Amy Beddows 5:26 p.m., June 18
In James Goldman's comedy-drama - now at North Coast Rep. - King Henry II spends Christmas with his family in 1183. Each is a piece of work: wife Eleanor and sons Richard, Geoffrey, and John. Yuletide cheer dwindles into to feuds - and even death threats - in record time.
Great. But is it accurate historically?
Yes, and no.
The political shenanigans, wrangling for power and kingdoms certainly is. At age 50, Henry was ready to turn over his empire, but had trouble deciding which son should inherit it: Richard (who became "Richard the Lion-Hearted") was a warrior, a Hotspur minus the poetry; Geoffrey a meddlesome schemer; and whining John was 17. Henry chose the immature John, but only as the lesser of evils.
The play's correct that Henry refused to subdivide his empire into three separate ones, like King Lear; "[Lear] cut his kingdom into bits," Henry says in the play, "I can't do that. All of Britain, half of France, I'm the greatest power in a thousand years, and after me comes John."
Richard grabbed the throne. When John "Lackland" finally became king, he fought against the gentry, the peasantry, and the Magna Carta.
Eleanor, the play neglects to mention, was 61 years old. But Goldman's accurate about her power over Europe and, in a way, over Henry. He had no greater love, or more threatening opponent, than his Queen.
Of the family, a historian wrote, "War was their pleasure, but marriage was their business."
The original script mentioned Christmas trees, which didn't exist int the 12th century and got cut from the text (as did references to syphillis and pulp paper).
It's also highly unlikely that the family spent Christmas at Chinon, France, in 1183. Henry kept Eleanor locked away, and some speculate that Richard was off conniving against his father elsewhere.
When the play premiered in 1966, and the movie followed in 1968, people complained about Goldman's "warts and all" approach to the characters. They refused to behave as expected (and as 50's pageant-rich, costume dramas portrayed medieval royalty, using words like "sire," and "my liege"). They flit about like sharks in a frenzy and never disguise an impulse.
Many questioned such unflattering portraits. But as experts in the Middle Ages began adding their two cents, it turned out that the Plantagenets' manic behavior was the most accurate of all.