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LIVE BENEFIT READING

A KING AND NO KING 

by FRANCIS BEAUMONT and JOHN FLETCHER
Monday, December 14, 2020 | 7:30 PM EST

LIVESTREAM

Directed by José Zayas

Featuring  Rajesh Bose, Robert Cuccioli, Edmund Donovan, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Topher Embrey, Chukwudi Iwuji, Teresa Avia Lim, Cara Ricketts, Socorro Santiago, Reagan Tankersley, Craig Wallace, and CJ Wilson 

Absolute power corrupts absolutely in this delicious Jacobean tragicomedy. Arbaces, the King of Iberia, conquers Tigranes, King of Armenia, and offers him noble treatment -- and his sister, Panthea, for a wife. But it's been awhile since Arbaces has seen Panthea, and when he does, he is seized with incestuous passion. Arbaces resists this forbidden love with all his might -- until she professes she loves him too! But now, what to do about Tigranes?

This event will premiere LIVE at 7:30 PM EDT on Monday, December 14. A recording of the livestream will be available until 7:00 PM EDT on Friday, December 18 – then it disappears.

 

BULL SESSION | A KING AND NO KING

Thursday, December 17, 2020 | 7:30 PM EST

LIVESTREAM

An interactive discussion with some of the artists involved and scholar Mario DiGangi. MORE INFORMATION

THE CAST

Red Bull Theater wishes to express its gratitude to the Performers’ Unions: ACTORS’ EQUITY ASSOCIATION, AMERICAN GUILD OF MUSICAL ARTISTS, AMERICAN GUILD OF VARIETY ARTISTS, and SAG-AFTRA through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the Artists to appear in this program.

Red Bull Theater wishes to express its gratitude to the Performers’ Unions: ACTORS’ EQUITY ASSOCIATION, AMERICAN GUILD OF MUSICAL ARTISTS, AMERICAN GUILD OF VARIETY ARTISTS, and SAG-AFTRA through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the Artists to appear in this program.

ABOUT THE PLAY

For many twentieth-century critics, A King and No King (1611) is the prime example of a Beaumont and Fletcher play: a certain kind of sensationalistic, artificial, and amoral tragicomedy that depicts extreme sexual scenarios and provides implausible resolutions for seemingly intractable problems. In The Pattern of Tragicomedy in Beaumont and Fletcher (1952), Eugene Waith finds in A King and No King all the defining formal characteristics of seventeenth-century tragicomedy, including stylized language, intricate plots, protean characters, and a focus on strong passions. For other critics, scandalous themes and exaggerated characters make tragicomedy a “decadent” genre, a falling off from the tragic grandeur and dignified romance of late Shakespeare. Writing in 1960, Robert Ornstein compared Fletcher’s thematically daring plays not to the edgy, urbane drama of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller but to Hollywood hackwork that indulged the “housewife’s escapist desire for romance and adventure.” More recent scholarship has taken tragicomedy more seriously, illuminating how Beaumont and Fletcher engaged with pressing contemporary social and political issues such as militarism, monarchical government, and changing gender roles. Still, A King and No King remains something of a curiosity. 

 

To begin with, the play’s title poses a riddle: are the “king” and “no king” two antithetical figures, or, paradoxically, one and the same figure? A few lines into the play, the soldier Mardonius describes King Arbaces as a collection of antithetical traits: “vainglorious and humble, angry and patient, . . . in extremeties, in an hour.” Arbaces speaks in the conquering, boastful idiom of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, the grandiloquent conqueror, but Arbaces is also a ridiculous figure, squabbling with foolish inferiors such as the cowardly Bessus and subject to “wild moods.” At the end of this scene, Arbaces suddenly shifts from merry banter into bitter lament when revealing that his mother, Arane, has once again attempted to assassinate him. Arane and Gobrius, the Lord Protector, share some kind of secret knowledge about a “plot” involving Arbaces; while the playwrights hint that the discovery of this plot will end “happily for all,” they ratchet up tension and mystery by letting events take their queer course.


