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On Sunday 3rd March 2013, in association with the UCL Centre for Early Modern Exchanges, Yasmin and I will be presenting an original practices production of Samuel Daniel’s closet drama, The Tragedie of Cleopatra.

The play was originally commissioned by Mary Herbert (née Sidney), Countess of Pembroke, as a sequel to The Tragedie of Antonie, her own translation of  Robert Garnier’s French Senecan tragedy, Marc Antoine.

Samuel Daniel

Samuel Daniel (1562-1619)

These plays have traditionally been classified as ‘closet dramas’, not intended for performance, or at most thought to have been written only for reading aloud in a coterie setting.

However, Yasmin’s research into representations of Cleopatra in the early modern period has led her to an exciting, and rarely discussed, early seventeenth-century portrait of a woman in costume as Cleopatra, accompanied by a panel containing lines from Daniel’s play.

Yasmin believes the portrait may represent Lady Anne Clifford, ‘playing’ Cleopatra in some way.

The portrait could be a record of a country house performance of Daniel’s The Tragedie of Cleopatra.

As far as we know, Daniel’s Cleopatra has never been staged in modern times. We aim to explore whether the text works as theatre by mounting a full production of the play.

In so doing, we hope to approximate the ‘original practices’ of a country house performance, with appropriate costumes and music, the performance taking place in a large interior space rather than in a purpose-built theatre, and amateur actors (both male and female) playing the roles.

The play was a publishing success, and was re-printed numerous times; Daniel heavily revised the text for many of the editions. We have chosen to stage the 1607 version, as it is from this version that the lines on the portrait are lifted. The 1607 version is also more stage-friendly than earlier editions: it contains more dialogue, slightly shorter monologues, and actually displays the moment of Cleopatra’s death to the audience.

Possible costumes have been sourced, a budget has been drawn up, we are booking rehearsal space as I write, and work on the text has already begun! The challenge this summer will be to raise the money, prepare for auditions, and ready the text for rehearsal. We’ll keep you posted…

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