Search Results for: Pat Reid

“Should Shakespeare be studied in secondary schools?” Sydney-based student Tazmin Harper wrote to Shakespeare Magazine with some questions about Shakespeare’s relevance in the modern day, both inside and outside the classroom – needless to say, Editor Pat Reid had a few comments to make on this subject…

TAZMIN HARPER: How did you become interested/involved with Shakespeare and his works?
PAT REID: “It’s a long story, but the short version is this: At the start of 2013 I decided to read Richard III, and I enjoyed it so much that I carried on until I’d read Shakespeare’s Complete Works, which I think took me about seven or eight months. I had the idea for Shakespeare Magazine almost immediately. I was a media professional experienced in making specialist magazines, so I knew it was something I could do. I thought about it for a year, but couldn’t raise any finance, and I was giving up hope that it would ever happen, when suddenly there was an opportunity. I took a leap of faith, and the first issue of Shakespeare Magazine was published on 23 April 2014.”

Did your secondary education shape your interest in Shakespeare? Positively or negatively? 
“I was at secondary school in Merseyside during the 1980s. We did quite a bit of Shakespeare, and I enjoyed it. The teachers were good. It wasn’t an amazingly innovative approach or anything, but I was into it, so I got a lot out of it. Looking around me, I was aware that some of my classmates weren’t getting it at all, and I knew how they felt because in most of my other subjects at school it was me who wasn’t getting it at all.
“I should also mention that I had a head start because my Dad had made me read and learn some Shakespeare when I was younger – Julius Caesar and Macbeth, a bit of The Merchant of Venice. I’d even written a short Shakespearean parody when I was about ten. And in my final term at secondary school I wrote and staged a Hamlet spoof called Omlet – it was basically Hamlet meets The Rocky Horror Show. So I was a Young Shakespearean. Then I went to university and it basically put me off English Literature for the next 25 years.”

Image by Amogha Sridhar
What is your demographic/readership for the Shakespeare Magazine?
“It’s a free online magazine, and we have found readers in well over 100 countries. The majority of the readers are female and they are often (but by no means exclusively) connected to education, the arts and/or the theatre world. Plenty of teachers, students and librarians. The age range is wide, ranging from students in their late teens to retirees in their sixties and older. Our youngest and oldest readers that I know of were 15 and 85.

“The two biggest readerships are the USA and the UK, followed by Germany, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Spain, France and Brazil. If you name a country, I can tell you how many readers we have there, and what I know about how Shakespeare is perceived there. We have readers in the most surprising places, but I’ve realised that any country with a capital city, a university, a theatre and a British Embassy will usually have at least a pocket of Shakespeare fans.”

Shakespeare Day in a London school

What themes and issues from Shakespeare’s works are most prominent in the modern day? 

“Politics. Love. Men and women. Treachery. Murder. Death and bereavement. War – especially civil war. Leadership, and the lack thereof. Magic and manipulation. Don’t trust witches, but fairies are brilliant. Sometimes goddesses are attracted to mortals. I’ll leave you to work out which of Shakespeare’s plays and poems these refer to.”
Do you feel that his plays are still relatable to a modern audience?
“I do, but so what? Just because something is relatable doesn’t mean it’s any good. You’d have to be an extremely sick individual to relate to Lady Macbeth, but she’s a compelling, unforgettable character. (Actually, I know that loads of people do relate to Lady Macbeth. That’s because this strange thing happens with Shakespeare where people often simply ignore the things in the text that don’t match their preconceptions. So therefore it’s possible to believe that Lady Macbeth is, for example, a feminist warrior, when she’s actually a mentally ill accessory to murder.)

Lady Macbeth
“The way Shakespeare’s plays unfold can seem weird at first. But that’s because most plays, films, TV and novels today use all the same tricks and formulae, and so we find it strange when those things don’t happen. Interestingly, I sometimes find that films from other cultures like India, South Korea and maybe Turkey seem closer to the Shakespearean style of storytelling than modern day English-language stuff. Oddly enough, some elements of the Mamma Mia! films seem quite heavily indebted to Shakespeare.”
Why do you believe Shakespeare is such an important figure in English education?
“Since the Enlightenment, I think that Shakespeare has increasingly occupied the space in the minds of the intelligentsia that would previously have been devoted to the Bible. So Shakespeare’s works have become a sort of secular Bible, and thus have attained great importance in our culture. Someone recently said that even in a post-Christian World, the dreams we dream are Christian dreams. I think there’s something in that, but I also think that now those dreams are co-authored by Shakespeare.”
Do you believe Shakespeare should be studied in English or Drama in secondary school? Or any other subjects?
“That’s an interesting question, as I hadn’t really thought about Shakespeare being taught in schools outside of English Language and Literature classes. But before I answer the question, let me address this word ‘should’, because whenever I’m told I ‘should’ do something, or read something, or think something or be something, I tend to resist it. And I particularly hate it when people on social media post statements like ‘This should be taught in every school’, as if the whole of humanity has to exactly conform to their own personal likes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
“But having said that, I am a Shakespearean, I’m evangelical about Shakespeare, and I know that Shakespeare can be introduced and taught brilliantly in schools – even in primary schools.
“So English Language is an obvious subject to bring in Shakespeare. It helps to show where our language has come from and how it has evolved. Same goes for English Literature, obvs.
“I suspect most schoolkids don’t study Drama, but I do think it would be bizarre to have a Drama department that didn’t do Shakespeare. If it wasn’t for Shakespeare there wouldn’t BE any Drama department. Doing Shakespeare in Drama is also valuable from a practical point of view. Actors with Shakespeare training tend to be more confident and more versatile. If you look at the British (and some Australian) actors who have broken through internationally in recent years, they usually have done and continue to do major Shakespeare roles. Hollywood takes Shakespeare credentials very seriously, in part because native US actors don’t often have the same experience.
“And Shakespeare can also be useful and highly relevant in school History lessons. I’m friendly with the team on BBC History Magazine, and they have Shakespeare references in practically every article. The many excellent historians we see on British TV constantly refer to Shakespeare. I’ve said before that you can’t be a Shakespearean and not be at least part historian, but maybe it’s the other way round too – you can’t be a historian and not be at least part Shakespearean.

