What’s Love Got To Do With It? Quite a lot, actually, when it comes to the key characters of Hamlet. Jeffrey R. Wilson throws light on Shakespeare’s fascinating foray into perhaps the most complex emotion of all.

What is Shakespeare’s Hamlet about? It’s a deceptively difficult question, and will elicit no consensus. Even though Hamlet is the most frequently assigned Shakespearean text in schools, and the most frequently written about in academic Shakespeare studies—or, probably, because of those facts—we have difficulty agreeing on its basic concerns. According to SparkNotes, the study aid that thousands of students turn to every day, the themes of Hamlet are “the impossibility of certainty,” “the complexity of action,” “the mystery of death,” “the nation as a diseased body,” “performance,” “madness,” and “doubt.” But what if we take ourselves—and our cliched interpretations—out of this question? What if we listen to the text itself? What if we start with some data?

The word “love” appears 84 times in the Folger edition of Hamlet. By comparison, “Father” only appears 73 times, “play” 60, “think” 55, “mother” 46, “mad” 44, “soul” 40, “God” 39, “death” 38, “act” 35, “life” 34, “nothing” 28, “son” 26, “act” 23, “honor” 21, “spirit” 19, “kill” 18, “revenge” 14, “doubt” 14, and “action” 12. Love isn’t the first theme that comes to mind when we think about Hamlet, but is surprisingly prominent. Hamlet is a play about love.

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[Photo: Johan Persson]

Prince Hamlet loves his father and mother. Claudius loves Gertrude. She loves him and her son. Hamlet loves Ophelia, as does Laertes. So what does Hamlet say about love?

Love is a many-splendored thing. It is blind. It is patient and kind, does not envy or boast, etc. Love conquers all. But, baby, sometimes love just ain’t enough. To quote another 90s jam—what is love? (Hamlet, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more). Or from the 80s—I want to know what love is; I want Hamlet to show me. Love – emotional investment in another – involves feeling for, caring for, respect, admiration; duty, obligation to; willingness to serve; confidence in; dedication to; affection for.

But love is tragic in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The bloody catastrophe at the end of the play is principally driven not by hatred or a longing for revenge, but by love. And, I’m going to suggest, that creates a significant relationship between love and one of the few substantive words that appears even more frequently in the play, “king.” What’s the relationship between love, monarchy, and tragedy? To go back again to the 80s, what’s love got to do with it?

Three kinds of love appear in Hamlet. First, there is what the ancient Greeks called philia—friendship—in the service Prince Hamlet and his friends offer each other, which they repeatedly call “love.” Hamlet’s first love, as it were, is Horatio, along with Marcellus and Barnardo, but Hamlet also refers to his relationship with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as “love.”

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[Photo: Johan Persson]

Second, we see romantic love—what the Greeks called eros—in the “hot love” of Hamlet and Ophelia (yes, that’s an actual phrase from the play). Eros also appears in Gertrude’s marriages—first to King Hamlet, then to Claudius – which are reflected upon in the extended discourse on love between the Player King and Player Queen during the play-within-the-play.

Third, we encounter familial love, which the Greeks called storge. “If thou didst ever thy dear father love,” the Ghost tells Prince Hamlet, “Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.” This form of love also appears in the Fortinbras family and the Polonius family. Hamlet even pits his eros for Ophelia against Laertes’s storge: “I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers / Could not, with all their quantity of love, / Make up my sum.” Similarly, Gertrude and Claudius’s eros challenges Gertrude and Prince Hamlet’s storge.

These three forms of love each undergo the three vicissitudes of love identified in the play. First, fortune leads love. As the play-within-the-play asks, “For ’tis a question left us yet to prove, / Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love.” Did Claudius’s love for Gertrude lead him to murder his brother, or did the death of King Hamlet lead to Gertrude and Claudius’s love? Hamlet says his mother’s “lust, though to a radiant angel link’d, / Will sate itself in a celestial bed, / And prey on garbage.”

Second, love hurts. This is what Polonius refers to as “the pangs of despised love.” Ophelia’s love for Hamlet is not returned (she feels); Hamlet’s love for Gertrude is not returned (he feels). “Truly in my youth I suffered much extremity for love,” Polonius says.

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[Photo: Johan Persson]

Third, there is love’s ecstasy. It makes us do crazy things, as Polonius says of Hamlet’s madness:

This is the very ecstasy of love,
Whose violent property fordoes itself
And leads the will to desperate undertakings
As oft as any passion under heaven
That does afflict our natures.