The central complication of the plot unfolds when Arbaces, returning home after years away at war, encounters his sister, Panthea, and refuses to recognize her as such. In a rant typical of the Renaissance tyrant, Arbaces compares his power to that of the sea, which “is to be obeyed / And not disputed with,” and simply decrees that Panthea is no longer his blood relation. Arbaces’ futile assertion of his temporal power against the authority of nature is, we soon learn, a consequence of incestuous lust. At this point, the tone of the play darkens, as Arbaces struggles with the sinful yearning that, as king, he has the power to bring to fruition. Yet even at the height of Arbaces’ political and spiritual crisis, the playwrights deflate the tragic mood, bringing in Bessus cheerfully to offer his services as pander to the king’s sister, and, if he has a mind to it, to his mother as well. 


Critic Philip Fisher writes that “wonder occurs at the horizon line of what is potentially knowable, but not yet known.” At the end of the play, having discovered that his love for Panthea is not technically incestuous, Arbaces is filled with joyful wonder, the emotion most often associated with the strange reversals and revelations of romance. By hinting at a comic ending that is on the horizon yet withholding from us the means by which it can be accomplished, Beaumont and Fletcher allow us to experience the wonder of a skillfully managed plot.

Mario DiGangi | Professor of English, Lehman College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
 
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHTS

Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625) were the famous “double act” of Jacobean playwriting. They began their careers independently, but by 1606 they produced their first collaboration, The Woman Hater, a satire on London life. Together, they would write at least twelve plays, including their two most successful, Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding (1608) and The Maid’s Tragedy (1611). Although Beaumont retired from the theater in 1613, Fletcher continued writing for the stage until his death. He wrote plays alone and with other partners (including Shakespeare, whom he replaced as the leading playwright for the King’s Men), but it was his collaboration with Beaumont that endured in the public memory. Together, they made popular the tragicomedy, a mixed form that audiences adored.

SYNOPSIS

The tragicomedy A King and No King by Beaumont and Fletcher follows Arbaces, the boastful but much-loved King of Iberia. When the play begins, he has just defeated his rival Tigranes (the King of Armenia) in battle, and resolved to bring him back to his court where he intends to marry Tigranes to his sister Panthea, who he has not seen in many years.

 

But before Arbaces can return victoriously home, he learns that his mother Arane has plotted to assassinate him. Arbaces' advisors warn him in time, and he is saved by his Lord Protector Gobrius. Meanwhile, Tigranes' own lover Spaconia resolves to follow him to Arbaces' court, hoping to keep him true to her. Tigranes promises her he will stay faithful, and she travels with them disguised as a lady-in-waiting for Panthea.

 

Panthea, who has been raised by Gobrius separately from Arbaces, waits for letters from her brother that will summon her to court. When Spaconia arrives, she is accepted into Panthea's service and at first she gives a false name, but quickly she confesses her true identity and her love for Tigranes. Even though Panthea is promised to him, she swears to Spaconia she will respect her prior claim and will not marry him.

 

The people of Iberia celebrate the end of the war, and Arbaces pardons his mother Arane, while welcoming his sister Panthea to his court. Tigranes is immediately attracted to Panthea despite his promise to Spaconia, but Arbaces suddenly finds himself struck with powerful, incestuous lust. He struggles to resist his passion and instructs his followers to imprison Panthea in a different part of his palace, where he cannot see her and won't be tempted by her. Meanwhile, a cowardly soldier named Bessus whose valor in battle has been misreported deals with ever-increasing martial challenges from the citizens of the town.

 

As Arbaces wrestles with his conscience, he confesses his sins to his advisor Mardonius, who is repulsed and urges him to resist his desire at all costs. Arbaces then confesses to Bessus, who blithely agrees to help him pursue his sister. Meanwhile, Spaconia confronts Tigranes about his shifting affections, and chastened, he resolves to honor their engagement. Most shockingly of all, Arbaces confesses his ardor to Panthea herself, who seems to return his feelings. With no more power to resist and his soul on the brink of damnation, Arbaces makes a terrible plot to kill Gobrius, rape Panthea, and then kill himself.

Emma Rosa Went | Drama League Classical Directing Fellow

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