During his lifetime Maxwell Anderson (1888-1959) was among the world's most lauded playwrights, receiving the Pulitizer Prize in 1933 for BOTH YOUR HOUSES and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the 1935 WINTERSET and 1936 HIGH TOR. Many of his plays received successful film adaptations. Today he is perhaps known for a series of plays concerning English royalty: ELIZABETH THE QUEEN (1930), MARY OF SCOTLAND (1934), and ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS (1948.) All three received major Broadway debuts, were notably filmed, and continue to receive significant revivals to present day.
Like many of Anderson's plays, ELIZABETH THE QUEEN is written in blank verse--something extremely unusual for an American play of the 20th Century--and is performed in three acts notable scene changes and a cast of more than thirty players. The original 1930 company was led by no less than Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, a duo considered the single finest acting partnership on the American stage. Although specifically named for Elizabeth I, the play itself is evenly divided between Elizabeth and Lord Essex, and would perhaps be better named in the 1939 film version THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX, which starred Bette Davis and Errol Flynn in a surprisingly faithful adaptation.
The play presents the aging but determinedly unwed Queen Elizabeth of England in a passionate love affair with the younger Essex, but while both clearly love each other, the relationship is complicated by their own political ambitions and the ambitions of those around them. Elizabeth is determined to hold her throne and nation and is no fan of war, which sees a drain of both manpower and treasury to no particular end; Essex, however seeks military glory and is outraged when Elizabeth refuses to give him free hand. When pride traps him into an ill-advised foray to Ireland, he soon finds himself facing off against Elizabeth herself for dominion over England, a circumstance that Elizabeth, no matter how great her love, can not and will not tolerate.
Although it is very much of its era, ELIZABETH THE QUEEN is nonetheless a great work of art; if this is old fashioned craftsmanship, it is a pity the stage is so modern. Given the technical of such a large production, you will look hard and long for a live showing, so you may have to make do with the script alone--but given Anderson's gifts, that's not a disappointment. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer