“I was Richard, I was Hamlet…” Young Indian writer Amogha Sridhar discovered Shakespeare during her childhood. Here, she tells us about the sense of familiarity she found in his works, and how this in turn has stimulated her own creativity.

amogha pic
One day when I was ten and down with a fever, I was given a copy of Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. My mother had bought it from one of the old second-hand bookstores in Bangalore. It was a late 2000s edition, a green book with grey illustrations and it had questions in the end. Eyes burning, I read the whole thing in one sitting. I remember two things vividly. One, I thought Florizel (from The Winter’s Tale) was a fascinating name I should use in a story, and two, the witches in Macbeth were the most interesting characters I’d ever come across.

The next year, I played the First Witch by myself for the literary fest in my school, where I cried “Double, double toil and trouble!” and my hat flew away. I remember thinking that these were the kind of stories I wanted to write (with pencil on coloured paper, but write nevertheless).

At ten, when I first read Macbeth on that gloomy day when I was ill, I was bewitched by the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I couldn’t quite place it then as clearly as I do now but I had found a familiarity in Shakespeare. Shakespeare reminded me of the stories from Indian mythology my grandfather used to tell me in Kannada, the ones with characters larger than life and elaborate arcs that tied together in the end. Nothing I had read in English as a child, a combination of Enid Blyton and EB White, had evoked that sense of familiarity.

At 16, when I read Much Ado About Nothing, what I loved was the pure scathing wit. That play was fodder to so many daydreams of playful Benedick and Beatrice-sque romance. At 19, when I read Richard II and Hamlet, it was character. In my mind, I was Richard. I was Hamlet. With that came a desire to act in Shakespeare, and I performed the ‘Hollow Crown’ monologue for auditions for university a few months ago.

My current interest in Shakespeare is the idea I’ve come to form that in Shakespeare’s largely auditory culture the beauty of a sentence was more important than numeric or characteristic permanence. It has considerable explanatory power as to the discrepancies between 2,000 men and 20,000 men in Hamlet, or the fact that Yorick has been dead for 23 years and yet Hamlet is in university. The idea suggests that, sometimes, it isn’t about characterisation or logic. Sometimes, characters say things because it needs to be said. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if it is contradictory or illogical – as long as it sounds beautiful, it just overrides implausibilities.

And much like my ten-year-old self, I find myself incorporating what I interpret as Shakespeare’s style into my own writing. The drafts of the apocalyptic novella I’m working on don’t add up in terms of chronological sense but sound nostalgic, trees speak up if something needs to be said and a draft contains the phrase ‘Once upon a tiger stripe’.

Working my way through Shakespeare, I am fascinated with the Shakespearean experiment with meaning and I am most interested in how we can keep that experiment with meaning alive. I want to direct Shakespeare productions that have a conversation with the canon – I think of doubling Aumerle with Exton in Richard II or a production of Hamlet where the poisoned swords are on stage from the very beginning. I think of stirring up the infinite possibilities the canon offers. I want my post-graduate studies to focus on Shakespeare. I want to engage with my little Shakespeare discoveries with an academic rigour.

“I have the exact same spinal curvature as Richard. His chronic pain and shame are very real to me…” Exclusive interview! Last year, Kate Mulvany won acclaim in the role of Richard III for Australia’s Bell Shakespeare Company. So we felt it was high time we asked her Six Questions about Shakespeare…

Photo by Prudence Upton

Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?

“The next Shakespeare I’m taking on is still top secret, so I’m not allowed to share just yet. Sorry! However, I have just spent much of 2017 performing as Richard III for the Bell Shakespeare Company – Australia’s very own company devoted to Shakespeare’s works. It was an extraordinary experience. Although I am a woman, I played Richard as a man, which gave a further strangeness to the character. To hear lines of misogyny come out of the mouth of a female actor, playing them straight as a man, added a further ‘discomfort’ for the audience, I suppose. Lines that would normally get a bit of a sexist titter got nervous laughs or horrified gasps…

“It was a fascinating insight into gender, performer and audience relationship. I also worked as dramaturg on the production for two years before we started rehearsals, so that gave me a lot of time to really delve into not just Richard, but all of the characters in his life, and view them through this gender-bending prism.

