Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Marlowe's "Edward II"

Last night I went to see the Corpus Christi Owlets' production of Marlowe's "Edward II" in the fine auditorium which has been constructed in recent years within the college gardens. Not only was this an overdue opportunity to go to the theatre, but as a historian I am interested in the life and times of the King, the more so because he founded Oriel - indeed arguably its foundation is the one enduring success with which he can be credited.

The first printed edition of the play from 1594, the year after Marlowe's death.
Image: Wikipedia

Like Shakespeare in his History plays Marlowe compresses the action and simplifies the historical record, but that was and is adramatic necessity. In this production the adaptation had produced a taut text which maintained its pace and kept the attention

This was an excellent student production with minimal staging  - a throne and an heraldic banner beside it - and simple costumes, but which cleverly used the old stone walling which forms two sides of the auditorium stage. As a result the actors were free to display their skills with little to distract the eye.

The plays centres around the figure of King Edward and the drama requires his presence on stage for much of the action, and for the charcater to display a wide range of emotions. Indeed the play has been characterised as one in which a weak spoiled man finds his stature in his kingship. So a great deal rests on the actor playing the King. Alex Stutt rose to the challenge and gave a fine performance, from petulant princeling fawning over Gaveston to temporary triumph over Lancaster and Warwick, and then to the agonies of mind over abdication and the final vulnerable human being who somehow preserves something of his dignity in his degradation at Berkeley

Amongst the other actors Phoebe Hames as Queen Isabella showed the range the part requires of wronged wife and forceful opponant entangled with Mortimer and temporarily dominating the young King Edward III and Moritz Borrmann was a suitably suave and sinister Mortimer.

In my opinion it was an enjoyable and mentally stimulating evening. There are two, distinctly differing, reviews here - and that may say more about the nature of Oxford reviewers than anything else.

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