The Morning Forum of Los Altos audience reaped the benefit of an expert’s knowledge of William Shakespeare when Michael Warren, professor emeritus of English literature at UC Santa Cruz, discussed “Shakespeare Four Hundred Years On” Feb. 19.
A native of London, Warren earned his undergraduate degrees at Oxford and his doctorate from UC Berkeley. He has taught courses on Shakespeare and the other playwrights of that time for 33 years. Warren’s work at UC Santa Cruz centers on Shakespeare and particularly the relationship between text and performance. He has served as textual consultant and dramaturge for Shakespeare Santa Cruz since 1982.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first performance of the last of the Bard of Avon’s plays, “Henry VIII,” which opened at the Globe Playhouse in 1613.
Warren explained the position of a dramaturge within a theater company. The dramaturge contributes to a production on the intellectual rather than the artistic side, providing scholarly input and support to the director, who has absolute authority. In addition to working on the script, he or she might advise on how the production would differ if presented in 16th-century costume versus modern costuming. Casting and pronunciation are other areas where a dramaturge contributes, he said.
According to Warren, during Shakespeare’s lifetime, his plays were published in a haphazard fashion. Theater companies, not the playwright, owned the rights to plays. Shakespeare’s name did not appear on a title page until 1598, when he published “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” Seven years after his death, Shakespeare’s fellow actors assembled the “First Folio” of his works, Warren said.
Plays in that era, not considered high culture, were performed in the entertainment district, Warren noted. As casts could not include women, boys played the women’s parts. There were no directors, so the actors negotiated among themselves on the staging.
During his early years, Shakespeare collaborated with other authors, Warren said. After several died in the early 1590s, he began writing alone but later returned to collaborating.
In answer to the question, “Why do we still read Shakespeare?” Warren answered, “Shakespeare was a great storyteller. His stories intrigue and move us emotionally. He was a great poet; therefore, he is quotable. He was a moral and political philosopher. His stories are about relationships and how people live together. His stories are all about choice: what persons choose to do and the consequences. People’s lives are changed by the choices they make.”
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For membership details and more information, visit www.morningforum.org.