Photo By Prudence Upton

“I also have the exact same spinal curvature as the real Richard, so for the first time in 20 years as an actor I was allowed to fully reveal it. I have had to hide my scoliosis from audiences – usually with costuming and lighting and blocking. However, with Richard III, I was free to (literally) expose myself. The chronic pain and shame he refers to in the play are very real to me. Although I don’t agree with his politics, I can empathise completely with the way he walks in the world. I felt a very deep, unexpected, sincere care for him.

“As a result of this insight, I changed the ending of the play and gave Richard a soliloquy, after being wounded by Richmond. (I stole it from King Henry VI, Part III.) I had Richard start with ‘I have often heard my mother say I came into the world with my legs forward…’ and end on ‘I am myself alone’. I wanted Richard to use his final moments to question the audience on whether he was born a monster or made one by his family, and by society.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?

That he would be part of my life at all! I grew up in outback Australia. Shakespeare was not an option for us at school – there was no access to any theatrical studies. But somehow, fate led me to studying drama at university in the city. And it was there that I was introduced to Shakespeare. I fell in love with the drive of his ideas, the muscularity of the language, the epic in the domestic, the domestic in the epic… Since then, I have found myself performing regularly in Shakespeare’s works – often as male characters. Cassius. Claudius. Richard. Lady Macbeth. I have no idea how I got here, but I’m so glad I did.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?

“Richard III, physically. Beatrice, personally.”

Macbeth 2012 photo credit RUSH
Photo by Rush

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?

“‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…’ (Macbeth). It’s a simple but profound favourite – heartbreaking and hopeful all at once.”

What’s your favourite Shakespeare-related fact, myth, story or anecdote?

“I love that Shakespeare was a bower bird. He borrowed from myths, legends, publications and anecdotes all the time. It means that when you read a Shakespearean work you get a whole treasure trove of other references that are all wonderful, timeless gifts from the playwright himself.

“I also love that Shakespeare was an actor. You can feel it in his words. He gives you lines and characters that you can’t help but feel he has said aloud as he wrote them – they trip off the tongue and curl round the mouth so addictively. And they are the basis of extraordinary characterisations and narratives that comes from an actor’s pen, fervently and subconsciously writing for himself…”

Julius Caesar 2011 photo credit
Photo by TBC

You have the power to cast anyone in the world (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?

“Trump. As one of the Plebeians in Julius Caesar. But not one with any lines. Just to make him shut up and listen!”

Just in time for Christmas, the exciting new online subscription platform from Digital Theatre features plenty of top-notch Shakespeare productions – and we are offering one lucky Shakespeare Magazine reader a month’s free subscription!

Good news for Shakespeare lovers who aren’t always able to get to the most prestigious productions in London and Stratford-upon-Avon. Digital Theatre (DT) has announced the launch of an online subscription platform to bring the best of live theatre, ballet, opera and classical concerts, to our own screens. Performances can be streamed anytime, anywhere, to any device – and the service is available now.

The Tempest 2 - production images Topher McGrillis © Royal Shakespeare Company
Subscribers will have access to over 65 productions, the majority of which are exclusive to DT, including: Simon Russell Beale in The Tempest, Paapa Essiedu in Hamlet, and Antony Sher in King Lear, all from the Royal Shakespeare Company; Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet in All My Sons; Richard Armitage in The Crucible; David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing; operas and ballets from the Royal Opera House and the English National Ballet; and concerts conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and starring the London Symphony Orchestra.

Richard II 1 - production images Kwame Lestrade © Royal Shakespeare Compan
“Britain’s performing arts are world-renowned for their outstanding breadth, quality and diversity,” says DT’s founder, the director and producer Robert Delamere. “This was the inspiration behind the launch of the world’s first online performing arts platform. Digital Theatre collaborates with world-class producing houses to capture and curate their shows and stream them to the consumer in broadcast quality. Up close and personal, for a best-seat-in-the-house viewing experience.”

For £9.99 per month, subscribers get unlimited access to all Digital Theatre’s current and future productions. For non-subscribers, each production is available to rent online for 48 hours, at a price of £7.99.

