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Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen

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Edited By Louis Fantasia

Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen is the third volume in the Peter Lang series, Playing Shakespeare’s Characters. As in the previous volumes, a broad range of contributors (actors, directors, scholars, educators, etc.) analyze the concepts of monarchy, leadership, melancholy and madness with not only references to Elizabethan and Jacobean studies, but also to Trump, Brexit, cross-gender and multi-cultural casting. What does it mean to “play the king” in the 21st century? What is the role of an “all-licensed” Fool in the age of spin? Who gets to represent the power dynamics in Shakespeare’s plays? This volume looks at the Henrys, Richards, Hamlets, Lears and various other dukes and monarchs and explores the ways in which men—and women—approach these portrayals of power and the lessons they hold for us today.

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1. The Crack-Up: Modernity and the Mind of Richard II (Heather James)

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Heather James

All life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work—the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside—the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within—that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up”

When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the experience of self-shattering that left him permanently changed, he distinguished between two kinds of blows. There are the external blows that you repeat to yourself and rehearse to your friends in low moments. You know every detail of the history of these kinds of blows and identify them as the stumbling blocks or reversals in your studies, career, or public image. External blows come suddenly and violently and leave you feeling weak. You remember them in moments of self-pity and sometimes use them as the grounds to refashion your public reputation or sense of self. There is a different kind of blow, Fitzgerald remarks, which comes from within and remains unrecognized until it is too late to do anything about it. The second kind of blow “happens almost without your knowing it,” even though your awakening to its effects comes suddenly and completely. In his Poetics, Aristotle calls this tragic...

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