After the conclusion of Les Misérables yesterday, we had dinner with our good friends Will and Belinda Schryver and then attended a performance of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart, which neither of us had ever seen or read before.
Since the author was Schiller, one of the titans of German literary history, I wasn’t surprised to find the play both good and interesting. And it was well performed.
It takes a very positive stance toward Mary Stuart (better known as Mary, Queen of Scots) and a rather negative view of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England, who, as the play opens, has already held her in prison for nearly twenty years and will very soon have her beheaded. Mary is portrayed as a tragic heroine, Elizabeth as a rather ruthless but ultimately unhappy victor.
The play presumes that Mary was guilty, at least indirectly, in the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, but portrays her as innocent of involvement in plots to assassinate Elizabeth and place herself on the throne of England (to which she had announced her right by virtue of both her descent and her orthodox Catholicism as opposed to Elizabeth’s heretical Protestantism). The historical truth, as I understand it, is pretty much the opposite. She wasn’t involved in Lord Darnley’s assassination, but had almost certainly sought to overthrow Elizabeth — who, as an excommunicated apostate in an England where many still clung to the old faith, and, being the daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn, as someone whom her own father (Henry VIII) had declared illegitimate, was far less secure on the throne than she now seems in retrospect.
For any wondering whether they should see Mary Stuart, I highly recommend it. Come to the Utah Shakespeare Festival. You won’t be disappointed. Alas, though, I’ve already given away the play’s ending.
But not, in a sense, the final ending: Elizabeth will die unmarried and childless. Mary’s son James will become James VI, king of Scotland, and, ultimately, James I of England, as well. (The King James Bible takes its name from his sponsorship.)