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!”

A powerful short film from Fractured Shakespeare, Was it Rape Then? makes unsettling use of Shakespeare’s words. Co-creator Charissa J Adams takes us behind the text

Was it Rape Then? from Lady Brain by Casey Gates on Vimeo.

How did the idea arise for using Shakespeare in this film?
“The idea originated with Shakespeare. For as long as I can remember, I have loved Shakespeare. Not just the plays and stories, but the words and metaphors he uses to express the human condition. A few years ago, the idea emerged to take Shakespeare’s words out of context and use them to express a new character’s thoughts and emotions. I then started playing around with pairing famous lines from different plays together to find new meaning. Last November, I set about forming a monologue on a subject which has resonated with me for a long time. This text was the result. From that monologue, this short film was made.”

Jessica Marie Garcia

Jessica Marie Garcia

The script includes lines from The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Macbeth, Henry V and Coriolanus. But the title doesn’t seem to allude to Shakespeare? What was your thinking behind that choice?
“The title and first section of text comes from Double Falsehood, which is most likely not Shakespeare’s words, but the passage was just too rich to ignore. And since it speaks to doubt in consent, the doubt surrounding the text’s origins seemed strangely appropriate. I could not ignore its usefulness, and it played such a crucial role in inspiring the creation of the piece, that it felt appropriate to leave it in.”

Karen Pittman

Karen Pittman

Double Falsehood is very rarely cited – what led to your interest in it? Was there a particular edition you used? And would you recommend it as a stand alone work?
“As I was creating this piece, I began searching any of Shakespeare’s text which dealt with consent and/or rape. This monologue of Henriquez is what surfaced. It is quite an interesting piece of text when you think about the time in which it was written. Consent is something we are much more aware of now, especially in the last five or ten years. However, here we have this man arguing with himself over whether or not he raped this woman.

Charissa J. Adams

Charissa J. Adams

“He uses the excuse that we often still hear men use today: ‘Twas but the coyness of a modest bride, Not the resentment of a ravish’d maid’. Essentially saying she was just shy and she didn’t say ‘No’. This is the very reason More Than “No” was started. Consent is more than not hearing ‘No’. It is a freely given, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not under-age, and an undeniable ‘Yes’, given verbally or non-verbally.

“In the end, he concludes: ‘While they, who have, like me, The loose escapes of youthful nature known, Must wink at mine, indulgent to their own’. Saying any other man would have done the same or ‘Boys will be boys’. This is the epitome of rape culture, which is exactly what we are trying to confront with Was it Rape Then?.

Sujana Chand

Sujana Chand

“As for the edition, I use the Shakespeare app produced by PlayShakespeare.com for a lot of my research. It is so easy to use! They site the year as 1728. That is all the information I could find about which edition they use.

“I would not recommend it as a stand alone piece. I think it is flawed in several ways – in the characters and especially the ending which seems to wrap up too quickly without fully dealing with each of the character’s arcs. I think that The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona are superior plays with similar themes.”

Back in 2014, an illuminating interview with Hollow Crown Fans kicked off the very first issue of Shakespeare Magazine. This month, we caught up with Rose from HCF for a timely update on her Shakespearean activities

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III

Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III

 
Your very own #ShakespeareSunday hashtag began in 2012, and is still reaching new Twitter heights.
Rose: “There have been great themes and theme pickers over the years, and it continues to show just how popular and global the Bard’s works are. The Bard’s birthday celebrations this year actually landed on a #ShakespeareSunday which was great timing, even Stan Lee and Chaka Khan joined in! It really is fun to see who discovers the tag each week, as well as enjoying the creativity of the regular tweeters on the tag.

“Since the interview with Shakespeare Magazine in 2014 we had the unexpected good news that Neal Street were going to make a second series of The Hollow Crown, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III, which has come and gone. Now there are already rumours of a third series involving the Roman plays, so that is certainly an area I’ll be looking into further. It has been a popular theme on #ShakespeareSunday a few times, and Coriolanus a favourite to quote from since Tom Hiddleston starred in the leading role at the Donmar in 2013. The Roman plays seem to be very much the choice of the moment, and Hollow Crown fans are also excited at the prospect of Julius Caesar opening in London next year with Ben Whishaw and David Morrissey!”

