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

1504262904wpdm_9
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.

1504262934wpdm_1
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.

1504262794wpdm_4
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…”

1504262853wpdm_7
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.

IMG_1887
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.

IMG_1888
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.

IMG_1894
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.

IMG_1893
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

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.

1214072
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.”

_20171006_132600
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!”

“Shakespeare loves women of colour…” We find out what Dr Farah Karim-Cooper of Shakespeare’s Globe has been working on – and learn about Shakespeare’s “alternative discourse of beauty”

Farah 2
Photos by Bronwen Sharp

Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?
I’m editing a book called Titus Andronicus: The State of Play, published by Arden – it’s a collection of essays examining what scholars are saying in 2017 about this important play. I have also just started researching a book about Shakespeare, Death and Spectatorship. I have not got an angle other than my interest in what happens to and within the spectator when they see someone die/killed. Either on stage or in reality.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
I have learned that he loves women of colour… which appeals to a Pakistani-American lady like myself! His dark lady sonnets (I’m oversimplifying) reveal an excitement at alternative beauty, the arguments for darker beauty in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labour’s Lost suggest that he was engaging in what the terrific scholar Kim F. Hall has described as an alternative discourse of beauty – beauty that is brown, black or just not white. P.S. read Hall’s classic Things Of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
Um… see my answer to Question 2! But seriously, I am not sure. I think I have a lot of Shrew‘s Katherina in me – feisty and with very high standards!”

Farah 1
If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to mind?
‘Meantime we shall express our darker purpose.’ – King Lear.”

What’s your favourite Shakespeare-related fact, myth, story or anecdote?
I think my favourite Shakespeare-related fact/anecdote/myth is the one about the dismantling of The Theatre in order to move the timbers across the river and build the Globe. There’s a lot of myth surrounding that story, which makes little sense given there is a great deal of surviving record about it, but I like how the story has been compressed from a couple of major events – i.e. dismantling one playhouse and building another more glorious – taking place over months to something that happened overnight.

“I love the idea of this fantasy – that one morning, the Globe magically appeared on Bankside and that Shakespeare might have played a part in this. It is a wonderful story, as myth-laden as it is. I think an excellent research project would be to build an oak-framed theatre and see how long it takes to dismantle it! I know Peter McCurdy (of McCurdy & Co who built the Globe and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) would like to try this!”

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?
I want to see Adrian Lester play Hamlet. He’s one of my favourite Shakespearean actors and Hamlet is my favourite role. It would be unbelievable.”

Dr Farah Karim-Cooper is Head of Higher Education and Research, Globe Education.
Read our interview with Farah in Shakespeare Magazine 10

We met with scholar, author and poet Paul Edmondson for a delightful catch-up chat in Stratford-upon-Avon during the recent celebrations for Shakespeare’s birthday

Paul Edmondson

Paul Edmondson

 
Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now? And what are you getting from it?
“This week I’ve spent a lot of time in New Place garden with the sculptor Greg Wyatt who’s produced those lovely sculptures inspired by Shakespeare’s plays which are installed there. I’ve spent a lot of time – and I’m doing it again this evening with a special group of VIPs – looking at Greg’s sculptures with Greg. It’s about me talking about how he made the sculptures, but then reflecting on them as responses to Shakespeare’s works. So, this week I’ve been very much in my head with The Tempest, Julius Caesar, King Lear, The Winter’s Tale, Henry IV Parts One and Two, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet! Those are the eight sculptures.

“One of the great things about them is that they work on you like a Shakespeare play, each sculpture, because they draw you in and the more you look at them, the more you notice – details, a face emerging, a hand. They’re a great highlight for visitors. In fact, only two days ago when I was there I saw a young father with his five-month-old son, reading him the script  – all of them have got quotations from the relevant plays – from Julius Caesar, as if somehow this was having a positive impact on this five-month-old son. I took his photograph and asked if I could use it and he said yes, feel free to use it. It was most touching, because when I look at people interacting with these sculptures inspired by the plays, I know of no other sculpture like them in the world.

