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.

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

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

Henry V

Henry V

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

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

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

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

Hamlet

Hamlet

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

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Love’s Labour’s Lost

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

As You Like It

As You Like It

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

Othello

Othello

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

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

In The Bleak Midwinter

In The Bleak Midwinter

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

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

My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn

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

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

Director Branagh with the stars of Thor

Director Branagh with the stars of Thor

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

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

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

Cinderella

Cinderella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more at the Indian Shakespeares on Screen website.

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.

Hag-Seed UK Front
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.

Margaret Atwood c. Liam Sharp
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.

Hag-Seed UK front + back
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

“Shakespeare Smoked Dope?” Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid investigates the clickbait headlines and reveals the dodgy research and unbelievably shoddy journalism behind the sensational claims

Gamut Theatre's 2015 Hamlet uses drugs to make its point. But Shakespeare himself probably didn't.

Gamut Theatre’s 2015 Hamlet uses drugs to make its point. But Shakespeare himself probably didn’t.

 

You’ve probably already seen the spurious “Shakespeare Smoked Dope!” headlines that are flashing around the internet – if not, I won’t dignify them by reposting a link.

What you may not know is that the story – which seems to have been revived by The Independent – is actually 15 years old.

It’s based on claims by a South African academic, who says he’s found residue of cannabis in 17th century pipes unearthed in Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford-upon-Avon.

He also claims to have detected cocaine residue in similarly-dated pipes found elsewhere in Stratford.

The academic in question, Francis Thackeray, believes that a line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76 about “invention in a noted weed” is a reference to cannabis.

Thackeray, a palaeoanthropologist, admits there’s no evidence that any of the pipes belonged to Shakespeare.

But this hasn’t stopped the world’s media gleefully publishing lurid, attention-grabbing “Shakespeare was a Stoner!” headlines.

What’s distressing is that none of the major media brands – including iconic names like The Telegraph and Time – have subjected these claims to even the most cursory analysis.

Instead, legions of so-called journalists have merely cut-and-pasted the original Independent story before adding their own byline and picture.

Whatever your opinion on Shakespeare or drugs, this is clickbait churnalism at its most egregious.

To counterbalance this tsunami of Shakespearean misinformation, I’ve done a little reading, thinking and questioning – three things which are supposedly part of the job for any professional journalist.

First of all, cannabis. Hemp was harvested on an industrial scale by the Tudors (for multiple uses including rope-making, fabrics and remedies). But the variety in use was apparently lacking in psychoactive properties, and it has never been thought that Shakespeare’s contemporaries were smoking it.

Tobacco from the New World was certainly being smoked during the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. However, there are no references to tobacco in Shakespeare’s works.

As for cocaine, this wasn’t even synthesized until the 19th century. And, to my knowledge, reports of people smoking cocaine only date back to as recently as the 1970s.

The concept of “smoking weed” didn’t catch on in England until centuries later, so Thackeray’s interpretation of the line in Sonnet 76 is fanciful at best.

Incidentally, there are numerous uses of the word “weed” in Shakespeare. All refer to either clothing (in the sense of “widow’s weeds”) or lowly species of plant-life.

In the latter sense, the references are overwhelmingly negative, although there is an example of ‘weed’ as a term of endearment in Othello.

There are certainly no clear examples of ‘weed’ used to mean cannabis. Thackeray’s clutching at the elliptical line in Sonnet 76 seems like a desperate manifestation of confirmation bias.

There are plenty of references to drugs in Shakespeare. They take the form of remedies, potions and, in Romeo and Juliet, deadly poisons. What you won’t find is any mention of smoking cannabis or cocaine.

And finally, there are several references to pipes in Shakespeare’s works – usually in the sense of musical instruments, but sometimes in the sense of veins as pipes containing blood.

And, you guessed it, there are absolutely no references in Shakespeare to pipes being used for smoking.

I should state at this point that I personally don’t have any problem with the idea of William Shakespeare experimenting with mind-altering substances. After all, many of my favourite musicians did. But the likes of Hendrix and Bowie were frying their minds 400 years later. There’s simply no evidence that Shakespeare did so in the 16th and 17th century.