Maxine Peake (left) as Doll Tearsheet in The Hollow Crown

Maxine Peake (left) as Doll Tearsheet in The Hollow Crown

 
Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
“Going off from the Hollow Crown cast for this question, I’d say Doll Tearsheet… maybe. I can rock the English peasant look, for good or bad, even Neal Street thought that when they cast me as an extra for Henry V! Ha Ha.”

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“What relish is in this? How runs the stream? Or I am mad, or else this is a dream.” – Twelfth Night (Act IV, Scene 1)

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?
“Seth Numrich – Prince Hal / Henry V. I have become a fan of Seth’s via another love of mine, the AMC TV series TURN: Washington’s Spies. Fans of the Bard and history really need to check this show out if they have not done so already. Fantastic cast, gripping storyline and Shakespeare quotes dropped in at various points over the seasons. There is a wonderful YouTube video of Seth quoting from The Merchant of Venice (“The quality of mercy is not strain’d…”) that has not left my head since watching it many moons ago. To see him on stage doing Shakespeare would be a real treat!

Seth Numrich in TURN

Seth Numrich in TURN

 
“In his interview for Muse of Fire (which you can see on Globe Player, 47 minutes in) Seth mentions his desire to play the role of Prince Hal, and he would be perfect. One of my favourite characters from The Hollow Crown and Shakespeare’s plays as a whole. I watched this interview in 2015 and I’m still waiting. If I had the power I’d certainly make it happen! Whilst we all wait, do check out Seth with Matt Doyle in Private Romeo, an all-male cast set in a high-school military academy.”

Follow Hollow Crown Fans on Twitter, and join the #ShakespeareSunday festivities each weekend.

Read our Hollow Crown Fans interview in Shakespeare Magazine 01.

Read the Hollow Crown Fans interview with actor Edward Akrout in Shakespeare Magzazine 04.

“Elizabethan English presents a certain barrier to comprehension…” Author Hugh Macdonald explains why he decided to “translate” three Shakespeare plays into modern English

“My purpose in rendering Shakespeare into modern English is to enhance the enjoyment and understanding of audiences in the theatre. The translation is not designed for children or for dummies, but for educated grown-ups for whom Elizabethan English presents a certain barrier to comprehension.

Shakespeare in Modern English
“When reading Shakespeare, most of us need annotations to explain allusions, mystifying word order, obsolete vocabulary, and deceptive usages of one kind or another which impede understanding, or at least prevent us reading the text at a pace at which we might read Wilde or Shaw plays.

“In the theatre, on the other hand, we have no notes to help us, so many of those baffling utterances pass us by. We still get the drift of the words, we sense the dramatic interplay, especially in a good performance, and we enjoy the poetry, but it is an incomplete enjoyment since much of what is said is not understood.

“As an example, no one who arrives at the theatre unprepared can be expected to make sense of Prospero when in Act V, Scene 1 of The Tempest he says the following lines, however well he speaks them:

‘As great to me as late, and supportable
To make the dear loss have I means much weaker
Than you may call to comfort you…’

“The meaning is there in the text, and none of these words is obsolete, but it takes a second or two to disentangle it, by which time (in the theatre) the play has moved on.

prospero
“The experience of seeing Shakespeare is for most English speakers (and I naturally exclude Shakespeare scholars since they are fluent in his language – or should be) is not unlike seeing a play acted in a foreign language with which we are very familiar though not completely fluent. Much is thus missed.

“When Shakespeare is translated into other languages, the preferred solution is, in most countries that I am aware of, a translation from the nineteenth century, now hallowed by a certain tradition, and not presenting the listener with the sort of difficulties that English speakers face when hearing Shakespeare in the original.