“I mean, I can think of sculptures inspired by individual characters and Shakespeare himself, but not in a response to an entire play – it’s more like a painting. People reach out and touch them, and Greg said this is the highest compliment a sculptor can have, that you somehow want to become the work and reach out and touch it. This five-month-old baby was doing precisely that – it was reaching out to want to touch Julius Caesar!”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
“This isn’t recently, but I think I would have been surprised about how many books he used to write the plays. I’d have been delighted to know that as a younger self – the bookishness of Shakespeare’s intellect, his sense of study before putting quill to paper. Each play was a significant research project, he wasn’t just dashing these off. Although, of course, they were written at different speeds for different occasions. So, I think that would have been something I’ve learnt since my younger self that I would have been pleased to have known.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
“Robin Goodfellow in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m not going to expand on that one!”

If I asked you to give mne a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“‘If this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating’ which is The Winter’s Tale as Hermione’s sculpture is coming to take her long lost husband by the hand. That’s in my head because of the sculpture in New Place. I remember the novelist Salley Vickers said to me that was her favourite line in Shakespeare and that’s resonated with me.”

What is your favourite Shakespeare myth?
“My favourite Shakespeare myth is the deer poaching story from nearby Charlecote. I think there’s more than a grain of truth in that myth. It rings true to me, but it does have the status of myth.”

You have the power to cast anyone (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?
“I would like to see Sir Stanley Wells play Hamlet. Although he wouldn’t want to do this, in my imagination that would embody Stanley’s pre-eminence in Shakespeare studies. Hamlet is the greatest role in Shakespeare, therefore let’s have the greatest Shakespearean of our own times play him. If I was thinking about an actor, I’d like to Shakespeare himself perform Hamlet. Can you imagine? Apparently, he never did because it was written for Richard Burbage, but it would be great to Shakespeare himself play a role in one of his plays. You’ve got those two outlandish bookends, as it were, but I would also like to see Kenneth Branagh play all the other parts he is qualified to play, but hasn’t!”

Paul will be appearing at the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival, which runs from 18-25 June. Go here for information and tickets.

“I’d like to see Barack Obama play Brutus in Julius Caesar…” Shakespeare Magazine meets Dr Erin Sullivan of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon

Dr Erin Sullivan of The Shakespeare Institute

Dr Erin Sullivan of The Shakespeare Institute

 
Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?
ERIN SULLIVAN: “Right now I’m working on Shakespeare and digital technology, so my focus is on how technology is influencing or shaping the performance of Shakespeare today. Some of that has to do with the development of live broadcasting, online streaming, or where people might see a production through a screen digitally. Some of it is where directors are using digital technology on stage, live video on stage or a TV screen maybe to show a 24-hour news cycle alongside a Roman play or something like that.

“Then the last area of it is looking at directors or artists that are thinking about whether it’s possible to take performance fully into the digital sphere – for instance, stage a play using social media on Twitter or Instagram, or use that in a hybrid way with production.

Andrew Scott as Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre

Andrew Scott as Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre

 
“What am I getting from it? Lots! It’s really fun because it means getting to go and see lots of different things. There’s lots of things I’ve been to, thinking it’s not for my project – and then a screen appears and I start rifling through my bag for a notebook! I think, in general, I’m really interested in how people take hold of Shakespeare, what people of different generations have found exciting or emotionally engaging about his plays. Technology has really proliferated and become such an important part of our lives in the last 20 years. That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in my own life, so I think that’s why I was drawn to it.

“A lot of what I’m looking at is still big theatre companies like the RSC or the National Theatre and sometimes slightly smaller ones like the Almeida, but it has also opened up a whole world of what you might call ‘grassroots Shakespeare’ – amateur versus professional. A lot of people are doing Shakespeare themselves in lots of ways and using things like Twitter to explore a character or look at the text in a new way.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
“Gosh, there must be many things. I know for certain when I first came here to do my MA, the thing that surprised me most was, in some ways, that I didn’t know anything about the different versions of different plays. So, the idea that for Hamlet there were three different printings of the play either during Shakespeare’s time or shortly after his death, and that there are some significant differences between those printings – the same with King Lear – that’s something that I remember really blew my mind when I first got here.

