University Wits to Present Shakespeare’s King John

December 7, 2004

The University Wits, the student organization of Mary Baldwin University’s MLitt/MFA program in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in Performance in partnership with Shenandoah Shakespeare, will present William Shakespeare’s history playKing Johnon December 8, 9, 10, 11 at 7:30 p.m. and December 12 at 2:30 p.m.. All performances will take place at the Masonic Building, 12 West Beverly, in downtown Staunton. The production is directed by Mark Mannette. Tickets are $10 general admission and $5 for students and seniors.

Shakespeare wroteKing Johnaround 1596. As the play begins, King Richard the Lionhearted has recently died, leaving no direct heir. His younger brother John has seized the throne of England, while the King of France supports young Arthur, nephew to both John and Richard. The plot of the play surrounds this rivalry for the English throne, intense political rivalries between the French and English, and John’s uneasy relationship with the English nobles.

Audiences may recognize the character of King John from various literary and film versions of the Robin Hood story. The historical King John was the son of King Henry II and ruled England after his brother Richard, from 1199 to 1216. He is perhaps most famous for having signed the Magna Carta in 1215.

Surrounding John in Shakespeare’s play is a host of ambitious and strong-minded characters. One of these is the Lady Constance, widow of John’s brother Geoffrey and mother of Arthur. Director Mark Mannette describes her as having ‘the vehemence of a mother bear’ in her instinct to protect Arthur and to promote his claim to the throne. The play’s exchanges between Constance and Queen Eleanor, mother of King John, are some of the most tempestuous.

Besides the historical figures who Shakespeare made into dramatic characters in this play, there is also the fictional Phillip Faulconbridge, an illegitimate son of Richard the Lionhearted, who becomes one of John’s inner circle and is thrown into what he himself calls the ‘Mad world’ of wars and political intrigue. Mannette describes this character as ‘part hero, part jester, part chorus,’ a particularly engaging figure in the play. Many famous actors have played this role, including Richard Burton, Christopher Plummer, and Ian MacKellan.

The cast of the University Wits production ofKing Johnincludes Jeremy Fiebig as King John, Sarah Henley as Lady Constance, and Jesse Manson as Faulconbridge. Other cast members are Rick Blunt, Francis Boyle, Alex Carney, Chelsea Collier, Laura Flanagan, Brandon Ketchum, Katherine Mayberry, Paul Shearman, Eve Speer, Janie Sprouse, and Ginny Weckstein.

For reservations and further information about the production, please call (540) 337-8578.