Katy Ransome at Shakespeare Lives in Botswana, 2016
“Shakespeare and his associates are obviously interesting historical figures in their own right, and it’s refreshing to study the popular culture of their era, as a contrast to the more big picture stuff on monarchs, wars, politics, plagues, the importance of pumpernickel in Westphalia, and so on. There was an amazing explosion of creativity in the Elizabethan era, and we’re still feeling it in our popular culture today. Shakespeare also provides a helpful entry point for certain subjects, or can be an alternative way to approach things – even if it’s just the obvious route of ‘This is how Shakespeare depicted Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Henry V, Richard III – how does it compare to what we now understand to be the historical facts?’”
Do you feel that Shakespeare and his works should be a required topic to study in secondary school? Why?
“Allowing again for my unease with the word ‘should’, I do believe that Shakespeare belongs in secondary schools, certainly in England, and probably everywhere else English is spoken as well. Look, it’s important to know about your culture, and if you speak English then you’re one of Shakespeare’s children, so a bit of respect, as they say, is due.
“Shakespeare is the most important writer – and arguably one of the most significant human beings – of the last 500 years, so any education system in the English-speaking world would be severely lacking if it didn’t reflect that.
“There are at least two countries I know of where they’ve tried to kick Shakespeare out of the classroom in recent years. One is Zimbabwe and the other is Canada. Now, clearly Zimbabwe needs to cultivate its own literature and writers, but to me it seems that Mugabe’s henchmen wanted to ban Shakespeare because they didn’t want a population capable of independent thought.
“In Canada, the idea is to replace Shakespeare with Canadian authors, so it’s a kind of nationalist but also virtue signalling move, and it’s nakedly political because they apparently want to erase the historic links between the UK and Canada. And also I believe cash gets funnelled to favoured authors, so this also has the whiff of cronyism.
“Incidentally, Canada’s greatest living writer, Margaret Atwood, is herself an avid Shakespearean, and interestingly I believe she was largely homeschooled. Elsewhere I saw one quote from a young woman saying ‘As a Chinese Canadian, I don’t want to learn about English writers’. Which is ironic, because in England there was a serious proposal in Birmingham, the second biggest city, to change the name of the airport to William Shakespeare International Airport, as it’s receiving such huge volumes of tourists from China who are coming to visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

“This leads me to another observation: outside of the English-speaking world, the interest in and love for Shakespeare is phenomenal. So even if native English speakers cease to value Shakespeare, his works will find a home in emerging superpowers like China, India and Brazil.”

Which works of his do you believe are the most important to be studied?
“I suppose there’s five or ten big plays that everybody’s heard of, but for the numerous reasons I’ve discussed above, all Shakespeare’s works have value – let’s not forget the Sonnets, and long poems like Venus and Adonis – and if teachers are able to give a flavour of it all, then so much the better.
“It would be nice if teachers were able to choose which ones to do based on how much a particular class would enjoy them and respond to them. It occurs to me that while I advocate Shakespeare for all, it would be a shame if everyone was taught the same texts in the same way, and expected to arrive at the same conclusions.
“It’s often said that performing Shakespeare is the best way to get to grips with the texts. This certainly works for me, but some children are mortified at the thought of reading something out loud to their peers. I can also understand that tackling entire plays can be tough, as youngsters tend to lose interest before the end. Perhaps an alternative approach could be a kind of ‘tasting menu’ of Shakespeare, where classes would sample extracts from several plays, as well as dipping into the long poems and the Sonnets.
“In 2014 FutureLearn did an excellent Shakespeare MOOC (online course) which was presented by Jonathan Bate. Something like that could easily be adapted for secondary schools. In which case every kid in Britain would end up knowing Shakespeare better than I did before I started Shakespeare Magazine. That would be fantastic.”

Celebrating 50 years of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid writes about growing up and growing old with a Shakespearean cinematic masterpiece – and its eternally youthful stars, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey.

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“But you sound just like Leonard!” exclaims the voice at the end of the telephone. “Exactly like him, it’s uncanny!”The voice that’s saying this is Olivia Hussey’s. The voice that she’s saying it about is mine. Fifty years ago, when she was just 15, Olivia starred as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s film of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The Leonard to whom she refers is Leonard Whiting, then 17, her co-star who played Romeo. It’s all documented in her recent book The Girl on the Balcony. To have my voice compared to Leonard’s is a major compliment. I want to respond with a witty quip like “I bet you say that to all the Romeos…” – but there’s an interview to do.

I first saw Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet when I was around the age Olivia was when she starred in it. My relationship with the film, and with the play it’s based on (and with the characters in it) has certainly evolved over the passing decades. The first time I saw it, in a mid-’80s classroom of an all-boys school, it was the sword fights that excited me most, to be honest. Having said that, Olivia’s radiant vivacity as Juliet, and the emotional rush of her love affair with Leonard’s sensitive-yet-athletic Romeo, must have seemed a kind of dream version of what life would surely hold in store.