Quarto edition of King Lear, 1608

Quarto edition of King Lear, 1608

 
“It’s interesting that in a play like King Lear there can be one line and different versions of that line that actors or scholars can choose from, because although the shape of the play itself is still pretty much the same, there are a lot of moments when you can pick your favourite version. There’s a bit more scope for playing with the text or reinventing it at times that we might not expect. It seems a long time ago, when I came to study, but that’s the thing that surprised me the most.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
“There’s lots of ones in different moments that I identify with – Brutus with his pensive deliberateness or Falstaff and his fun, but I think the one that first came to mind was Rosalind (As You Like It). In the way of, hopefully, her vivaciousness, her determination to get things her way, but in a good sense! Really going after what she wants, really embracing love and friendship, and that being an important part of their life. That’s maybe one that I would aspire to be like, I should say, as opposed to saying that’s me.”

Rosalind (As You Like It)

Rosalind (As You Like It)

 
If I asked you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“Definitely something from Hamlet, and all the speeches came to mind. I remember one quote that always really struck me when I was younger studying was Hamlet saying ‘there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’. I thought that was so true. There’s so much black and white truth, but then so much of it is also about the way that we take a certain idea and make it mean something for us. Also, at the darker ends of things, people can really twist things back and forth. So, yes, that was the first one that came to mind.”

What is your favourite Shakespeare myth?
“I like the one about Shakespeare poaching deer at Charlecote. I think just because it makes him seem like kind of a lovable rogue! I guess it’s a Falstaffian or Eastcheap sort of side in that it’s not really that bad of a thing to do, but a bit naughty and a bit funny. Also it very much locates him here in, not in Stratford itself, but out here in the Warwickshire area. Just trying to think about what he would have been like and what he would have got up to.”

You have the power to cast anyone (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?
“Gosh, there’s so many good ones! I know who I want to cast, but let me think about who I want them to play… Okay, so I’d like to see Barack Obama as Brutus in Julius Caesar. I thought Henry V might be quite nice too, but now that he’s sidelined from power a little, I’d like to see him play that very pensive, thoughtful, would-be politician and see what he makes of it. I think he’d be really good, too! I think he’s very intelligent and quite cerebral, but also funny.”

President Obama with actor Leonardo DiCaprio

President Obama with actor Leonardo DiCaprio

 
“I think he’d be a good Henry V too because he can be fiery and rousing and, I think, he’s got such a nice sense of humour and I think that nice act at the end of Henry V with the wooing of Catherine, I think he’d be pretty good in. Maybe if I could have the two shows in rep, I’d have him doing both! That would be my ideal.”

For more on Dr Erin Sullivan, visit her blog, Digital Shakespeares.

“Where am I going to get a human skull?” On being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, musical legend Bob Dylan turns to William Shakespeare and Hamlet for some characteristically shrewd comparisons

Speech by Bob Dylan given by Azita Raji, US Ambassador to Sweden, at the Nobel Banquet on 10 December 2016.

img_7179

Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway.

These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read.

img_5966

When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?”

His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium.

If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.

Bob Dylan's speech was delivered by Azita Raji, US Ambassador to Sweden

Bob Dylan’s speech was delivered by Azita Raji, US Ambassador to Sweden

But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.

Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”

So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

My best wishes to you all,

Bob Dylan

© The Nobel Foundation 2016.
General permission is granted for immediate publication in editorial contexts, in print or online, in any language within two weeks of December 10, 2016. Thereafter, any publication requires the consent of the Nobel Foundation. On all publications in full or in major parts the above copyright notice must be applied.

Go here to see this speech on the official Nobel Prize website.

For nearly three decades, actor-director Kenneth Branagh has been bringing the Bard to the big screen. Kelli Marshall asks: has he earned the title of Shakespearean Auteur?

Auteurs are filmmakers whose personal influence and artistic control are so great that, despite the collaborative process of moviemaking, we recognize them as the authors of their films. Auteurs you may have heard of include Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino.

Henry V

Henry V

What about filmmakers who consistently work within the realm of Shakespeare? Can we consider, for example, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Julie Taymor and Kenneth Branagh masters of Shakespeare onscreen?

A recent issue of Shakespeare Quarterly takes on the first four directors, so let’s consider Kenneth Branagh – who has brought to screen, in some form or another, nearly 20 percent of Shakespeare’s works.

