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April 1864

In April 1864 the entire cultural world commemorated the anniversary of Shakespeare´s Tercentenary, and Czech artists joined them. Not only this celebration confirmed the maturity of Czech theatre but at the same time it was a manifestation of the independence of the Czech theatre company from the German theatre company which until that year both shared the stage of the Provisional Theatre (a theatre house established before the actual National Theatre was built) since its establishment in (1862). In (1864) the troupes definitely separated in when the German troupe left the Provisional Theatre, and moved to a different theatre space.

The festivities celebrating Shakespeare´s Tercentenary began with a cycle of performances in the Provisional Theatre (Much Ado about Nothing, Coriolanus, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and Rossini´s opera version of Othello).

On 2nd April, 1864, the celebration culminated with a choral symphony by H. Berlioz, entitled Romeo and Juliette. Then the artists appeared in six “tableaux vivants” from Shakespearean plays (the kidnapping of Jessica from Shylock´s house from The Merchant of Venice; Richard the Third proposing to Anne in front of the grave of Henry the Sixth from The Life and Death of King Richard III; a lady begging for the saving of Rome from Coriolanus; then a scene from Cymbeline; the death scene from Romeo and Juliet, and the last crowning tableau vivant was from The Winter’s Tale, the second pastoral scene with Perdita giving flowers to the participants of the sheep-shearing feast. Then Shakespeare´s bust was revealed centre stage, and all 165 actors dressed in Shakespearean costumes and costumes of various nations made a pageant accompanied by the sounds of Smetana´s March, composed especially for this occasion. According to an anonymous article,

The audience was speechless, and we can bravely say that we have never seen something so spectacular in its size and organization. The characters from Shakespeare as well as the representatives of nations rose higher and higher, and stopped abeam Shakespeare´s grand bust. Then when all of them stood there the group opened and Miss Malá [one of the most famous Czech actresses of later 19th century] was prepared to deliver the Epilogue. [1]

It was written by Emanuel Züngel, a poet and translator, who did not omit to remark on Shakespeare´s usage of Bohemia in The Winter´s Tale, and transformed it to contemporary, politically underlined statement where Perdita was the impersonation of “perdita ars bohemica”, the lost Czech arts that found their way home. The audience together with journalists and reviewers were astonished by the grand manifestation of Czech culture and Czech nation.

P.S.

Illustration : Portrait of Emanuel František Züngel (1840-1894) (source

Latest update: Saturday 10 September 2011, by Kateřina Jenčová Hipská


Footnotes

[1“V obecenstvu se zatajil v pravém slova smyslu dech a můžeme směle říct, že jsme podobně velkolepého, masou a uspořádáním vynikajícího živého obrazu nespatřili. Postavy Shakespearovy i zástupové holdujících národů byly efektně vystupujíce výše a výše kolem obrovského poprsí Shakespearova sestaveny. Před poprsím bylo krásné seskupení rozevřeno a zde stála slečná Malá co Perdita připravena, aby po jásavém přivítání překvapujícího obrazu přednesla doslov.” Anonymous, Hlas 114, (26.4. 1916). My translation.

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