Shakespeare Magazine 08 celebrates the theatrical event of 2015: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet

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Our 10-page feature explores Benedict’s Shakespearean story and includes beautiful images and a full Barbican review.

Also this issue: our essential visitor’s guide to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon (with a nod to Stratford, Ontario).

Plus! Shakespeare in Scotland, Shakespeare Video Games, Richard III in California, and Painting Shakespeare with artist Rosalind Lyons.

As always, Shakespeare Magazine is completely free, so please read it and share it, and help us spread the word of the Bard!

Go here to read Shakespeare Magazine 08

WIN! This beautifully-illustrated 1922 edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from Dover Publications

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This edition sells at $25 from Dover Publications, but to celebrate the phenomenal success of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet we have ONE copy to give away

To be in with a chance of winning it, simply send an email to shakespearemag@outlook.com with HAMLET in the subject line – don’t forget to include your name and address.

The closing date for this comepetition is Friday 11 September 2015, and the winner will be informed after that date.

Best of luck!

ABOUT THE BOOK

John Austen’s hauntingly illustrated edition, published in 1922, remains unparalleled among all other treatments of Hamlet to this day. An adherent of the Aesthetic Movement in England that included Aubrey Beardsley and James A. M. Whistler, Austen shifted to a much more commercial style later in his career, and Hamlet is one of the few artifacts of the early pinnacle of his creativity. Black-line plates and ornamental illustrations throughout.

To view the book at Dover Publications, go here.

Permanently Bard’s energetic take on Romeo and Juliet puts Shakespeare back where he belongs – in the beer garden of your local pub

Images by Kate Reynolds-Haigh (taken at The Links Tavern, Liphook)
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For their fourth year touring Fuller’s pubs with Summer Shakespeare, Permanently Bard present his best known tragedy in a beer garden, to great success.
 
Supported by Fullers, Permanently Bard bring Elizabethan theatre back to its spiritual home – the beer garden. This production is Shakespearean in spirit, with a welcoming and permissive atmosphere, encouraging people to take photos and tweet, and involving them in the show to create a raucous, festival atmosphere.
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The use of the space was impressive, demonstrating the company’s experience with the format. The first act was largely wonderful and rightly treated as a comedy, with a gender-swapped Benvolio (Josie Catherine) adding a new dimension to the early relationships.
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Capulet (Gareth Fordred) commends himself well, equal parts Bruce Forsyth and Oliver Reed. Friar Lawrence (Richard Fish) handled a sudden downpour with aplomb.
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Juliet (Lucy Southall) was a highlight, played adeptly and with a light touch; instantly likeable and engaging, youthful but never childish, spirited but never petulant.
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The show is not without faults, and it feels safe to say that this production is not one for purists. Ad libs were used to communicate thoughts already in the text, while actions sometimes conflicted with it. Whole exchanges of wit were rushed through, while tense scenes had their energy sucked out by long pauses.
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Most disappointingly, the stakes felt under-served in key scenes. Just annoying was a drum, bursting any tension that bubbled up, so prepare yourself for that.
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I say ‘prepare yourself’, because Permanently Bard’s Romeo and Juliet is still an entertaining night out with a committed cast. There is enough charm, charisma and atmosphere to overcome any shortcomings.
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Amid the fun, it still feels like the company wants to tell Shakespeare’s story, and this is a refreshing and recommended alternative for those who may have been brow-beaten by a more po-faced production in the past.
Permanently Bard’s Romeo and Juliet will be touring Fuller’s pubs in and around London until 12 September. Go here to check all the dates.

“Shakespeare Smoked Dope?” Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid investigates the clickbait headlines and reveals the dodgy research and unbelievably shoddy journalism behind the sensational claims

Gamut Theatre's 2015 Hamlet uses drugs to make its point. But Shakespeare himself probably didn't.

Gamut Theatre’s 2015 Hamlet uses drugs to make its point. But Shakespeare himself probably didn’t.

 

You’ve probably already seen the spurious “Shakespeare Smoked Dope!” headlines that are flashing around the internet – if not, I won’t dignify them by reposting a link.

What you may not know is that the story – which seems to have been revived by The Independent – is actually 15 years old.

It’s based on claims by a South African academic, who says he’s found residue of cannabis in 17th century pipes unearthed in Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford-upon-Avon.

He also claims to have detected cocaine residue in similarly-dated pipes found elsewhere in Stratford.

The academic in question, Francis Thackeray, believes that a line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76 about “invention in a noted weed” is a reference to cannabis.

Thackeray, a palaeoanthropologist, admits there’s no evidence that any of the pipes belonged to Shakespeare.

But this hasn’t stopped the world’s media gleefully publishing lurid, attention-grabbing “Shakespeare was a Stoner!” headlines.

What’s distressing is that none of the major media brands – including iconic names like The Telegraph and Time – have subjected these claims to even the most cursory analysis.

Instead, legions of so-called journalists have merely cut-and-pasted the original Independent story before adding their own byline and picture.

Whatever your opinion on Shakespeare or drugs, this is clickbait churnalism at its most egregious.

To counterbalance this tsunami of Shakespearean misinformation, I’ve done a little reading, thinking and questioning – three things which are supposedly part of the job for any professional journalist.

First of all, cannabis. Hemp was harvested on an industrial scale by the Tudors (for multiple uses including rope-making, fabrics and remedies). But the variety in use was apparently lacking in psychoactive properties, and it has never been thought that Shakespeare’s contemporaries were smoking it.

Tobacco from the New World was certainly being smoked during the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. However, there are no references to tobacco in Shakespeare’s works.

As for cocaine, this wasn’t even synthesized until the 19th century. And, to my knowledge, reports of people smoking cocaine only date back to as recently as the 1970s.

The concept of “smoking weed” didn’t catch on in England until centuries later, so Thackeray’s interpretation of the line in Sonnet 76 is fanciful at best.

Incidentally, there are numerous uses of the word “weed” in Shakespeare. All refer to either clothing (in the sense of “widow’s weeds”) or lowly species of plant-life.

In the latter sense, the references are overwhelmingly negative, although there is an example of ‘weed’ as a term of endearment in Othello.

There are certainly no clear examples of ‘weed’ used to mean cannabis. Thackeray’s clutching at the elliptical line in Sonnet 76 seems like a desperate manifestation of confirmation bias.

There are plenty of references to drugs in Shakespeare. They take the form of remedies, potions and, in Romeo and Juliet, deadly poisons. What you won’t find is any mention of smoking cannabis or cocaine.

And finally, there are several references to pipes in Shakespeare’s works – usually in the sense of musical instruments, but sometimes in the sense of veins as pipes containing blood.

And, you guessed it, there are absolutely no references in Shakespeare to pipes being used for smoking.

I should state at this point that I personally don’t have any problem with the idea of William Shakespeare experimenting with mind-altering substances. After all, many of my favourite musicians did. But the likes of Hendrix and Bowie were frying their minds 400 years later. There’s simply no evidence that Shakespeare did so in the 16th and 17th century.

Certainly, Shakespeare’s language can be ultra-vivid, dizzyingly complex and brain-stretchingly surreal. He had huge appeal for the generation of Romantic poets that came later – some of whom did partake of substances that we would recognize as mind-altering drugs.

But perhaps we should accept that Shakespeare’s legendarily imaginative deployment of language was ultimately just down to him being a great writer.

I use Open Source Shakespeare to check quotes and references in Shakespeare’s works. And you should too.

Shakespeare Magazine is a completely free online publication all about Shakespeare. Go here to read all our issues so far.