Margaret: a Tiger’s Heart

Originally published in the Brandeis University Justice

Oct. 25, 2011

margaret

Margaret (Caitlin Partridge) morphs from helpless woman to conniving villain over the course of the play’s three hours.

Margaret of Anjou has the most lines of any woman in the entire Shakespearean canon. She is different from most of the playwright’s female characters in that she is powerful in her own right. As her character is fleshed out, it becomes clear that she is also quite conniving and sly, as opposed to the many demure or lovesick ladies that fill the pages of other plays, such as Romeo and Juliet or Othello.

Margaret: a Tiger’s Heart, the semester’s first Hold Thy Peace and Brandeis Players show, whittles down the 11 hours it would have taken to cover all three of Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays as well as the opening of Richard III, covering only the scenes that pertain to Margaret. This still leaves a two and a half hour production, but one that is more compelling and character-driven than Shakespeare’s other histories.

The play opens with a battle scene interrupted by the Duke of Bedford (Abigail Clarke ’12) singing out the opening lines of the play. At first I was confused by this musical touch, but I came to enjoy Director Dave Benger’s ’14 unexpected choice. Bedford acted as a sort of Greek chorus, singing again at Margaret’s final scene. It also allowed Clarke to show off her talented vocal abilities while adding a theatrical element to the proceedings.

Margaret (Caitlin Partridge ’13) is undoubtedly one of the most interesting characters I have seen in a Shakespearean work. At first, she seems to be a powerless female, a pawn in her father’s plans to obtain more wealth. Upon her marriage to King Henry VI of England (Julian Seltzer ’15), however, Margaret quickly shows that she knows how to scheme with the best of them. She begins an affair with the Duke of Suffolk (Jonathan Plesser ’12) and also entraps the Duchess of Gloucester (StephanieKarol ’12) and forces her into banishment.

Margaret speaks the most lines of any woman in the Shakespearean canon.

It is not until the second act, however, that the audience discovers how cruel Margaret actually is. After the Duke of York (Alex Davis ’15) unseats Henry from the throne, Margaret becomes wild with ambition, doing anything necessary to win back her title as queen. The actress fully committed to the character and seemed to relish the grizzly deeds that Margaret performs, pushing her character’s emotional limits during scenes filled alternatively with crying, shouting and killing. The scene that made the greatest impression on the audience is when Margaret clearly takes pleasure in taunting York with his murdered son’s bloodied handkerchief. The zeal with which Margaret takes innocent life is quite shocking, and Partridge did not hold back. It was true when York referred to the character as a “tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide.”

There is another character in Margaret who was equally thrilling to watch, more so because he is barely seen on stage until the second act: Richard (Stephen Baldras ’13). The character eventually becomes the subject of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Richard is well known for his ambition and cruelty later in life, but in Margaret he appears as a young man, and the audience watches his malevolence grow as he ages and endures the loss of his father and brother, as well as his chance at the throne.

Baldras is quite chilling in the role. He makes it clear that, by the end of the play, Richard has gone mad with desire for power. He declares that he has “no pity, love or fear,” and goes so far as to kill his brother’s infant child to prove his point. Baldras’ maniacal laughter and his hunched appearance make his one of the best performances of the production.

Margaret: a Tiger’s Heart demonstrates that Shakespeare can be more than just beautiful words and funny costumes. Benger’s production created dynamic and engrossing characters and also managed to produce quite a few grizzly images that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

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