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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!”

Shake–Scene Shakespeare are presenting rare cue-script performances of The Merchant of Venice at The Cockpit Theatre in London’s Marylebone from 3rd to 7th October 2017

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This Autumn, William Shakespeare’s intricate play is brought to life by actors from Shake-Scene Shakespeare. Using the technique of ‘cue-script’ preparation, the actors take to the stage without any prior group rehearsal with their fellow cast. Guided only by their character’s lines and immediate cue words, the performers embark on a gripping journey of discovery as actors enter the stage without knowing what scenario or whom they are about to face. The audience journeys with them as they step into the unknown and gamble moment to moment.

Actors performing in Tudor playhouses during the Bard’s time used this method of performance. Today’s theatre goers will get to experience (as close to as possible) the revealing experience of an Elizabethan audience, while seeing a 21st Century production. During that time, audiences were known to pay double to see new plays performed for the first time and to witness these delightful moments of discovery and surprise. Certain aspects of casting, however, will be different – such as some traditionally male roles being played by female actors.

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The cast includes Charlotte Gallagher (The Judas Kiss, Duke of York’s Theatre), Jonathan McGarrity (The Full Monty national tour) and Mary-Ann Cafferkey (Offie nomination for Proof at the Tabard Theatre).

Shake-Scene Shakespeare specialises in cue-scripted live performance, using a 16th century theatre practice to innovate theatre making. Lizzie Conrad Hughes, the creator and Artistic Director of Shake-Scene Shakespeare, has produced two previous cue-scripted plays: The Tempest in 2016 and The Two Gentleman of Verona in 2015. Both productions thrilled audiences, received critical acclaim and attracted academic interest. Lizzie has been teaching Shakespeare for 25 years alongside a career as an actress.

Viv Groskop (Writer, Comedian and BBC Radio 4 presenter) is a Patron of Shake-Scene Shakespeare. Having experienced first hand performing in a cue-script production she understands the process particularly well.

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“Shake-scene Shakespeare is an experience, seen to be believed,” Viv says. “Everyone on stage is there without a parachute, not knowing what’s coming next. I had no idea that this was how Shakespeare wrote – under huge pressure, with barely enough time to rehearse. It makes so much sense when you see it. So much of the text is about the surprise of the actors finding out what’s going on at the same time as the audience. It brings a whole new level of understanding to Shakespeare”.

Listing and Booking Information:
Date: Tuesday 3rd – Saturday 7th October 2017
Time: 7pm (Approx running time: 2 hrs 30mins, including interval)
Venue: The Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street, London NW8 3EH
Tickets: £20.00 Booking: www.thecockpit.org.uk
Box Office: + 44 207 258 2925
Find out more about cue-script performances via the Shake-Scene Shakespeare website.

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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)

From Sharpe to Shakespeare: Bestselling author Bernard Cornwell has a new Elizabethan-era novel, Fools and Mortals. And its hero is a certain Richard Shakespeare. Can you guess whose brother he is?

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From the official press release:
Fools and mortals follows the young Richard Shakespeare, an actor struggling to make his way in a company dominated by his estranged older brother William. As the growth of theatre blooms, their rivalry – and that of the playhouses, playwrights and actors vying for acclaim and glory – propels a high-stakes story of conflict and betrayal.

Showcasing his renowned storyteller’s skill, Bernard Cornwell has created an Elizabethan world incredibly rich in its portrayal. You walk the london streets, stand in the palaces, and are on stage in the playhouses, as he weaves a remarkable story in which performances, rivalries and ambition combine to form a tangled web of intrigue.

A global brand, Bernard Cornwell is the author of over 50 novels published in 30 countries and in 28 languages. He has sold over 20 million books around the world.
Bernard was born in London, raised in Essex, and worked for the BBC for 11 years before meeting Judy, his American wife. Denied an American work permit, he wrote a novel instead, and has been writing ever since. He and Judy divide their time between Cape Cod and Charleston, South Carolina.

Fools and Mortals in published in the UK on 19 October 2017 and in the USA on 9 January 2018.

Go here to order your copy of Fools and Mortals.

