“Should Shakespeare be studied in secondary schools?” Sydney-based student Tazmin Harper wrote to Shakespeare Magazine with some questions about Shakespeare’s relevance in the modern day, both inside and outside the classroom – needless to say, Editor Pat Reid had a few comments to make on this subject…

TAZMIN HARPER: How did you become interested/involved with Shakespeare and his works?
PAT REID: “It’s a long story, but the short version is this: At the start of 2013 I decided to read Richard III, and I enjoyed it so much that I carried on until I’d read Shakespeare’s Complete Works, which I think took me about seven or eight months. I had the idea for Shakespeare Magazine almost immediately. I was a media professional experienced in making specialist magazines, so I knew it was something I could do. I thought about it for a year, but couldn’t raise any finance, and I was giving up hope that it would ever happen, when suddenly there was an opportunity. I took a leap of faith, and the first issue of Shakespeare Magazine was published on 23 April 2014.”

 
Did your secondary education shape your interest in Shakespeare? Positively or negatively? 
“I was at secondary school in Merseyside during the 1980s. We did quite a bit of Shakespeare, and I enjoyed it. The teachers were good. It wasn’t an amazingly innovative approach or anything, but I was into it, so I got a lot out of it. Looking around me, I was aware that some of my classmates weren’t getting it at all, and I knew how they felt because in most of my other subjects at school it was me who wasn’t getting it at all.
 
“I should also mention that I had a head start because my Dad had made me read and learn some Shakespeare when I was younger – Julius Caesar and Macbeth, a bit of The Merchant of Venice. I’d even written a short Shakespearean parody when I was about ten. And in my final term at secondary school I wrote and staged a Hamlet spoof called Omlet – it was basically Hamlet meets The Rocky Horror Show. So I was a Young Shakespearean. Then I went to university and it basically put me off English Literature for the next 25 years.”
 

Image by Amogha Sridhar
 
What is your demographic/readership for the Shakespeare Magazine?
“It’s a free online magazine, and we have found readers in well over 100 countries. The majority of the readers are female and they are often (but by no means exclusively) connected to education, the arts and/or the theatre world. Plenty of teachers, students and librarians. The age range is wide, ranging from students in their late teens to retirees in their sixties and older. Our youngest and oldest readers that I know of were 15 and 85.
 
“The two biggest readerships are the USA and the UK, followed by Germany, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Spain, France and Brazil. If you name a country, I can tell you how many readers we have there, and what I know about how Shakespeare is perceived there. We have readers in the most surprising places, but I’ve realised that any country with a capital city, a university, a theatre and a British Embassy will usually have at least a pocket of Shakespeare fans.”

Shakespeare Day in a London school
 
What themes and issues from Shakespeare’s works are most prominent in the modern day? 
“Politics. Love. Men and women. Treachery. Murder. Death and bereavement. War – especially civil war. Leadership, and the lack thereof. Magic and manipulation. Don’t trust witches, but fairies are brilliant. Sometimes goddesses are attracted to mortals. I’ll leave you to work out which of Shakespeare’s plays and poems these refer to.”
 
Do you feel that his plays are still relatable to a modern audience?
“I do, but so what? Just because something is relatable doesn’t mean it’s any good. You’d have to be an extremely sick individual to relate to Lady Macbeth, but she’s a compelling, unforgettable character. (Actually, I know that loads of people do relate to Lady Macbeth. That’s because this strange thing happens with Shakespeare where people often simply ignore the things in the text that don’t match their preconceptions. So therefore it’s possible to believe that Lady Macbeth is, for example, a feminist warrior, when she’s actually a mentally ill accessory to murder.)
 

Lady Macbeth
 
“The way Shakespeare’s plays unfold can seem weird at first. But that’s because most plays, films, TV and novels today use all the same tricks and formulae, and so we find it strange when those things don’t happen. Interestingly, I sometimes find that films from other cultures like India, South Korea and maybe Turkey seem closer to the Shakespearean style of storytelling than modern day English-language stuff. Oddly enough, some elements of the Mamma Mia! films seem quite heavily indebted to Shakespeare.”
 