Love turns us from cold calculating machines into living beings who make decisions based not entirely on reason but instead on emotion. Love makes us happy, but also causes us to make mistakes when emotion exerts more of a pull upon decision-making than reason. Claudius’s “shameful lust” for Gertrude motivated his political crime. Hamlet becomes “passion’s slave” after the death of his father. After Ophelia’s death, Hamlet attacks her brother’s love: “Why I will fight with him upon this theme / Until my eyelids will no longer wag.”

After King Hamlet dies, succession transfers through romantic love, not familial love. Laertes warns Ophelia that love for Hamlet must be political, not personal. Hamlet’s love for his father is the basis for his revenge. Polonius and Laertes’s love for Ophelia is the basis of their misogyny. Hamlet gets caught between his love for his father and his love for Ophelia. Ophelia’s love for Hamlet, Polonius, and Laertes is the source of her tragedy. Gertrude’s love for Claudius is the source of hers. The centerpiece of Hamlet, the play-within-the-play, is all about the inconstancy of love.

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[Photo: Johan Persson]

Shakespeare was not saying that we should not love others. He was not a Buddhist asking us to detach ourselves from worldly cares. In our everyday lives, we all love all sorts of people in all sorts of ways, and it doesn’t end in tragedy. Love is a source of joy, a feeling of togetherness, a sense of belonging. Shakespeare wrote many comedies about the joys of love working out in the end. He also wrote Romeo and Juliet, where love is not the source of tragedy as much as the sacrificial calf: love actually doesn’t conquer all.

But, in Hamlet, love causes tragedy to happen. Why? What does it mean to say that the tragedy in Hamlet happens because of love? And why would Shakespeare see love as tragic? What are the circumstances in which love is tragic?

Love is tragic in Hamlet because the governmental system in place forces family dynamics to spill over into politics: in a dynastic monarchy, small-scale family drama has large-scale social consequences. Dynastic monarchy brings the emotion that usually characterizes family drama into government, which is supposed to run on reason rather than emotion. That’s because love personalizes and makes passionate decisions that social institutions try to render impersonal and objective. Hamlet shows what happens when the dynamics that govern our private lives come to have consequences for public policy.

To say that love is tragic in Hamlet is to suggest that monarchy is doomed to collapse. To view Hamlet as a tragedy of love is to observe that the themes usually seen as central to the play—revenge, uncertainty, madness, loss, despair—do not come into existence without the precondition of love. Hamlet never seeks revenge if he doesn’t love his father so much. Ophelia never loses her mind if she doesn’t love hers so much. But these love stories only have massive social consequences because the form of government in place is heavily contingent on who and how the ruling family loves, whether it’s philiaeros, or storge.

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[Photo: Johan Persson]

This tragedy of love—where emotion and intimacy short circuit the workings of government—appears in examples ranging from the succession crisis of Elizabeth I to the pseudo-dynastic administration of Donald Trump. One would think that, if love is tragic only in the context of monarchy, then most people in the twenty-first century need not worry. Yet the tensions love creates in the petty kingdoms of our families and friends often feel like tragic love. If, as Arthur Miller insisted, contra Aristotle, there can be a tragedy of the common person—if tragedy is not exclusive to the upper echelon of society—then tragic love survives on the smaller scale of the communities, not kingdoms, we inhabit. Whenever a parent disapproves of a boyfriend, or two people grieve the loss of a loved one in different ways, tragic love is possible.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jeffrey R. Wilson is a faculty member in the Writing Program at Harvard University, where he teaches the “Why Shakespeare?” section of the university’s first-year writing course. He is the author of two books, Shakespeare and Trump and Shakespeare and Game of Thrones. This piece comes from the Essays on Hamlet project, which asks big conceptual questions about the play with the urgency of a Shakespeare lover, and answers them with the rigor of a Shakespeare scholar. His work has appeared in journals such as Modern Language Quarterly, Genre, and College Literature, and been featured in public venues including National Public Radio, Literary Hub, Zocalo Public Square, and MLA’s Profession. Find him on Twitter: @DrJeffreyWilson.

Shakespeare Reinvented or just another Tragedy of Errors? Earlier this year, we live-Tweeted our lockdown viewing of the opulent 2018 Ophelia film directed by Claire McCarthy which starred Daisy Ridley, Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. Here it is in all its irreverent glory…

Right, it’s 8.06pm UK time – let’s watch Ophelia. (Hits ‘Play’)

Creepy skull in crown logo, very Shakespearean gothic.

