How Shakespeare’s vibrant London neighbourhood of Bankside will be celebrating the Bard’s life and legacy in April 2016

Please credit the photographer John Tramper
[Image by John Tramper]

Home to Shakespeare’s Globe, The Rose Playhouse, Southwark Cathedral and The George Inn, London’s Bankside celebrates its Shakespearean history with a host of special events including walks, theatre performances and themed menus.

Shakespeare’s Globe – The Complete Walk, 23-24 April
Visitors are invited on a journey along the bank of the Thames to experience an extraordinary celebration of Shakespeare’s works. 37 screens along a 2.5 mile route through Bankside and beyond will show a series of specially-made short films. Actors including Simon Russell Beale, Peter Capaldi, Dominic West, Hayley Atwell and Zawe Ashton will perform scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, shot in the places hovering in his imagination. Visitors can expect to see The Merchant of Venice’s Shylock within the Venetian Jewish ghetto, and Hamlet at Elsinore’s Kronborg castle.

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Actor Simon Russell Beale

Hamlet, 23-24 April 2016
The Globe’s unprecedented world tour of Hamlet returns home for a weekend of celebratory final performances, marking 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. Tickets are currently sold out but more are due to be released in the weeks before the performance.

Southwark Cathedral
The tombstone of William’s brother Edmund Shakespeare, who was an actor, lies between the choir stalls in Southwark Cathedral, the oldest cathedral church building in London. Shakespeare’s troupe of actors lodged here, and the choir at the Cathedral prospered during Shakespeare’s day when Southwark was the entertainment centre of London. A Shakespeare monument and stained glass window (depicting characters from some of his plays) is the Cathedral’s most popular memorial.

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In collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe, a specially curated service will take place at 11am on Saturday 23 April. The service is invitation only and will blend liturgical worship, music and performance, while drawing on material from Shakespeare’s late romances.

It will be followed by Find Me a Publisher at 2pm, the story of Heminge and Condell and the journey of the First Folio towards publication. The event will feature lute songs and performances from Arthur Smith, Rick Jones and Jane Jones. Find Me a Publisher is free and open to the public.

On Friday 22 April and Friday 29 April at 11am there will be guided walks uncovering the history of Bankside and the links between the Bard and the Cathedral.
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The Rose Playhouse
Bankside’s original Tudor theatre – where Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part I and Titus Andronicus were first performed – will kick off celebrations with a midnight performance of Much Ado About Nothing on Friday 22 April. Wolf Sister Productions and director Alex Pearson stage a modern take on the much-loved Shakespearean comedy.

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Measure for Measure
, co-directed by Simon Rodda and Rebecca Rogers, will follow from 10 May to 26 May 2016. Tickets £12

Every Saturday from 10am – 5pm, explore the fascinating history of The Rose and its exciting future. At present, two-thirds of the original foundations have been excavated and protected for future generations to experience. The Rose Theatre Trust is now engaged in raising funds to excavate the remaining third and to make the site a permanent display as an educational and historical resource for the public to learn from and enjoy.

WALKS AND TOURS

Shakespeare’s Bankside – a walk with John Constable
Wednesday 27 April at 7pm-8.30pm and Sunday 8 May at 2pm-3.30pm.
Join local historian, writer and playwright John Constable to discover Shakespeare’s Bankside.
On this free walk, visit the sites of famous playhouses – set among bear-pits and brothels. Constable’s popular Bankside walks reveal the human face of The Bard in the place where he and his fellow actors lived, worked and partied.
Walks start at Shakespeare’s Globe and finish at The George Inn. Duration: 1.5 hours.

FOOD AND DRINK

Bread Ahead bakery in Borough Market will be serving Honey and Mead doughnuts as the order of the day, filling their famous decadent doughnuts with an Elizabethan twist. On Sunday 24 April they will run two half-day workshops – The Bread Ahead Ye Olde Introduction to English Baking – where participants will learn how to make Lardy Cake, a classic white tin and Manchet, an Elizabethan bread recipe.
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British restaurant Roast will offer a special menu from 18-24 April, with typical dishes of the era, along with special cocktails. On 23 April, the bar will be full of themed activity including small plays, a children’s choir, mandolin guitar player, and a prize giveaway for all diners to enter.