Go here to read an excerpt from Fools and Mortals.

From the vaults: “A visually stunning, action-filled Bardfest with top-notch performances…” Film critic Robin Askew’s 1996 review of Richard Loncraine’s Richard III, which unforgettably starred Ian McKellen

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Opening with an action scene strongly reminscent of one of the more audacious stunts in Goldeneye and climaxing in a style that owes more to Terminator 2 than any of those stilted school stage productions which are the closest most of us get to the Bard, Richard Loncraine and Ian McKellen’s reworking of Richard Eyre’s daring stage adaptation is clearly not for the Shakespeare purist. That said, it’s not a crass attempt to bring Richard III to “the kids”, either; rather a bold and inspired reimagining of the play’s universal themes in a handsomely staged civil war-torn alternate-world England of the 1930s.

McKellen is a hypnotically watchable, oily, scheming Richard, cursed by physical deformity but unstintingly ruthless in his pursuit of power in this jazz age Albion awash with the sinister trappings of fascism. Following the death of the King and the accession of his elder brother Edward, Richard’s blood-spattered path to the throne becomes clear. First he must seduce and marry Lady Anne (Kristin Scott Thomas) – here reduced to a pitiful junkie with needle tracks up her arms – whose husband he slaughtered during the Civil War.

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Then, with the aid of the greedy Duke of Buckingham (Jim Broadbent) and his faithful assassin James Tyrell (Adrian Dunbar), this brilliant, twisted strategist sets about removing every obstacle in his way, from his brothers King Edward (John Wood) and the gentle Clarence (Nigel Hawthorne) to Earl Rivers (Robert Downey Jr), brother of the widowed Queen Elizabeth (Annette Bening), who meets his end in a particularly grisly manifestation of coitus interruptus.

A visually stunning, action-filled Bardfest, pared to just the right length, with top-notch performances from its venerable thesps, including oddly cast American Downey Jr and a suitably regal Bening, Richard III makes outstanding use of its imaginative locations, from the palace at St. Pancras Station to the final tank battle in the shadow of Battersea Power Station. McKellen contributes a performance of such lip-smacking evil – all crocodile smiles and sly asides to camera – that even a ferocious public disowning by Queen Mum Maggie Smith is barely able to deflect it for more than a heartbeat.

This review originally appeared in Venue Magazine.

Richard III (15)
UK / 1996 / 103 minutes
Director: Richard Loncraine.
Cast: Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, Adrian Dunbar, John Wood

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Get a brilliant Shakespeare gift pack – including Official Shakespeare Magazine T-shirt, a great Shakespeare book and a mystery Shakespeare gift – when you donate £50 or more to Shakespeare Magazine!

‪Yes, that’s right. Donate £50 (or equivalent) towards helping us make the next issue of Shakespeare Magazine, and we’ll send you one of our exclusive Shakespeare Gift Packs, consisting of:

Shakespeare Magazine T-shirt

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A great Shakespeare Book

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Mystery Shakespeare Gift!

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New York’s recent explosively controversial Shakespeare in the Park was All About Trump, but at Bristol’s Old Vic Theatre there was a rather more British take on Shakespeare’s perennially politicised play “Julius Caesar”

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Lynn Farleigh (Calpurnia) Julian Glover (Julius Caesar) - Photo by Simon Purse
Photos by Simon Purse

Veteran actor Julian Glover’s Caesar is no Trump, but the fact that he’s beloved by the young while feared and hated by the recently-young does put one in mind of another JC – Jeremy Corbyn – and this production definitely takes its energy from today’s (30 June 2017) sense of post-election turbulence. There’s even an “Oh, Julius Caesar!” refrain from the mob in the opening scene.
These things never quite fit, of course. Arrogant and vain, Glover’s JC would never be mistaken for an allotment-tending socialist. You get the sense that his military victories and territorial conquests have made him a bit mad.

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Afolabi Alli (Metellus) and Rudolphe Mdlongwa (Cinna) - Photo by Simon Purse
Indeed, for all his belief in his own godlike prowess, there’s a King Lear-like frailty to this Caesar. The one glimpse of his political instincts – when he singles out Cassius as dangerous – merely confirms that his radar is working but his defences are down.