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When I saw it again in my mid-twenties I was taken aback by how deliriously romantic it all was. The film is both opulent and gritty, a bacchanalian feast of the screen. I was now much older than Olivia’s Juliet, but still far too young to understand what was really going on in the film.​In my early forties I became both a father for the first time, and a born again Shakespearean. This is when Romeo and Juliet becomes every parent’s worst nightmare. You do everything you can to bring your kids up right, and they go and fall madly in love – and end up dead. Yes, it’s funny when I put it like that, but really it’s terrifying.

Watching the film in middle age, I also noticed for the first time how Shakespeare’s words were bursting with an overwhelming beauty that was matched note for note by Nino Rota’s musical score – one of the all-time great movie soundtracks.

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I noticed other things too. How Lady Capulet (played by Natasha Parry) was not in fact an evil old bag, but a dignified, concerned and rather beautiful young mother. At this point I could hardly fail to see how Romeo and Juliet was absolutely crammed with performances that in any other film would have been breakouts. From Pat Heywood as Juliet’s Nurse, to Michael York as an imperious, flashing-eyed Tybalt – not forgetting the demented swagger of John McEnery’s Mercutio, and Robert Stephens embodying authority as the Prince – it’s an embarrassment of riches.Finally I watched it again this year, 2018, the year that the film and myself both turn 50. Everything I’ve written above is still true, but watching the film after reading Olivia’s book puts a different light on things. Indeed, her book shines a light into all the nooks and crannies of the film.

My most recent viewing of the film took place after reading her book, but actually speaking to Olivia was a precious experience. She is a custodian of the memory of Romeo and Juliet, and the keeper of its secrets. “I’ve never told anyone that before,” she said, after sharing a detail about her famously gruelling audition process for the film, “I only just remembered it now”.

Indeed, Zeffirelli’s casting process would probably be impossible – or illegal – today, but its result was perfection. In 1960s London there were a lot of beautiful, talented young men and women. But Romeo and Juliet had to be beautiful together in the right way, a complementary beauty that made them both shine more brightly, not a situation where one cancelled the other out.

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There have been other Romeo and Juliet films before and since, of course. The 1954 version with Laurence Harvey is almost forgotten now, forever eclipsed by Zeffirelli’s ’60s supernova. The 1936 production is seen as a historical curio, with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer, aged 43 and 33, far too old for the roles.Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 update, styled Romeo + Juliet, succeeded because it made itself as different as possible from Franco Zeffirelli’s. But while I’ve met countless women who fell in love with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo, I’ve yet to meet a man who fell in love with Claire Danes as Juliet. We admire her as an actress – she’s one of the few in Hollywood who can actually move her face – but we don’t want to die for her.

And a 2013 film of Romeo and Juliet cast Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld in the lead roles. They looked every bit like a Renaissance painting, but alas the chemistry was lacking – the pair seemed more like amused, conspiratorial siblings than Shakespeare’s tragic, star cross’d lovers.

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And that’s why Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is not just one of the greatest Shakespeare films ever made, it’s one of the greatest films of any kind ever made.Yes, he took liberties with Shakespeare, but you can tell it’s a film made by someone who’s in love with Shakespeare, in love with Romeo and Juliet, in love with life, and in love with love. Watch it today, or soon, to celebrate its 50th anniversary – and be sure to raise a glass to Franco, to Leonard and to Olivia. Their Romeo and Juliet is, and will always be, an intoxicating experience.

All images courtesy of Paramount. Watch out for a full interview with Olivia Hussey in the next issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

“Why I always watch Shakespeare with the subtitles on – And I invite you to do the same.” Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid is convinced that subtitles are good for the brain, and can greatly enhance our enjoyment and appreciation of Shakespeare.

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When my son was a baby, I mentioned to my brother that I was always anxious while watching television at night. If I was enjoying a programme downstairs and I turned up the volume, there was a danger I might not hear the baby crying in his upstairs bedroom. My brother, who already had two children, told me he’d acquired the habit of watching TV with the volume turned down low and the subtitles on. So I started doing this too, and I soon discovered that what I was missing in sound, I was more than making up for in the amount of information I was taking in.

During his toddler years, my son started watching CBeebies, the BBC children’s channel. We were a little concerned at first, because his interest was so intense. But it gave us, his parents, a break, and the programmes were suitably nourishing, so we decided it was all right.

Then we noticed a surprising side effect. Like all parents, we monitored our child’s developmental milestones. He seemed to be a little behind with some of them. But there was one area where he seemingly raced ahead, and that was learning to read.

One day we were watching CBeebies together, and I realised that as we had permanently left the subtitles on, every TV programme our son watched was effectively a reading lesson. A character or presenter would say a simple phrase, the subtitles would correspond with it, and our son was making the connection. He was learning a crucial skill – and, like some Holy Grail of education, it was both effortless and fun.

When he started school at four, our boy was one of the younger children in his class, but one of the most advanced readers. I’m sure that other factors played a part, but CBeebies and subtitles definitely helped.

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But what, you may ask, does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well, I was busy planning and launching Shakespeare Magazine during this time, and I was watching a lot of Shakespeare DVDs. Again, I had the volume down low and the subtitles on. And I began to notice that I was understanding the plays better, and enjoying them more.