Henry V 1 - production images Keith Pattison © Royal Shakespeare Company
“Our mission is to make the performing arts accessible to all,” says Justin Cooke, Chairman of Digital Theatre, “irrespective of social, economic or geographic circumstances. The power of digital is providing people, who might not otherwise have the opportunity, with access to fantastic performances, at a fraction of the cost of a typical ticket. We’re broadening access to these phenomenal productions, and preserving their impact for years to come. We aim to bring the drama and emotion of each live performance to the comfort of your home. And for me, this isn’t a replacement for live theatre – it’s a new art form altogether.”

DT will continue to add high-profile shows to its platform, including six new DT captures (two of which are in post-production), and a further 50+ curated productions from some of the world’s leading producers, all scheduled for release over the next six months.

Henry IV Part 1 - production images Kwame Lestrade © Royal Shakespeare Company
Digital Theatre also has an educational arm called Digital Theatre+ which provides more than 1,150 schools, colleges and universities, and three million students, in 65 countries, with access to 795 hours of curriculum-linked, audio-visual content, and 8,150 pages of bespoke written resources. Digital Theatre+ was the recent winner of the Best Online/Live Streaming Platform Award at the Theatre and Technology Awards 2017.

Go here to sign up to Digital Theatre now.


For a chance of winning one month’s free subscription to Digital Theatre, simply send us an email at shakespearemag@outlook.com and answer this question:

Who is on the cover of the latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine?

(In case you need some help, go here for a clue)

This competition is open to all our readers, everywhere in the world. The closing date is Friday 22 December 2017, and a winner will be picked after that date.

King Lear - production images © Royal Shakespeare Company
All the current Shakespeare productions available on Digital Theatre:

As You Like It (both The Courtyard Theatre & Shakespeare’s Globe productions)
Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette
Comedy of Errors
Hamlet (Maxine Peake)
King Lear
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Much Ado About Nothing
Romeo and Juliet

From 11 December, the following productions from the Royal Shakespeare Company will be added to DT:

King Lear
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 2
Henry V
Love’s Labour’s Lost
Love’s Labour’s Won
Merchant of Venice
Richard II
Two Gentlemen of Verona

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)

Pat Reid
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.”

Austin Tichenor Reduced
Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

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

Yes, it’s here at last! The long-awaited Shakespeare Magazine Issue 13 has finally arrived – and world-renowned King Lear superstar Ian McKellen is our latest cover artist!

Issue 13 Cover
The great man talks about the challenges of playing King Lear, while Fiona Shaw explains Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew and Patrick Stewart discusses Shylock from The Merchant of Venice.

Also this issue, we look at the TV series that portrayed Shakespeare as a punk, and we delve into the sometimes horrific medical treatments of Shakespeare’s day.

Graham Holderness tells us about The Faith of William Shakespeare, while Jem Bloomfield investigates Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery.

We also have excellent interviews with Sam White of Shakespeare in Detroit and Mya Gosling of Good Tickle Brain.

Not forgetting our round-up of recent Shakespeare Books and our essential guide to Studying Shakespeare!

From director Shakirah Bourne, new film A Caribbean Dream tells us two things – that Barbados is quite possibly Paradise on Earth, and that Shakespeare travels extremely well

Adapted from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Bourne and producer Melissa Simmonds, the film was made on location on the director’s home island of Barbados. Shot in the picturesque environs of Fustic House, St Lucy, the Shakespeare film it perhaps most resembles is Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (2012).

But whereas Whedon’s film was shot in stylish monochrome, A Caribbean Dream adds gorgeous hyper-real colours. Stepping amid its intoxicating jungle greens are a Puck (Patrick Michael Foster) somewhat reminiscent of Quentin Crisp, a suitably capricious Titania (Susannah Harker) and a regal, poetic Oberon (Adrian Green).

Bourne’s film has a lot of fun with stereotypes. The English people are posh and silly, their behaviour inspiring affectionate bemusement in the knowing islanders. And, it must be said, Shakespeare sounds absolutely fantastic in a Barbadian accent
Shakespeare’s tale calls for an ensemble cast, and there are plenty of good performances, including a loveable Lorna Gayle as Bottom, and charismatic Keshia Pope as Helena, spitting out the play’s most famous line: “And though she be but little, she is fierce”.