Quickly introducing all the main characters.

Claudius is a total rogue, played by Clive Owen.

Hamlet is just 15, which is about the right age for a student Prince in those days.

Naomi Watts as an ethereal Gertrude.

This film has absolutely gorgeous colours.

Little girl Ophelia is press-ganged into becoming a lady-in-waiting.

Now she’s grown-up Ophelia (played by Daisy Ridley), the other ladies-in-waiting think she’s common.

But her super-power is… she can read.

Daisy Ridley in OPHELIA (Blue Finch Film Releasing) (02)

Gertrude mentions a sister. COULD THIS BE RELEVANT?

Ah, the Queen is getting Ophelia to read something a bit racy. Trying to figure out what it is. Boccaccio perhaps?

Hamlet has grown, and is “Every inch a king” – King Lear reference.

Hamlet and Horatio catch Ophelia having a swim.

Hang on, when she ran away she was completely dry?

Back at the castle, Ophelia tells the story of Diana and Actaeon.

I really like the way the film takes us into the castle’s nooks and crannies. Very immersive, almost 3D.

Uh-oh. Claudius is making a move on Gertrude. Hope her dangly earrings don’t get tangled in his lusty locks.

Ophelia sees all, of course.

Hamlet is suddenly madly in love with Ophelia, having spent about three minutes in her company.

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“I’m afraid I dance like a goat,” she tells him.

Great little sword-fighting scene with Claudius winding up Hamlet.

The camera moves around a lot, and tries to show us what several characters are thinking.

Next, a Romeo and Juliet-style ball scene.

Again, I’m loving the colours and immersive sense of intimacy and depth.

Oh dear, having kissed Ophelia, Hamlet is heading back to university.

And Gertrude has sent Ophelia into the forest to see a Witch…

Now Ophelia has turned into Little Red Riding Hood.

The witch lives in a luxurious 5-star hovel.

Hang on! The witch is Gertrude’s twin sister!

Daisy Ridley and Naomi Watts in OPHELIA (Blue Finch Film Releasing)

She’s also Gertrude’s drug dealer.

Back at the castle, King Hamlet tells Gertrude that Claudius is quite literally a bastard. (Quite an interesting idea, actually)

Which hasn’t stopped Gertrude heading straight to the ramparts, presumably to meet Claudius.

Grown-up Laertes is played by Tom Felton.

He says that Horatio bribed a grave digger to get hold of a corpse.

HE DID WHAT?

King Hamlet is dead, bitten by a snake in the culmination of all the snake references that have already piled up in the film’s first 35 minutes.

Got to say, though, this is one of the nicest-looking films I’ve seen in a long time.

Claudius has been elected king, but Hamlet is back in time for the funeral, I mean wedding.

The film’s dialogue is a bit clunky, but Clive Owen is doing a commendable job.

Clive Owen and Naomi Watts in OPHELIA (Blue Finch Film Releasing)

Tom Felton a troubled, sensitive Laertes.

Polonius does his famous speech…

The film’s biggest problem is that the actors playing Ophelia and Hamlet don’t feel quite right for the parts.

The other problem is that Ophelia isn’t very likeable.

I feel quite sorry for all these blokes putting up with her endless snark.

The witch tells her origin story.

It involves a highly improbable Romeo and Juliet potion, what scholars of cinema would refer to as a “magical bullshit device”.

Also, if Claudius really did get her pregnant, where was her sister Gertrude during all this?

The film now seems to have turned into Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, with an obliging Friar conducting Ophelia and Hamlet’s secret marriage and tasteful firelit wedding night montage.

The mood at the castle is now paranoid.

Daisy Ridley in OPHELIA (Blue Finch Film Releasing) (03)

Claudius and Gertrude are doing drugs together.

Fickle Gertrude is being cruel to Ophelia.

Claudius has decided to enlist Ophelia in his schemes.

Okay, here’s the big twist.

In the “Get thee to a nunnery” scene, Ophelia and Hamlet are play-acting for the watching Claudius and Polonius, while having an urgent whispered conversation.

The Players have arrived, but we suspect Hamlet has gone mad for real because he’s wearing eyeliner.

Turns out he really wants Ophelia to go to a nunnery, because she’ll be safe there.

“You erased me,” Ophelia tells Gertrude. CLUNK.