How so? Well, often when we watch TV programmes or films, we don’t actually hear everything that’s being said. Sometimes actors can mumble or have their voices drowned out by other sounds. Hollywood films have been like this for decades, but in more recent years a spate of British television dramas have drawn complaints from viewers who can’t properly hear the dialogue. Some viewers in the US have resorted to the subtitles because they can’t understand the new Doctor Who’s accent.

It’s not the end of the world, of course. Usually, our brain goes to work trying to fill in the gaps, and we come away with a good sense of what’s going on. But films and TV shows often leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction and incompletion. I do wonder if that’s a subconscious feeling of being shortchanged when we can’t hear the words.

With Shakespeare productions, I noticed some big differences when I used subtitles. When I saw the 2015 Macbeth film at the cinema, I was initially disappointed. The soundtrack music seemed to be mixed very high, while the male actors all affected the same guttural, clenched-buttock delivery. This was a play I knew very well, and yet I could hardly understand a word that was being said.

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When Macbeth was released for home viewing, I watched it again – this time on my iPad, with the subtitles on. I enjoyed it a lot more, and the mumblecore approach didn’t bug me to the same extent.

A complete contrast was the 2012 BBC production The Hollow Crown, which struck me as being particularly beautiful in terms of sound. I watched this on a rattly portable DVD player (late at night, while working on a laborious email campaign), and even with the volume on the very lowest level, I could still hear pretty much everything. The subtitles did the rest. I was especially struck by the scenes with Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston as Henry IV and Prince Hal – they sounded like a couple of lions purring at one other.

Ralph Fiennes’ 2011 Coriolanus, which I also watched on the portable DVD player, was different again. It’s a first-rate example of a modern-day Shakespeare film, but the sound levels seemed to be all over the place. I suppose this captured the chaos and confusion of war, but it was also likely to wake up my sleeping family, so I turned it right down and largely relied on the subtitles. 

It was a similar story with the 2016 BBC production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I watched this one on our (relatively) big-screen TV, and the problem was I had to keep turning it up because I couldn’t hear the dialogue, but then the soundtrack music would come crashing in (several notches higher than the dialogue) and I had to turn it down again, which meant I couldn’t hear the dialogue, which… You get the picture. At times like this the subtitles are a godsend.

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As it was CBeebies that started all this for me, I’m delighted to say that their two Shakespeare productions, 2016’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and 2018’s The Tempest, have very good sound. But these are lively, exuberant productions with a lot going on, so the subtitles can certainly help to keep track of it all.

So we’ve established that I firmly believe Shakespearean subtitles are good for us. But how does this actually work? My guess is that because we’re seeing it, hearing it AND reading it, this means that more of it goes in – and more of it stays there.

I have to admit that some of my readers have reacted angrily – even viscerally – to my periodic urging to switch on the subtitles. I’m not quite sure why this idea is so offensive to some. I think some people were taught in school that Shakespeare’s plays were “supposed to be heard”, and therefore experiencing them any other way is wrong. It’s an interesting position to take, but I can’t find it within myself to agree.

In my opinion, reading Shakespeare’s works is brilliant, because it gets us nearer to the experience of being Shakespeare’s original actors. In fact, it gets us closer to the experience of actually being Shakespeare.

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I know from my years as a cinema journalist that a lot of people do have an instinctive dislike of subtitles. With the exception of Amélie (way, way back in 2001) very few subtitled films have succeeded at the UK box office. But using subtitles is something that anyone can easily train themselves to do. After all, if you can read a tweet or a text message, or a picture caption, a subtitle doesn’t exactly present a challenge.

Now, before you ask, no, I don’t know if there are any studies or books on this subject, and frankly I don’t care. I KNOW that it works for me. It’s helped my son learn to read, and it’s given me a better understanding of Shakespeare’s texts. And the chances are it’ll work for you as well. So what are you waiting for? Whack on the subtitles, and get stuck into some Shakespeare.

In the week that Issue 13 of Shakespeare Magazine is finally published, Editor Pat Reid is “thrilled and honoured” to appear as the latest guest in the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s legendary and long-running podcast!

We’re delighted to announce that Shakespeare Magazine’s Editor Pat Reid is this week’s guest on the long-running and supremely entertaining Reduced Shakespeare Company podcast.
You can listen to the podcast here. Hope you enjoy it!

Episode 572. The Shakespeare Magazine, 27 November 2017 (Length 17:05)

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Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid.

Pat Comments: “I’m thrilled and honoured. Reduced’s frontman Austin Tichenor interviews me with considerable eloquence and charm to explore the story of Shakespeare Magazine, with plenty of laughs along the way. He says the loveliest things about the magazine too. I’m still smiling!”

From the Reduced Shakespeare Company website:

“Pat Reid, the creator, editor, and publisher of Shakespeare Magazine, talks about how the magazine began, why it briefly stopped, and how it has risen again.

“Download all the issues here, then hear Pat discuss how his love of Shakespeare led to this passion project, the complexities of publishing, the importance of fandom, the ironies of branding, the shock and surprise at immediate positive feedback, the glorious idea of treating a 400-year-long gone author as if he’s still alive, the time his love’s labour was almost lost, and how it seems that all’s well has indeed ended all well.”

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Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

You can listen to all 572 Reduced Shakespeare Company podcasts on their website.

Starting university this month? Shakespeare Magazine’s Editor Pat Reid shares the FIVE things you absolutely need to know if you’re new to studying Shakespeare (and you want to get the most out of your English Literature degree)

Shakespeare Magazine is based in the English city of Bristol, which is also home to one of the major British universities (well, two if you include nearby UWE). At this time of year, I can’t help but notice the influx of new, fresh-faced young students as the academic year begins, and I often take a moment to reflect on my own, not-exactly-distinguished university career.