Certainly, Shakespeare’s language can be ultra-vivid, dizzyingly complex and brain-stretchingly surreal. He had huge appeal for the generation of Romantic poets that came later – some of whom did partake of substances that we would recognize as mind-altering drugs.

But perhaps we should accept that Shakespeare’s legendarily imaginative deployment of language was ultimately just down to him being a great writer.

I use Open Source Shakespeare to check quotes and references in Shakespeare’s works. And you should too.

Shakespeare Magazine is a completely free online publication all about Shakespeare. Go here to read all our issues so far.

Actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh receives prestigious Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award in Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare superstar Kenneth Branagh.

Shakespeare superstar Kenneth Branagh.

Sir Kenneth Branagh has received the 2015 Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award.

The distinguished Shakespearean actor/director and award-winning international film star was chosen to receive the award by representatives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Institute chose.
The award was presented on Saturday 25 April at the Shakespeare Birthday Luncheon held at the Theatre Gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Sponsored by Stratford-based jewellers George Pragnell Limited, the award is given annually “for outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare or in the general advancement of Shakespearean knowledge and understanding”.
Last year’s award was presented to Sir Nicholas Hytner. Other acclaimed recipients include Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Peter Hall, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Harriet Walter.

Belfast-born Branagh joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984, where he received acclaim for his performances in Hamlet and Henry V. His most recent Shakespeare production, Macbeth (Manchester International Festival and the Armory, New York), marked his 25th Shakespeare production.

Five-times Oscar nominated Branagh has directed and starred in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s plays, including Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Hamlet, Love Labour’s Lost and As You Like It.

He has recently announced the launch of his own Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company which will stage Shakespeare plays The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet.

Sir Ken said: “I am honoured to be this year’s recipient of the distinguished Pragnell Shakespeare award. To be in the company of such illustrious predecessors is both touching and meaningful. I look forward very much to returning to Stratford, a town I love, and of course, to a delightful lunch to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday!”

Shakespeare Magazine's Emma Wheatley with Sir Kenneth Branagh in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare Magazine’s Emma Wheatley with Sir Kenneth Branagh in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Professor Stanley Wells, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Honorary President said: “Kenneth Branagh is more than worthy of this prestigious award, both as a great actor and director of Shakespeare on stage and as an innovative, prolific and highly successful director and actor in films of Shakespeare that have brought his plays to global audiences who would never otherwise have been able to enjoy them.”

The President and Master of Ceremonies for the afternoon was distinguished historian Michael Wood, while the toast to the Immortal Memory of William Shakespeare was delivered by writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth.

Actor Ben Walden is a man on a mission to educate and inspire. And his weapon of choice is Shakespeare. All of which makes him the perfect candidate for a rare interview by award-winning teacher, author and contrarian Phil Beadle.

IMA_8441
“He has kill’d me, mother.”

I have witnessed this epitome of weakness delivered so thoughtlessly as to render the desolation of Macduff as kindergarten mawkish. The forlorn bleat of an innocent without a name as he’s descended into the writhing masterpiece of eternity comes usually in Disneyfied pastels. Not so the last time I was in the same dark room as this line. I sat, horrified, on an uncomfortable bench with two of my three sons flanking me, both of them rigid with fear as The Porter brutally slammed down a trapdoor, through which, milliseconds ago hard light shone, disappearing it, and along with it the anguished cry of the death of promise.

The second time I met Ben Walden the conversation went like this:

Ben: “What did you think?”

Phil: “Yeah, it was great. Really good.”

Language can be drivel. What I had meant to say about the touring version of Macbeth that I’d just seen in Deptford that Ben directed was that it had all the visceral thrill and panic-inducing horror of the Hellraiser films. But I didn’t.
Ben Walden 2
The reason my words disappointed me so particularly is that the first time I met Ben Walden I thought he may well have been one of the coolest people I’ve ever encountered. Unassuming in a pastel V-neck in a circle of middle-aged white men of above-average professional capital at the AGM of the firm we both work for, Independent Thinking Ltd, he introduces himself in anger: fists of tears which he cannot and vehemently will not suppress roll down his cheeks. The object of his anger? What the proud philistine Michael Gove – He’s dead. He’s dead. That B-movie, lowlife, literate bozo is dead! – is doing to arts provision and education for working class children. I understand the anger that gave vent to his tears, as I feel it acutely myself.