“As far as I know, Germans do not perform Shakespeare in 16th-century German nor the French in Renaissance French. They prefer Schlegel’s or Guizot’s or Laroche’s version for the very good reason that these versions bring the text fully to life for a modern audience. They could be said to get more today out of seeing these plays in the theatre than Shakespeare’s compatriots do.

“Even scholars will admit that Shakespeare is sometimes very hard to understand. Countless passages show editors disagreeing about interpretation, and many of the jokes are notoriously baffling. In performance directors will normally cut lines or passages of which no one can make sense, or at least of which the audience is unlikely to grasp the meaning.

Rosalind
“A modern translation has to opt for an interpretation that has at least some likelihood of being correct, although sometimes the words are clear but the meaning is not. It will be objected, no doubt, that the language is too fine to be meddled with and the poetry sacrosanct. Many people have committed to memory familiar lines whose  replacement will always jar, even when the lines have been stored in the memory without being understood.

“A modern version may provoke an astonished ‘So that’s what it means!’ as readily as ‘Don’t trample on my Shakespeare!’ The world is not yet ready for ‘To live or not to live, that is the question’, but it can have no strong objection to ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely actors’.

“As for the poetry, I believe that blank verse is still a superb vehicle for the modern language; so long as verse is rendered as verse and prose as prose, the gains will outweigh the losses. My translations respect rhyme in blank verse as well as the meter.

“Songs I have left untranslated. I have replaced the second person singular (thou and thee) with the plural form, since that is universally adopted in modern speech. Again, there is some loss, since there are social and personal implications in the alternate use of thee and you. But since those implications cannot be instinctively grasped by a modern audience, the gain is greater than the loss. I have adopted modern word order wherever possible, although occasionally when an archaic word order offers no confusion, I have left it unchanged.

Coriolanus
“What exactly is modern English? I believe the best solution for translating Shakespeare is the language the Edwardians would have recognized as stylish and good. I avoid slang as far as possible, even when Shakespeare throws in words that were slang to him, and I avoid recent neologisms that sound sharply anachronistic.

“I believe it is possible to reflect Shakespeare’s most elevated language in the modern equivalent, and also to adopt a more colloquial tone when he does something similar. As an experienced translator of opera for singing, I find my motives and aims are the same when translating Shakespeare: to make the work better understood in the theatre.

“Since the current fashion is to sing opera in the original language to audiences who do not understand that language, the problem of intelligibility is acute, only crudely addressed by supertitles and the like. Opera audiences have the music to assist understanding, or sometimes to distract them from understanding, so that the loss of a few lines is not so critical as in the spoken theatre.

“I expect the same irrational responses to my attempts to translate Shakespeare as those levelled at opera in English, but although I have no desire to banish Shakespeare in the original from the stage, I persist in thinking that the alternative of performing his plays in a modern translation will bring enlightenment and pleasure to many.”

Shakespeare in Modern English
Three Plays (As You Like It / Coriolanus / The Tempest)
Translated by Hugh Macdonald
Go here to order it from Amazon
Go here to order it from Troubador Books
Visit Hugh Macdonald’s website

(Classic images courtesy of the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive)

Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus is cover star of Shakespeare Magazine 09!

British actor Tom Hiddleston is cover star of Shakespeare Magazine 09!

The theme is “Shakespeare at the Cinema”, and the issue sees us review the screenings of both Hiddleston’s Coriolanus and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet.

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We also look at Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard’s epic new film of Macbeth, while the Horrible Histories crew chat about their brilliant Shakespeare comedy film Bill.

Also this issue, we interview James Shapiro, author of 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear; and Paul Edmondson, author of Shakespeare: Ideas in Profile.

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There’s also a colourful taste of the glorious poster art from new book Presenting Shakespeare.

Not forgetting a profile of Tom Hiddleston’s Shakespearean career so far…

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As always, you can read Shakespeare Magazine completely free!

Go here to enjoy Shakespeare Magazine 09.