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Why Shakespeare’s Queen Margaret is finally getting her own play

Posted by
Susan Devaney
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The Shakespearean character of Queen Margaret is taking centre stage in 2018. 

William Shakespeare named some of his greatest plays after men – Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet and Othello – but not one after a woman. Well, unless the central female character is romantically linked to the starring male: Romeo and Juliet, and Antony and Cleopatra.

In fact, all of his plays focus on men – with women as side characters.

Which is why playwright Jeanie O’Hare has written an entirely new play focusing on the character of Queen Margaret. The new production, which is currently on stage at Manchester’s Royal Exchange, features all of the lines spoken by Queen Margaret over four existing Shakespeare plays.

“It is like she’s been lying there in plain sight for 400 years, but nobody has reached in and assembled her before because she is scattered across four plays,” playwright Jeanie O’Hare told the BBC.

“To me she’s really obvious – she’s there staring back at us.”

To create the new play, titled Queen Margaret, O’Hare took all of Queen Margaret’s lines and added in her own interpretations, too. All in all, the script is half hers, half Shakespeare’s.

And actress Jade Anouka is playing the extraordinary character of Margaret – who’s based on Margaret of Anjou, appearing in Shakespeare’s Henry VI parts one, two and three, and in Richard III.

“As a woman, you grow up and you see Shakespeare plays and you notice. You notice that there are not many roles and amazing speeches,” Anouka told the BBC.

“When you then have a chance to shift the focus, you do, and this is a wonderful way to move with the times.”

Due to Shakespeare’s plays, Margaret of Anjou was largely regarded as ‘the she-wolf of France’.

But for O’Hare she’s always seen her character differently, which is why she has always set her sights on telling Margaret’s real story – with the idea sparking while working as a literary manager at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“I wanted to get beyond that,” O’Hare told the Guardian. “Shakespeare wrote Margaret into four separate plays – the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III. There’s something in Margaret; she’s so extraordinary.”

She continued: “I was always banging on at playwrights: ‘Why don’t you take a look at Margaret?’”

In the same city and in a similar vein, a play called Othellomacbeth is showcasing Shakespeare’s female characters, too. On stage at Manchester’s Home theatre, the play is a condensed version of Othello and Macbeth – with all of the scenes that don’t feature women having been stripped out. 

Queen Margaret is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, 14 September to 6 October. Othellomacbeth is at Home until 29 September and at the Lyric Hammersmith in London from 5 October to 3 November.

Images: Instagram / Getty