Yes, the sad truth is I was a lousy student. But I’ve learned a lot since then. And I reckon that if I ever had the chance to be a student again, I could actually end up with a pretty decent degree.

One of the reasons why students can underperform is because it’s such an overwhelming experience. You’re bombarded with so much information about your subject that you end up not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s easy to find yourself wasting all your time and energy on areas that are ultimately irrelevant.

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So right from the start you need to work out two things:

What are the key areas I need to cover?

How can I add something of myself that will make me stand out from everyone else?

With this in mind, here are Shakespeare Magazine’s Five Essential Tips that every new student of Shakespeare should pay attention to.

ONE: Get a grasp of all Shakespeare’s plays, not just the big ones.

If you’re only familiar with a few of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, like Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar, the full list of 38 plays can look a little scary. But it’s really important that you delve into as many as possible if you want to be ahead of the game. To lots of people, the least attractive titles are Shakespeare’s History plays, because they just look like a traffic jam of names and numbers – Henry IV, Part 1, and Henry VI, Part 3, and so on. However, once you start actually getting into the Histories, this is where you find a lot of Shakespeare’s best and most entertaining stuff.

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It’s a similar story with Shakespeare’s Comedies, which are an awful lot ruder and funnier than many people realise. I’d even go as far as to argue that contemporary hit comedies on TV such as Peep Show and The Inbetweeners are the direct descendants of Shakespeare plays like The Comedy of Errors and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A great way to investigate Shakespeare’s complete plays is with the Shakespeare300 app. It’s very cheap, and it gives you a clear and simple introduction to each play, along with some really useful information and statistics. Then, when you start reading chunks of plays or entire works, the www.playshakespeare.com website has another excellent free app, Shakespeare Pro, where you can easily access the complete plays.

TWO: Read up on Shakespeare’s biography and the history of the times he lived in.

You can’t study Shakespeare without being at least partly a historian. It’s an inescapable fact that the more you know about the historical background to Shakespeare’s life and times, the greater will be your understanding of the man’s works. For example, there’s still a very strong perception that Shakespeare was an exclusively Elizabethan playwright. Outside the academic community, many people don’t realise that a big chunk of his career was actually spent as a King’s Man, working for Elizabeth I’s successor King James I (who was also King James VI of Scotland).

Once you get a taste for it, Elizabethan and Jacobean (the era of King James) history is as dramatic and compelling as any of Shakespeare’s works. Did you know, for example, that the infant Shakespeare narrowly survived an outbreak of plague in Stratford-upon-Avon? Or that, as a King’s Man, the 41-year-old Shakespeare could easily have been blown up in the Gunpowder Plot? Or that the Globe Theatre was burnt down by a fire started by a cannonball (fired as a special effect during a performance of Henry VIII)?

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Bill Bryson’s book on Shakespeare
is still probably the most readable introduction to Shakespeare’s life and career. When you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, try two books by James Shapiro – 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare and 1606: Shakespeare and The Year of Lear.

THREE: Don’t be afraid to ask questions

A pretty good rule for life is: if you don’t know something, ask an expert. Obviously, you need to put in a good amount of work yourself, and try not to waste your tutor’s time with stuff that’s irrelevant or trivial. But remember, your tutor or lecturer is a font of expert knowledge, and they are there to be tapped. Back in the Dark Ages when I was a student, I felt embarrassed about the gigantic gaps in my knowledge, and one or two tutors did make me feel stupid for asking stuff. Today, of course, my job as a journalist involves putting questions to Shakespeare experts in order to get good information to share with my readers. It’s exactly the same with your university coursework.

Shakespeare is a massive subject, and you can’t be expected to know everything. However, do try to work on presenting your questions so they stimulate an enthusiastic response. Find out your tutor’s special areas of expertise and mine them for all they’re worth. When asking a tutor a question, it’s good if you can demonstrate that you’ve gained a certain amount of knowledge of the subject, but that you’re trying to acquire more. For example: “My teacher at school said that in Shakespeare’s day it was illegal for women to act on the English stage. Is this true? Can you tell me what is the current academic consensus on the subject?”

FOUR: Remember Shakespeare’s poems – and not just the Sonnets

In his own lifetime, Shakespeare’s name as a writer was perhaps most widely known in connection with his two bestselling long narrative poems – Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. Today, these once hugely-popular poems are often forgotten, as so much attention is given to now-legendary plays like Hamlet, Othello and King Lear. So if you want to score some extra points with your tutors, make the time to read Shakespeare’s poems, and demonstrate your knowledge by including quotes and references in your essays. The good news is that Venus and Adonis is entertaining, quite saucy, and relatively easy to read. And in combination with Lucrece, it’ll help increase your knowledge of Classical (ie Greek and Roman) literature which is essential background to Shakespeare.

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The bad news is that many people, myself included, find Shakespeare’s Sonnets dense, demanding and difficult. However, there’s only 154 of them and they’re only 14 lines each. Believe me, you can do it. And once you’ve read Shakespeare’s sonnets, you can afford to feel proud because there is now officially nothing in English Literature that you can’t handle. For help with the Sonnets, try William Sutton’s Sonnet Book. There’s also an engaging YouTube series by the Sonnet Sisters.

FIVE: Get used to thinking about Shakespeare all the time.