It’s a modern-day affair, so the fairies carry mobile phones, but the rude mechanicals are now poor fishermen who add some local folklore of their own.
Crucially for a Shakespeare film, the sound is excellent, and pretty much all the lines are delivered with clarity. There’s a welcome absence of the mumbling (or getting drowned out by sound effects) that often blights modern productions like the 2016 BBC version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The upbeat soundtrack includes some jaunty Bajan anthems, and Bottom enamours Titania’s ear with a sweet rendition of “Da Cocoa Tea is a Poison To Me”.
In the tradition of classic Caribbean films like The Harder They Come, the cheap and cheerful feel makes a refreshing change from slick and soulless Hollywood product. And yet, if Hollywood ever gets wind of this simple-but-effective formula, we can expect a big-budget remake of A Caribbean Dream quicker than you can say “Star Wars Trilogy”.

Although it’s not billed as a ‘straight’ Shakespeare film, it contains a great deal of Shakespeare’s text and, to me, feels true to the spirit of the original. I would also deem it completely suitable for the classroom – apart from one groan-inducing ‘donkey’ joke (although you could argue that this gag is itself Shakespearean).

For many of the scenes, especially those with the young lovers, it feels like watching a spirited open-air Shakespeare production on a magical Bajan evening. I’d happily sit in that jungle clearing to watch Helena and Hermia (Marina Bye) battling it out while the fairies celebrate with a Caribbean carnival.

A Caribbean Dream is released into UK cinemas (and On Demand via iTunes, Amazon, Google, Virgin Movies) on the 10 November 2017.

A Caribbean Dream poster
Birmingham, MAC (From 13/12/2017)
Ipswich Film Theatre (From 05/12/2017 )
London, Bernie Grant Arts Centre – Q&A with director, producer and cast (From 12/11/2017)
London, Peckhamplex (From 10/11/2017 )
London, Peckhamplex – Q&A with director, producer and cast (From 11/11/2017)
London, Rio Dalston – Q&A with director, producer and cast (From 12/11/2017)
Manchester HOME (From 15/12/2017 )
Torrington, The Plough Arts Centre (From 16/12/2017)

If you were one of those lucky enough to get a ticket, director Kenneth Branagh’s massively over-subscribed RADA Hamlet starring Tom Hiddleston was all about the “intimacy and intensity” of acting craft at its finest, writes Maddy Fry

Photos by Johan Persson

I’ve often found it comforting that most of Tom Hiddleston’s alter-egos seem incapable of making good choices. Whether it’s the PTSD-inspired alcoholism of Freddie Page in The Deep Blue Sea or the Shakespearean sibling angst of the Marvel villain Loki, most of his characters are dogged by despair and failure.

Even the nefarious Prince Hal of The Hollow Crown and the enigmatic Jonathan Pine at the centre of The Night Manager go through considerable travails before fulfilling their true purpose. It seemed apt that director Kenneth Branagh described the Prince of Denmark, that great monument to unfulfilled ambition, as “the role he was born to play.”

For any devotee of Hiddleston, the chance to see him as Hamlet in a tiny central London theatre, nestled within the walls of his old drama school, felt akin to seeing The Beatles at the Cavern Club – the sense of a colossal talent scaled down while losing none of its potency. The result was little short of magical.

Up close and personal in RADA’s 160-seat auditorium, the play opened with Hamlet sitting in near-darkness at the piano, crooning out a low wolf-howl of defeat.

“And will he not come again?” our hero moaned, lamenting the absence of his father via the heart-wrenching cadence of “No, no he is dead. Go to thy deathbed…”

Hamlet’s alienation and sense of betrayal over his mother’s hasty remarriage was, particularly for those in the front row, frighteningly visceral, made manifest through kicking and screaming, spit, sweat and tears. In turn, Hiddleston masterfully depicted Hamlet’s inability to be what those around him needed – supportive, vengeful, loving, or even just consistent.

Much has been made of how HiddleHamlet’s madness was undoubtedly feigned; yet the production’s great strength was the ease with which he switched to an all-too-real malice and vindictiveness. His brushing aside of Ophelia (Kathryn Wilder), triggering her fatal sense of abandonment, combined with his shrugging off the deaths of his informant friends, were shocking in their callousness.