Gordon Ramsay’s Union Street Café will celebrate Shakespeare with a special menu of authentic dishes from Venice, Verona and Vicenza – the exotic corner of Northern Italy imagined in The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentleman of Verona, and Romeo and Juliet. Enjoy a feast of baccala, bigoli pasta and Venetian fried cream from 23 April to 22 May.
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The four-course dinner menu, including a Romeo & Juliet cocktail on arrival, is £40 per person, or £55 with matching wines.

Following an extensive refurbishment, and to coincide with Shakespeare’s anniversary, the Swan Restaurant at Shakespeare’s Globe has re-opened its doors with a vibrant new look and new menu. Diners can experience a Midsummer Night’s Dream-themed afternoon tea for the occasion from 23 April. The new Hilton London Bankside will offer an honorary cocktail menu in The Distillery bar.

Bankside’s nearest tubes are London Bridge/Southwark, while its closest train stations are London Bridge/Blackfriars.

Go here for more information on all Bankside’s activities.

The tagline for her one-woman show To She Or Not To She is “Get stuffed, Will!”, but Emma Bentley is a lifelong Shakespeare fan with a fresh – and funny – feminist message

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Writer and actor Emma Bentley plays a parodic version of herself in one-woman show To She Or Not To She, beginning at 14 years old when it is announced that the year nine spring term play is going to be Hamlet.

Emma knows she is perfect for the lead role: she grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, knows all about Shakespeare, and (not to boast or anything) she’s the best actor in the school. Her gender doesn’t occur to her as being a problem, until her drama teacher informs her post-audition that she “just couldn’t see Hamlet as a girl”.

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Bentley says: “I chose Shakespeare because before I went to drama school I thought I knew a lot about him, and then at LIPA [Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts] I realised how much more complex the plays are. So it was a process of finding out for me. I also am not that good at really serious, intense emotional scenes – I prefer comedy.”

Bentley brings her experience in mime and clowning to the excellent caricatures she presents – a particular highlight is Emma’s diva-ish classmate Jimmy Danish, a Cumberbatch wannabe with a swagger and a quiff, who tells her she should audition for Ophelia because “You’d look really cool drowned”.

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The show’s quirky style and close rapport with its audience are key to its appeal. Alongside the laughs, however, comedy proves a useful mechanism for making people think. Walking home from school in the rain, the young Emma mourns her Hamlet-that-might-have-been. Soaked to the skin, it is as if she becomes Ophelia – side-lined as mad for defying the status quo, and ultimately disposed of with very little fuss. The moment prompts us to wonder how many other young potential female Hamlets are turned into Ophelias as early as their first auditions.

To She Or Not To She is part of a recent upsurge in female actors playing male Shakespearean heroes, notably Harriet Walter’s Henry IV (at the Donmar Warehouse) and Maxine Peake’s Hamlet (at the Manchester Royal Exchange), alongside all-female companies like the Smooth-Faced Gentlemen. But for Bentley there is still a long way to go before female actors have access to the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

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“I did see Peake’s Hamlet in the cinema, and people’s reactions around me were, ‘I wasn’t even thinking about the fact she’s a woman!’” she says. “But female actors in leading Shakespearean roles are still really quite rare in this country and I don’t think they get the recognition they deserve. I feel like that’s quite a depressing answer [to your question]! I think things are changing, just not very quickly, which can be frustrating. I would love it if To She Or Not To She was part of a trend of productions that would get things moving faster.”

“Countries like France and Germany are great for taking Shakespeare and mixing things up. Maybe because there is not that sense of it being a traditional part of their culture in same way, so they’re happy to pull it apart and cut out whole scenes, or look at a character a different light. In the UK, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a conscious thing, the weight of tradition can hold people back.”

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Bentley is certainly comfortable pulling Shakespeare apart – as To She Or Not To She follows Emma through drama school and her attempts to forge an acting career, lines from the plays compare her situation with those of male Shakespearean characters, making a convincing case for how relevant they are to her (female) experiences.

Particularly effective towards the end of the play are Bentley’s original lines written in iambic pentameter. She says, “It’s a generalisation, but I think girls can often be more confident in Shakespeare [than with other plays]”.

And it is through Shakespeare’s rhythms and language that Emma can express her desperation for female voices in theatre. What she wants is not just to be allowed to play male roles, but to find female roles that are crazy, drunk, passionate or brave.

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Although it is intrinsically honest, in places the show verges on didactic where it could allow its audience a little more space and time to draw conclusions for themselves, but Bentley is the first to admit that the show is a work in progress.