During my school days, a great teacher named Mr Murphy once pointed out that the best way to get good at an academic subject is to make it part of your everyday life. So for example if you’re studying Economics, the student who reads the Financial Times every day (and The Economist each week) is going to learn more about the subject than the student who just does their coursework and nothing else.

It’s like that with Shakespeare. You’re going to get out what you put in and, quite frankly, why settle for doing the bare minimum, when there’s so much fun to be had in reaching for the absolute maximum. Everything you learn about Shakespeare is going to help in some way, so here’s some of the best ways to maximise your Shakespeare intake.

1. Read Shakespeare Magazine. Obviously. Get every single issue completely free here.

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2. Go and see any and all Shakespeare plays in your vicinity. Can’t afford a ticket? Try blagging a freebie by offering to review it for your student magazine. See if you can help organise student trips to major theatres such as the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Shakespeare’s Globe in London. (While you’re in Stratford, be sure to visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace as well)

3. Get a part in a student production of a Shakespeare play – one of the best ways to experience Shakespeare is on the stage itself. Not up for acting? There’s a plethora of backstage roles, so there’s bound to be one that suits you.

4. Watch as many Shakespeare videos as you can. The two series of The Hollow Crown are a great starting point, as are any of the Kenneth Branagh Shakespeare films, plus the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet. Here’s a tip – watch them with the subtitles on. You’ll find that you understand it better when you’re seeing it, hearing it and reading it at the same time.

5. Listen to Shakespeare podcasts. These are great for listening to on journeys, or for a bit of extra learning while you exercise, relax – or even while doing the dishes. Three of the best ones are Reduced Shakespeare Company, Emma Smith: Approaching Shakespeare and Sheldrake on Shakespeare.

“Shakespeare Magazine is in trouble – big trouble. Can you help?” An urgent appeal to all our readers around the world from Pat Reid, Founder and Editor of Shakespeare Magazine

Dear Readers,

The headline really says it all. Shakespeare Magazine is in trouble.

This month, I ran out of money and exceeded my overdraft limit at the bank. As a result, Shakespeare Magazine‘s future is in danger.

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I’ve taken on part-time work for a media company (here in Bristol, England) and I’ve also been editing Shakespeare articles for a client in the USA. But my payments haven’t come through yet, and in the meantime I’m behind with my rent and bills.

This includes my monthly payments to Issuu and Yumpu, the companies that provide online platforms for Shakespeare Magazine.

I’m also unable to send out the latest batch of Shakespeare Magazine T-shirts and gift packs, because I don’t have the money for postage.

And now there’s a disturbing possibility: I may get so far into debt that Shakespeare Magazine will effectively cease to exist.

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I need to stress that most of the amounts I’m talking about are extremely small, but I need to urgently request your help in raising the money.

And so I’m asking you to please send me what you can afford: whether ten pounds (or dollars, euros etc), or a hundred or a thousand – or even more.

The bigger the donation, the greater the chance of saving Shakespeare Magazine.

I now have a paypal.me link for instant donations. It accepts payments in most major currencies

And please email me via shakespearemag@outlook.com if you would like to donate by an alternative method.

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With your help, I am confident I can get back on track to publish two issues of Shakespeare Magazine before the new year: one at the end of October, and one just before Christmas.

Naturally, I will be very happy to answer any questions or propositions you may have.

Thank you so much for any and all support you can give to Shakespeare Magazine.

Yours sincerely,

Pat Reid, Founder and Editor – Shakespeare Magazine

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As always, go here to get all 12 issues of Shakespeare Magazine free via Issuu.

Or go here to get all 12 issues free via Yumpu. (Some readers prefer this platform)

The lively, eclectic and much-loved Bristol Shakespeare Festival runs throughout July. Shakespeare Magazine’s Editor Pat Reid has previewed the Festival (and interviewed Festival Manager Jacqui Ham) for The Bristol Magazine

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Image: The Handlebards

Pat Reid writes:
Shakespeare Magazine is based in the city of Bristol, in the South West of England. We’re 70 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon (with which we share the River Avon) and 120 miles from London. But we’re very lucky to have a Shakespeare tradition all of our own. You may have heard of the historic Bristol Old Vic Theatre, along with its prestigious Theatre School. We also have a modern Shakespeare Tradition pioneered by the Tobacco Factory Theatres. And we have no less than four pubs named after Shakespeare!

But perhaps the most exciting event of all for a Bristol-based Shakespeare fan like myself is the annual Bristol Shakespeare Festival. This year the Festival is bigger than ever, with an impressive array of touring companies and one-off events taking over the city during the whole of July. I’m delighted to have once again been asked to preview Bristol Shakespeare Festival for The Bristol Magazine. I hope that it will encourage Bristolians to come out and enjoy a Shakespeare show. And I hope that visitors from further afield will also come and experience what Bristol has to offer. I can certainly promise that it will be “gert lush”, as we say in Bristol!

Read the full article in The Bristol Magazine here.

Paris-based journalist Carolina Rosendorn asked Shakespeare Magazine’s Editor Pat Reid three brief questions about tourism in the Bard’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. His response was a 2,000-word sprawl of sightseeing tips – and unabashed Shakespearean fan worship.

Interview by Carolina Rosendorn        Photos by Emma Wheatley

Do you consider yourself a Shakespeare fan? Why? What do you love about his work? Please feel free to elaborate as much as you want.

PAT REID: “Yes, I do consider myself a Shakespeare fan. One of my reasons for launching Shakespeare Magazine was the recognition that Shakespeare does have fans in the modern sense of the word. Shakespeare – and his body of the work – has fans in the same way that a famous actor or band or football team has fans. You get this with lots of cultural figures from the past, but with Shakespeare the fan energy is equal to all of the others put together.”