Yet one couldn’t shake the feeling that the derangement and loss of control in Hamlet’s eyes after murdering Polonius (Sean Foley) was genuine. The final duel resulting in the Prince’s death, barely two feet from my seat, was no less agonising for its portrayal of one man imprisoned by grief, with its destructive effects spiralling outwards.

The threat of military conquest by Norway always hung in the foreground, but more than anything this Hamlet was about bereavement and family breakdown – the torment caused by our relatives moving on, even if we can’t, and robbing us of any space to heal. Proof, as though it were needed, that Shakespeare speaks to us for the moment we find ourselves in. Few plays have left me waking up sobbing the next day, but the rage, remorse and anguish on display still resonated, to the refrain throughout of “Go to thy deathbed…”

Yet on the night, for those in attendance it was three hours of uncomplicated happiness. Watching Hiddleston seamlessly recite ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ right in front of me was enough to make me feel thankful for my pulse. As much as I loved Benedict Cumberbatch’s 2015 turn at the Barbican, it couldn’t rival RADA’s Hamlet for intimacy and intensity of craftsmanship.

This performance of Hamlet took place on 20 September 2017 at the Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre, London

Soul-searching with Scott: Irish actor Andrew Scott delivered an “exquisite, fragile” performance in Robert Icke’s “electrifying, heart-wrenching production” of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre, writes Clare Petre

Photos by Manuel Harlan

Director Robert Icke’s exceptional contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s most famous play has had plenty of time to sit. Indeed, London has seen two further Hamlets (Tom Hiddleston’s and Benet Brandreth’s) since this formidable piece of theatre closed, but Andrew Scott’s is the one that seems to haunt the capital. With its soundtrack of some of Bob Dylan’s most touching songs, this electrifying, heart-wrenching production has plunged a poisoned foil into the hearts of thousands.
Andrew Scott’s exquisite, fragile Hamlet was offset beautifully by Jessica Brown-Findlay’s graceful yet physically strong Ophelia (her dance background was evident throughout), whose weakness, ironically, lay in her attempting to convince herself and the court of her strength.

I have seen criticism of the “monotony” of Angus Wright’s Claudius, as if his performance left something to be desired. I disagree – Wright is an accomplished actor and his Claudius was cunningly crafted. He left us in no doubt as to how Derbhle Crotty’s elegant and likeable Gertrude, in the midst of her confusion and grief, was attracted to his lupine, prowling figure but saw the error of her ways so quickly in the closet scene.
Peter Wight’s Polonius was apparently succumbing to the insidious effects of dementia, but his performance lost none of the character’s levity.

Aided by a cast of such strength, the play felt so fresh that some of its most famous and often most laboured words became unfamiliar. Icke’s daring direction served to emphasise this by giving several of the play’s best known moments entirely new readings – Laertes’ plea to use another foil as the one he has chosen is “too heavy”, for example, became a sudden second thought – a desperate and urgent cry to avoid the inevitable and perhaps use a foil untainted with poison. He became a man torn between his loyalty to the court, and his desire to forgive Hamlet and begin to define a better future. For the duel scene itself Shakespeare’s words were all but abandoned, the fight performed as a dumb-show to Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet”. Emotionally manipulative? Perhaps. Facile? Possibly. Heart-breaking? Undeniably.

This production’s outstanding competence lay in giving its audience the opportunity to share grief and express its own, usually muted, sorrows. Shared emotion equates to shared humanity. A fully paid-up member of Generation X, I cannot remember a more (over)dramatic outpouring of love and grief than that which we witnessed after the death of Princess Diana, which has been much discussed of late, it being the 20th anniversary of the Paris crash. There was, at the time, an extraordinary and tribal response to her carefully orchestrated funeral.
With Diana, we were not mourning the death of a princess so much as celebrating the opportunity to experience human communality. So with Hamlet, while we feel acutely his pain, Ophelia’s, Gertrude’s, we mourn our own tragedies as they are reflected upon the stage. When we weep for Hamlet and his fellow characters, we are weeping for our own grief and for the sense of loss which might permeate our own lives, but using Shakespeare’s writing as a conduit. To paraphrase Gertrude, this Elsinore turned our eyes into our very souls.

