Upon returning from Germany where my dad had been stationed for three years, I enrolled at University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. I took an advance placement test in German and was assigned to second semester German but since that didn’t start until winter semester. I was placed in a seminar, in German, on Friedrich Schiller, the 19th century German romantic poet, playwright and philosopher. We studied “Maria Stuart”, and “Don Carlos” with Professor Renate Hodges. This was a very good preparation for ACT’s production “Mary Stuart” but it has been so many years since then, that I had to go online to refresh my memory.
Schiller was considered one of the romantic period’s premier playwrights, along with Goethe. One contemporary phrase coined to exemplify the romantic style was, “Sturm und Drang”, which means storm and stress. Mary Stuart certainly had that!
Schiller wrote a new kind of play that is based on history but illustrates the lessons of history, not the mere reenactment. It’s almost a version of “Those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it.” He used a fictional meeting of Mary and Elizabeth at Fotheringhay, Mary’s prison; the meeting gives Schiller a chance to bring the characters to a grand climax and have each elucidate her position.
He also employs fictional characters such as Mary’s guardian’s nephew Mortimer (Joshua Carter) who wants to kill Elizabeth and restore Mary and the Catholic faith to England. Mortimer also pledges complete loyalty to Elizabeth when he goes to her court to spy.
Costume decisions were interesting, too. Only Mary and Elizabeth are in period dresses, looking like the garments featured in their contemporary portraits. All the male characters are in suits, and the only other female is in drab grey skirt and sweater. This contrast of periods infers that current politics are the same. Politicians, their cohorts and lobbyists are working behind the scenes, making deals and earning favors from those in power.
When rebels had taken over her government, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland fled to England requesting refuge. Elizabeth I allowed the imprisonment of her “sister queen” saying that she did so only because her people demanded it.
It was actually because of Mary’s and Elizabeth’s equal claim to the English throne and Elizabeth’s fear of Mary’s possible usurpation. Mary’s claim came through her grandmother, a sister of Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII; Elizabeth’s claim came from her parents Henry VII and Anne Boleyn.
Henry VIII soon established the Church of England when he wanted to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn but the Pope wouldn’t agree to it. This resulted in the Henry’s declaration of divorce from Katherine and his designation of his first daughter Mary Tudor as a bastard and therefore not his legitimate heir.
After Henry had Anne executed, his second daughter Elizabeth was declared a bastard and thus also not his legitimate heir. His third marriage to Jane Seymour gave him an heir, Edward VI, but Jane soon died and her son died at age 16 after only six years on the throne. (Henry went on to marry three more women but had no more legitimate children.)
Katherine’s daughter Mary Tudor came to the throne after the deaths of Henry and Edward; however, she was a devout Catholic like her Spanish mother. Her subjects called her Bloody Mary because she engaged in a vigorous persecution of the heretics of her father’s church and re-established Catholicism as the state religion. When Mary died, Elizabeth was released from bastardy and took the throne. Elizabeth engaged in a vigorous persecution of the Catholic heretics of Queen Mary’s reign.
When Mary Stuart came seeking asylum from Elizabeth, they had competing state religions in addition to the right to ascend to the English throne. Mary Stuart was Catholic and would undoubtedly restore Catholicism as the state religion; Elizabeth was the head of the Church of England.
Tack on the quasi-loyalty and their own agendas of Elizabeth’s advisors pledged and you have Storm and Stress in capital letters.
Peter Oswald did a remarkable translation and adaptation of Schiller’s play. It sparkles with wit, grand arguments for and against every motion that Elizabeth and Mary might make and the questionable loyalty of supporters of both monarchs.
Director Victor Pappas deserves accolades for a great, tight production. The actors deserve accolades for maintaining the energy necessary to so effectively show the passions involved with the dilemmas.
Mary (Anne Allgood) is righteous and angry at being betrayed and imprisoned by her “sister queen” and adamant in her support of her right to freedom. Elizabeth (Suzanne Bouchard) is adamant that she will neither honor Mary as her equal nor allow her to take the throne - not a surprising reaction after her father’s abandonment and rejection and the many intrigues she suffered from until she takes the throne. Nowhere does Mary advocate for the English throne but her Catholic advocates created plots to assassinate Elizabeth, so Elizabeth signs Mary’s death warrant.
When Mary entered prison, the only servant allowed to accompany her is her nurse Hanna Kennedy (played by Marianne Owen). Mary’s guardian at her Fotheringhay prison is Amias Paulet (Allen Michael Barlow) a fierce protector of Mary’s rights while she’s in his home but he remains Elizabeth’s loyal subject.
Elizabeth’s advisors are also a study in contradictory loyalties. In Schiller’s play, William Cecil, Lord Burleigh and Elizabeth’s High Treasurer (Peter Crook), William Davison, Secretary of State (John Ulman), advisor Earl of Shrewsbury (Allen Fitzpatrick) and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (R. Hamilton Wright) all have their own motives.
Shrewsbury seems to be concerned with what is right and correct, not what is expedient. Burleigh seems to be concerned only with what is good for the state and Leicester seems to be the most duplicitous of all. He pledges his loyalty to Mary, telling her he is a monitor for her at Elizabeth’s court. He tells Elizabeth he is monitoring Mary’s activities for Elizabeth. He allegedly was a suitor of Mary’s after her husband died. He was also led to believe that he had the inside track as husband for Elizabeth.
Elizabeth signs the warrant for Mary’s execution, but almost makes it clear that it is not to be completed until she gives her consent. She also almost makes it clear that it should be fulfilled immediately. Burleigh takes the death warrant and hastens to Fotheringhay to execute Mary.
Leicester, when he hears of Mary’s execution, hastens to a boat and is on his way to France before Elizabeth can execute him for suspicious activities.
This is an enormously completed story, given that the Scottish and English advisors and courtiers had shifting loyalties and intrigues. Mary is executed, even though she's the sovereign of a neighboring state.
“Mary Stuart” runs until October 9 with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. For information and tickets, call the box office at 206-292-7660 or go online at www.acttheatre.org.