Actors' Renaissance Season 2010

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens before the play
  • Actors satirize the ruling class and offend Artenius, Domitianus Caesar’s informer.
  • Caesar fails to impress Roman senators, who sentimentalize the rule of his brother and his father before him.
  • Caesar leaves to fight wars.
stuff that happens in the play
  • Actors Paris, Latinus, and Aesopus lament their profession’s modest prospects due to political uncertainty and find solace in the fact that Caesar is their patron.
  • The Roman senate calls in Paris; Paris defends his profession and the importance of satire and free speech. The hearing is cut short because Caesar returns victorious from war.
  • Caesar forces Senator Aelius Lamia to agree to divorce his wife, Domitia, so that she can join the ruler’s concubines.
  • Domitia enjoys her status a little too much for the liking of the other concubines. She especially likes theatre and develops an affection for actors.
  • Plays within plays, executions, assassination plots, banishments, and onstage torture and mayhem ensue.
Dr. Ralph's Brief

1. When was the play first performed?

2. Where was the play first performed?
At the Blackfriars Playhouse by the King’s Men.

3. Who wrote it?
Philip Massinger (1583-1640), whose father served as a member of Parliament, was educated at St. Albans, Oxford, and succeeded John Fletcher (who succeeded Shakespeare) as the company playwright for the King’s Men. His most famous plays are A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The City Madam, but The Roman Actor was his personal favorite. He died in 1640 and was buried in what is now Southward Cathedral, where you can see his stone next to those of his mentor Fletcher and Shakespeare’s brother Edmund.

4. How is this playwrights like Shakespeare?
Some of his characters have Shakespearean size, and at the heart of The Roman Actor is a Shakespearean fascination with plays within plays.

5. How is this playwrights unlike Shakespeare? 
Shakespeare rather famously hid his own point of view; Massinger makes his point of view quite clear.

6. What do scholars think about this play?
Because we have the cast list from this play and because it so clearly is about the connection between the King’s Men and politics, the play has long been an important window into the Caroline world of theatre. Respect for the play as a piece of theatre has grown ever since the Royal Shakespeare Company staged the play (with Anthony Sher as the tyrant, Domitianus Caesar) in 2002. Fans of the ASC’s Bring ’em Back Alive series already knew that after a reading of the play earlier in 2002.

7. Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
The play is a not-so-veiled message to the new King Charles warning against despotism.

8. What characters should I especially look for?
Casear is an unforgettable tyrant, whether he is played as a ferocious animal (Anthony Sher) or a menacingly witty and sardonic mastermind (Gordon Braden).

9. What scene should I especially look for?
Paris’s speech about the importance of theatre became a set piece in the English theatre, Domitia’s seduction of Paris is riveting as is the play they put on “for” Caesar. Warning: the play contains a scene of torture.

10. What is the language like?
Though Massinger’s language here is beautiful and hearkens back to Shakespeare and Jonson, it also sounds more modern by a generation.