I fell in love with Hamlet 30 years ago and in that time many interpretations have come and gone. But it is Andrew Scott’s that has remained with me above all others, and which will do until usurped. I suspect I am in for a long wait.

This performance of Hamlet took place on Monday 24 July 2017 at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London

In the shocking light of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse revelations, it’s now very difficult to watch Shakespeare in Love. But there’s more: “This is a scandal that reaches many corners of our Shakespearean world, writes Brooke Thomas.

What’s your favourite Shakespeare inspired film? For many of us, the 1998 classic Shakespeare in Love is the one we return to again and again. It’s a feel-good movie that we can share with anyone, not just our fellow bardophiles. It’s a warm, charming film that introduced a lot of people to Shakespeare and showed a fun side of Bill to some of those who’d been put off by dry school sermons. It’s got a great script, an amazing cast, and it won loads of Oscars.

It was also produced by serial sex abuser Harvey Weinstein.

The film’s female lead, Gwyneth Paltrow, has made a detailed and harrowing accusation against Weinstein. Her co-stars Judi Dench and Colin Firth have made statements condemning the producer. So has the film’s director, John Madden. Another co-star, Ben Affleck, is now enmeshed in a scandal of his own.

Harvey Weinstein, along with his brother Bob, was founder of the Miramax Company, and later the Weinstein Company. As well as giving us numerous classics of modern cinema, they were linked, via production, co-production or distribution, to several other Shakespeare films, including Prospero’s Books (1991), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1996), a version of Hamlet (2000) with Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh’s Love’ Labour’s Lost (2000), “O” (2001), a modern-day reworking of Othello, and, later, Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (2010), Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2012) and Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015).
Another actress, Romola Garai, well known for her Shakespearean stage roles (including Cordelia to Ian McKellen’s King Lear), has come forward to share her own account of abuse by Weinstein.

The victim accounts paint Weinstein as a vulgar, cowardly man. Luring his victims into solo encounters, turning up to meetings in various states of undress, screaming at Paltrow after she’d dared tell her then boyfriend about his come-ons. Gross and leering in his dressing gown, the very embodiment of that well-known character – the casting couch pervert, the professor who would boost your grade, the boyfriend who paid for all those expensive dates. Nothing comes for free in this town, Sweetheart.

This is a scandal that reaches many corners of our Shakespearean world. How are we to feel? How are we to respond now we know these women who we admire so much, who gave performances we adore, were targeted behind the scenes by this predatory man?

Although it’s 401 years after his death, Shakespeare is still tainted by this, in a sense. We in the audience applauded Harvey Weinstein for giving us these films. We didn’t know the truth – that, to him, Shakespeare was just another thing to be abused and exploited. But Shakespeare tells us something very clear about such men of power – their reigns always end. They always fall.

When I started writing this piece I typed this inane opening line: “The entertainment industry has been shocked in recent weeks by the revelations about Harvey Weinstein.” It’s incorrect as well as dull. We’ve been furious, sickened, brimming over with outrage and solidarity for the victims, but shocked? How can we be?

As Meryl Streep commented in her statement about the allegations “The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar.”

I’m not saying we knew about these specific offences with this specific man – although some did allegedly enable Weinstein and they’ll have their own questions to answer in time. I’m saying that we’ve heard this story before. We know how this works.
One in five women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 (Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2013). This isn’t a rare and startling occurrence. This is something that we’re used to negotiating, in the workplace and beyond.

We live in a world where the 45th president of the United States was elected to office after we heard him confess to sexual assault on tape. Where an anonymous Hollywood agent’s quoted response to the evolving allegations against Weinstein was both dismissive and Shakespeare-defiling: “To me, it’s much ado about nothing… Welcome to Hollywood!”
Sexual assault is commonplace. An open secret. Usually dutifully derided in public and yet quietly accepted in some private spheres.

Some of the statements from Weinstein’s victims and others supporting them cite fear about their future career as a reason not to step forward before. They were intimidated, vulnerable, scared. They stopped working with Weinstein. Quietly advised others not to. The ones who were brave enough to kick up a stink were silenced. Paid off. Allegedly booted from future roles.

