe with professional actors without such an intimate audience.