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Dramatic history

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Michael Grandage’s production of Don Carlos in London entirely justifies the “stunning” blurb. It is an 18th-century play by Friedrich Schiller, of whom I must confess I had not previously heard. The play is stunning – the plots, the twists, the betrayals, the sheer drama is up there with Macbeth, and that to my mind is high praise indeed.

The language of the adaptation/translation is brilliant – serious, courtly, emotional, but never anachronistic, while avoiding the alternative trap of grating archaism (no “thees”, “thous” or “sayeths”). It was so perfect you hardly noticed it, which is high praise for a modern traditional dress production.

Derek Jacobi as the Philip II of Spain has huge stage presence, but the other main characters – his wife Elizabeth of Valois, his son, Don Carlos, and most of all the freethinking Marquis of Posa – hold their own against him, giving the play an excellent balance.

It is based on historical fact, in that Elizabeth was originally intended to marry the son, but Philip decided to take her for himself, although a quick internet search suggests the supposed love between the first two was a romantic myth. But the shadow of the Inquisition, which hangs over the whole play, and bursts forth at the end, certainly wasn’t, which reminds me I have a “Women of the Inquisition” book somewhere in my “to read” pile.

A bit of Googling revealed that this year is the second centenary of his death, so there are likely to be more of his plays on around the world – in fact there’s one coming up in London, details here, which I’m planning to go to see soon. A Guardian reckoned he’s enjoying a broader revival. Definitely something to watch out for.

(And his work even bears some resemblence to a play I once wrote, as I note on my blog, without any intention to draw a serious comparison whatsoever.)

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About Natalie Bennett

Natalie blogs at Philobiblon, on books, history and all things feminist. In her public life she's the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.