The third time I met Ben Walden I left a decade-and-a-half old yellow corduroy jacket containing my phone and house keys in a pub in East Grinstead. I couldn’t be bothered to go down there to pick it up, and miss it still. I then left the notes for this interview in Montenegro (it’s a long story) and that is why this interview is five months late.
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I had met with him to discuss the impact of Shakespeare on his life. If you do not know who Ben Walden is, and you should, he was a member of Mark Rylance’s original company when the Globe opened, is an actor of seriousness and note, and now runs a company, Contender Charlie, whose mission is to bring the power of Shakespeare’s text to inner city kids, and who subsidises this work, which they do for next to nothing, by giving presentations to corporate clients on what they can learn about leadership from Henry V. I ask him some penetrating questions:

Phil: “What lessons from the plays have you applied to you own life?”

Ben: “I was sent to a boarding school when I was a kid, and as a result have always despised not only the concept, but the human manifestation of ‘repressed Englishness’: their reticence, their poison, their cowardice. For me, people should speak what they feel, and because of this Edgar’s line in King Lear – ‘The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say” – reverberates strongly with me.”

Phil: “How much of the language infiltrates your own day-to-day expression?”

Ben: “The best way to explain this, Phil, would be for you to watch Kate Tempest’s ‘My Shakespeare’.”

[I watch it five months after our meeting, after my notes finally return from their sojourn in the former Eastern bloc. I don’t buy Kate Tempest as a performer, but the passion is clear, as is the fact that she’s distanced being a drama school cockney infecting culture with lies. “He’s not something boring taught in classrooms in language that’s hard to understand. He’s not just a feeling of inadequacy when you sit for an exam”].
Ben Walden 1

Phil: “Tell me the shape of your year?”

Ben: “There’s a lot of airports. And those gigs that require air travel pay for the work we do with kids from different environments.”

Phil: “What different environments? What do Contender Charlie do… in exactly seven words?”

Ben: “Help kids find purpose and meaning. Can I have four more?”

Phil: “Grudgingly…”

Ben: “…By examining their feelings.”

Phil: “What are your feelings about the philistinism of Gove trying to make drama and the performing arts not formal GCSEs?”

Ben: “For me, whether Shakespeare is on the curriculum or not is an irrelevance. Humans are naturally ritualistic. Making drama not a ‘proper’ GCSE doesn’t change that. People will still seek the spiritual. Shakespeare, himself, was a deeply spiritual anarchist, in touch with our deepest nature. His work remains vital no matter what space policy-makers have him in this week. Kids will always connect with it like I did. Shakespeare came close to saving my life. When I was overwhelmed as a young adult, I would read a speech for solace and read it again and again. The transient whims of policy-makers are just that.”
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Phil: “Put the four great tragedies in order of something other than their greatness.”

Ben: “Can I put them in the order of how much I like them?”

Phil: (Murmurs assent)

Ben:Lear, I give 11/10, Macbeth 10/10, Othello 9/10 and Hamlet 8/10.”

Phil: “Harsh on Hamlet?”

Ben: “It’s arrogant playwriting. And he is self-indulgent as a character. It is really Shakespeare examining depressed adolescence. Hamlet is caught in his own depression and his own pain, and is a bad lesson. In life, you have to rise above your own pain to see the profundity in and of everything – to see the ‘special providence in the fall of a sparrow’. True wisdom is in being truly present emotionally, facing pain and meeting it head on. Truly wise people don’t fall off the wire.”

Go here for more on Ben Walden and his work.

This interview originally appeared in Shakespeare Magazine Issue 6. Go here to see the original version.

