In the shocking light of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse revelations, it’s now very difficult to watch Shakespeare in Love. But there’s more: “This is a scandal that reaches many corners of our Shakespearean world, writes Brooke Thomas.

IMG_1861
What’s your favourite Shakespeare inspired film? For many of us, the 1998 classic Shakespeare in Love is the one we return to again and again. It’s a feel-good movie that we can share with anyone, not just our fellow bardophiles. It’s a warm, charming film that introduced a lot of people to Shakespeare and showed a fun side of Bill to some of those who’d been put off by dry school sermons. It’s got a great script, an amazing cast, and it won loads of Oscars.

It was also produced by serial sex abuser Harvey Weinstein.

The film’s female lead, Gwyneth Paltrow, has made a detailed and harrowing accusation against Weinstein. Her co-stars Judi Dench and Colin Firth have made statements condemning the producer. So has the film’s director, John Madden. Another co-star, Ben Affleck, is now enmeshed in a scandal of his own.

Harvey Weinstein, along with his brother Bob, was founder of the Miramax Company, and later the Weinstein Company. As well as giving us numerous classics of modern cinema, they were linked, via production, co-production or distribution, to several other Shakespeare films, including Prospero’s Books (1991), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1996), a version of Hamlet (2000) with Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh’s Love’ Labour’s Lost (2000), “O” (2001), a modern-day reworking of Othello, and, later, Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (2010), Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2012) and Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015).
Another actress, Romola Garai, well known for her Shakespearean stage roles (including Cordelia to Ian McKellen’s King Lear), has come forward to share her own account of abuse by Weinstein.

The victim accounts paint Weinstein as a vulgar, cowardly man. Luring his victims into solo encounters, turning up to meetings in various states of undress, screaming at Paltrow after she’d dared tell her then boyfriend about his come-ons. Gross and leering in his dressing gown, the very embodiment of that well-known character – the casting couch pervert, the professor who would boost your grade, the boyfriend who paid for all those expensive dates. Nothing comes for free in this town, Sweetheart.

This is a scandal that reaches many corners of our Shakespearean world. How are we to feel? How are we to respond now we know these women who we admire so much, who gave performances we adore, were targeted behind the scenes by this predatory man?

Although it’s 401 years after his death, Shakespeare is still tainted by this, in a sense. We in the audience applauded Harvey Weinstein for giving us these films. We didn’t know the truth – that, to him, Shakespeare was just another thing to be abused and exploited. But Shakespeare tells us something very clear about such men of power – their reigns always end. They always fall.

When I started writing this piece I typed this inane opening line: “The entertainment industry has been shocked in recent weeks by the revelations about Harvey Weinstein.” It’s incorrect as well as dull. We’ve been furious, sickened, brimming over with outrage and solidarity for the victims, but shocked? How can we be?

As Meryl Streep commented in her statement about the allegations “The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar.”

I’m not saying we knew about these specific offences with this specific man – although some did allegedly enable Weinstein and they’ll have their own questions to answer in time. I’m saying that we’ve heard this story before. We know how this works.
One in five women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 (Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2013). This isn’t a rare and startling occurrence. This is something that we’re used to negotiating, in the workplace and beyond.

We live in a world where the 45th president of the United States was elected to office after we heard him confess to sexual assault on tape. Where an anonymous Hollywood agent’s quoted response to the evolving allegations against Weinstein was both dismissive and Shakespeare-defiling: “To me, it’s much ado about nothing… Welcome to Hollywood!”
Sexual assault is commonplace. An open secret. Usually dutifully derided in public and yet quietly accepted in some private spheres.

Some of the statements from Weinstein’s victims and others supporting them cite fear about their future career as a reason not to step forward before. They were intimidated, vulnerable, scared. They stopped working with Weinstein. Quietly advised others not to. The ones who were brave enough to kick up a stink were silenced. Paid off. Allegedly booted from future roles.

Women are still asked why they don’t always speak up about men like Weinstein. The simple answer is that usually we watch them – that professor, that producer, that executive, that rich or powerful lover, relative, or friend – walk away unscathed from our accusations. Have you ever had that nightmare where you’re trying to run but your limbs collapse under you like they’re made of paper? That’s how speaking up against these men feels. In the entertainment industry. In any industry. In this society.

If you do speak up, chances are you’ll get swept away in a wave of “But he’s such a nice guy!”, “That’s just how he is” and, of course, “Don’t make such a fuss.” That’s before you get to the inevitable victim-blaming questions. “Why did you meet in a private room?”, “Did you really tell him to stop?”, “But she carried on working for him afterwards?”

The reason I’m rehashing all this hideously familiar territory is that I cannot understate how brave Weinstein’s victims are for speaking out, how admirable and important their actions are. Did you know that only an estimated 15% of victims of sexual violence report it to the police? Speaking up about this is still subversive. Lavinia’s removed tongue and hands in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus are a grim, but apt, parallel for modern-day women. We are not supposed to tell. “I was expected to keep the secret,” Paltrow said.

Several excellent articles and threads have been circulating on social media about this situation. One by Helen Rosner includes the line: “The burden of defending a workplace from sexual predation cannot be carried alone by women and our whisper network.” The term “whisper network” resonated with me. We tell who we can. We try to protect each other from falling victim to these abusers. Because that’s all we’ve been able to do for so long. I think most women will recognise this culture – the necessary silence cut with urgent whispers. “Don’t be alone with him.” “Don’t pick up anything he drops.” You know this story. At least one in five of us didn’t hear the whispers. We know this story.