“For a fan like me, Shakespeare is endlessly fascinating. Even if I was to focus solely on his life and works, that would keep me occupied forever. But Shakespeare touches on so many things – and so much Shakespeare-related activity has taken place in the centuries since his death – that I’d need multiple lifetimes and several additional brains to even begin to process it all.”

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“People often ask me if I ever run out of material for the magazine. The truth is that if I was able to cover all meaningful Shakespeare activity in the world, the magazine would be a thousand pages long – and I’d have to publish a new issue every day.”

“There is definitely a ‘trainspotting’ element to being a Shakespeare fan – being amused by gloriously tacky Shakespeare merchandise or delighted by a knowing reference to Hamlet in the Power Rangers TV show. But what I love about Shakespeare’s work is that it seems to touch on all the important questions of life, and seems to offer suggestions for how to get through it. Shakespeare’s plays are broadly divided into Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, and ultimately his works range from hilariously funny to educational to emotionally enriching. You can’t ask for much more from an artist.”

“Not forgetting Shakespeare’s Sonnets and long narrative poems, which are also all of those things. But to give one example of the power of Shakespeare I’ll choose Romeo and Juliet. It’s become quite fashionable to be dismissive of that play, but I remember standing reading it on a London tube station a few years ago, and I had tears running down my face because Shakespeare’s words were just so beautiful.”

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Why do you think that people all over the world visit his birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon?

“Whenever you have fandom you always find a kind of quasi-religious element, and Shakespeare has certainly spread around the globe like a religion. So it’s not unusual that people want to make pilgrimages to the shrine, as it were. But even without the Shakespeare connection, Stratford-upon-Avon would still be a lovely place (although perhaps it’s because of the Shakespeare connection that people have fought to preserve its essential loveliness).

“Personally, I love going there. It’s a beautiful and tranquil place. It has quite a magical feel, similar to other historic English towns like York, Bath and Oxford – and it has a certain mystical kinship with ancient sites like Glastonbury, Avebury and Stonehenge. I think a lot of people visit Stratford-upon-Avon because of Shakespeare, but end up falling in love with the place for its own qualities.”

“As a tourist destination, Stratford-upon-Avon seems to run like a well-oiled machine. It’s able to accommodate huge numbers of people without getting too uncomfortable, and thankfully I haven’t noticed the kind of environmental damage you might expect from so much human traffic.”

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“For a typical visit with my partner and child, we will drive the 75 miles from Bristol and park in the town centre. We’ll buy a ticket that allows us to visit the Birthplace and other related houses (usually the ticket allows return visits too). At the Birthplace, we’ll ask some of the actors to perform a speech or scene or sonnet for us, and one of the musicians does a splendid version of Titania’s Lullaby from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“Then we walk over to Holy Trinity Church to visit Shakespeare’s tomb and see the famous effigy. Next to the church is the Dell, a pleasant park by the river. In the summer they have open air performances by amateur companies. It’s free, and often highly entertaining. While waiting for the next show, we can hire a rowing boat and enjoy splashing around on the river. This is right next to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and it’s not unusual to see one of the star actors chatting to students on the lawn. Also nearby is The Dirty Duck (it’s a pun on ‘Black Swan’), a legendary pub where the actors go boozing after performances. On a sunny day, with ice-cream in hand, it’s all rather blissful.”

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“Stratford-upon-Avon is also an academic centre, with the Shakespeare Centre, the Shakespeare Institute and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s own avenues of research. Once I went to interview the venerable Professor Stanley Wells, who has since been knighted. Afterwards, he took me to the office next door to meet his colleague Paul Edmondson, so I was able to do an impromptu interview with him as well. There are several other Stratford-based academics I’m keen to interview, and the Shakespeare Institute certainly has the aura of being a wonderful place to study.”

“It’s impossible to walk around Stratford-upon-Avon without embarking upon some imaginative speculation about Shakespeare and his life-long relationship with the place. This is a creatively healthy and imaginatively rewarding pursuit, just as long as you don’t confuse your speculation with objective fact.”

“Shakespeare Magazine has readers all over the world, and this has certainly educated me in terms of how different nationalities relate to the English language and England itself. Often, countries that have serious political differences with the UK are home to particularly fervent Shakespeare fans. I’ve concluded that people have a powerful desire to find common ground, and Shakespeare can be an important conduit to that.”

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“And Shakespeare still has that mark of quality – people everywhere know that he’s supposed to be the best of the best, and so they want to find out more.”

“In this day and age, I have to say that I worry about Stratford-upon-Avon’s vulnerability to a terrorist attack. It would be a nihilistic, self-defeating gesture by the perpetrators, but it would be a tragedy for civilisation.”


Do you think that everyone who does is a true Shakespeare fan? Or is there some kind of myth around his figure that attracts tourists even if they are not familiar with his actual work? I have come across a fair amount of “Shakespeare lovers” who in fact haven’t really read his work – only seen movies like Shakespeare in Love and such…

“I think probably the vast majority of visitors are not true Shakespeare fans, but that’s fine. Most adult visitors have at least some level of genuine interest in Shakespeare, and visiting Stratford-upon-Avon can only increase that. When I went to Hong Kong and visited the ‘Big Buddha’ nobody berated me for not being a true Buddhist, and I still found it an amazing experience. Likewise, I’m delighted that people from China want to visit Shakespeare’s home, and I’m confident most will take away from it something that they find meaningful.”