Women are still asked why they don’t always speak up about men like Weinstein. The simple answer is that usually we watch them – that professor, that producer, that executive, that rich or powerful lover, relative, or friend – walk away unscathed from our accusations. Have you ever had that nightmare where you’re trying to run but your limbs collapse under you like they’re made of paper? That’s how speaking up against these men feels. In the entertainment industry. In any industry. In this society.

If you do speak up, chances are you’ll get swept away in a wave of “But he’s such a nice guy!”, “That’s just how he is” and, of course, “Don’t make such a fuss.” That’s before you get to the inevitable victim-blaming questions. “Why did you meet in a private room?”, “Did you really tell him to stop?”, “But she carried on working for him afterwards?”

The reason I’m rehashing all this hideously familiar territory is that I cannot understate how brave Weinstein’s victims are for speaking out, how admirable and important their actions are. Did you know that only an estimated 15% of victims of sexual violence report it to the police? Speaking up about this is still subversive. Lavinia’s removed tongue and hands in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus are a grim, but apt, parallel for modern-day women. We are not supposed to tell. “I was expected to keep the secret,” Paltrow said.

Several excellent articles and threads have been circulating on social media about this situation. One by Helen Rosner includes the line: “The burden of defending a workplace from sexual predation cannot be carried alone by women and our whisper network.” The term “whisper network” resonated with me. We tell who we can. We try to protect each other from falling victim to these abusers. Because that’s all we’ve been able to do for so long. I think most women will recognise this culture – the necessary silence cut with urgent whispers. “Don’t be alone with him.” “Don’t pick up anything he drops.” You know this story. At least one in five of us didn’t hear the whispers. We know this story.

Through all the righteous anger, weariness and, frankly, bitterness that this is how things are, one emotion emerges strongest for me: hope.

If this powerful man can be publicly denounced for his abusive behaviour, why not the others? Finally, frustratingly slowly, things are changing. People are starting to believe women when they speak out. We’re lending courage to silent victims every time we applaud the people who have come forward. And supporting victims is finally being normalised by influential people across all industries. Justice is starting to catch up with the Weinsteins, the Saviles, the predatory monsters of this world.

I hope they’re watching. The others. The abusers hiding behind their power, their money, our fading fear. I hope they see Harvey Weinstein fall and know a sea change is coming. The whisper networks are watching too, and we’ll no longer hold our tongues.

Hark! Now I hear them.

Official website for Rape Crisis England & Wales

Actor Norman Bowman has performed alongside Jude Law in Henry V, played Ross in Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth and, most recently, was the eye-gouging Duke of Cornwall in Talawa Theatre’s King Lear… That’s why we’re asking him Six Questions about Shakespeare

What is the most recent play or area of Shakespeare you’ve worked on, and what did you get from it?

“The last area of Shakespeare was King Lear which was a year ago now. As a quick diversion, as I’ve got so much time off in my show, [Norman is playing Pat Denning in the West End musical 42nd Street] I’ve been  refreshing my memory of some of the monologues I’ve learnt over the years. I have to go up and down the stairs just to make a quick change and go back on stage and it’s so monotonous, so I’m going back over all those monologues. Just on the stairs, mind you, not on stage! On the stage I’m focused – I’m Pat Denning, America, 1930s. It’s because I miss it. It has been a year and, certainly with Shakespeare, you never want to stop learning because there’s so much to unearth.

Photo: Faye Thomas

“When I finish, I’m almost slightly relieved because it does take a lot out of you. These jobs are three months at a time, they’re arduous, you know. They’re like triathlons! The last role I played wasn’t a nice guy [The Duke of Cornwall in King Lear], but I love it, it’s great. I love the antithesis. He died an hour before the end of the piece, so I did get big breaks, but what you do is measure your energy appropriately – if you have got an hour off towards the end, it doesn’t make what you do any less dense, or full on. It was a great one to be able to do. I never thought I’d do Lear as a play, and you’re watching other actors thinking ‘It would be good to have a go at that one as well, and that one…!’

“On a personal level, I’m always surprised to get employed when it comes to Shakespeare, but that’s the same as musical theatre. You do it because you love it. You don’t necessarily believe you’re going to be great at it, but it’s your passion that gets you through.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?

