All around the Globe with Shakespeare at St Albans Abbey

West End of Abbey

West End of Abbey - Credit: Archant

THREE rarely-seen Shakespeare plays are to be staged at the West End of St Albans Abbey as part of a series of open-air performances at Wars of the Roses battlefields.

Shakespeare’s Globe is currently touring the three Henry VI plays under their original titles – Harry the Sixth, The Houses of York and Lancaster and The True Tragedy of the Duke of York – and they come to the Abbey next month.

Word has got round so fast that the performance on Sunday, August 11, has already sold out but there may be some returns on the day.

The unprecedented theatrical event explores the links between English history, literature and landscape. St Albans is one of the four battlefields that saw some of the bloodiest battles in the country’s history.

The Henry VI plays begin with the death of Henry V and together chart the entirety of his son’s turbulent reign. They encompass the stories of Joan of Arc, who is burnt at the stake at the end of Harry the Sixth, and Jack Cade, whose short-lived peasant rebellion is depicted in The Houses of York and Lancaster.

At the heart of all three plays is the struggle between York and Lancaster. The black comedy that builds with each reversal of power in The True Tragedy of the Duke of York ultimately sets the stage for the ascent of Richard III.

St Albans Abbey was one of the most important monasteries in medieval England. One of the leading characters in the plays is Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, uncle of King Henry VI, Lord Protector during Henry’s minority and a close friend of the Abbot of St Albans, John Wheathampstead.

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One amusing scene is set in St Albans when Duke Humphrey shows that a blind man who claimed a miraculous cure was in fact a fraud.

Duke Humphrey requested to be buried in the Abbey near the Shrine of St Alban and his sudden death in mysterious circumstances in 1447 is recorded in the play.

Other scenes in St Albans describe the first battle of the Wars of the Roses which took place in 1455 with the dead buried in the Abbey’s Lady Chapel and in St Peter’s Churchyard.