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The Rediscovery of Queen Margaret: ‘The Wars of the Roses’, 1963

  • Robert Potter


For many theatregoers whose sensibilities were shaped by the new theatre writing of the late ‘fifties, the adaptation in 1963 of Shakespeare's first tetralogy of history plays into the three-play cycle The Wars of the Roses came as a startling revelation of the ‘political’ Shakespeare. Directed for the still-fledgling RSC by Peter Hall and John Barton, with the latter also responsible for the adaptation and revision, the sequence was perhaps most memorable for the performance by Peggy Ashcroft as Queen Margaret-Shakespeare's ‘first heroine’ –whose presence first illuminated and then haunted the production. Robert Potter, who now teaches in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara, encountered the production while on a Fulbright scholarship to England, and here recollects in tranquility the disturbing impression of Ashcroft's performance, and its impact upon our understanding of the plays. Robert Potter, who as a practising playwright made his own adaptation of the Roses sequence in 1977, has also published widely in the field of medieval drama, and wrote on theAbraham and Isaac play as presented in Aztec Mexico in NTQ 8.



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Notes and References

1. Barton, John, The Wars of the Roses, in collaboration with Peter Hall (London: BBC, 1970), p. 237.

2. Hogdon, Barbara, ‘The Wars of the Roses: Scholarship Speaks on Stage’, D[eutsche] S[hakespeare–]G[esellschaft West Jahrbuch] 1972 (Heidelberg: Quelle and Meyer, 1972), p. 170–84, and Greenwald, Michael, Directions by Indirections: John Barton of the RSC (Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1984), p. 3962.

3. Royal Shakespeare Theatre prompt book, The Wars of the Roses, ‘Part A’, typescript, April 1963, in the Shakespeare Centre Library, Stratford-upon-Avon. The line does not appear in Barton's published version.

4. Wars of the Roses, Scene 19, p. 54 (incorporating 2 Henry VI, I, iii. 115–119).

5. Wars of the Roses, Scene 25, p. 78.

6. Wars of the Roses, Scene 25, p. 79.

7. Dame Peggy Ashcroft, ‘Margaret of Anjou’, DSG 1973, p. 7–8.

8. Wars of the Roses, Scene 53, p. 154. Barton's phrase appears to be a borrowing from King Lear, V, iii, 296 (Albany's response to news of the death of Edmund), ‘That's but a trifle here’.

9. Vickers, Brian, Shakespeare: the Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 19741981). These six volumes cover 1623–1801.

10. Jameson, Anna, Shakespeare's Heroines: Characteristics of Women Moral, Poetical and Historical (London: Bell, 1913), p. 288–9.

11. Heine, Heinrich, Shakespeares Maedchen und frauen (Paris and Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1839), p. 91.

12. Birmingham Express, 5 May 1906; The Times (London), 5 May 1906.

13. Stratford Herald, 11 May 1906.

14. Beauman, Sally, The Royal Shakespeare Company: a History of Ten Decades (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 204–5.

15. Beauman, The Royal Shakespeare Company, p. 205.

16. Tillyard, E. M. W., Shakespeare's History Plays (London: Chatto and Windus, 1944).

17. Richmond, Hugh, Shakespeare's Political Plays (New York: Random House, 1967).

18. Toynbee's, ArnoldA Study of History in its best-seller format was a one-volume abridgement of Volumes 1–4 by Somervell, D. C. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947). The full ten-volume history was not completed until 1961.

19. Tillyard, Shakespeare's History Plays, p. 154–5.

20. Ashcroft, Dame Peggy, interviewed in David Addenbrooke, The Royal Shakespeare Company: the Peter Hall Years (London: William Kember, 1974), p. 201.

21. The Times (London), 18 July 1963.

22. See, for example, J. C. Trewin, Birmingham Post, 18 July 1963.

23. Daily Mail, 18 July 1963; 21 August 1963.

24. The Observer, 21 July 1963.

25. Sunday Times, 25 August 1963.

26. Ashcroft, Dame Peggy, introduction to the Folio Society edition of Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part One (London: Folio Society, 1967), p. 910.

27. Fiedler, Leslie, The Stranger in Shakespeare (London: Paladin, 1974), p. 42.

28. Dusinberre, Juliet, Shakespeare and the Nature of Women (London: Macmillan, 1975), p. 299302.

29. Dash, Irene, Wooing, Wedding and Power: Women in Shakespeare's Plays (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).

30. Jardine, Lisa, Still Harping on Daughters: Women and Drama in the Age of Shakespeare (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1983).

31. Waller, Marguerite, ‘Usurpation, Seduction, and the Problematics of the Proper: a “Deconstructive”, “Feminist” Rereading of the Seduction of Richard and Anne in Shakespeare's Richard III', in Rewriting the Renaissance: the Discourse of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Ferguson, Margaret W., Quilligan, Maureen, and Vickers, Nancy (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 159–74; 351–5.

32. Sinfield, Alan, ‘Royal Shakespeare: Theatre and the Making of Ideology’, in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, ed. Dollimore, Jonathan and Sinfield, Alan (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), p. 162.

33. See, for example, Swander, Homer, ‘The Rediscovery of Henry VI’, Shakespeare Quarterly, XXIX (1978), p. 146.

34. Terry Hands, quoted by Swander, ‘The Rediscovery of Henry VI’, p. 149.

35. John Barton, ‘The Making of the Adaptation’, in The Wars of the Roses, p. xv–xvi.

36. Daniell, David, ‘Opening up the Text: Shakespeare's Henry VI Plays in Performance’, Drama and Society: Themes in Drama I, ed. Redmond, James (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 251.

37. Hunter, G. K., ‘The Royal Shakespeare Company Plays Henry VI', Renaissance Drama, IX (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1978), p. 91.

38. Daniell, ‘Opening up the Text’, p. 257–8.

39. Daniell, ‘Opening up the Text’, p. 259.

40. Swander, ‘The Rediscovery of Henry VI’, p. 153.

41. Swander, ‘The Rediscovery of Henry VI’, p. 160.

42. Graham Holderness, ‘Radical Potentiality and Institutional Choice: Shakespeare in Film and Television’, in Dolimore and Sinfield, Political Shakespeare, p. 198.

43. Jane Howell, in interview with Henry Fenwick, ‘Dialogues of Disintegration’, Radio Times, 1 Jan. 1983, quoted by Holderness, ‘Radical Potentiality’, p. 197.


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