Ophelia wakes up to be told Hamlet has killed Polonius (Ophelia’s dad).

Wonder if this might possibly place a strain on Hamlet and Ophelia’s secret marriage…

George MacKay and Daisy Ridley in OPHELIA (Blue Finch Film Releasing)

Laertes is back, in a rage.

And Ophelia is being forced to marry one of Claudius’s guards.

The bitchiest lady-in-waiting tells Ophelia she’s fat.

(Hmm, as we never see her eating anything, what could possibly be the reason for her weight gain?)

The bitchiest lady-in-waiting also tells Ophelia that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have killed Hamlet.

Ophelia contemplates suicide in various picturesque locations.

The ever-patient Horatio reckons Hamlet is still alive.

Claudius rumbles Ophelia and flings her in jail.

Resourceful Ophelia breaks out 30 seconds later.

She grabs some flowers and charges into the royal banquet, singing and pretending to be mad.

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Claudius has this “Oh God, what is that brat doing now?” expression on his face.

This film certainly isn’t dull, it’s racing along.

But there’s no time to digest anything.

Ophelia escapes (again), glugs the magic bullshit device – er, I mean potion – and proceeds to apparently drown in the style of an iconic Pre-Raphaelite painting.

But she’s not dead, and obliging amateur grave-robber Horatio has kindly dug her up.

Ophelia is looking extremely dry and well-groomed for someone who was recently fished out of a pond.

Also, her brand-new coffin is remarkably free of soil…

Gertrude’s witch sister still loves Claudius.

Oh no, now she doesn’t.

She’s gone to betray him to the invading army.

Naomi Watts in OPHELIA (Blue Finch Film Releasing)

Gertrude appears in her witch sister’s lair.

This is becoming a tragedy of errors.

Hamlet is back, and about to have a sword fight with Laertes.

Ophelia has short hair, so no-one recognises her, and she’s calling herself – favourite minor Shakespearean character alert! – Osric.

But Hamlet won’t listen to her, so she dumps him.

Impressively, Ophelia has done something that characters almost never do in films – she’s got out while there’s still plenty of time.

I mean, the sword fight hasn’t even begun yet, and she’s already jumped in a boat and rowed about a mile from the castle.

Minor point, but there seems to be some confusion as to whether this scene is taking place during daytime or at night.

The sword fight is still in progress, but pregnant Ophelia has already managed to ditch her rowing boat and climb a mountain…

Ah, I see. We’re being shown Ophelia’s long journey (of self-discovery) to the nunnery as events at the castle play out in a different time scheme.

Clive Owen in OPHELIA (Blue Finch Film Releasing)

She’s now piloting a horse and cart.

What next? A skateboard?

Holy Moly! Gertrude has just run Claudius through with Hamlet’s sword.

Meanwhile, Ophelia must have travelled a long way, because she’s approaching a mountain range, and one thing Denmark doesn’t have is any mountains.

It’s all kicking off at the castle.

Laertes drops dead.

Gertrude contemplates a potion overdose.

The Norwegian army comes crashing in, led by a terrifying bloke on a horse (presumably Fortinbras) and with Gertrude’s vengeful witch sister in tow.

I think this scene of slaughter would be really chilling if there was no music.

The ‘Doubt thou the stars are fire’ song doesn’t really work with these visuals.

Daisy Ridley in OPHELIA (Blue Finch Film Releasing) (01)

And there’s a stunning overhead shot of the aftermath, but it’s spoiled by Ophelia’s voiceover.

Ophelia’s telling us how great she is, and she seems to feel there’s this titanic, cosmic dimension to her adventure.

But all she’s really done is get pregnant and do a runner.

It’s not exactly epic.

And thus ‘Ophelia’ ends.

I like this film, but find it frustrating.

It’s touted as a feminist re-write of Shakespeare, but it still leaves most of the heavy lifting to Shakespeare.

Still, it’s visually beautiful and has a strong cast.

What did you think?

OPHELIA-Poster

Go here to buy or rent Ophelia.

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Waiting for Shakespeare to make his entrance: References and remembrances in two classic twentieth century ‘New York’ novels, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

As a fellow Shakespeare fan, perhaps you experience this too. Quite often when I’m reading a book or watching a film or having a look at something on television, I get a slightly eerie sense of premonition, the feeling that a Shakespeare reference is about to be deployed.

