By May S. Ruiz
Residents of the San Gabriel Valley will be in for a rare treat next week when London’s acclaimed Globe Theatre on Tour wends its way to Southern California to stage Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. For two nights in November, the 9th and the 10th, The Huntington will be the venue for this much-anticipated performance.
Dominic Dromgoole, Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, has this to say, “I am delighted that Shakespeare’s Globe continues to extend its reach across the world through our epic touring programme. Our beautiful and fast-paced production of Much Ado About Nothing, having toured theatres and gardens in the UK over the summer, will be making its way to South America before touring to The Huntington in November. We have had a long-standing relationship with the Folger Shakespeare Library (in Washington, D.C.) where we have successfully toured our plays in the past, and consequently thought The Huntington would be a similarly natural fit.”
According to Lisa Blackburn, Communications Coordinator/Calendar Editor at The Huntington (Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens), the Library’s depth of collection makes this San Marino, California institution one of the leading centers of Shakespeare scholarship. It rivals what is available at the British Library in London, The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the Newbury Library in Chicago.
The Huntington’s vast holdings include a rare 1623 “First Folio” edition of Shakespeare’s collected plays. Published seven years after the Bard’s death, it contains 36 plays, 18 of them printed for the first time. The Huntington also has numerous early quarto of individual plays, including one of only two surviving copies of the first edition of Hamlet (1603); rare 16th– and 17th-century works documenting life in Shakespeare’s world; materials relating to early theatre – including playbills promoting performances at London’s Drury Lane Theatre, engravings of famous Shakespearean actors of the day such as David Garrick and Sarah Siddons, and prints depicting dramatic scenes from many Shakespeare plays.
Educational and cultural programming – from lectures and conferences, to teacher training workshops, to professional theatrical performances – are frequently on offer at The Huntington. It also works with schools on Shakespeare-related programs, as it did this past spring when The Huntington collaborated with Esteban E. Flores High School in East Los Angeles on a students’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which they performed for family and friends.
Other recent Shakespeare programs held at The Huntington include a production by the Independent Shakespeare Company, on the 6th of June 2015, of a rarely performed romance Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
Ms. Blackburn also says The Huntington has just successfully concluded a college-level seminar in anticipation of the 400th anniversary of The Bard’s death. Heidi Brayman Hackel, associate professor of English at UC Riverside who specializes in the literature and culture of early modern England (1500-1700), conducted this course. It paid particular attention on Shakespeare’s late plays – The Winter’s tale, The Tempest, and Henry VIII – examining them as meditations on and farewells to the public stage and public life as well.
At an April 2015 scholarly conference on “Rethinking Shakespeare in the Social Depth of Politics,” social historians and literary critics repositioned his works in the culture wars of the period to reassess his presentation of power and authority in his works.
In May, actors from the Independent Shakespeare Company and artists from LA Opera presented “Shakespeare Scenes and Sonnets: An Evening of Words and Music.” With 18th century Grand Manner Portraits in the art gallery serving as backdrop, they performed scenes, sonnets, and songs that explore connections between the works of Shakespeare and The Huntington’s art collections.
And this summer, as in summers past, The Huntington once more hosted its Shakespeare at The Huntington teacher training institute. A unique two-week workshop designed for secondary school teachers of English and Drama, it focuses on teaching Shakespeare through performance. The course features an international faculty of scholars, educators, and theatre professionals.
Shakespeare’s Globe is a faithful reconstruction of the open-air playhouse for which he wrote his plays. Globe Theatre on Tour has brought productions – Henry V, Anne Boleyn*, As You Like It, King Lear, and The Taming of the Shrew – to castles, festivals, parks and town squares in the past five years. This London’s Bankside charity organization operates without government funding and has since become a popular tourist destination in the United Kingdom.
Theatre season plays in repertory held annually from April through October, under Mr. Dromgoole’s helm, have attracted an international following and reputation for performance excellence, says Ms. Blackburn. Globe Education runs one of the largest arts education program in the country under the direction of Patrick Spottiswoode, with over 100,000 students a year. Shakespeare’s Globe Tour and Exhibition is open year-round and is the world’s only permanent exhibition dedicated to The Bard’s theatrical career.
Much Ado About Nothing, set in Governor Leonato’s house in the Sicilian town of Messina, follows the stories of two sets of lovers – Benedick and Beatrice and Claudio and Hero. Leonato is hosting Prince Don Pedro of Arragon, Don John, Claudio (a young Florentine lord) and Benedick (a Paduan lord and confirmed bachelor engaged in a “merry war” with Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, a confirmed spinster).
Don Pedro helps Claudio win the hand of Leonato’s daughter, Hero, in marriage; the wedding of Claudio and Hero is planned after a masked wedding. Don John is determined to break up this union and, knowing that the Prince and Claudio are listening, schemes to exchange vows with Hero’s gentlewoman, dressed in her mistress’s clothes, at Hero’s bedroom window.
At the same time, Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato conspire to make the feuding Benedick and Beatrice fall in love with each other.
Before Hero’s and Claudio’s wedding, Don John offers to give the prince and Claudio proof of Hero’s unfaithfulness. Claudio denounces Hero in the middle of the ceremony even as she proclaims her innocence. Friar Francis, not believing the charge, proposes that Hero should be reported dead and hidden until the truth is revealed.
The confusion is resolved in the final act, and a penitent Claudio ends up marrying Hero after all. Beatrice and Benedick resolve their “merry war”; news comes that Don John has been captured and brought to justice.
Much Ado About Nothing, written between 1598 and early 1599, was made into a film in 1993 with Kenneth Branagh playing Benedick, and Emma Thompson as Beatrice; and was directed by Kenneth Branagh. Known as one of Shakespeare’s liveliest comedies, it was exceedingly popular in early years – it was one of the plays acted at Court during the May 1613 festivities for the betrothal and marriage of Princess Elizabeth and the Elector Palatine.
It will once more engage Southern Californians as the Globe Theatre on Tour’s Much Ado About Nothing makes its two-night run at The Huntington. Almost four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare continues to delight audiences with his plays that still ring true today as they did when they were first performed.
*Anne Boleyn is a 2010 original play written by Howard Brenton, not Shakespeare.