Why do you believe Shakespeare is such an important figure in English education?
“Since the Enlightenment, I think that Shakespeare has increasingly occupied the space in the minds of the intelligentsia that would previously have been devoted to the Bible. So Shakespeare’s works have become a sort of secular Bible, and thus have attained great importance in our culture. Someone recently said that even in a post-Christian World, the dreams we dream are Christian dreams. I think there’s something in that, but I also think that now those dreams are co-authored by Shakespeare.”
 
Do you believe Shakespeare should be studied in English or Drama in secondary school? Or any other subjects?
“That’s an interesting question, as I hadn’t really thought about Shakespeare being taught in schools outside of English Language and Literature classes. But before I answer the question, let me address this word ‘should’, because whenever I’m told I ‘should’ do something, or read something, or think something or be something, I tend to resist it. And I particularly hate it when people on social media post statements like ‘This should be taught in every school’, as if the whole of humanity has to exactly conform to their own personal likes.
 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
 
“But having said that, I am a Shakespearean, I’m evangelical about Shakespeare, and I know that Shakespeare can be introduced and taught brilliantly in schools – even in primary schools.
 
“So English Language is an obvious subject to bring in Shakespeare. It helps to show where our language has come from and how it has evolved. Same goes for English Literature, obvs.
 
“I suspect most schoolkids don’t study Drama, but I do think it would be bizarre to have a Drama department that didn’t do Shakespeare. If it wasn’t for Shakespeare there wouldn’t BE any Drama department. Doing Shakespeare in Drama is also valuable from a practical point of view. Actors with Shakespeare training tend to be more confident and more versatile. If you look at the British (and some Australian) actors who have broken through internationally in recent years, they usually have done and continue to do major Shakespeare roles. Hollywood takes Shakespeare credentials very seriously, in part because native US actors don’t often have the same experience.
 
“And Shakespeare can also be useful and highly relevant in school History lessons. I’m friendly with the team on BBC History Magazine, and they have Shakespeare references in practically every article. The many excellent historians we see on British TV constantly refer to Shakespeare. I’ve said before that you can’t be a Shakespearean and not be at least part historian, but maybe it’s the other way round too – you can’t be a historian and not be at least part Shakespearean.
 

Katy Ransome at Shakespeare Lives in Botswana, 2016
 
“Shakespeare and his associates are obviously interesting historical figures in their own right, and it’s refreshing to study the popular culture of their era, as a contrast to the more big picture stuff on monarchs, wars, politics, plagues, the importance of pumpernickel in Westphalia, and so on. There was an amazing explosion of creativity in the Elizabethan era, and we’re still feeling it in our popular culture today. Shakespeare also provides a helpful entry point for certain subjects, or can be an alternative way to approach things – even if it’s just the obvious route of ‘This is how Shakespeare depicted Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Henry V, Richard III – how does it compare to what we now understand to be the historical facts?’”
 
Do you feel that Shakespeare and his works should be a required topic to study in secondary school? Why?
“Allowing again for my unease with the word ‘should’, I do believe that Shakespeare belongs in secondary schools, certainly in England, and probably everywhere else English is spoken as well. Look, it’s important to know about your culture, and if you speak English then you’re one of Shakespeare’s children, so a bit of respect, as they say, is due.
 
“Shakespeare is the most important writer – and arguably one of the most significant human beings – of the last 500 years, so any education system in the English-speaking world would be severely lacking if it didn’t reflect that.
 
“There are at least two countries I know of where they’ve tried to kick Shakespeare out of the classroom in recent years. One is Zimbabwe and the other is Canada. Now, clearly Zimbabwe needs to cultivate its own literature and writers, but to me it seems that Mugabe’s henchmen wanted to ban Shakespeare because they didn’t want a population capable of independent thought.
 
“In Canada, the idea is to replace Shakespeare with Canadian authors, so it’s a kind of nationalist but also virtue signalling move, and it’s nakedly political because they apparently want to erase the historic links between the UK and Canada. And also I believe cash gets funnelled to favoured authors, so this also has the whiff of cronyism.
 
