Written Partly by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Background and Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Setting: London in May of 1517.
Date Written: Between 1592 and 1595.
Probable Main Source: The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (Holinshed's Chronicles), by Raphael Holinshed with the assistance of others
Type of Play: Biography of Sir Thomas More.
Theme: Sir Thomas More was a wise and worthy English citizen and public servant who exhibited honesty, right thinking and courage. For opposing Henry VIII's marriage to Ann Boleyn, he paid with his head.
Significance to Historians: Shakespeare's revisions (about three pages) of Munday's play provide the only surviving examples of his handwriting.
......The play dramatizes the life of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), a leading Renaissance scholar. More's opposition to Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Arragon and his subsequent refusal to swear that the king's authority superseded the pope's led to his execution in 1535.
......Before taking his stand against Henry, More had distinguished himself as a writer and thinker, as a member of Parliament, and as an undersheriff of London, a position he assumed in 1510. After attracting the attention of the king, More rose further in the political ranks, serving as a diplomat, as a speaker of the House of Commons, as an adviser to the king and finally as Lord Chancellor of England. However, More's opposition to Henry's divorce effectively ended his career. Two years after he resigned as chancellor, the king imprisoned him, held a mock trial, and ordered his beheading.
......The part of Munday's play written by Shakespeare centers on More's tenure as sheriff, when rioting breaks out in London to protest the presence of foreigners and the privileges they enjoy under the law. Following is a summary of the Shakespeare portion of the play.
......Among the grievances of the rioters is that the foreigners spread disease through their foods. One of the rioters, John Lincoln, a broker, says, "They bring in strange roots, which is merely to the undoing of poor prentices [apprentices] . . . .These bastards of dung . . . have infected us, and it is our infection will make the city shake, which partly comes through the eating of turnips."
......[This quoted passage appears to be an attempt by Shakespeare to trivialize the complaints of the rioters and, thus, overcome the objections of the master of revels (censor), who was worried about the political motives of the rioters. After all, complaints about vegetables are hardly the stuff of revolution. The rioters were actually protesting against the foreigners' sale of wine, cloths, and other goods at a price so low that English tradesmen could not compete. On May 1, 1517, rampaging tradesmen freed imprisoned comrades, demolished the shops of foreign merchants, and even hanged some of them.]
......With his considerable skills at oratory and persuasion, More tells the citizens that uprisings in defiance of the law offend the king. And, in offending the king, a representative of God, the rioters offend God himself.
......"O desperate as you are," More says, "wash your foul minds with tears, and those same hands that you like rebels lift against the peace lift up for peace. And your unreverent knees, make them your feet."
......More's remonstrations restore order and cast him as a wise and worthy public servant. The play is sympathetic throughout to More, who was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic in 1935. Shakespeare's participation in the production of the play created evidence to further the belief of some scholars that he was really a Roman Catholic, like his mother, and not a consenting member of the Church of England.
|Antony and Cleopatra (1974)||Trevor Nunn, John Schoffield||Richard Johnson, Janet Suzman|
|As You Like It (1937) NR||Paul Czinner||Henry Ainley, Felix Aylmer|
|Hamlet (1948) NR||Laurence Olivier||Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons|
|Hamlet (1990) NR||Kevin Kline||Kevin Kline|
|Hamlet (1991) PG||Franco Zeffirelli||Mel Gibson, Glenn Close|
|Hamlet (1996) PG-13||Kenneth Branagh||Kenneth Branagh,|
|Hamlet (1964) NR||John Gielgud, Bill Colleran||Richard Burton, Hume Cronyn|
|Hamlet (1964) NR||Grigori Kozintsev||Innokenti Smoktunovsky|
|Hamlet (2000) NR||Cambpell Scott, Eric Simonson||Campbell Scott, Blair Brown|
|Henry V (1989) PG-13||Kenneth Branagh||Kenneth Branaugh, Derek Jacobi|
|Henry V( 1946) NR||Laurence Olivier||Leslie Banks, Felix Aylmer|
|Julius Caesar (1950) NR||David Bradley||Charlton Heston|
|Julius Caesar (1953) NR||Joseph L. Mankiewicz||Marlon Brando, James Mason|
|Julius Caesar (1970) G||Stuart Burge||Charlton Heston, Jason Robards|
|King Lear (1970)||Grigori Kozintsev||Yuri Yarvet|
|King Lear (1971)||Peter Brook||Cyril Cusack, Susan Engel|
|King Lear (1974) NR||Edwin Sherin||James Earl Jones|
|King Lear (1976) NR||Tony Davenall||Patrick Mower, Ann Lynn|
|King Lear (1984) NR||Michael Elliott||Laurence Olivier, Colin Blakely|
|King Lear (1997) NR||Richard Eyre||Ian Holm|
|Love's Labour's Lost (2000)||Kenneth Branagh||Kenneth Branagh, Alicia Silverstone|
|Macbeth (1971) R||Roman Polanski||Jon Finch, Francesca Annis|
|Macbeth (1978) NR||Philip Casson||Ian McKellen, Judy Dench|
|The Merchant of Venice (2004) R||Michael Radford||Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons|
|The Merchant of Venice (2001) NR||Christ Hunt, Trevor Nunn||David Bamber, Peter De Jersey|
|The Merry Wives of Windsor (1970) NR||Leon Charles, Gloria Grahame|
|Midsummer Night's Dream (1996) PG-13||Adrian Noble||Lindsay Duncan, Alex Jennings|
|A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)||Michael Hoffman||Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer|
|Much Ado About Nothing (1993) PG 13||Kenneth Branaugh||Branaugh, Emma Thompson|
|Othello (1990) NR||Trevor Nunn||Ian McKellen, Michael Grandage|
|Othello (1955) NR||Orson Welles||Orson Welles|
|Ran (1985) Japanese Version of King Lear R||Akira Kurosawa||Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao|
|Richard II (2001) NR||John Farrell||Matte Osian, Kadina de Elejalde|
|Richard III (1912) NR||André Calmettes, James Keane||Robert Gemp, Frederick Warde|
|Richard III - Criterion Collection (1956) NR||Laurence Olivier||Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson|
|Richard III (1995) R||Richard Loncraine||Ian McKellen, Annette Bening|
|Romeo and Juliet (1968) G||Franco Zeffirelli||Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey|
|Romeo and Juliet (1996) PG-13||Baz Luhrmann||Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes|
|Romeo and Juliet (1976) NR||Joan Kemp-Welch||Christopher Neame, Ann Hasson|
|The Taming of the Shrew (1967)||Franco Zeffirelli||Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton|
|The Taming of the Shrew (1976)||Kirk Browning||Raye Birk, Earl Boen, Ron Boussom|
|The Taming of The Shrew (1983) NR||Franklin Seales, Karen Austin,|
|The Tempest PG||Paul Mazursky||John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands|
|The Tempest (1998)||Jack Bender||Peter Fonda, John Glover, Harold Perrineau,|
|Throne of Blood (1961) Macbeth in Japan NR||Akira Kurosawa||Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada|
|Twelfth Night (1996) PG||Trevor Nunn||Helena Bonham Carter|
|The Winter's Tale (2005) NR||Greg Doran||Royal Shakespeare Company|