Writer Mary Jane Schaefer‘s new play Upstart! Shakespeare’s Rebel Daughter Judith is currently running at Edinburgh Fringe on its UK premiere – I was keen to know more about this glimpse into the world of a woman in the 16th century, so read on to find out what Schaefer thinks about Shakespeare, his children and his times.
Where: Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose
When: 2-14, 16-27 Aug, 12.10pm
What are you looking forward to the most about having a show at Fringe?
First of all, it is simply an honor to have a piece of work presented at The Fringe. And, then, to have this great set of actors and this amazing director bring the play to life here,well, it’s like a dream come true.
Not only do people who attend the Festival get to see my work they would otherwise not normally know about, there is a chance that a producer or director or manager who’s looking for something new and very different, might find themselves caught up in and taken by my play.
I would love to see it performed further in the UK. Meanwhile, the incredible prestige of participating in the festival may also increase the chances of getting this play, which I have so much belief in, produced in New York as well.
Upstart! is a new play about Judith Shakespeare, daughter of William. What attracted you to her story?
Judith jumped out at me while I was writing the first play of the trilogy, which is focused on Hamnet’s death and how this influenced the writing of Hamlet. But there she was, the bereft and stranded twin, left to mourn in a grief-stricken home, with her parents estranged.
Whata nightmare she had to work her way through! There was no grief counseling, of course, and if she didn’t have a core of steel I don’t think she would have lasted long herself. Instead,she lived to be 78. At this point, I knew there was a story here.
This is the story of a woman born before her time, an unconventional feminist. What should audiences expect when they meet your version of Judith?
I would hope that the audience would respond with sympathy for her, as well as admiration for her spirit, her mischievous streak, her tenacity, and her ferocious ability to love. This is not a sketch of just anyone. Judith resonates as a real woman. And they are getting to watch her life as she remembers it.
There is an RSC production of Hamnet heading to the West End. Why do you think people are so interested in the children of a 16th century playwright?
I believe people wish they could find out more about Shakespeare than the same old myths that have been floating around for several centuries: the deer poaching, etc.
There are certain basic facts we know about him, and then we know how he highly he was regarded in his time. Paul Collins’s wonderful book, The Book of William, is fascinating, as it shows how Shakespeare was careless about his legacy. But the men he knew and worked with were not. They were determined to hunt down and publish everything of his they could find or remember. Because they knew the value of his work and they loved the man.
Of course people who love Shakespeare’s work are interested in his family, his children. And the heart-breaking death of his only son is a very good place to wrap a play around. I’ve done it myself. In 2014, my play Shakespeare Rising, then called Hamlet’s Shakespeare, was presented three times at The Utah Shakespeare Festival, to tremendous response. The audience was wrapped up in the story and barely breathed.
Do you have plans for Upstart! after the fringe?
Right now I have no concrete plans for this show, only the determination to help it go as far as it can in the world.I have a few prospects.
Just as I found the right director [Alexandra Spencer-Jones] and producer [Maddy Mutch] this time around, I consider this play, and all three plays of my trilogy, as something valuable I have to give to the world. I feel they show what Shakespeare might really have been like.