September 26, 2012, by Peter Kirwan
Redcrosse: England and St George @ Coventry Cathedral
As part of my ongoing interest in contemporary appropriations and reworkings of early modern literature, Redcrosse is an event which deserves attention (although, sadly, I won’t be able to attend this performance). Here’s the blurb:
On the evening of Saturday the 17th of November the RSC will be performing Redcrosse, the new poetic liturgy for England and St George which Professor Ewan Fernie (Shakespeare Institute) wrote with the major poets Jo Shapcott, Michael Symmons Roberts and Andrew Motion, and the theologian Andrew Shanks, as part of a multi-grant-winning Religion and Society project. Inspired by Edmund Spenser’s neglected epic The Faerie Queene, Redcrosse got considerable national press last year, in The Guardian, on radio and television, and even in The Daily Star, when it was performed in Windsor Castle and Manchester Cathedral. Its RSC production in the modernist masterpiece of Coventry Cathedral, featuring the original music of Grammy-winning Tim Garland as performed by Acoustic Triangle and the Royal Holloway Choir, will be its most dramatic and exciting instantiation to date. Don’t miss it. For further details and tickets, please follow this link.
For those unfamiliar with The Faerie Queene, it’s quite simply one of the richest and most important works of the Elizabethan age, an allegorical poem of epic length that mythologises and canonises the Elizabethan self-narrative. It’s a popular undergraduate text, although sadly not one I’m teaching myself this year. The first book, featuring the night ‘Redcrosse’ (a representation of St. George) is a rollicking stand-alone narrative that sees the Red Cross Knight battle evil sorcerers and witches (suspiciously reminiscent of the Catholic church), escort a damsel called Una and purify himself in preparation for his final battle against the infamous dragon. Yet beneath the narrative lies layer after layer of religious instruction, political insight, moral debate and spiritual epiphany.
That the story of Redcrosse is so rooted in the mythology of Englishness fits it well for appropriation and performance. Fernie’s Faerie Queene project has been running for some years, and this is a rare opportunity to see a major creative academic output in the Midlands.
I’ll be delighted to hear any reports if readers manage to make it. Either way, do track down a good edition of the poem, and please fall in love with it.
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