“When sorrows come, they come not single spies
But in battalions.”
Considered by many to be Shakespeare’s greatest play, Hamlet is a dark and brooding psychological thriller. Encompassing political intrigue, humour, obsession, murder, tragedy, desire, madness and some of the most touching lines in the English language about what it means to be alive, Hamlet has it all.
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, encounters the ghost of his dead father one night on the castle ramparts. Describing how he was killed by his brother Claudius, who has now supplanted him on the throne, the ghost orders Hamlet to avenge his murder. Appalled by the rapid remarriage of his mother, Gertrude, to his uncle, Claudius, Hamlet initially seems bent on revenge.
However, he sinks into a deep melancholy and even apparent madness, at what he sees as the betrayal of his noble father. Once his father’s ghost reappears to whet his son’s ‘almost blunted purpose’, the pace of the action picks up in alarming ways.
King Claudius is ambitious, ruthless and as suspicious of Hamlet as Hamlet is of Claudius. The royal palace of Elsinore soon becomes a hot-bed of spying, deception, murder and revenge and many characters become swept up in the drama’s tragic momentum.
“We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
The Tempest is part political allegory and part fantastical tale of strange creatures and otherworldly powers. Full of humour, enchantment and magical possibility, at the play’s heart is a tender portrayal of paternal love and a touching depiction of an unsocialised young woman’s first real encounter with the world.
Twelve years before the opening of the play, Prospero, a learned magician, has been deposed as Duke of Milan by his brother Antonio and fellow conspirators. Cast out to sea, Prospero and his young daughter Miranda have been washed ashore on a remote island. There they have lived while Miranda grows up with only two other creatures for company - Prospero’s shape-shifting sprite-servant, Ariel, and a brutish half-monster, Caliban. Aware that his enemies of old are sailing close to his island, at the play’s opening, Prospero magically conjures a sea-storm to wreck them on his shores.
Finding themselves washed up in a strange land, the shipwrecked courtiers and members of their retinue – including a drunken cook and a hapless jester – undergo a series of unexpected trials, causing each of them to reveal more about themselves.
Having brought those who wronged him in the past to his island, and with the magical help of Ariel, Prospero has the power to deal with them however he chooses. But will he punish or forgive? And how will he ensure both the future happiness of his daughter and his own future peace?
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.”
One of Shakespeare’s most popular histories, Henry V chronicles the coming of age of the once wild and wayward young monarch. His campaign to add France to his kingdom famously culminates in victory at the Battle of Agincourt and marriage to the French Princess Katherine. The play contains some of the Bard’s most rousing and best-known speeches.
The newly crowned King Henry V is eager to gain the respect of his people and to put behind him his unruly adolescent past. Persuaded that he has a rightful claim on France, and provoked by the mockery of the French Dauphin, he decides to raise an army to invade France.
In the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, some of the king’s former drinking companions prepare to enlist for the war. Meanwhile, Henry uncovers a plot on his life and shows a new steeliness by ordering the execution of the traitors. Henry’s forces set sail for France and take the town of Harfleur.
At the subsequent Battle of Agincourt, the English forces are heavily outnumbered. The night before battle, disguised as a common soldier, Henry wanders among his troops learning of their thoughts, and privately lamenting his royal responsibilities. In the morning he delivers a rousing speech to his army, before they head into battle…
“If music be the food of love, play on
Give me excess of it.”
A tale of mistaken identity, romantic confusion and a prank that gets pushed too far, Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. It dramatises both the pleasures and torments of being in love, challenges a set of gender assumptions and gleefully shows a pompous man being given his comeuppance.
Twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria, unaware of each other’s survival. In order to stay safe in a foreign land, Viola disguises herself as a boy, Cesario, modelling her new male self on the appearance of her twin brother. As Cesario, she finds employment in the service of Duke Orsino, only to find herself falling in love with him. But Orsino is suffering the pangs of unrequited love for Lady Olivia. Sent to woo Olivia on his behalf, ‘Cesario’ is dismayed to discover that she has herself become the object of Olivia’s affections…
When Olivia later comes across Viola’s twin brother Sebastian fighting a duel with another of her rejected suitors, she believes him to be Cesario and comes to his rescue. Unlike his sister Viola, Sebastian has no qualms about being loved by Olivia.
Amidst the more poignant moments of heartache, misunderstanding and exclusion, the scene is also set for much delightful confusion, joyful abandon and comic mayhem!