Big deal, you’re probably thinking. After all, there are Shakespeare references in practically everything. Well, yes. But it’s still an interesting phenomenon for me, and I do find it fascinating the way my senses seem to anticipate these occurrences quite some time before they come sauntering around the corner, as it were.

To give one recent example, I was dipping into Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz, which is the first book in the series about teenage secret agent Alex Rider. After a few chapters, my Shakespeare sense started tingling, and a couple of pages later, when a disoriented Alex wakes up in a strange room:

“He had seen rooms like this in books when he was studying Shakespeare. He would have said the building was Elizabethan.”

Yesterday I started reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which came out in 1963, a few weeks before the author killed herself in awful circumstances. It’s one of those books that I always think I’ve already read. But then I realise this is merely the cumulative effect of having perused the opening sentence many times in my life before somehow contriving to proceed no further.

Anyway, if you’ve chosen to read this article the chances are you’re very au fait with The Bell Jar, so I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to hear I’m enjoying it a lot so far – if enjoying is quite the right word.

Bell Jar

And like me you’ve probably played the little game of wondering how you would assess The Bell Jar if you didn’t know anything about its author (indeed, it was originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas). My breathtakingly original observations are that it puts me in mind of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye if it was written by Patricia Highsmith. Actually, it reminds me perhaps even more of Salinger’s novella Franny and Zooey, which came out a couple of years before The Bell Jar.

Incidentally, Highsmith was 11 years older than Plath and Salinger was Plath’s senior by 13 years. I don’t know if their paths ever crossed, but they were all floating in the same firmament of Ivy League colleges and New York literary magazines that the Bell Jar, set in 1953, so vividly depicts.

An early sequence in The Bell Jar sees the narrator and her friend visiting the outlandish apartment of a country music disc jockey who has “twenty grand’s worth of recording equipment”. The setting is placed three years before Elvis Presley broke through with Hound Dog, but I can’t help wondering if this is the very first description in literature of the rock ’n’ roll/hillbilly aesthetic.

All this is about as far from Shakespeare as you can get, but it was right here that my Shakespeare Sense – let’s call it my Bardometer – started burbling. However, it wasn’t until 16 pages later that something popped up:

“My German-speaking father, dead since I was nine, came from some manic-depressive hamlet in the black heart of Prussia.”

What a sentence. There’s a lot in it. First, and most obviously, the words “manic-depressive hamlet”. Athough it means hamlet as in a small village, it’s also a literary witticism, as it wouldn’t be unusual for a writer of Plath’s generation to refer to Shakespeare’s Hamlet (ironically or otherwise) as having a manic-depressive personality. There’s another tangential reference: Plath’s semi-autobiographical narrator Esther, like Hamlet, has a dead father.

As a youthful polymath, Plath would no doubt have been aware that Shakespeare enjoyed huge popularity in Germany, with Hamlet a particular favourite. A famous 19th century poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath even asserted that  “Deutschland ist Hamlet”. There’s the sense here that the German-speaking father is essentially benign, like Hamlet’s father, but the fact that he comes from “the black heart of Prussia” hangs over him like the evil murderous brother in the play. And it almost goes without saying that black is the funereal colour invariably associated with Shakespeare’s tragic prince.

Three pages later, after Esther digresses into an account of studying physics for a semester:

“My plan was that I needed the time to take a course in Shakespeare, since I was, after all, an English major.”

This makes me feel like those people who get up and leave the cinema if the name of the film is spoken on the screen. But no, I have resolved to continue reading The Bell Jar – and not just to count any further Shakespeare references.

Now I recall that there’s also a reference to Hamlet in The Catcher in the Rye. On page 100 of the Penguin edition (original US text) the narrator Holden Caulfield discusses Romeo and Juliet with a pair of nuns. Nuns and Shakespeare will of course make the savvy reader think of the line from Hamlet “Get thee to a nunnery”. And sure enough, five pages later Holden gives a scathing assessment of Laurence Olivier’s 1948 Hamlet film.

“He was too much like a goddam general, instead of a sad, screwed-up type guy.”

I’m sure many readers have ruminated on the fact that The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield and The Bell Jar’s Esther Greenwood essentially inhabit the same universe and their narratives take place within just a few years of each other. I can certainly imagine Esther going to see Olivier’s Hamlet at the cinema, but I wonder if this is the version Plath had in mind when she employed the phrase ‘manic-depressive’.