 
“Incidentally, Canada’s greatest living writer, Margaret Atwood, is herself an avid Shakespearean, and interestingly I believe she was largely homeschooled. Elsewhere I saw one quote from a young woman saying ‘As a Chinese Canadian, I don’t want to learn about English writers’. Which is ironic, because in England there was a serious proposal in Birmingham, the second biggest city, to change the name of the airport to William Shakespeare International Airport, as it’s receiving such huge volumes of tourists from China who are coming to visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
 
“This leads me to another observation: outside of the English-speaking world, the interest in and love for Shakespeare is phenomenal. So even if native English speakers cease to value Shakespeare, his works will find a home in emerging superpowers like China, India and Brazil.”

Which works of his do you believe are the most important to be studied?
“I suppose there’s five or ten big plays that everybody’s heard of, but for the numerous reasons I’ve discussed above, all Shakespeare’s works have value – let’s not forget the Sonnets, and long poems like Venus and Adonis – and if teachers are able to give a flavour of it all, then so much the better.
 
“It would be nice if teachers were able to choose which ones to do based on how much a particular class would enjoy them and respond to them. It occurs to me that while I advocate Shakespeare for all, it would be a shame if everyone was taught the same texts in the same way, and expected to arrive at the same conclusions.
 
 
“It’s often said that performing Shakespeare is the best way to get to grips with the texts. This certainly works for me, but some children are mortified at the thought of reading something out loud to their peers. I can also understand that tackling entire plays can be tough, as youngsters tend to lose interest before the end. Perhaps an alternative approach could be a kind of ‘tasting menu’ of Shakespeare, where classes would sample extracts from several plays, as well as dipping into the long poems and the Sonnets.
 
“In 2014 FutureLearn did an excellent Shakespeare MOOC (online course) which was presented by Jonathan Bate. Something like that could easily be adapted for secondary schools. In which case every kid in Britain would end up knowing Shakespeare better than I did before I started Shakespeare Magazine. That would be fantastic.”
 

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.

“Why I always watch Shakespeare with the subtitles on – And I invite you to do the same.” Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid is convinced that subtitles are good for the brain, and can greatly enhance our enjoyment and appreciation of Shakespeare.

Image-21.png
When my son was a baby, I mentioned to my brother that I was always anxious while watching television at night. If I was enjoying a programme downstairs and I turned up the volume, there was a danger I might not hear the baby crying in his upstairs bedroom. My brother, who already had two children, told me he’d acquired the habit of watching TV with the volume turned down low and the subtitles on. So I started doing this too, and I soon discovered that what I was missing in sound, I was more than making up for in the amount of information I was taking in.

During his toddler years, my son started watching CBeebies, the BBC children’s channel. We were a little concerned at first, because his interest was so intense. But it gave us, his parents, a break, and the programmes were suitably nourishing, so we decided it was all right.

Then we noticed a surprising side effect. Like all parents, we monitored our child’s developmental milestones. He seemed to be a little behind with some of them. But there was one area where he seemingly raced ahead, and that was learning to read.

One day we were watching CBeebies together, and I realised that as we had permanently left the subtitles on, every TV programme our son watched was effectively a reading lesson. A character or presenter would say a simple phrase, the subtitles would correspond with it, and our son was making the connection. He was learning a crucial skill – and, like some Holy Grail of education, it was both effortless and fun.

When he started school at four, our boy was one of the younger children in his class, but one of the most advanced readers. I’m sure that other factors played a part, but CBeebies and subtitles definitely helped.

file3
But what, you may ask, does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well, I was busy planning and launching Shakespeare Magazine during this time, and I was watching a lot of Shakespeare DVDs. Again, I had the volume down low and the subtitles on. And I began to notice that I was understanding the plays better, and enjoying them more.