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Branagh has directed film adaptations of Henry V (1989), Much Ado about Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) and As You Like It (2006). His 1995 film In The Bleak Midwinter (US title: A Midwinter’s Tale) features a struggling actor who strives to put on a production of Hamlet in a village church. Most recently, rumors have circulated that Martin Scorsese will produce a sort of documentary with Branagh as Macbeth.

Hamlet

Hamlet

Even Branagh’s non-Shakespearean ventures feature Shakespearean themes. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) contains Hamlet’s existential ideas, a Titus Andronicus-like house of spare body parts, and echoes of Caliban as Robert De Niro’s monster laments onscreen: “Yes, I speak, and read, and think, and know the ways of man”.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Additionally, Branagh’s Hollywood blockbusters like Thor (2011) and Cinderella (2014) consist of, respectively, a flawed hero who must earn the right to be king and a fairy-tale world that Branagh has, in interviews, likened to The Winter’s Tale. Finally, also reaffirming Branagh’s association with cinematic Shakespeare are his turn as Iago in Oliver Parker’s Othello (1995) and as Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn (2011).

As You Like It

As You Like It

Another reason we can consider Branagh an auteur of Shakespeare onscreen is his loyalty to British Shakespeare actors and production team. This deliberate choice contributes not only to Branagh’s style, but also to the films’ seeming credibility. In other words, trained British actors “doing Shakespeare” are theoretically more palatable for many audiences than someone like Al Pacino, for example, whose American accent was ridiculed in his Richard III-based documentary, Looking for Richard (1996).

Othello

Othello

Like John Ford, Spike Lee, and Quentin Tarantino, Kenneth Branagh recycles collaborators. He consistentely employs Tim Harvey (production designer), Patrick Doyle (composer) and Roger Lanser (cinematographer) as well as core cast members like Brian Blessed, Derek Jacobi, Richard Clifford and Richard Briers. Indeed, when these names appear onscreen, we know we’re getting a Branagh film.

That said, Branagh also stocks his films with multinational and multiracial casts. He knows that, in order for his Shakespeare adaptations to succeed in the US, American stars like Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Kevin Kline and Bryce Dallas Howard can help boost those box-office receipts.

In The Bleak Midwinter

In The Bleak Midwinter

Speaking of casting, Kenneth Branagh also repeatedly casts himself in his own adaptations. Like Spike Lee and Woody Allen, this makes him a director/auteur who unquestionably stamps his own personality onto his body of work. Aside from As You Like It, in which he appears only via voiceover, each of Branagh’s Shakespeare films stars Kenneth Branagh.

Moreover, as Jessica Maerz reminds readers in Locating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century, virtually all of Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations are based on previous theatrical productions in which he starred at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Renaissance Theatre Company. Again, this decision lends a sense of credibility to Branagh’s filmic work.

My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn

As a Shakespeare film director, Branagh mostly eschews early modern settings and costumes, a decision that reinforces his desire to bring Shakespeare to the masses. Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet offer audiences a vague notion of the past, and the Shepperton soundstage for Love’s Labour’s Lost has been described as being “decked out with walls, willows and punts to make a kind of ‘movie Oxbridge’.”

Only with As You Like It does Branagh give viewers a specific historical time and place: the film’s title card begins with: “In the latter part of the 19th century, Japan opened up for trade with the West”. For Branagh then, moving around Shakespeare physically and temporally makes it seem as though he, as the Washington Post once noted, is finally “blowing away the forbidding academic dust”.

Director Branagh with the stars of Thor

Director Branagh with the stars of Thor

Finally, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations (and many of his non-Shakespeare films) include rich mise-en-scenes and sweeping cinematography, both of which serve to illuminate Shakespeare’s poetry and prose.

Recall the lushness of color, texture, food, and costume within Branagh’s Much Ado and As You Like It, both visually romantic films. Even his Hamlet – with its wintry setting, the never-ending streams of gilded mirrors, and the hardened stone walls of Blenheim Palace – appear visually luxurious on a 30-foot screen, not to mention in 70mm (as it premiered).