As she lived her final years in England, perhaps Plath witnessed or heard about interpretations by newer, younger actors like Paul Scofield, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. I’ll have to look into it.

But why do all these authors scatter Shakespeare references about their works like so many literary breadcrumbs?

That is the…

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Watch Hamlet (George MacKay) take on Claudius (Clive Owen) in this Exclusive Clip from director Claire McCarthy’s new Shakespeare-inspired film OPHELIA starring Daisy Ridley in the title role, with Naomi Watts as Gertrude and Tom Felton as Laertes

OPHELIA is screening in selected UK cinemas from Friday 22 November, and will then be available on demand from Wednesday 27 November on these platforms: iTunes, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Rakuten, Chili.

A full Shakespeare Magazine review of OPHELIA will follow shortly.

OPHELIA-Poster

New BBC radio documentary ‘Shakespeare and Terrorism’ to explore Osama bin Laden’s hatred of Shakespeare – and the Bard’s own alleged family links to the Gunpowder Plot.

Osama bin Laden’s weekly visits to Shakespeare’s birthplace and the Bard’s historic links to the Gunpowder Plot will be among the stories explored in a new documentary airing on BBC Radio 3.

Shakespeare and Terrorism’, presented by Dr Islam Issa, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City University, examines how the iconic playwright’s work has been linked to acts of terror or influenced terrorists.

The documentary will look at how the Bard’s work has been viewed and interpreted by extremists from across the globe including bin Laden, Guy Fawkes, Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth and Nazi theorist Carl Schmitt.

Birthplace
Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Documents released by the CIA last year detailed bin Laden’s frequent visits to Stratford-upon-Avon as a teenager and his hatred of Shakespeare as a symbol of the West and its political ideology.

The terror leader wrote in his diaries that “we went every Sunday to visit Shakespeare’s house” and these experiences are believed to have coloured his hatred of the West.

Links between the Bard and the Gunpowder Plot stem from the fact the plotters included family friends of Shakespeare and that the conspirators had strong links to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes

Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Booth, murdered the American President in Ford’s Theatre in Washington. Booth was an actor and fan of Shakespeare who was influenced by the playwright’s portrayal of freedom and the murder of the emperor in the play Julius Caesar.

Meanwhile Carl Schmitt used Shakespeare as a way to justify Nazi and fascist ideology and wrote a book focussing on how going against the law can be justified, just as murder ultimately ended Hamlet’s troubles.

Dr Issa believes Shakespeare’s themes and characters make the plays wide open to multiple and varied interpretations.

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Dr Islam Issa

“The terrorists who hated Shakespeare or who attacked theatres saw the playwright as a symbol of the West or of colonialism,” he says. “But looking at it from another angle, some terrorists have also been inspired by him.

“There are lots of violent and extreme moments in the plays that remind us of what we see in the news today. Not only did Shakespeare live through the biggest terrorist plot in British history – the Gunpowder Plot – he also constructed characters who have similar issues, mind-sets and justifications to modern-day terrorists.

“For example, recording this show has really made me reinterpret the character of Hamlet.”

​The documentary will take in interviews, including one with a criminologist to analyse the mind of a terrorist, and includes visits to Hamlet’s castle in Denmark and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust underground archives, where Dr Issa examines rare documents linked to the Gunpowder Plot.

Kronborg
Kronborg Castle

Shakespeare and Terrorism’ will air on BBC Radio 3 as part of ‘Sunday Feature’ on Sunday 4 November at 6.45pm.

Attention! Leading experimental theatre company Forced Entertainment are calling on everyone to help them – by sharing a livestream of their unique Table Top presentation of all 36 of Shakespeare’s plays, performed with the aid of household objects…

Terry O'Connor
Beginning this Friday 26 October and running until Saturday 3 November, Forced Entertainment are to livestream Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare - each of Shakespeare’s 36 plays condensed and presented on a table top over nine days, using a cast of ordinary household objects.
The durational production by the internationally recognised experimental theatre group, features objects such as pepper pots, knives and forks and cheese graters in place of Shakespeare’s characters.
Jerry Killick in action
Originally devised and performed in 2015, Complete Works will be presented at and livestreamed from SPILL Ipswich, between 26 October and 3 November, giving those who aren’t able to make it to the Festival the opportunity to see all of the hour-long pieces.
For the first time ever, the livestream of Complete Works will include 12 subtiled performances: Coriolanus, King John, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, Richard II, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Henry IV Part 1, Measure for Measure, All’s Well That Ends Well, Timon of Athens and Hamlet.
Forced Entertainment is working with SPILL Festival of Performance, and the livestream will appear on both the festival’s website and Forced Entertainment’s. The livestream will also be shared on Facebook and cross-posted to BBC Arts Online and BBC Shakespeare. The livestream has been commissioned by The Space.
Puppetry
The livestream will appear on Forced Entertainent’s website and Facebook page. Please tag @ForcedEnts when sharing the event on Twitter and Instagram and use the hashtag #CompleteWorksLive to join in the conversation.