“The production is constantly changing – the ending especially has changed a lot. At one point it ended with my character getting a job at the Globe, but I felt like I was just making things up as I’ve never actually been lucky enough to work there, so it wasn’t… honest.

“I’ve also cut the jig at the end [a Globe-style song and dance], even though I love doing it, because people fed back that they felt I just needed to leave time for the final scene to resonate, rather than dancing around as if everything’s OK.”

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It might be the influence of the show, but Bentley seems oddly similar to popular conceptions of Shakespeare – humble, self-parodying and often witty. While To She Or Not To She is a serious reflection on sexism in the acting profession, it is also very comfortable exposing (and laughing at) the pretentiousness that often creeps into an actor’s life, with lines like “Did I play Hamlet? Or did Hamlet play me? That is the question”.

Asked which Shakespearean parts she would most like to play, Bentley muses: “I think I’d have to say Hamlet – I know it’s a cliché, but I feel like this is the right moment for me to take on that role. You hear older actors saying they wish they’d done Hamlet, and I feel like if it doesn’t happen for me in the next three years, it probably never will.

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“I’d also like to play Feste – I’ve played him at drama school but would love to do it again. Directors of Twelfth Night tend to see Feste’s as the lines to cut – he’s just talking nonsense, right? – but having played him and realised what he’s saying, I find there’s so much there that really resonates with life today.”

To She Or Not To She is produced by Joue Le Genre and is touring to Broadway Theatre Catford and Arts Theatre Leicester Square in the UK this month.

Go here for more information and tickets.

Canada’s literary superstar Margaret Atwood reveals the title and cover art of her upcoming Shakespeare-inspired novel

Distinguished Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood has unveiled the evocative and Shakespearean title – Hag-Seed – of her new novel to her one million followers on Twitter.

Atwood’s Tweets also tease Hag-Seed’s striking cover art – which seems to depict the watchful eye of Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Hag-Seed is published in the UK by Hogarth on Thursday 6 October, 2016. The novel will publish simultaneously across the English-speaking world in print, digital and audio formats.

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Hag-Seed
is a retelling of Shakespeare’s late play The Tempest, and is the fourth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

In Atwood’s take on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest with suitably dramatic consequences.

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Image by Liam Sharp

“‘Hag-Seed’ is just one of many insults Prospero flings at Caliban in The Tempest,” says Hogarth’s Becky Hardie. “There’s a lot of Shakespearean swearing in this new Tempest adventure, too, but also a mischief, curiosity and vigour that’s entirely Atwood.”

The Hogarth Shakespeare series aims to continue Shakespeare’s own tradition of “retelling”, and to celebrate his legacy.

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The series launched with Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale) last October, followed by Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name (The Merchant of Venice) this month.

Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew) follows in June, and then Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed (The Tempest) arrives in October.

The first four novels will be followed by Tracy Chevalier’s Othello, Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet, Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth and Edward St Aubyn’s King Lear.

Go here for more on The Hogarth Shakespeare (UK).

Go here for more on The Hogarth Shakespeare (US).

Follow Margaret Atwood on Twitter @MargaretAtwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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As always, you can read Shakespeare Magazine completely free!

Go here to enjoy Shakespeare Magazine 09.

Shakespeare Magazine reader Cindy M Cohen tells us why she decided to adorn her skin with a bespoke Hamlet and Sons of Anarchy-themed tattoo

“To thine own self be true.” 

These are the words Polonius says to his departing son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

And sure, it’s very good advice, but as my old English Literature teacher pointed out back in my days as a “liceo linguistico” pupil in Italy, it reveals the man’s rather selfish attitude as well.

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This duality of the quote touched me deeply the first time I heard it. So when I decided I wanted a tattoo revolving around Shakespeare – the author who made me fall in love with the English language and whose plays I’ll never tire of seeing produced and re-envisioned – it was my first choice.

(Hamlet, if not my favourite play, is definitely in my top three)

However, given the vast popularity of the quote and its use (and misuse) in our everyday lives, I knew I didn’t want a simple basic lettering tattoo but something bigger, perhaps with a more traditional style.

Photo by Luca Braidotti

Photo by Luca Braidotti

 

One of my favourite TV shows has been Sons of Anarchy – from its very start to its Shakespeare-worthy ending.

If you’re not familiar with the show, it is Hamlet re-set in a motorcycle club.