“Batman is Hamlet!” In an exclusive interview extra, Kill Shakespeare co-creator Anthony Del Col takes us deeper inside the world of his Bard-inspired comics series

Portraits by Piper Williams, Artwork by Andy Belanger.

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Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play?

“I liked Othello for the longest time, not only because of Iago. I’m drawn towards his tragedies rather than his comedies for the most part and Othello was the one play amongst the great tragedies that… It didn’t introduce any magic or fantasy, it’s just pure human emotion. That’s what I really loved about it.”

And now?
“Having gone through this – the multiple generations of the comic, the stage show, maybe TV and video games in the future – Hamlet is just coming out more and more as my favourite. Just because he is the most fascinating character I have ever read or ever experienced, consumed, and written for. The more chance I have to see it performed, read it, study it, the more fascinated I become with that character and hence with the play. People often say that Batman is Hamlet – you know, someone who lost a family member and is on a quest for revenge and is very conflicted about what he should do and whether life’s worth living.”

Cover Volume 2 by Andy Belanger

Are there any characters that you haven’t touched in Kill Shakespeare yet that you’d like to write for?
“Oh my god. yes! There are so many. The first one who jumps out is King Lear. I can’t wait to jump into King Lear. Beatrice and Benedick are the two others that I really desperately want to jump into, I just love those two and can’t wait to get them into our universe. Kate from The Taming of the Shrew. There are a lot of the comedy characters that we haven’t had much opportunity to introduce yet, so I’m really looking forward to those.”

Are there any Early Modern writers you’re inspired by outside of Shakespeare?
“Cervantes plays a big role in all of the stories; my favourite novel of all time is Don Quixote. I like to think there’s a bit of ‘tilting at windmills’ in every story. Hamlet’s story in the original arc of Kill Shakespeare, there are shades of Quixote in there, with Hamlet being Quixote himself. And of course Falstaff would make the most excellent Sancho Panza.

“We do reference Marlowe. There’s a very… It’s a huge Easter egg, so anyone that can find it I applaud them for it.”

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Do you have a favourite Shakespeare quotation? Something that resonates with you more than everything else?
“It’s going to sound kind of cheesy, but ‘to thine own self be true’. Not the whole speech, but just that actual line. On a comedic level ‘methinks he doth protest too much’, [modern figure of speech that springs from Hamlet’s ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks’] that’s the ultimate quote that you can use in pretty much every single situation, so that’s the one I’ll quote the most. But ‘to thine own self be true’ is the one that I’ll try to quote to myself every now and then to remind myself who I should be.”

Is there a moment on the Kill Shakespeare journey that stands out as particularly memorable?
“There was the first time we had someone cosplay our version of these characters. That was amazing. We had people cosplaying as Richard III and Lady Macbeth.

Richard III by Andy Belanger

“Receiving a personal note from Sir Tom Stoppard was amazing. I have that right above my desk and I look at that on a daily basis and just pinch myself. Getting a mention on the Colbert Report here in the US and Canada was immensely gratifying.

“I guess just seeing that first issue hit the newsstands, you know, hit the comic book shops, and the first book showing up at Barnes and Noble and Waterstones. There’s no better feeling than walking into a book store and seeing something you’ve created right there.”

If you could do a crossover with Kill Shakespeare and another comic book series what would it be?
Fables would be the most natural one. It would be great to be able to collaborate on something with Bill Willingham. Mike Carey’s The Unwritten is another possibility, we could weave that in really naturally. We have the magical elements so we could pop into the DC or the Marvel universes. I mean, a crossover with Thor would be interesting because Thor itself is very Shakespearean, so it’d be great to see King Lear meets Thor.”

Find out more about about Anthony Del Col and Kill Shakespeare in the latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

How the tragic death of an intern inspired a new version of Shakespeare’s Othello set in the high-pressure world of London’s City Boys

James Barnes as Othello.

James Barnes as Othello.

Time Zone Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Othello runs from 3-28 February at the historic Rose Playhouse on London’s Bankside.

