King and Country: Shakespeare treasures from the Folger

A special exhibition of rare quartos, promptbooks, and other treasures from the Folger collection accompanies the Royal Shakespeare Company staging of King and Country: Shakespeare’s Great Cycle of Kings at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York this month.

Director Gregory Doran presents the epic four-play cycle: Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V, with David Tennant making his U.S. debut as Richard II.

Two Richard II quartos on display in the special exhibition reveal the politically sensitive nature of this Shakespeare play. In a blog post for BAM, Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro explains why certain lines from Act 4, Scene 1, in which Richard II surrenders his crown to Henry Bolingbroke (pictured below), appear in the 1615 quarto, but not in the 1598 quarto:

The deposition scene was undoubtedly censored out of fear of offending Queen Elizabeth, who saw herself figured in her predecessor: “I am Richard II,” she famously said, “Know ye not that?”

After the queen’s death in 1603, the dangerous lines could be included again.

Richard II, Act 4, Scene 1
King Richard the Second, act IV, scene I, King Richard, Bolingbroke, York, Aumerle, &c. Painted by M. Brown ; engraved by B. Smith. Published June 4, 1801. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Another Richard II-related treasure in the exhibition is actor Charles Kean’s 1857 promptbook, which records his notes and revisions to Shakespeare’s play. The Folger collection also has souvenirs from the 1857 production at the Royal Princess’s Theatre in London.

Also on view is actor Edwin Forrest’s Macbeth promptbook from 1862. Forrest’s rivalry with British actor William Charles Macready led to the deadly Astor Place Riots in New York City in 1849.

The exhibition runs through May 1, 2016. Read more of James Shapiro’s commentary for this exhibition on the BAM blog.

BAM is a theater partner of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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