Born With Teeth

Kevin Brustuen

Starting on February 22, Bozeman Actors Theatre (BAT) is featuring Born With Teeth, a new play by Liz Duffy Adams. This innovative play features a series of spirited conversations and debates between two young playwrights: William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. 

Born With Teeth asks the audience to witness and enjoy the intimate, provocative, witty relationship between two of the greatest writers in English literature. Shakespeare and Marlowe were contemporaries of each other, and scholarly research shows they likely did collaborate on some projects. Adams imagines what this collaboration may have looked like, with a young and little-known Shakespeare working alongside the more experienced and (at this point) more successful Marlowe.

Born With Teeth is set in a room at the back of a tavern in London in the 1590s—not an unlikely spot to find young playwrights working. At the time this play begins, Marlowe was already well-known in England for his very popular Doctor Faustus, Tamburlaine, Edward II, and The Jew of Malta. Shakespeare, although the same age as Marlowe, had just become known for The Taming of the Shrew and Titus Andronicus. So great was Marlowe’s creative talent that, had he not died an early death, perhaps we would now be celebrating Montana Marlowe in the Parks instead of Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.

Liz Duffy Adams takes the phrase Born With Teeth as her title because these lines, which appear in Shakespeare’s history play Henry VI, Part 3, predict the rise of the tyrannical Richard III. In this play, there is a report that when Richard was born, the midwife cried; “O, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!” and Richard replied; “And so I was, which plainly signified that I should snarl and bite, and play the dog.” As the play unfolds, we are continually surprised by how vicious the world of writing and politics can be—so much so that even seemingly young, innocent characters can bear their fangs.

England at the time of Shakespeare and Marlowe was ruled by Queen Elizabeth I, a daughter of King Henry VIII. This was a time of great religious persecution across Europe. In the course of only a few years, England had gone from Catholicism to Protestantism, back to Catholicism, and then once more back to Protestantism during Elizabeth’s reign. In addition to religious persecution, England in particular was on edge due to Elizabeth’s advancing age and her lack of a natural heir. Those near the crown were making power plays to set themselves or their families up for grabbing power when Elizabeth died. Playwrights walked a very narrow line to avoid writing something that might be termed heretical by whoever was currently in power. Shakespeare and Marlowe, well aware of this fine line, wrote carefully, so as not to offend.

Adams has incorporated many literary and political allusions throughout the play; anyone even slightly familiar with the plays of Shakespeare or Marlowe will quickly recognize references to their plays, as well as to those of their contemporaries. History fans will hear references to the political and historical giants of 16th century England. Many popular TV shows and films of the last few years have focused on the Tudor monarchy, and the personalities and politics of this era invariably fascinate modern audiences. Watch for references to people such as William Cecil, Secretary of State under Elizabeth; Robert Dudley, the Queen’s best friend, and Sir Walter Raleigh, the famous explorer, for just a few examples.

People today may try to imagine what Shakespeare and Marlowe were like, and who they might be today. Bozeman Actors Theatre has cast Sarah West as Shakespeare, and Kyrie Dawson as Marlowe. Under the direction of Marc Beaudin, West and Dawson bring a biting wit and quick thrusts of humor to their representations of the famous playwrights, who were in their late 20s when the play takes place. 

Bozeman Actors Theatre was founded in 2009, with a mission to produce professional, thought-provoking live theatre in the Bozeman area. BAT generally produces four to six plays each year.

BAT is staging this production in the upstairs ballroom at the Eagles Club in downtown Bozeman, opening on Friday, February 22 and closing on Sunday, March 10, 2024. This is BAT’s fourth play of this season. More information and tickets are available at   

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