“Richard drives the action, Hamlet is defined by his lack of action…” Known for her one-woman interpretations of both Richard III and Hamlet, performer Emily Carding tells us what Shakespeare means to her.

EmilyCarding

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

“As a writer, this year I’m immersed in the esoteric level of Shakespeare’s plays for a book I’m currently writing for Llewellyn Publishing. I also recently incorporated many quotes and speeches from the plays into a science-fiction storytelling piece for London Science Museum. However, as a performer this year, apart from Richard III (a one woman show) which has toured to Pakistan and Romania this year – and will, I suspect, continue to tour on and off for some time – the focus has been overwhelmingly on Hamlet. I played Hamlet for a full-cast production in Sussex for a small tour, which may be revived at some point. And I’m currently [August 2018] in Edinburgh with Brite Theater’s new show, Hamlet (an experience), a solo audience-interactive adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous play.

“It’s fascinating to be so absorbed in both Hamlet and Richard III, and to note the similarities and differences. Richard III drives the action himself and makes the audience complicit in his decisions. Hamlet is defined by his lack of action and his sharing his indecision with the audience. Both comment upon conscience and cowardice: Hamlet’s ‘Thus conscience does make cowards of us all’ and Richard’s ‘Conscience is but a word that cowards use’.

“In Richard III, the audience participation is passive and manipulated and controlled by myself as Richard. In Hamlet (an experience), it’s proving fascinating and rewarding to stand back and watch what the audience choose to bring to it, within the scope awarded to them via simple cue-scripts. Hamlet is a role that demands vulnerability and complete exposure of the soul to an audience. It’s a scary role to take on for so many reasons, and we’re pushing boundaries. I’m loving the journey.”

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

“I have an MFA in Shakespeare, so these last few years I think I’ve learned a lot of surprising things! Perhaps I surprise myself most by moving away from being quite traditional and purist to being incredibly playful, post-modern and experimental. The most important realisation was that there is no ‘holy text’, that there are so many different versions, and that they were almost certainly abridged and improvised around in performance in Shakespeare’s day, butchered by the Victorians, and make the most wonderful raw material for us to work from in making contemporary theatre today.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?

“I don’t know that I can say I am really like Mercutio as such, but certainly playing him was a very comfortable fit. As an actor I bring myself to every role I play, and part of the joy is in exploring all the different facets of humanity, finding those points of commonality and connection, so this is a really difficult question. In some ways I think perhaps I am most like Prospero, and that goes for the shadow side as well as the good. I’m a single parent, I often feel isolated, I have unresolved family issues, a large collection of magical books and I have a tattoo on my right foot which reads ‘By my so potent art’.”

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

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” (The Tempest)

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?

“This is a really tough question because I keep thinking of castings that have already happened. McKellen as Lear I’m seeing in September, and Rylance as Iago I’ll catch in the Autumn too. I’d like to see Judi Dench play Prospero. That would be something special. Let’s have Tilda Swinton as Ariel while we’re at it.”

Shakespeare Magazine Issue 14 is here – And it’s All About Hamlet!

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HAMLET is the theme of Shakespeare Magazine Issue 14, with each and every article devoted to the fictional Prince of Denmark and the play that bears his name.

Rhodri Lewis asks “How Old is Hamlet?” while Samira Ahmed wonders “Why do Women Love Hamlet?” and we review recent productions of the play starring Tom Hiddleston and Andrew Scott.

There’s a set report from the making of Daisy Ridley’s Ophelia movie and a visit to Hamlet’s historic home, Kronborg Castle.

We also delve deep into the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive’s Hamlet collection, while Gyles Brandreth tells us about his ‘family’ production of the play, and Alice Barclay recounts how she taught a group of amateur actors to become Hamlet.

Go here to read all 14 issues of Shakespeare Magazine completely free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go here to sign up to Digital Theatre now.

COMPETITION TIME!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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