“Crikey, everything! My younger self didn’t quite comprehend it. I keep saying to people ‘Those who have had bad experiences of it need a refresher, but you need it with somebody who works well for you’. It’s a bit like singing teachers – you can get through three or four before you find one that you feel good about. At school, I had a decent experience in English, but some tastes arrive later in your life. You might have hated asparagus when you were young, and then all of a sudden you grow up and acquire a taste for it. I don’t know what that difference is, whether it’s something that develops or about finding the right asparagus!

Norman Bowman (Ross) in Macbeth at Manchester International Festival. Photo by Johan Persson. sml
Photo: Johan Persson

“Until I got to college, I saw Shakespeare as like another language. I don’t think it’s essential, but I don’t think it’s an accident that a lot of academics ‘get’ Shakespeare. If you look back at your classic actors, like McKellen and Dench, they come across as supremely intellectual. Perhaps they were like that before the discovered Shakespeare, but I believe Shakespeare does that to you. I think it does absolutely enhance the grey matter. It makes you more knowledgeable and intelligent an actor. It’s like opera – once you get to the basics and understand the function, and how much it can do for you, I think the world is your oyster.”

Which Shakespearean character most resembles you, and why?

“Oh, boy! Do I know enough Shakespeare to even draw a parallel? See, this is it, this is why Shakespeare works – because there’s an element of everybody in everyone. It’s all human condition. It’s all because you can sit there as a person and absolutely relate to that character’s journey. If Shakespeare is done properly then that should be the case. I could easily relate to a little bit of Othello, I could easily relate to a little bit of Hamlet. When I’m older, no doubt I’ll be able to relate to Lear. It’s almost like the seven stages of man – you could pretty much find a character for everyone.

“Erm, Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing is a little bit more like me. It’s the gymnastics of relationships. It’s wanting to understand them and then not understanding them, and then getting them and not getting them! Also, that inability to truly communicate how you feel with somebody. Actually, I’m not sure I am that much like Benedict! If anything, when I was younger I’d probably be more like a Romeo with that wide-eyed wonder that comes with meeting somebody and everything else just fading into grey. Like I said, though, my knowledge of Shakespeare still isn’t extensive enough for me to make a truly informed decision with one character only.”

Photo: Jonathan Keenan

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

“I guess it’s ‘To thine own self be true’. There’s a poem called Desiderata, and the bulk of it points to this. You know, mindfulness is about this, meditation is about this. A lot of anything we relate to is about those words because it’s about how we feel. Too often, we step outside of ourselves and say what we think somebody wants us to say, or feign affection or whatever. If we could just be ourselves more often…”

What is your favourite Shakespeare related fact, myth story or anecdote?

“Have you read Shakespeare on Toast? [By Ben Crystal] It’s a bit like Shakespeare for Dummies, but it’s a bit more anecdotal. It’s full of stuff. For example, during the American Civil War, a soldier watching a performance of Othello was so taken in by the actor playing the dishonest Iago that he stood up from his seat, drew his pistol and shot the actor dead! I’m pretty sure I’ve read that happened back in Shakespeare’s time as well, because the audience was drawn in so much. Not because they were simple or anything, but because they allowed themselves to disappear into the performance a lot more that they felt so involved.

“The other one is the superstition that you ought not to utter ‘The Scottish Play’ [Macbeth]. If it’s to be taken as truth, it’s that you’re dooming your production to failure and, if so, in the olden days they would then put on a production of ‘The Scottish Play’, it was a guaranteed sell-out. I mean, I’ve said it in Drury Lane and, so far, we’re still running, but I couldn’t see them putting on ‘The Scottish Play’ instead of 42nd Street!”

You have the power to cast anyone in the world, actor or otherwise, to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose, and what role do they play?

“Gosh, I’ve seen Jacobi do Lear, which I thought was incredible. I’ve seen Branagh do Macbeth, which I thought was incredible – to be that close and watch it was amazing. Jude Law doing Henry V, come on, I’ve seen so many good ones it’s so hard to come up with a new one! I’ve seen Ralph Fiennes do Coriolanus. When the day comes for him to do Lear I would love to see that, but that doesn’t feel particularly imaginative!”