This interest began with the American Shakespeare Center.
“Over the next 20 years, the American Shakespeare Center will select one companion play for each of Shakespeare’s 38 titles and produce two new plays in repertory with their Shakespeare partner each year. The final year of the 20-year cycle will be a retrospective of the best work from the cycle.”
Since I retired from journalism and then from culinary work, I’ve been writing plays. While I learned the craft I was often stymied by the requirements — especially the limit on characters, or really the number of actors who have to be paid to play characters. Usual limit is 4 to 6. That’s the way the biz works. So the competition and the ASC’s guidelines blew that limit away and opened the door to expressive dialogue … not thees and thous, but words without limit, whereas most modern stage writing is confined to a Seinfeld vocabulary.
The obvious question: could I write as well as Shakespeare? Obviously not. Yet somewhere between absolute narcissism and utter despair there is a better question: Could I write as well as someone else trying to write as well as Shakespeare? Probably. Been at it a long time, and getting paid for it. When I started in newspapers, journalism was the best way to draw a regular paycheck for messing about with words.
Here are the ASC possibilities: “The play must be inspired by and a companion piece for The Merry Wives of Windsor; Henry IV, Part 1; The Comedy of Errors; or The Winter’s Tale.”
Merry Wives and Henry 4-1 are both stories of Falstaff. I have a Falstaffian friend. Can’t write about him. Except for the insane gloriosity of Midsummer Nights Dream, the comedies don’t fetch me. So I looked at Winter’s Tale.
A bad king. An abused queen. A possible hero in the woman who attends the queen, the outspoken Paulina. A blank spot of 16 years between Act 3 and Act 4. I can remedy that, I thought. And so I began.