One of the tattoos we see on the women of said club is a crow. So what better idea than to base my own tattoo on that one, to link the show to our own “upstart crow”?

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I brought the original design and my idea to Luca Braidotti at Cold Street Tattoos in Udine, Italy.

He took care of all the alterations, re-designing the crow and adding the parchment with the quote.

After about four hours, a little bit of blood, a tad of bearable pain, and a bright red and swollen inside part of my forearm, my long desired Shakespeare-themed tattoo was done.

My very own original permanent tribute to the Bard, a reminder to keep true to myself and what I believe in, and my little homage to one of my favourite TV shows.

Photo by Luca Braidotti

Photo by Luca Braidotti


Currently based in Udine, Italy, Cindy is a 23-year-old student of Arts, Music, and Entertainment.

Find her on Twitter @itsCindyC

Shakespeare Magazine 08 celebrates the theatrical event of 2015: Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet

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Our 10-page feature explores Benedict’s Shakespearean story and includes beautiful images and a full Barbican review.

Also this issue: our essential visitor’s guide to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon (with a nod to Stratford, Ontario).

Plus! Shakespeare in Scotland, Shakespeare Video Games, Richard III in California, and Painting Shakespeare with artist Rosalind Lyons.

As always, Shakespeare Magazine is completely free, so please read it and share it, and help us spread the word of the Bard!

Go here to read Shakespeare Magazine 08

WIN! This beautifully-illustrated 1922 edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from Dover Publications

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This edition sells at $25 from Dover Publications, but to celebrate the phenomenal success of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet we have ONE copy to give away

To be in with a chance of winning it, simply send an email to shakespearemag@outlook.com with HAMLET in the subject line – don’t forget to include your name and address.

The closing date for this comepetition is Friday 11 September 2015, and the winner will be informed after that date.

Best of luck!

ABOUT THE BOOK

John Austen’s hauntingly illustrated edition, published in 1922, remains unparalleled among all other treatments of Hamlet to this day. An adherent of the Aesthetic Movement in England that included Aubrey Beardsley and James A. M. Whistler, Austen shifted to a much more commercial style later in his career, and Hamlet is one of the few artifacts of the early pinnacle of his creativity. Black-line plates and ornamental illustrations throughout.

To view the book at Dover Publications, go here.

“Shakespeare is very hip-hop…” Bike-tour actor Ralf Jean-Pierre crowdfunds Bard-inspired album

In 2012, Brooklyn actor Ralf Jean-Pierre set out on an epic bicycle journey across the USA. Starting in Florida, he cycled to California, up to Washington and across the Midwest, before returning home.

On the way, he performed one-man Shakespeare scenes at Waffle Houses, skate parks, shelters – anywhere he could gather an audience as The ’Speare Bearer.

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“It was an insane way to perform,” Ralf says, “but I got to bring Shakespeare to the people, like my hero Joe Papp.”

A highlight on the journey was performing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Festival producer Claudia Aalick caught Ralf performing one afternoon and invited him to be a featured guest at the festival’s Green Show – which included clowns, jazz bands and flamenco dancers.

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“It was a thrill to go from entertaining random crowds in parking lots to hearing the applause of over 200 theater fans,” Ralf says.

Also a rapper and songwriter, Ralf is now documenting his tour through a musically eclectic album, What Should Be the Fear (the title comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet). He is currently fundraising on Kickstarter to cover recording costs.

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“I think Rappers are the true inheritors of the modern Shakespeare tradition,” Ralf says. “Shakespeare was the urban medium of its era. Rappers deal in verse and meter and rhythm. They use their voices in new and unexpected ways, even creating new words.

“Rappers tell stories, often even rapping in character. Shakespeare is tragic, funny, synchronously profane and sublime, which is very hip-hop.”

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To find out more about Ralf’s crowdfunder campaign, go here.

You can follow Ralf Jean-Pierre on Twitter @RJPEsquire and Instagram @PrecGorgRalf

It’s a dream date for lovers of Shakespeare’s words – David and Ben Crystal talking about The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary

The Crystals
Salisbury Arts Centre, 31 May 2015.

“Never has there been such a pretty book as this one,” declares David Crystal, with a proud and delighted smile at the cover of The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary on the projector screen behind him. He and his son Ben are at Salisbury Arts Centre as part of the Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival, to talk to a packed audience about Shakespeare’s world and words.

