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It is 1942. The theatres of war are North Africa and Italy. All eyes follow the front, but behind the scenes a messier war continues, an improvised game of snatched triumphs, terrible mistakes and terrifying uncertainty. Cabaret singer by night, spy by day, Richard risks his life to help British servicemen escape occupied France and get back to England. Rose leads a group of dancers with mixed morals high-kicking to entertain the troops as Hitler's bombers roar in the skies above. Then she is given orders to join the forces in the field, destination unknown. Meanwhile a phantom pianist, who has lost the love of his life, is following Montys soldiers across the African desert, mocking the enemies guns by playing Beethoven between the lines.
The Theatre of War surveys more than two hundred plays about the First World War written, published and/or performed in Britain and Ireland between 1909 and 1998. Perspectives discussed include: subject matter, technique and evaluation. The result is an understanding of the First World War as a watershed in international history.
The period between 1585 (when Elizabeth formally committed her military support to the Dutch wars against Spain) and 1604 (when James at last brought it to an end) was one in which English life was preoccupied by the menace and actuality of war. The same period spans English drama’s coming of age, from Tamburlaine to Hamlet. In this thought-provoking book, Nick de Somogyi draws on a wide range of contemporary military literature (news-letters and war-treatises, maps and manuals), to demonstrate how deeply wartime experience influenced the production and reception of Elizabethan theatre. In a series of vivid parallels, the roles of soldier and actor, the setting of battlefield and stage, and the context of playhouse and muster are shown to have been rooted in the common experience of war. The local armoury served as a props department; the stage as a military lecture-hall. News from the front line has always been shrouded in the fog of war. Shakespeare’s Rumour is here seen as kindred to such equally dubious messengers as his Armado, Falstaff or Pistol; soldiers have always told tall tales, military ghost-stories that are here shown to have seeped into such narratives as The Spanish Tragedy and Henry V. This book concludes with a sustained account of Hamlet, a play which both dramatises the Elizabethan context of war-fever, and embodies in its three variant texts the war and peace that shaped its production. By affording scrutiny to each of its title’s components, Shakespeare’s Theatre of War provides a compelling argument for reassessing the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries within the enduring context of the military culture and wartime experience of his age.

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