Apart from Caesar, Calpurnia (Lynn Farleigh) and the Soothsayer (John Hartoch), the rest of the characters are all played by students from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, and there’s plenty of ascending talent on display. Brutus is portrayed by Freddie Bowerman as a ramrod-straight patrician whose much-discussed honour never quite masks the suggestion that he’s acting out of vanity. As Cassius, Edward Stone is an oily George Osborne-type. A persuasive political realist, he needs Brutus on board for the conspiracy to succeed – but his deference to Brutus will prove a fatal flaw.

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Alice Kerrigan (Cinna the Poet) with company - Photo by Simon Purse
Casca is one of Shakespeare’s most marvellously bitchy creations and, played with icy disdain by Eleanor House, gets quite a few laughs (in the early scenes, that is – Casca is also the conspirator who initiates the stabbing of Caesar). The gender-swapped casting means this Julius Caesar takes place in a world where wives like Calpurnia and Portia (Sarah Livingston) are essentially enslaved by the patriarchy, and yet it is simultaneously permissible for women to have high-flying political careers and fight in the civil war. Most significantly, Octavius becomes Octavia, played by Rosy McEwen with emotionless hauteur, reminiscent of a killer robot from the Terminator films.

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Freddie Bowerman (Brutus) - Photo by Simon Purse
Mark Antony is played by Ross O’Donnellan as a party animal with a broad Irish accent, a fact which seemed to greatly amuse the two blokes sitting next to me. I thought it was a good choice for a character whom the conspirators underestimate until he strikes them with deadly force. The scene after Caesar’s assassination where Antony insists on shaking hands with the blood-soaked killers worked particularly well. It starts off as desperate survival technique, but it allows us to see Antony gradually get the measure of each of his opponents, and begin to realise he can beat them.

Julius Caesar at Bristol Old Vic - Ross O'Donnellan (Mark Antony) - Photo by Simon Purse
The mob scenes and battles are skilfully deployed in this lean, fast-moving production. The supporting cast all have a lot to do, playing multiple characters and at times literally running riot. The modern-day dress code of business suits and military fatigues is similar to the Ralph Fiennes Coriolanus film. But director Simon Dormandy’s Caesar has strengths of its own as it points, Soothsayer-like, to the consequences of political meltdown.

Julius Caesar ran at Bristol Old Vic from 9 June to 1 July 2017.
Go here for more on Bristol Old Vic.
Go here for more on Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

Goat’s Dung, Mummified Flesh and Vomiting… This is what passed for state-of-the-art health care in Shakespeare’s day. The authors of new book ‘Maladies & Medicine: Exploring Health & Healing 1540-1740′ reveal six stomach-emptying (sometimes quite literally so) cures from early modern England

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By Jennifer Evans and Sara Read

In William Shakespeare’s time, the concept of the four humours dominated ideas about the body. The humours were fluids: blood, choler, melancholy, and phlegm, which needed to be kept in equilibrium in order for the body to stay healthy. Illness was usually, although not always, understood as an accumulation of excess or a corruption of one of these fluids.

For the most part, medical treatments were gentle ones designed to restore balance by drawing out ill humours and purging the body of excess. Remedies might also balance out the body by counteracting the effects of diseases. For example, cooling drinks might reduce the heat of the body caused by fever. Shakespeare’s own son-in-law, Dr John Hall, husband of his elder daughter Susanna, practised these mainly conservative cures in the first instance for many illnesses. So, in one case he prescribed a double-folded linen cloth filled with butter to be placed on the side of an elderly lady with stomach ache.

Not all remedies were pleasant though, particularly not when viewed from our modern perspective. Practitioners could resort to drastic means of purging the body, or could prescribe medicines that contained unappetising ingredients. Here are six remedies you would probably want to avoid today…

Blisters

Many practitioners thought that raising blisters on the skin was a good way of drawing out unwanted humours and therefore disease. An anonymous treatise from a 1577 book recommended the notoriously dangerous green flies known as cantharides (actually not flies at all, but small iridescent beetles) which, we’re told, were easily available from the local apothecary shop. These w‪ere placed in a mortar with vinegar and some breadcrumbs to make a paste, which was applied to ‘the sore place, that is, where the most grief is’ for around seven hours. Once dry, it had to be teased off with the tip of a knife. After the skin blistered it had to be burst and, as the author explained, ‘with your finger thrust out the water softly’. The problem with blisters was that while the ‘the pain of the disease is gone’, the patient then had to heal from the new sore.

