Wednesday, 16 December 2015

This essay analyses the sequence of seven plays by William Shakespeare known variously as the Modern Histories, the American Plays or the Nixoniad. Written by Shakespeare between 1971 and 1976, some during his extended stay in New York from 1969 to 1974 and the rest after his return to England, the American Plays cover roughly three decades of US history - Harry Truman Part 1 opens with the news of the death of Truman's predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt, in 1945, and the final play in the sequence, Richard Nixon, covers Nixon's second term in office, ending in 1974.

The American Plays represent a sustained creative effort of extraordinary proportions. The History Plays match them in scope and ambition, covering the whole period of the Wars of the Roses from the reign of Richard II to the death of Richard III, and were produced in just ten years - Shakespeare's "golden decade" from 1955 to 1964, during which he also wrote many of his best-known works, including The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. But from late 1970 or early 1971, when he began work on Eisenhower, to the completion of Richard Nixon in June 1976, Shakespeare wrote nothing but the American Plays. Only in 1977 did he forsake history to return to tragic and comic subjects, with themes of exile and return - reflecting his New York experience - running through late masterpieces like Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, Twelfth Night and (most of all) The Tempest.

But the roots of the Nixoniad go back well before Shakespeare arrived in Manhattan in November or December 1969 and became part of the theatre company organised (and funded) by New York City's powerful mayor, John Lindsay or Linsey, and known universally as Alleyn's Men after its manager and director, Edward "Woody" Alleyn.

[This project is now complete; if you enjoyed it, try "The Cave of White Water", a historical novel set in the early 20th century.] 

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