Jesuit Father Henry Garnet was tried and hanged in 1606 for his knowledge of the previous year’s Gunpowder Plot, in which Robert Catesby and other influential English Catholics nearly blew up Parliament and King James I of England. Witnesses said spectators pulled the priest’s legs as he writhed in the air to give him a speedy death and spare him more prolonged attention from the executioner.
In Jesuit Father Bill Cain’s play “Equivocation,” the man pulling on Garnet’s legs is William Shakespeare, the playwright for the theatrical company The King’s Men. He is commissioned by Robert Cecil, a power-player behind King James I, to write a play declaring the government version of the events of the plot. The King himself wrote the first draft.
“We don’t do politics,” Shakespeare says. “We do histories. True histories of the past.”
The play revolves around the cost of a government lie and how politics can become personal. Presented in modern language and dress, Equivocation presents a dilemma: tell the truth and lose your head or write propaganda and lose your soul? This political thriller reveals the complexities of the truth, the perils of compromise, and the terrible consequences of equivocation.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of Equivocation will be playing at the Arena Stage in Washington DC starting on November 18, 2011. For tickets, visit the Arena Stage’s box office online.