‘Talk’ is the wrong word for this event: the father and son team deliver something closer to a comedy double act, bringing their subject alive with jovial camaraderie and unshakeable delight in all things Shakespeare. Ben bounds onto the stage as if taking a curtain call, dressed in jeans with a fob watch on a chain hanging from one pocket. David combines a tweed jacket with the kindly, slightly eccentric manner of Professor Dumbledore, and enunciates words like “in-carn-a-dine” as if they were magic spells.

David Crystal has written or edited over 100 books on language and linguistics, four of which he co-wrote with actor and producer Ben. Published this year, The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary combines David’s passion for words with Ben’s knowledge of – and love of experimenting with – Shakespeare. The dictionary is aimed at students of Shakespeare of all nationalities and ages from 11 up, and covers the 12 most studied of Shakespeare’s plays, according to a poll of school teachers from around the world.

Ben Crystal by Piper Williams

Ben Crystal by Piper Williams

There are approximately one million different words in the complete works of Shakespeare (though none beginning with the letter ‘X’). But, David asserts, only around five per cent are significantly different to those we use today. The dictionary guides students through this five per cent, drawing particular attention to ‘false friends’ like ‘rehearse’ or ‘impress,’ which did not mean the same thing for Shakespeare as they do today.

Despite the book’s title, David considers it closer to an encyclopaedia than a dictionary. “Words by themselves aren’t the whole story,” he says. “More important than that is an introduction to Shakespeare’s world.”
Kate Bellamy’s bold illustrations certainly help provide this for the reader – the double page featuring 11 historically accurate illustrations of different kinds of sword is a particular highlight.

The authors hope their style will help students feel comfortable asking questions like ‘What is an arras actually like?’ or ‘Why is Hamlet surprised to find Polonius in Gertrude’s closet?’ The answer to the latter was news to me – a closet was a small antechamber off the main bedroom, containing very little besides, frequently, a large tapestry (aka arras). In Gertrude’s case, the tapestry might have covered a passage to her husband’s chamber, so Hamlet would expect to see no one but Claudius in this intimate space.

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Ben is passionate about “the idea we’re allowed to be rough with Shakespeare, to grab him by the… doublet and hose and, well, shake him about a bit.” Shaking things about is exactly what this talk does: the pair intersperse discussions of pedagogy and neologisms with a game of charades, David attempting to mime things like ‘soliloquy’ and ‘Father Chaucer,’ and Ben explaining them to the audience.

The Crystals’ engaging blend of comedy and academia has the audience laughing and enthusiastically asking questions. As their talk draws to a close Salisbury Arts Centre is buzzing with Shakespeare’s words.

Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary is in bookshops now. Or order it here.

Ben and David will be exploring Original Pronunciation (including an OP performance of Henry V) at Shakespeare’s Globe on 16 and 26 July

Go here to read a full interview with Ben Crystal in Shakespeare Magazine 06.

Ultra-vivid, ultra-violent and ultra-cool, Kill Shakespeare is a graphic novel series with added Bard Power. Co-creator Anthony Del Col takes Shakespeare Magazine behind the panels…

What would you say to a Shakespearean traditionalist who was sceptical about graphic novels?
“About seven years ago I myself was sceptical about comic books and graphic novels. I thought that they were all just superhero stories about men in tights and capes, that sort of thing. Then Conor (McCreery, Kill Shakespeare co-creator), who had been working part time at a comic book shop at that time, started putting some really interesting and provocative titles into my hands. Things like Y: The Last Man, Fables, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Blankets – all these things from different genres. It made me realise how interesting a storytelling medium it actually is.

“With comic books and graphic novels you’re not limited by budgets or anything like that, you’re only limited by your imagination. It’s actually a very thought-provoking medium. Yes, you have the visuals in front of you, but you don’t have all. There are interesting stories being told between the panels.”

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I know you were considering other mediums back when Kill Shakespeare was just an idea. Are you happy you settled on this one?
“Absolutely. Traditionally Shakespeare is viewed as very highbrow, which is unfortunate, and comic books are perceived as lowbrow. I thought it was poetic to make them meet half-way, to put the highbrow with the lowbrow. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, not to be read, and in a lot of classrooms across the world the experience is to have a teacher or someone in the class read it out for you. In the comic book medium we can bring everything to life, even more so than Shakespeare could himself in some cases. Hamlet meets pirates in the play – it happens offstage but you hear about it. In the very first edition of Kill Shakespeare you actually see this huge pirate battle. You can’t do that on stage. We write Kill Shakespeare, we have Sherlock Holmes vs Harry Houdini – I’ve fallen in love with the medium and I can envision myself writing comics for the next 30 years.”

