Taking Shakespeare to the streets of Prague

One of the Bard's most obscure plays will be performed as a walking tour

In one form or another, every play by William Shakespeare will be presented in Prague this year. One of the Bard's most obscure plays is Pericles, Prince of Tyre, which was not included in the First Folio but was added to later editions. The play was popular in its time, but now is among the least performed and least known of Shakespeare's works. Most scholars suspect Shakespeare only wrote about half the play, which has an unusual dramatic structure.

To bring some life to the work, Prague Shakespeare Company is presenting it as a walking tour of the area around the company's usual venue, the Kolowrat Theater. The play, in a somewhat edited form, will be blended with a tour of buildings and locations related to alchemy. The tour takes place Sept. 28, 29 and 30.

Director Derek DeWitt became fascinated with the idea that at Shakespeare's time, Emperor Rudolf II was encouraging research into alchemy. “Prague was the center for alchemy worldwide at the time Shakespeare wrote,” he said.

And the play Pericles can broadly be seen as an alchemical allegory, with Pericles undergoing a transformation after a series of personal trials. “I think there is an exact mirroring of the alchemical process. There is a union, a splintering, a purification … and a reunification into something higher than it was before,” DeWitt said. “It actually works. The play is about the themes in alchemy. The structure of the show with the walking tour is also on the themes of alchemy, with the audience and the actors becoming one by the end of it,” he added. “There is a lovely balance between the themes of the play and the structure of the show.” The play will be done with a small cast that pops up from time to time as the walking tour continues.

It is well-known among tour guides that the Royal Route ran through Old Town Square, but it is a bit less well-known that traces of a symbolic alchemical route can also still be found. Templová Street has remnants of a church used by the Templars, an order of crusader knights that was involved in mysticism. Other buildings have symbols like the Black Madonna, the black sun, the golden wheel and the court jester, all of which have meaning to those who study the history of the Rudolfine era. “It works with Shakespeare because of Rudolf,” DeWitt said.

He sketched out a route for the play's tour and did a quick survey. “This is actually a nice loop. … Part of the idea is we are getting locals, not tourists. As locals, we don't go to the center very often,” he said, adding that one of the things he loves about Prague is he is always noticing new things. “These alchemical symbols have been put there on purpose. They are hiding in plain sight. They have been there for hundreds of years.” he said. One building he found for the tour, for example, was lived in by a member of Rudolf's court. “So [the tour] is maybe a way for locals to reconnect with the center, instead of just writing it off,” he said.

Overall, DeWitt is going for a bit of broad humor and doesn't intend to “hit people over the head” with the play, which he admits is a problematic text. He has cut the play down to its bare essentials, keeping in mind that there is only so much walking and standing people can do. He also cited one of the cast members, who said that problems of the story aside, no play will have a better set than this production of Pericles.

DeWitt is aware of the rumor that Shakespeare actually visited Prague, but decided not to include in a traveling Shakespeare in the show. He wants to cut the play down, not add things. A group of English actors did come to Bohemia during Shakespeare's time to perform new plays in English, but there is no solid evidence at all that Shakespeare was among them. If he was, he didn't pay attention to the map as in another play he refers to Bohemia having a sea coast.

Prague Shakespeare Company would not exist without support of the public and sponsors.

In particular PSC wishes to thank JUDr. Dominika Kolowrat-Krakowska, Maximilian Kolowrat-Krakowsky and Francesca Kolowrat-Krakowska for their selfless and generous support.

For more information, visit www.pragueshakespeare.com

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