“Yes, there is definitely a mythic element that attracts tourists even if they have little or no formal experience of Shakespeare. Especially in the English-speaking world, Shakespeare is so embedded in the culture that people often don’t realise they’re ‘speaking Shakespeare’. So Shakespeare’s Birthplace is also the point of origin for vast swathes of our cultural identity. Visitors recognise this and respond to it in different ways – from pleasant surprise to full-scale intellectual epiphany. And importantly, people always seem happy and excited to be there. Stratford-upon-Avon seems to have an inbuilt feelgood factor.”

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“Expanding on the mythic idea of Shakespeare… there are, of course, many documented myths relating to Shakespeare and his works, and new ones keep emerging all the time. Part of Stratford-upon-Avon’s attraction is the way it feels like so much mythic energy is focussed in one relatively small and aesthetically-stimulating location.”

“Paul Edmondson says that every day he is irked to hear tourist guides in Stratford-upon-Avon perpetuating certain myths about Shakespeare. But ironically, Paul has himself been reinvestigating other Shakespeare myths, and asking if they might have a grain of substance.”

“Yes, I have also encountered self-proclaimed Shakespeare lovers who actually don’t know much about the subject. I try not to judge them too harshly. There’s an aspirational dimension to it, wishing to be seen as a culturally well-rounded person. I will admit that when I was younger I used to imply that I knew more about Shakespeare than I really did. I know a lot more about Shakespeare now, but I can cheerfully admit there’s a vast, yawning chasm of what I don’t know. For me, Shakespeare is a life-long learning project, and Shakespeare Magazine is a way to help myself and others with that.”

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“Shakespeare in Love is actually a great film for introducing people to Shakespeare, and it becomes more enjoyable as you gradually understand all the in-jokes and references.”

“One thing that really frustrates me is when people share dreadful fake Shakespeare quotes via social media. I wish we could shut down the stupid websites that originate these things, because it’s a form of cultural vandalism. Conversely, I love the meme of the actor Tom Hiddleston looking angry ‘because someone, somewhere is misquoting Shakespeare’.”


If there’s anything you want to add, please feel free to do so? Any insights you might have about Shakespeare as a tourist attraction would be interesting.

“Many of the big engine rooms of Shakespeare study and performance are now situated in North America. And I sometimes suspect that some of those guys are starting to believe that their take on Shakespeare is the real deal, and the version that belongs to England is somehow an inferior version. This is how you get ridiculous situations like a Shakespeare festival in Oregon spending millions of dollars on ‘modern-day translations of Shakespeare’, as if Shakespeare’s actual words constitute some kind of problem that needs to be fixed. I certainly appreciate that geographical distance can inspire valid perspectives on Shakespeare, but it’s insane to think that Stratford-upon-Avon and London can be written out of the equation.”

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“There are people in this world who deeply resent the UK because of its colonial legacy – and other, more recent, crimes – but they still love Shakespeare. So it’s strange to see Shakespeare himself apparently falling victim to a form of US cultural imperialism. I should add that, because Shakespeare Magazine has so many US readers and contributors, it’s arguably as much an American publication as it is a British one. The story of Shakespeare in America will never run out of steam, but it’s a story that begins in London and – crucially – Stratford-upon-Avon.”

“I would just like to add that, as tourist attractions go, Stratford-upon-Avon is a pretty great one. There’s loads to see and do, and it’s not too expensive if you plan wisely. There are plenty of London locations with compelling links to Shakespeare, but in Stratford-upon-Avon every inch of the place is connected to the man and his journey from cradle to grave. To stand on the same patch of turf as the greatest Englishman who ever lived is a powerful and precious privilege.”

Read the Shakespeare Magazine guide to Stratford-upon-Avon here.

“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.

Shakespeare Magazine 15 is celebrating 50 years of Franco Zeffirelli’s unforgettable 1960s film production of Romeo and Juliet!

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Issue 15 of Shakespeare Magazine celebrates 50 years of Franco Zeffirelli’s classic film of Romeo and Juliet.

We have an exclusive interview with Juliet herself, Olivia Hussey, along with readers’ memories of R & J, and an account of growing up (and old) with the film by Editor Pat Reid.

Also this issue, we have an exclusive extract from Paterson Joseph’s memoir Julius Caesar and Me, and we also take a look at Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow, and chat to Australian Shakespeare star Kate Mulvany.

Plus loads more, including Shakespeare with Subtitles, Shakespeare in Schools, and the beautiful Shakespeare Doodles of Gary Andrews.

Here’s the full list of contents:

Three gorgeous covers celebrating 50 years of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.

An exclusive interview with Juliet herself, Olivia Hussey.

The Editor writes about growing up with Romeo and Juliet.

The Readers remember Romeo and Juliet.

And that’s just for starters! Also this issue…

Want to enjoy Shakespeare more? Try using Subtitles!

How Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow took flight.

The beautiful Shakespeare doodles of Gary Andrews.

Revisiting Ian McKellen’s thrilling Richard III film.

Scandal! Why is Shakespeare Uncovered not being shown in the UK?

Does Shakespeare belong in schools?

Antony Sher’s Year of the Mad King reviewed.

The treasures of the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

An exclusive extract from Paterson Joseph’s Julius Caesar and Me.

Why Australian Shakespeare star Kate Mulvany feels Richard III’s pain.

Oh, there’s also a really good Mercutio anecdote in the Editor’s intro.

And you’re going to love what’s coming up next issue

Wishing a Happy, Peaceful and Prosperous 2019 to all our readers!