Mary StuartI saw Mary Stuart at the Folger the other day. It was a Peter Oswald translation of a Friedrich Schiller play that nicely combined the language Shakespearean style classicism and (also Shakespearean style) timelessness. He kept iambic pentameter rhythms and that certainly helped. Not the humanity spanning scale of Shakespeare, but good, nonetheless.

The set piece, as it were, was a meeting between Elizabeth and Mary, arranged so as to appear a chance meeting – with Elizabeth hunting near the castle where Mary was under lock and key and Mary, unusually, allowed some small taste of well guarded freedom in the outdoors.

In a way, the set piece was a let down. I was led to expect some showdown between the two that Mary’s wit, charm and inner nobility would win. Elizabeth, during part of Mary’s big speech, was looking up and to her right – directly towards where I was sitting. Her expression wonderfully captured a sense of contempt for Mary’s posturing.

Leicester was a wonderfully deceitful, semi-villain and Mary was great, but I was more impressed by Elizabeth – and not just that one moment. Her vanity and her fickle choice of favorites were well captured, but without sacrificing her realpolitik. It was all well and good to be high and mighty about royal prerogatives, but Elizabeth actually ruled, which came with as many compromises as powers.

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