Likewise, Branagh’s cinematographic choices – specifically sequence shots, or scenes that unfold in one long take, and Steadicam tracking shots that encircle characters – work with the flow of Shakespeare’s language. Perhaps the most memorable example of both of these stylistic choices is his four-minute tracking shot in Henry V, in which Branagh’s Prince Hal carries his dead luggage boy (Christian Bale) across the solider-strewn battlefield as ‘Non Nobis’ somberly plays on the soundtrack.

Cinderella

Cinderella

Like other filmmakers who’ve been labelled auteurs, Kenneth Branagh is drawn to distinct stories, themes and motifs. He commits to a core cast and crew (that often includes himself). He also refuses to set Shakespeare contemporaneously and possesses a passionate desire to bring Shakespeare’s language to the masses.

Finally, he boasts a signature directorial style and production aesthetic. But through it all, Kenneth Branagh almost always helps to shine a light on Shakespeare – and really, isn’t that what a master of Shakespeare onscreen should do?

Sun, sand, sea and Shakespeare make for a winning combination in Sydney for Bard on the Beach Australia

Titania (Jillian Russ) in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

Titania (Jillian Russ) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

A trip to the beach is not something generally associated with Shakespeare. In Sydney, however, the combination of a balmy summer’s evening, waves lapping the shore and champagne corks popping is the soundscape of Bard On The Beach Australia.

Puck (Adam Garden) in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

Puck (Adam Garden) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

Bard on the Beach is now in its sixth year, with the Balmoral band rotunda on Sydney’s north shore as its home.

Petruchio (Dan Bunton)  and Katharina (Jillian Russ) in The Taming of The Shrew, Balmoral Beach, 2014.

Petruchio (Dan Bunton) and Katharina (Jillian Russ) in The Taming of The Shrew, Balmoral Beach, 2014.

“And in the years that have followed since our creation,” says Artistic Director Patricia Rowling, “we have expanded to Avalon Beach, Watsons Bay and Marrickville.”

Lady Macbeth (Patricia Rowling) and macbeth (Kyle Rowling) in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Balmoral Beach, 2012.

Lady Macbeth (Patricia Rowling) and Macbeth (Kyle Rowling) in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Balmoral Beach, 2012.

The company also runs educational tours to schools and community groups up and down the east coast of Australia.

Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

In 2016, the season brought Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in rep to thousands of spectators.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Gloucester (Steven Menteith) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Gloucester (Steven Menteith) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

The company also presented an in-theatre performance of The Merchant of Venice for schools and general audiences, along with an educational tour of Macbeth.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

So what can audiences expect in 2017?

“The costume sketches are being drawn, the council applications are in, and the auditions are done,” says Patricia. “Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor will charm audiences all over Sydney and beyond…”

Go here to find out all about Bard on the Beach Australia.

With the Indian Shakespeares On Screen festival taking place in London from 27-30 April, we asked the organisers to choose their all-time favourite Indian Shakespeare movie adapatations…

HAIDER (2014)
Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Hamlet
IMG_3714
“In a time of rising religious and patriotic Hindu fundamentalism in India, how did Haider ever get permission to be made, and how did it pass the notorious eye of the Indian censor? Those are the questions I can’t wait to ask the director, Vishal Bhardwaj, and Basharat Peer, the film’s co-writer when I interview them in April.

“Set in Kashmir at the height of the conflict of the 1990s, Haider is deeply critical of British colonialism and the pernicious license it allows Indian structures of power. The once colonized have become the masters here, as the film’s tight focus on a handful of Kashmiri Muslim lives shows. The tragedy of good men disappearing, brothers being set against one another, overt violence and insidious paranoia are set against the austere beauty of war-torn Srinagar.

“Silencing is a key theme: snow falls like confetti on lovers, weeps over disappeared bodies, hides terror and smothers grief. Language is twisted as the people struggle to voice the trauma of subjugation. Bhardwaj draws on the poetry of Gulzar and the skeleton of Hamlet to create a film that is complex, thrilling, wry, poignant and political all at once. For me, Haider sets a gold standard for the cinematic language of Indian Shakespeares on screen.”

Chosen by Dr Preti Taneja, University of Warwick and Queen Mary, University of London 


ARSHINAGAR (2015)
Mirrorville, Aparna Sen’s re-make of Romeo and JulietIMG_3719
“Romantic musicals about doomed lovers are the staple of Indian cinema and there is no dearth of appropriations of Romeo and Juliet on the Indian stage or screen. Sen’s plotting of Romeo and Juliet on the Hindu-Muslim divide to speak about contemporary intolerance is not distinctive either.

