All Crowns are Hollow: The scheming and backstabbing politicians of today would do well to ponder the fate of Shakespeare’s Kings

“…For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a King
Keeps Death his court…”
Richard II – Act III, Scene 2
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Shakespeare’s plays are full of lessons for contemporary politicians – especially, perhaps, the history plays like Richard II, the tragedies such as Macbeth, and the Roman plays including Julius Caesar.
There’s one lesson that pops up time and time again, and I’ll present it as a question: “Are you really sure you want to be King?”
Because kingship in Shakespeare’s plays is almost always presented as a poisoned chalice – quite literally so, at the end of Hamlet.
Very few of the kings in Shakespeare ever get to do any actual ‘kinging’. Instead they fight tooth and nail to get to the throne – often committing heinous crimes like murder in the process – and then they die.
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Looking back at these plays from a distance of 400 or so years, it seems clear that what Shakespeare is doing is helpfully pointing out that the English system of monarchy doesn’t work very well. In fact it’s susceptible to complete breakdown, and when that happens we get a civil war – which is bad news for absolutely everyone.
Don’t believe me? Well, Here’s how Shakespeare depicts the fate of all the English kings between a relatively short period of 1400-1485:
Richard II – allegedly murdered.
Henry IV – dies stricken by guilt and fear.
Henry V – dies young, bequeathing legacy of chaos.
Henry VI – allegedly murdered.
Edward IV – allegedly murdered.
Edward V and his brother (the Princes in the Tower) – allegedly murdered.
Richard III – killed in battle.
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Not to mention all the other many and various Yorkists and Lancastrians with viable claims to the throne or legitimate places in the succession who are either murdered or meet their demise in battle.
One suggestion that emerges here is that maybe it’s better for a nation to be at peace and for society to tolerate a certain amount of hooliganism or anti-social behaviour (characterised by Prince Hal, Falstaff and their cronies in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2) than to embark on wars of conquest (Henry V) that deliver short term glory but ultimately bring disaster (Henry VI).
As suggested above, Shakespeare seems to truly hate and fear civil war. If you read the ten history plays as a sequence (starting with King John and ending with Henry VIII), the dominant emotion is often grief. Some of the most powerful speeches, whether by queens or commoners, are those which mourn the deaths of cruelly slaughtered loved ones. In Shakespeare there is rarely any upside to such butchery.
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The challenge of kingship, Shakespeare suggests, is about the careful control of volatile factors in a world where an alpha tyrant (Richard III) is just as likely to fall as a watery weakling (Henry VI). Perhaps, ultimately, the definition of a successful king is one whose reign wasn’t interesting enough for Shakespeare to write a play about.
Of course, it’s always perilous to mix up Shakespeare’s heavily fictionalised history plays with the actual history of England, but while we often think of the Tudor period that followed 1485 as being less volatile, it seems that these dysfunctional patterns of monarchy continued right through the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
There was war with France and Scotland in the reign of Henry VIII, the shattering effect of the Reformation – and notoriously he had two of his six queens executed. Edward and Mary both died young, having continued to stoke the fires of religious conflict. Elizabeth’s reign was blighted by the threat of Spanish invasion and numerous assassination plots, including one which led to her executing her rival, Mary Queen of Scots.
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(And in a plot twist that even Shakespeare might have considered a bit unlikely, James the VI of Scotland ended up succeeding to the throne of Elizabeth – the very same woman who’d had his mother executed.)
Shakespeare, remember was born in 1564. In a little over 17 years prior to his birth England had no less than four monarchs. Five, if you include the ill fated ‘nine days’ Queen’, Lady Jane Grey.
And a quarter of a century after Shakespeare’s death, there was of course another civil war. And this one ended with the beheading of a king, Charles I, in a scenario with grim echoes of Macbeth.
The odd thing is that Shakespeare worked for Charles’ father, James VI and I, for whom he wrote Macbeth. If the young Charles ever knew of Shakespeare and his works, it seems that – to his tragic cost – he ignored their lessons.
Images from The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, courtesy of the BBC.

An American magazine has published an article titled ‘Was Shakespeare a Woman?’ In response, we have written an article titled ‘SHAKESPEARE DERANGEMENT SYNDROME’

The Atlantic, a US magazine founded in 1857, has published an article by Elizabeth Winkler titled ‘Was Shakespeare a Woman?’. The answer of course is no, but while it’s deplorable that The Atlantic would do this, it’s not actually surprising. Elements of the US cultural elite, just like their counterparts here in the UK, have a long and inglorious history of Shakespeare denialism.