Bloodletting

Imagine if you felt poorly and your doctor prescribed cutting open a vein in your arm or ankle, with a lance and no anaesthetic, to remove some of your ‘excess’ blood. The amount of blood removed was dependent on the condition. Because blood was considered to be a ‘hot’ humour, phlebotomy was often used to take heat from the body in the case of fevers. It wasn’t recommended to be used on children, fortunately, since all their blood was needed to help them grow. Doctors didn’t let blood willy-nilly. As one sixteenth-century physician (who published a book as ‘A. T’ in 1596) instructed, before letting blood you must consider ‘the age of the patient, the complexion, the time of the year, the region, the custom, the strength, and the vehemence of the disease’. Not all bloodletting was done by cutting into the body. As many people know, an alternative was to apply leeches to the skin.

Induced Vomiting

Most people today hate being sick, as they did in the past. One early doctor, Philip Barrough described in his 1583 medical guide how unpleasant feelings of nausea came from ‘a naughty and wicked motion of the expulsive virtue of the stomach’. But this innate urge to eject things was put to good use in early modern times, when emetic medicines that caused patients to be sick were a routine cure. Vomiting was also used to ward off ill health. John Clarke, an apothecary, took ‘a vomit’ once every month or six weeks as a preventative against all manner of infirmities. He wrote that if everyone did the same then it would save 20,000 pounds of tobacco which was currently being used by people as a medicine. Clarke described how to make a posset that would bring up a great quantity of phlegm and other corrupt humours, leaving you feeling clear headed and very well.

Mummified Flesh

In Shakespeare’s time, remedies composed of multiple ingredients could also include some rather unappealing components. A text published a few decades later (in the 1650s) claimed that many
medicaments are taken out of a Live Man, or from a dead man. From a live man, we have Hairs, Nails, Spittle, Ear-wax, Milk, Seed, Blood, Menstrual Blood, Secondines, Urine, Dung, Lice, Wormes, Stones of Bladder & Kidneyes, &c. From a dead man, Skin, Fat, Scul, Brain, Teeth, Bones Mummy

Preserved human flesh (mummy) was found in several medicines including an unguent to staunch blood recommended in a 1605 medical text by Christoph Wirsung, a German physician. Dead men’s flesh didn’t always have to be put into a medicine. Many people waited at the gallows in the hope that they could have their boils and swellings stroked with the hanged man’s hand, which was thought to have healing properties.

Breast Milk

In early modern notions of the body, breast milk was created from menstrual blood, which was diverted after the birth of the child to the breasts where it was ‘concocted’ into milk. It was thought to have healing properties. William Copland’s Treasurie of Health suggested that ‘The yolke of an egge, mingled w[ith] Rose water, bran, & womans milk’ was a good medicine to assuage pain and to drive unhealthy humours out of the body. While Thomas Vicary’s English-mans Treasure recommended a mixture of wormwood, plantain, rose water, breast milk and egg white to heal bloodshot eyes.

Animal Dung

It wasn’t just parts of the human body and its products that were used in medicines. Plasters sometimes contained rather pungent components. Dung, usually from a cow, formed the main component of several plasters recommended to ease swelling. Andrew Boorde’s Breuiary of Health, for example, suggested a remedy made of goat dung and honey. Christoph Wirsung’s medical text suggested a plaster of bayberries mixed with goat’s dung to ease the dropsy, a disease characterised by watery swelling of the stomach.

Jennifer Evans is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Hertfordshire
Sara Read is Lecturer in English at Loughborough University

Their new book Maladies and Medicines: Exploring Health and Healing, 1540-1740 is out now, published by Pen and Sword Books.

Vsit the authors’ blog: earlymodernmedicine.com