How so? Well, often when we watch TV programmes or films, we don’t actually hear everything that’s being said. Sometimes actors can mumble or have their voices drowned out by other sounds. Hollywood films have been like this for decades, but in more recent years a spate of British television dramas have drawn complaints from viewers who can’t properly hear the dialogue. Some viewers in the US have resorted to the subtitles because they can’t understand the new Doctor Who’s accent.

It’s not the end of the world, of course. Usually, our brain goes to work trying to fill in the gaps, and we come away with a good sense of what’s going on. But films and TV shows often leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction and incompletion. I do wonder if that’s a subconscious feeling of being shortchanged when we can’t hear the words.

With Shakespeare productions, I noticed some big differences when I used subtitles. When I saw the 2015 Macbeth film at the cinema, I was initially disappointed. The soundtrack music seemed to be mixed very high, while the male actors all affected the same guttural, clenched-buttock delivery. This was a play I knew very well, and yet I could hardly understand a word that was being said.

file2-1
When Macbeth was released for home viewing, I watched it again – this time on my iPad, with the subtitles on. I enjoyed it a lot more, and the mumblecore approach didn’t bug me to the same extent.

A complete contrast was the 2012 BBC production The Hollow Crown, which struck me as being particularly beautiful in terms of sound. I watched this on a rattly portable DVD player (late at night, while working on a laborious email campaign), and even with the volume on the very lowest level, I could still hear pretty much everything. The subtitles did the rest. I was especially struck by the scenes with Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston as Henry IV and Prince Hal – they sounded like a couple of lions purring at one other.

Ralph Fiennes’ 2011 Coriolanus, which I also watched on the portable DVD player, was different again. It’s a first-rate example of a modern-day Shakespeare film, but the sound levels seemed to be all over the place. I suppose this captured the chaos and confusion of war, but it was also likely to wake up my sleeping family, so I turned it right down and largely relied on the subtitles. 

It was a similar story with the 2016 BBC production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I watched this one on our (relatively) big-screen TV, and the problem was I had to keep turning it up because I couldn’t hear the dialogue, but then the soundtrack music would come crashing in (several notches higher than the dialogue) and I had to turn it down again, which meant I couldn’t hear the dialogue, which… You get the picture. At times like this the subtitles are a godsend.

file
As it was CBeebies that started all this for me, I’m delighted to say that their two Shakespeare productions, 2016’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and 2018’s The Tempest, have very good sound. But these are lively, exuberant productions with a lot going on, so the subtitles can certainly help to keep track of it all.

So we’ve established that I firmly believe Shakespearean subtitles are good for us. But how does this actually work? My guess is that because we’re seeing it, hearing it AND reading it, this means that more of it goes in – and more of it stays there.

I have to admit that some of my readers have reacted angrily – even viscerally – to my periodic urging to switch on the subtitles. I’m not quite sure why this idea is so offensive to some. I think some people were taught in school that Shakespeare’s plays were “supposed to be heard”, and therefore experiencing them any other way is wrong. It’s an interesting position to take, but I can’t find it within myself to agree.

In my opinion, reading Shakespeare’s works is brilliant, because it gets us nearer to the experience of being Shakespeare’s original actors. In fact, it gets us closer to the experience of actually being Shakespeare.

file4
I know from my years as a cinema journalist that a lot of people do have an instinctive dislike of subtitles. With the exception of Amélie (way, way back in 2001) very few subtitled films have succeeded at the UK box office. But using subtitles is something that anyone can easily train themselves to do. After all, if you can read a tweet or a text message, or a picture caption, a subtitle doesn’t exactly present a challenge.

Now, before you ask, no, I don’t know if there are any studies or books on this subject, and frankly I don’t care. I KNOW that it works for me. It’s helped my son learn to read, and it’s given me a better understanding of Shakespeare’s texts. And the chances are it’ll work for you as well. So what are you waiting for? Whack on the subtitles, and get stuck into some Shakespeare.

