Shakespeare’s ‘Shipwreck Trilogy’?

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“What country, friends, is this?”

What are some of the artistic and cultural choices behind trying to design a ‘trilogy’ – however loosely unified – out of plays from different parts of Shakespeare’s career?

The Royal Shakespeare Company are presenting The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, or what you will, and The Tempest as ‘Shakespeare’s Shipwreck Trilogy’.

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Charles Whitworth, editor of The Comedy of Errors for the Oxford Shakespeare. Charles is Professor of Medieval and Early Modern English Literature for the Institute of Research on the Renaissance, at the Université Paul Valéry-Montpellier.

He’s been bringing student groups to Stratford-upon-Avon for over forty years and reviews theatre regularly for the journal Cahiers Elisabethains.

Have a listen to our conversation about Shakespeare’s so-called ‘Shipwreck Trilogy’ and see if you agree with what you hear…

And remember, that your comments will be archived for future generations as part of the responses to the World Shakespeare Festival, put into a bottle by

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • Cost of culture?

    BP being listed as the lead sponsor for a Shipwreck Trilogy is no doubt a massive irony… I think there’s a bigger question here about BP and other corporate sponsors’ involvement in the Olympics (and cultural Olympics). I saw a small protest a couple of weeks ago at the Tate Modern, and I think similar efforts are needed to raise people’s awareness about the way in which ‘public’ art is having to be funded.

  • Reclaim Shakespeare Company

    The Shipwreck Trilogy is prominently sponsored by BP – quite apt, we feel, considering the ecological and human disasters the company continues to be responsible for in the Gulf of Mexico, the Canadian tar sands, the Arctic and, indeed, the entire global climate.

    We, the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, felt this should not go unacknowledged. So far we have taken to the stage twice at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, just before the performances of The Tempest and Twelfth Night began, to challenge the RSC and its audience through short Shakespeare-inspired performances. The first performance, and our manifesto – ‘BP or not BP?’ – can be viewed here:

    The second performance – a song – can be viewed here:

    Below we copy the script from the first and the lyrics from the second. We believe action is eloquence, and would be most glad to get your thoughts on this matter.


    Performance one: Out, damn logo!

    What country, friends, is this? [raises programme]
    Where the words of our most prized poet
    Can be bought to beautify a patron
    So unnatural as British Petroleum?

    Strange association! [Performer unveils image of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster]
    They, who have incensed the seas and shores
    From a dark deepwater horizon
    Who have unleashed most foul destruction [Performer unveils image of tar sands]
    Upon far Canada’s aged forests,
    Clawing out the lungs of our sickening earth
    Who even now would bespoil the high, white Arctic [Performer unveils image of
    untarnished arctic]
    In desperate search of more black gold
    To make them ever richer. These savage villains!

    And yet –
    They wear a painted face of bright green leaves,
    Mask themselves with sunshine.
    And with fine deceitful words
    They steal into our theatres, and our minds.

    They would have us sleep.
    But this great globe of ours is such stuff as dreams are made on.
    Most delicate, wondrous, to be nurtured
    For our children and theirs beyond.

    Let not BP turn these dreams to nightmares.
    Fuelling the Future? Thou liest malignant thing! [holding up programme, looking at back page]

    Do we sleep?
    I find not myself disposed to sleep.

    Let us break their staff that would bewitch us!

    Out damned logo! [rips out logo from programme]

    We invite you to join us in tearing the logo from your programme.
    Please help us to free the arts from BP.
    There will be people with buckets to collect these logos at the end of the performance.
    We are the Reclaim Shakespeare Company.
    We hope you enjoy tonight’s show


    Performance two: Green and yellow melancholy

    ‘When I hear that BP story

    Green and yellow melancholy

    Deepwater despair

    Does the drill that pierces the Arctic bear my name?
    Does the drill that pierces the Arctic bear their name?
    Does the drill that pierces the Arctic bear your name?
    Does the drill that pierces the Arctic bear our name?’

  • Wayne Myers

    The shipwreck in “Twelfth Night, or What You Will” is an apt metaphor for the fascinating disaster that ensues when Viola becomes “Cesario,” with the lives of Viola, Orsino, Olivia and Sebastian becoming inextricably sexually intertwined.

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