Returning to The Rose after acclaimed productions of The Taming of the Shrew in 2013 and Orpheus and Eurydice in 2014, Time Zone’s Othello transfers Shakespeare’s tragedy to the cityscape of modern London.

Director Pamela Schermann promises “an abyss of power and intrigue, riddled with suspicion and jealousy. Beneath the surface of this civilised and polite environment we encounter brutality and callousness.”

Trevor Murphy as Iago.

Trevor Murphy as Iago.

In part, Schermann, says she was inspired by the tragic death of an intern at the London office of an international bank.

“He died after working continuously for 72 hours,” she says. “Although it is uncertain whether his death was caused by exhaustion or a medical condition, the excessive hours at work illustrate a brutal business practice, where money is more important than people.”

Schermann’s fast-paced adaptation cuts Othello down to its five main characters, with the entire play set in the meeting room of the company’s office.

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The cast comprises James Barnes (Othello), Trevor Murphy (Iago), Samantha Lock (Desdemona), Ella Duncan (Emilia), and Denholm Spurr (Cassio).

Schermann’s production aims to evoke an atmosphere of claustrophobia and ultra-high pressure where everyone is under constant surveillance.

“There’s always someone watching you,” says Schermann, “analysing your every move and waiting for an opportunity to stab you in your back.”

Go here for more onTime Zone Theatre.

Go here for more on The Rose Playhouse and to book tickets.

We asked Muse of Fire creators Dan Poole and Giles Terera the 64,000 ducat question – what would Shakespeare be writing if he was around today? Their answer: everything from blockbuster sci-fi movies to political drama TV shows.

DAN: “I think it was Mark Rylance that said this in his interview… Peter Hall, who’s obviously one of the founders at the RSC, said ‘You can do anything with Shakespeare, but whatever you do, don’t put it in space.’ Which made him laugh and makes me laugh, especially because the one thing I’d love to see done is Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy series on stage.”

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GILES: “I suppose they’re all in there, that’s the beauty of it. You can look at any story, and whether it’s a love story or The Godfather or Jaws, whether it’s Star Wars or Laurel and Hardy, you can trace it all back to some Shakespearean story.

“I’d like to see him have a go at some of the trashier things like Transformers, because he did a couple of the histories, the Henrys, then he needed a big blockbuster, a potboiler, so he did Titus Andronicus. There was blood and guts and beheading and eating people and that was a big blockbuster, so he wasn’t afraid of doing that. So I’d like to see him do something that we kind of pooh-pooh now, and turn it on its head.”

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DAN: “It would also be fascinating to see what he would deliver now, given the culture that we live in. Because he always responded to what was going on in his environment.”

GILES: “You know, what I’d love is if he did TV. You know how they have those great American TV series like Breaking Bad or Orange is the New Black, where they’re masters of keeping you hanging on, episode to episode, series to series? I’d like to see him have a go at that. He’d come up with the most incredible TV cliffhangers and character journeys.

“In many ways, I’d like to see what he’d do now. I saw a film recently called Dear White People. It’s about the American college house system, and race and all this socio-political stuff. And it was extraordinary because there was this stuff being dealt with on film that you just don’t see. We see it on Twitter feeds and facebook and we think think ‘Christ almighty, it’s about to explode’ over there. But you don’t see it on screen – and yet they were doing it. If you look at what’s happening in Othello or what’s happening in Titus Andronicus, they have a baby! Aaron and Tamora have this mixed-race baby…”

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DAN: “…Four hundred years ago!”

GILES: “Right! People always say that Shakespeare was always very careful. You know, all this ‘you could be done for treason if you say the wrong thing’. But actually he’s talking about stuff that is the meat and bones of social life. Race and sex and age and marriage and all that kind of stuff. I reckon he’d be doing stuff that was really dealing with today’s issues. I’d like to hear what he had to say about Syria or Ebola. And it’d also be done in an interesting and entertaining way, because that’s what he does.”

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How about you? What do you think Shakespeare would be writing if he was around today? Post your thoughts below, or tweet us @UKShakespeare

Read our full-length interview with Dan and Giles in the new issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

Portraits by Piper Williams