Actress and producer Joanna Pickering has been telling us about an exciting new TV project, Actors On, which “explores dramatic literature, including Shakespeare, by experiencing the actor’s creative process”

Version 3

Pickering as Lady Macbeth

A British actress and producer based in the USA, Joanna Pickering has most recently performed the role of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth in a dramatic series, Actors On. This ambitious new TV series aims to help others explore dramatic literature by experiencing the actor’s creative process.

The show was created by stateside Shakespearean actor and teacher Jeff Monahan. “The main aim of Actors On is for younger actors to access the world of Shakespeare, and without expensive fees,” he says. “It is more about the journey for the actor working on their roles, how to break into difficult texts and find character, than showing a finished product.”

“It’s been a great experience,” Joanna tells Shakespeare Magazine. “We are still shooting as it is being performed for camera, on stage and then interviews as the actor prepares. We performed a lot of it on stage, which was fantastic”

Image.png
Joanna Pickering and Jeff Monahan on stage as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth

The pilot for Actors On has been made with support from Shakespeare in The Park, PSTV studios and The Porter Theater in Pittsburgh. It will air on cable for public educational purposes at the end of year in USA, and the producers are now taking the series to bigger networks such as Netflix.
“I actually saw your [Shakespeare Magazine] tweet about why they did not have Shakespeare on Netflix,” Joanna says. “And that’s what we are trying to change, to get it into the mainstream, to make it cool.”

Monahan describes Actors On Macbeth as being similar to the style pioneered by Al Pacino in his 1996 documentary/performance hybrid Looking For Richard. Referring to Pickering’s performance as Lady Macbeth, he says: “Joanna brings a sensual ferocity to her role as Lady Macbeth. We’re approaching the couple not as a ‘butcher’ and his ‘fiend-like queen’, as Malcolm refers to them, but as a man and wife dedicated to each other and intimate confidants. I knew Joanna was right for the role, having seen her perform and from how passionate she was about delving into the part.”

Pickering regards it as one of the most challenging roles in dramatic history. “I spoke in preparation with directors Catherine and Paul Calderon,” she says, “who pointed me in the direction of researching Lady Macbeth afresh from the eyes of a warrior who would fight for her country. I researched feminist papers and I tried to play her strength, ambition and need for power over the femme fatale villain – more as a Celtic warrior fighting for her people, where murdering kings was not so unusual. I made no judgement on her actions but attributed them with bravery, and, of course, ruthlessness.”

IMG_4461
Speaking on the overall experience, Pickering is excited, “It was a challenge and delight to work on Lady Macbeth – given the actors whose footsteps I was following. And although it was small budget, the performance edits will be on screen for time to come. I am ready for The Globe! I was very grateful to my experienced and talented co-stars.”

Check the Actors On cast and series information on imdb.

For more information about Joanna Pickering and her work, or to contact her, visit her website.

Set photography by Tanya Dovidovskaya

“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.

amogha pic
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.

IMG_20170625_163356729
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’.

IMG_20170509_160413719
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.

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!”

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

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

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

Jessica Marie Garcia

Jessica Marie Garcia

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

Karen Pittman

Karen Pittman

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

Charissa J. Adams

Charissa J. Adams

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

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

Sujana Chand

Sujana Chand

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

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

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.

A new psychological survey by dating site eHarmony has identified Shakespeare’s most compatible couple – and you’ll never guess who it is!

All due apologies to Juliet, but a new psychological study suggests that her star-crossed lover Romeo would have lived happily ever after with Fairy Queen Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is one of the most compelling romances of all time. But detailed psychological profiling shows that finding love with Titania – rather than Juliet – could have prevented Romeo from meeting his untimely end.

Romeo

Romeo

Titania

Titania

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Baz Luhrmann’s beloved film Romeo + Juliet, relationship site eHarmony.co.uk teamed up with Shakespeare expert David Lawrence, Associate Director of the Pop-Up Globe, to determine the romantic compatibility of 20 of the Bard’s legendary leads.

Which Shakespeare character would YOU be most compatible with? Take this Quiz to find out!

Each Shakespearean character was scored according to eHarmony’s 29 Dimensions of Compatibility – such as emotional temperament, social style, values and beliefs – to assess their mutual suitability.