“What sets this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet on the Indian Screen apart, and makes it one of my favourite Shakespeare appropriations, is its innovative combination of theatrical and cinematic styles.

“As Sen states, ‘The story is known everywhere, the art is in the telling.’ There are brilliant instances of realist scenes shot against painted backdrops which not only positions Arshinagar as a mirrorville which reflects a reality not limited to a particular geographical place but also a remarkable experiment with form in commercial cinema.

“Furthermore, the characters speak a contemporary combination of English, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu that is familiar to someone like me who grew up in the historical and culturally diverse city of Kolkata, and all of it is in rhymed verse! I am very excited to be speaking about this fascinating Shakespeare film at our conference.”

Chosen by Ms Koel Chatterjee, Royal Holloway, University of London


KALIYATTAM (1997)
The Play of God, Jayaraj Rajasekharan Nair’s adaptation of OthelloFullSizeRender
“In Kaliyattam, the national award winning Othello remake, the low caste hero Kannan Perumalayan (Suresh Gopi) is a traditional Keralan theyyam trance dancer. Perumalayan’s fundamental psychological insecurity at his outsider status is here rooted in a schizophrenic social schism: he is reviled by day yet worshipped by night, possessed by temple gods during his ritual kaliyattam fire dances.

“An inter-caste scandal explodes when Perumalayan elopes with the village head’s daughter, Brahmin beauty Thamara/Desdemona (Manju Warrier). Perumalayan loses his grip on reality as he becomes increasingly unable to separate his two lives, and jealous junior temple artist Paniyan/Iago (Lal) manages to convince him that the chaste Thamara is unfaithful.

“Half-costumed, Perumalayan smothers Thamara in bed. After discovering his mistake, he crushes Paniyan’s legs, crippling yet sparing him. In his final temple performance, Perumalayan bequeaths his role to Kanthan/Cassio (Biju Menon) before throwing himself into the sacrificial fire costume and all, consumed by his own irredeemably split conscience.”

Chosen by Ms Thea Buckley, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham

10ml LOVE (2012)
Sharat Katariya’s take on A Midsummer Night’s DreamFullSizeRender
“Endorsing the emergent Indian Indie cinema movement, Thierry Frémaux, artistic director of Cannes Film Festival, declared that ‘I firmly believe that this new generation can bring a fresh air not only to Indian Cinema but also to World Cinema.’ Therefore, I am delighted that we are screening Katariya’s10ml Loveat our conference.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an attractive play to set in India as it references the ‘Indian boy’ and the ‘spicèd Indian air’. Yet, rather than the exotic India that Shakespeare paints, Katariya sets the movie in cosmopolitan Mumbai. Whereas Shakespeare’s play begins with the aristocrats, 10ml Love opens with the mechanicals of Shakespeare’s play.In a hilarious sequence, we are shown that they are rehearsing for Ramlila. The Ramlila, is an indigenous theatrical form but the substitution of Ramlila for the mechanicals’ play is not mere indigenization.

“During the time of the British colonial rule in India, the emulation of Western theatre led to a decline of indigenous theatre forms such as the Ramlila. Thus, using a Shakespeare adaptation to emphasise the decline of Ramlila troupes is a politically canny move. The result is that India is not viewed through Shakespeare’s gaze rather Shakespeare is viewed through an Indian gaze. This is why, for me, 10ml Love is an underrated gem.”

Chosen by Dr Varsha Panjwani, Boston University in London and University of York

Shakepeare and Indian-Final Poster
‘Indian Shakespeares on Screen’ features an international conference including talks, screenings, workshops, and an art display at Asia House in central London (27-29 April 2016), followed by a weekend film festival at London’s BFI Southbank (29-30 April 2016) where the screening of the Indian Shakespeare trilogy Maqbool (Macbeth), Omkara (Othello), and Haider (Hamlet) will be accompanied by public interviews with Vishal Bhardwaj, the trilogy’s director, and the scriptwriters of the films.

Find out more at the Indian Shakespeares on Screen website.