Through all the righteous anger, weariness and, frankly, bitterness that this is how things are, one emotion emerges strongest for me: hope.

If this powerful man can be publicly denounced for his abusive behaviour, why not the others? Finally, frustratingly slowly, things are changing. People are starting to believe women when they speak out. We’re lending courage to silent victims every time we applaud the people who have come forward. And supporting victims is finally being normalised by influential people across all industries. Justice is starting to catch up with the Weinsteins, the Saviles, the predatory monsters of this world.

I hope they’re watching. The others. The abusers hiding behind their power, their money, our fading fear. I hope they see Harvey Weinstein fall and know a sea change is coming. The whisper networks are watching too, and we’ll no longer hold our tongues.

Hark! Now I hear them.

Official website for Rape Crisis England & Wales

Shakespeare’s Sisters! With cover stars Harriet Walter, Judi Dench, Sophie Okonedo and Margaret Atwood, Shakespeare Magazine 12 is our biggest and best issue ever!

Happy New(ish) Year, Bard fans – Shakespeare Magazine 12 is here!

IMG_7495

Shakespeare’s Sisters is the theme of Shakespeare Magazine 12.

Meet our fabulous and forthright cover stars:

Harriet Walter

IMG_7497

Judi Dench

IMG_7512

Sophie Okonedo

IMG_7534

and Margaret Atwood

IMG_7532

All of whom speak with great authority, insight and wit about their adventures with the Bard.

Also this issue, we have:

Jade Anouka’s Donmar Shakespeare in pictures,

IMG_7518

while Hugh Bonneville

IMG_7520

and Benedict Cumberbatch chat about The Hollow Crown.

IMG_7522

We have brilliant guest essays on Shakespeare’s Storms

IMG_7533

and How to think like Shakespeare,

IMG_7517

along with John Foxx’s Arden Shakespeare cover art,

IMG_7511

the madcap comedy world of the Reduced Shakespeare Company,

IMG_7513

and Benedict Cumberbatch stars in a Doctor Strange/Shakespeare mash-up!

IMG_7500

 

Hail to the Bard! The shiny new-look Shakespeare Magazine 11 is adorned with a simply stunning cover image of rising young stars Lily James and Richard Madden in Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet

It’s here! Please, read, enjoy and share far & wide the completely free delight that is Shakespeare Magazine 11!

Issue 11 Cover

The shiny new-look Shakespeare Magazine 11 is adorned with a simply stunning cover image of rising young stars Lily James and Richard Madden in Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet.

Head straight to page 6 to discover what our reviewer thought of the production. (Clue: she loved it)

Also in Issue 11, SK Moore tells us about his compelling new graphic novel of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, while broadcaster Samira Ahmed turns her magnificently mercurial mind to the subject of Shakespeare.

We have words with Pub Landlord comedian Al Murray about his recent brush with the Bard (and Judi Dench) at RSC Shakespeare Live.

And our Editor gorges himself on a 3-DVD box set of 1960s television Shakespeare classic The Wars of the Roses.

Check out our chat with the great Don Warrington, star of Talawa Theatre’s earth-shaking King Lear at Manchester’s Royal Exchange – youthful co-star Alfred Enoch joins in too.

Following up last issue’s cheeky Shakespeare/Star Wars feature we’ve dared to imagine what Tom Hiddleston’s Hamlet would look like. (Looks pretty darn cool, actually)

We also take the opportunity to explore the life of Elizabeth Siddal, the model for Millais’ classic Victorian painting of Shakespeare’s Ophelia.

And last but very much not least, Bristol’s Insane Root Theatre take us very deep into a cave in order to scare the living daylights out of us with their Macbeth!

And remember, you can read all 11 issues of Shakespeare Magazine completely free here.

Book your seat for the UK and US cinema screenings of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, starring stage legends Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench

[Images by Johan Persson. Dench Portrait: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company]

Captured live from London’s famed Garrick Theatre, this prestigious production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is being broadcast to cinemas across the globe.

THE WINTER’S TALE
For many of us, it will be the only chance we get to see two living Shakespeare legends – Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh (who also directs).

Stanley Wells, Shakespeare expert and author of Great Shakespeare Actors, recently tweeted: “For an object lesson in speaking Shakespeare’s verse, hear Judi Dench as Time in The Winter’s Tale”.

BTL_WintersTale_PortraitImage
For UK screenings of The Winter’s Tale, on Thursday 26 November, go here to find a cinema near you and book tickets.

For screenings in the USA on Monday 30 November, go here to find a cinema near you and book tickets.

KBwinters2015prodJP_08001
Apart from Kenneth Branagh as Leontes and Judi Dench as Paulina and Time, The Winter’s Tale also stars Tom Bateman as Florizel, Jessie Buckley as Perdita, Hadley Fraser as Polixenes and Miranda Raison as Hermione.

THE WINTER’S TALE
And the talented supporting cast includes stage veterans John Shrapnel and Michael Pennington. John Dagleish and Zoe Rainey also feature.

Go here for more on Branagh Theatre Company and The Winter’s Tale.