With the current political climate with leaders voluntarily giving up power and factions rising up within factions, I thought I might give you some historical perspective with Shakespeare’s play about a monarch who stole from his people, caused an insurrection, and whose supporters gave up their own power- Richard II.
Richard is a classic story of hubris. Richard literally believed he was appointed by god, and thus he could act with impunity. He, therefore, stole lands, taxed his people, and even gave land away to pay for his wars in Ireland. His actions offended his nobles, especially the house of Lancaster, who rose up and eventually deposed him. This play, therefore, has many lessons on how leaders cannot survive without their supporters, and nobles need to put the good of the people first.
Shakespeare’s version is not a dry chronicle with painstaking historical accuracy. For starters, every single line is in verse, and I don’t think even the real Richard spoke in iambic pentameter all the time. For a history play, this Richard has Shakespeare’s most poetic language:
Shakespeare’s Richard is full of self-pity, bewilderment, and a narcissistic desire for attention with a borderline God-complex. He even art-directs his own deposition with all the tragic solemnity of a passion play, casting himself as Christ, and everyone else as Pontius Pilate:
Shakespeare is very cogent about whether or not it was a good idea to depose Richard, especially since Queen Elizabeth was also an aging monarch who failed to produce an heir or quell a rebellion in Ireland (Shapiro: 1599). Nonetheless, the Queen was aware of the connection and famously declared: “I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?” Some productions have blatantly connected the two monarchs, and even dressed Richard as the Queen.
This play’s strength depends on the casting. Not much happens onstage except for lots of talking, planning, speechifying, and cursing. It depends on actors who can deliver these great lines with beauty but also sincerity:
I can think of no better wrapup to my play of the month “Twelfth Night,” than by reporting on my visit to an actual Twelfth night Party, presented by the Society For Creative Anachronism.
What’s a Twelfth Night Party?
If you took my class on Shakespearean Christmas traditions or read my blog posts, you know that, back in Shakespeare’s day, Twelfth Night was a party to end the Christmas season. It was presided over by a Lord of Misrule, who would lead people in games and songs. The party would also have a Twelfth Night Cake with a bean in the center. If you found the bean, you’d have good luck for the year! So I was pleased to come to a real-life Twelfth Night party and see these traditions come to life!
What is the society for Creative anachronism?
The short answer is- it’s LARPING for history nerds. Rather than creating a D&D persona and then getting arms and armor to play-fight in the backyard, SCA members create personas based on real medieval history, make or buy real historical arms and armor, (or arts and crafts as the case may be) and spend years of their lives studying and perfecting their immersion in that character’s life. SCA-ers learn how to fight with swords, daggers, spears, etc, how to sing medieval songs, medieval dances, and many other medieval ‘mysteries,’ which in this case means arts, crafts, and professions.
The Shire of Owlsherst
Owlsherst is the SCA’s local chapter in York PA. They have a number of dedicated members who specialize in textiles to rapier-dagger fighting. I’ve posted some videos of their fighting demonstrations on Youtube and Tiktok and their archery master has his own Tiktok channel. They hosted this year’s Twelfth Nigh party and have many other events throughout the year. For more information on this chapter, go to https://owlsherst.eastkingdom.org/
Every SCA event is a great way to celebrate people who are passionate about history and have talents for arts and crafts. Everything from the tapestries to the to the food, to the adorable owl toys, was made by hand by these dedicated people (most of whom brought their own medieval costumes). More members were doing live demonstrations of rapier/ dagger fights, binding books in cow leather, and singing medieval Christmas songs. I was inspired by everyone’s dedication and hard work to put this together. I also wonder if this is how Shakespeare himself felt when, as a child, he went to sheep shearing fairs and saw his friends and fellow artisans put on amateur bible plays on medieval pageant wagons.
I should warn you that, like a lot of historical reenacting societies like Civil War reenactors, etc, this society is more aimed at hardcore history nerds, than anyone else. This isn’t Medieval Times or a big-budget renaissance fair which is aimed at children and casual fun seekers. As such, it wasn’t really family-friendly. There aren’t many activities for kids and many of the arts and crafts are too delicate for toddlers and young kids. Also, this event isn’t particularly immersive or organized. People mostly just mingled, ate, and watched the various demonstrations. Keep in mind, this is just one chapter and just one event, which means your experience may vary. Nevertheless, because of the organization’s amateur historical nature, I would caution you to manage your expectations. Like I said before, this isn’t some big-budget Disney theme-park ride, but it is a chance for hardcore history nerds to get together, share their knowledge, and celebrate the traditions of a bygone era. If that’s your thing, I highly recommend it!
Hello everyone! I’m back from break and happy to celebrate one of my favorite holidays with you- the one that gave its name to one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies- Twelfth Night
How to throw a Twelfth Night Party
Intro to Twelfth Night (THe play)
I’ve been in this play three times and I’m continually struck by how fun, romantic, and progressive it is. It raises questions about gender roles, social norms, bullying, and even catfishing and heteronormativity! It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking play and it’s my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies!
Shakespeare’s early comedies are about young love, infatuation, and being ‘madly in love’ (sometimes literally). His middle plays are about mature relationships between men and women and the need for commitment. I would argue that Twelfth Night, (and possibly Much Ado About Nothing), are the best examples of Shakespeare telling meaningful stories about romantic relationships.
Past Posts on “Twelfth Night”
- Play of the Month: Twelfth Night
- The Fashion Is the Fashion: Twelfth Night
- Crafting a Character: Malvolio
- Exquisite Artwork from Twelfth Night
Would you like to know more? Take a class!
In honor of “Twelfth Night,” I’ve created a coupon for my course on Shakespeare’s comedies from now till January 31st: Get $10 off my class “Shakespeare’s Comic Plays” with coupon code HTHESYTIT110 until Jan 31, 2023. Get started at https://outschool.com/classes/shakespeares-comic-plays-868BR5hg and enter the coupon code at checkout.
To finish I wanted to give you a complete production of Twelfth Night for your viewing pleasure, but I can’t decide which one, so I will post a bunch today!
1. 1996 TV movie starring Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean)
2.1996 Thames TV directed by Kenneth Branaugh