peggy as queen margaret

Peggy Ashcroft as Margaret on TV in the early ’60s

I hereby announce a new project. It’s not a book or an essay, and it has nothing to do with founding-era U.S. history — what most readers of this blog know me for. It’s a play, and a play of a peculiar kind. I’m hoping Shakespeare people, theater people, Wars of the Roses people, history people, literary people, et al, will find it interesting.

In “The Revenge of Queen Margaret,” I’ve unearthed a new Shakespeare history play.

This new play is all him. I didn’t do any writing, just took the four Shakespeare plays in which Queen Margaret appears — “Henry the Sixth, Parts 1, 2, and 3,” and “Richard III” — and got rid wholesale of everything that isn’t about her, collapsing the four plays into a single play with the violent queen as its main character. That, anyway, is the conceit; the facts are somewhat different, since getting to that point involved radical reshuffling, slicing and dicing, recombining and other violent action. Still, all the dialogue and action really are drawn from the original four plays.

Shakespeare now takes Margaret from her entry as a young, ambitious person to her exit as an old, dispossessed person. In between, she engages in a series of actions that make her, as a woman, an antiheroic protagonist shocking for the drama of the day. And this new focus on Margaret as a main character brings out relationships and actions that have always been there, in the Shakespeare, yet have never, I think, been clear before.

So really this project is what’s known as a radical adaptation of Shakespeare. For years, the aged Margaret was cut wholeasale out of productions of “Richard III,” despite or maybe because of her amazing speeches and attitude. Meanwhile the young and maturing Margaret of the “Henry VI” cycle faded in and out of that story; the cycle itself hasn’t always been taken seriously in Shakespeare circles (some say a lot of it is a straight-up collaboration with Marlowe, even straight-up Marlowe solo). For too long, Margaret has been ignored, minimized, and cut out. Now she has a Shakespeare play of her own.

We’ve done a private cold table-read with some amazing actors who have given me the strong feeling that this isn’t just an interesting literary exercise but an actual play. Next steps in progress.