The eHarmony research found that while Romeo (who scored third in the compatibility league, overall) might have been burning with desire for charismatic Juliet, he was actually better suited to Titania, whose more mature character (combined with her agreeable nature and their shared need for affection) might have helped challenge his self-destructive tendencies.

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, 1996

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, 1996

Juliet’s top-rated partner was Ferdinand, the noble – and far less neurotic – prince from The Tempest. Ferdinand’s earnest, good heart works as a better foil for Juliet’s more complex, determined nature, rather than Romeo’s stubborn temperament

The most compatible couple in the study overall were Titania and Macbeth, as despite his dangerous character defects, they would have understood one another’s anxieties and need for both empathy and space.

most-compatible

Meanwhile, the second best combination were Lady Macbeth and Bassanio (The Merchant of Venice), with eHarmony’s psychological analysis showing their shared interest in manipulating others would complement their wishes for a balance between future planning and spontaneity in a relationship.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

Another of Shakespeare’s own couples fared better though, as the Macbeths surprisingly ranked among the top five. While at first glance they may seem another doomed couple, they would undoubtedly understand each other’s needs and desires well, if only they hadn’t led each other down a murderous path.

At the other end of the scale, out of all the possible matches in the Shakespearean couple canon, Hamlet and Desdemona would be the least-compatible couple. eHarmony’s compatibility algorithms found that their Hamlet’s cold and aggressive nature would be too much for kind-hearted Desdemona. In fact, Hamlet appears three times among the five least compatible couples for this reason.

least-compatible

Director and Shakespeare scholar David Lawrence commented on the findings: “What is so interesting about some of these results is the way they illuminate how good Shakespeare is at polarities within relationships. I think Titania and Romeo would be very well-suited in that she relishes uncomplicated adoration, and he would probably find his in-love-with-the-idea-of-being-in-love tendencies better spent a partner who is content to be adored. Equally, Juliet would benefit from being with someone who is mature enough to accept that she has complicated thoughts and ideas and passions of her own.”

Desdemona and Othello

Desdemona and Othello

Rachael Lloyd, eHarmony.co.uk expert, said: “While Shakespeare’s lovers such as Romeo and Juliet are typically alluring, and fascinating to observe, it doesn’t mean they are well suited. eHarmony’s psychological and scientific research indicates that while physical attraction is very important, it’s that crucial blend of attraction and compatibility that determines whether a relationship is happy and endures long term.”

Romeo and Juliet, 1996

Romeo and Juliet, 1996

NOW TRY THE QUIZ! Whether you’re a hopeless romantic like Romeo or more of a calculating Lady Macbeth type, you can find out which Shakespearean character you’d be best matched with. Try the Quiz HERE.

Shakespeare Magazine 10 features Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Okonedo in the BBC’s epic The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses

IMG_4339
Hot on the heels of his sensational 2015 Hamlet, Shakespeare superstar Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Richard III on the cover of Shakespeare Magazine 10. 

And our second cover features Sophie Okonedo, who stars with Benedict in the epic BBC Shakespeare series The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses. 

IMG_4327
Inside the magazine, we interview Hollow Crown director Dominic Cooke, and share our gallery of iconic Hollow Crown images.

Also this issue, we explore Shakespeare’s First Folio with the expert guidance of Emma Smith. 

And we learn all about Shakespeare’s Globe from Head of Education Farah Karim-Cooper.

We take a walk on the dark side with the witches of Macbeth, and talk to one of the witches from last year’s Macbeth film.

Meanwhile, stars like Ben Kingsley, James Earl Jones, Earle Hayman, Jim Beaver and Liev Schreiber reveal How Shakespeare Changed My Life. 

If you’re bored of traditional theatre, let us tell you about the quirky delights of Table Top Shakespeare. 

And our look at the best Indian Shakespeare films shows the Bard is much-loved in Bollywood. 

Finally, our biggest-ever issue has an affectionate and ever-so-slightly audacious mash-up of Shakespeare with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

May the Bard Be With You!