Cover Volume 2 by Andy Belanger

Which of the characters is your favourite to write?
“When we first started, my favourite character was Iago because he’s so deliciously evil and always three or four steps ahead of everyone else. It almost got to a point where it felt like he was one or two steps ahead of Conor and myself. As time has gone on, and as the project has expanded into other mediums, Hamlet has become my favourite. I look for Hamlet in everything I watch or consume these days. The way we’ve scripted him in the television outline that we’re putting together right now makes him even more fun to write and I think that I… it’s not that I can fully grasp who Hamlet is, but I feel like I’ve gotten a better handle on who he is and the possibilities for his character.”

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What’s the plan for TV?
“The goal for a Kill Shakespeare television series would be to combine the dark fantasy world-building of Game of Thrones with the wit and knowledge of Shakespeare in Love. Game of Thrones is a huge success worldwide, and opened many people’s eyes to the power of fantasy. We think doing Kill Shakespeare as television can do the same thing for Shakespeare.”

Richard III by Andy Belanger

Outside of your own, do you have a favourite adaptation of Hamlet or any of the plays?
“Oh. that’s a good question. I’m gonna go a little off the beaten track, but I do like – it’s not a straight-up adaptation – I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare in Love. Just because it was a way to make Shakespeare accessible and exciting and relevant. I’ll do another cheat, because I am Canadian I have to give a plug for Slings and Arrows.”

I adore Slings and Arrows.
“For those that are reading this that have not watched it yet, I highly recommend it. In terms of straight adaptations, again because it made Shakespeare relevant for a whole new generation, I’ll say Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. I know it has its fans and its detractors. I love how Baz just throws everything and the kitchen sink into everything that he does. That’s the adaptation – out of film, TV, everything – that I’ve enjoyed and watched and rewatched the most.”

Cover Volume 4 by Andy Belanger

What do you think it is about Shakespeare’s characters that make them so universal?
“Shakespeare was the ultimate humanist. He understood humanity and individuals better than anyone ever has or ever will.

The moment that Shakespeare really came to life for me was the first play I ever read in school. It was The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, who is a character who doesn’t necessarily speak to me – but it’s close to my heart – gives the ‘hath not a Jew eyes’ speech which gives you all this sympathy for him. The next minute he wants his ‘pound of flesh.’ So he goes from being a villain to sympathetic to a villain yet again.

“I find that so fascinating, that within a minute you’re able to see all the different facets – good and bad – of a character.
That’s why I think his characters have stood the test of time and have been done and redone.”

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So your first experience of Shakespeare was a positive one?
“Yes and no. I had a horrible teacher who was completely out of her element. The entire class was unruly. We were in Canada and not excited about Shakespeare – it was a negative experience up front. But I had been told by media and people in general that Shakespeare was the crème de la crème of storytelling, and I thought there must be a reason why. So if I’m not going to learn from my teacher, then I’m going to go out and try to figure it out myself. That’s when I started self-guided learning and sought out and read more things about Merchant of Venice and Shylock.”

Lady Macbeth by Andy Belanger

You’ve just released the Kill Shakespeare table top game, you’re working on TV ideas, what’s next?
“In addition to television I’d like to do a videogame. There are some really fascinating stories being told through this medium. I think they’re called narrative games, where it’s not a first person shooter, it’s more about storytelling and personalities. I’d love to be able to immerse players into a world where you can play as one of Shakespeare’s characters and you get to interact with all the others. In an early brainstorming session, what became the Kill Shakespeare comic was a video game, so I’d love to come back to that and introduce a whole new generation to Shakespeare through that medium.”

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I would play that.
“I know! There would be so many Shakespeare fans, even those who don’t play video games, who’d be like ‘Wait, what? I get to play as Hamlet? That’s amazing!’ and they’d dive into it. I also want action figures. Kill Shakespeare action figures. Because what Shakespeare fan doesn’t want to have an action figure on their desk of Hamlet, or Othello, or Puck?”

Absolutely! So, sky’s the limit, really?
“Sky’s the limit, baby.”

This interview originally appeared in Shakespeare Magazine 06. Go here to read the original version.

Portraits: Piper Williams
Art: Andy Belanger