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To cite just one example, no less an institution than the Smithsonian has had a particularly egregious advocacy of ‘Oxfordian theory’ on its website for as long as I can remember. So I’ve come to realise that rich, clever and sophisticated people are often complete and utter fruitcakes, and our American cousins are not exempt from this.

The Atlantic itself has published this type of thing before during its lengthy lifespan, and Winkler merely takes all the arguments routinely deployed by anti-Stratfordians over the past century and adds a feminist twist. Who knows, maybe she got the idea from the cinematic font of wisdom that was St Trinians 2.

However, I do think the Winkler article is also symptomatic of what’s happening in the culture at large. Because we should have evolved to the point where an article like this could no longer be published, except in the crankier recesses of internet obscurity. But we are living at a time when the media, the political class and the universities have veered so far off course that they are in danger of losing all credibility with much of the public. I think of it as The Great Derangement, and Shakespeare Derangement Sydrome is just one facet of the overall malaise.

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Apart from its modish feminist gloss, the Winkler article reads like every other anti-Stratfordian screed I’ve ever trawled through. It’s quite old-fashioned. I say this without malice, as I’m quite old-fashioned too, but apart from a sprinkling of contemporary references, it feels like it’s coming from the 1960s or ’70s. It’s ironic indeed that for a woman who claims Shakespeare was a woman, Winkler herself writes like an old bloke.

Anyway, Winkler’s candidate for the authorship is Emilia Bassano. She’s been known by a number of names and a variety of spellings, so for clarity I will stick to this version of her married name: Emilia Lanier.

Reading the Winkler article, which is pretty long, I groan inwardly when she goes to meet Emilia’s “most ardent champion”, a geezer named John Hudson, who published a headache-inducing book on the subject in 2014. Winkler says “His zeal can sometimes get the better of him”, and she is not wrong.

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In fact, Hudson is a textbook Shakespeare Conspiracy Theorist. The formula is always the same:

1. “There is a secret message in the works of Shakespeare revealing the true author!”

2. “I alone have cracked the code!” (“Because I am so much cleverer than everyone else…”)

3. “Here it is! Is it not amazing?”

4. “What? You don’t believe me? What manner of imbecile are you!”

The article continues with Hudson and Winkler parsing Shakespeare’s works for evidence of Emilia’s hand. The thing is, if you pick any person who was writing during Shakespeare’s lifetime (and quite a few who weren’t) you could similarly identify any number of references that made them the author. It’s an easy game to play once you get in the swing of it. Indeed, I’m surprised no one has thus far identified Pocahontas as the author of Shakespeare’s works. Watch this space.

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Emilia’s advocates also believe she was Jewish and dark-skinned, so Winkler invokes Maya Angelou, deliberately misunderstanding the late author’s famous line to the effect that “Shakespeare must be a black girl”. [Read an excellent article on Maya Angelou’s love of Shakespeare here]

Finally, Winkler gets round to discussing Emilia’s own poetry. “Her writing style bears no obvious resemblance to Shakespeare’s” she concludes. Well, no.

With grinding inevitability, Winkler proceeds to her final destination, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. I know it seems a bit like saying Buckingham Palace is a hotbed of anti-monarchism, but Shakespeare’s Globe has long been strangely ambivalent (at best) about the man from Stratford-upon-Avon whose name it trades under. In his 2007 book on Shakespeare, Bill Bryson describes the Globe under former Artistic Director Mark Rylance as “a kind of clearinghouse for anti-Stratford sentiment”.

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At the Globe, Winkler attends the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Authorship Trust, which I imagine as being like a scene from Eyes Wide Shut. With Rylance as its figurehead, the Trust has considered the merits of dozens of authorship candidates over the years, before settling on… all of them! No, wait. The last time I checked, they were fighting an “Anyone But Shakespeare” campaign. In recent months they seem to have opted for an “Authorship By Secret Committee” theory, and have even given our mate William a seat at the table. How kind.

The Globe’s latest Artistic Director is Michelle Terry, and one of the first things she did was to commission a new play, Emilia, which features Shakespeare plagiarising from the titular heroine. There is no historical evidence for this, naturally, but it also occurs in Sally O’Reilly’s 2014 novel Dark Aemilia. Contemporary writers seem to love the idea of Shakespeare being a fraud. Presumably it eases the pain of knowing that the only reason anyone will remember them is as a footnote to Shakespeare.

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Incidentally, I get the impression that these are troubled times for The Globe. It’s just announced a two-year delay to its ambitious ‘Project Prospero’ expansion scheme, and its current production of Henry IV Part 2 has reportedly been playing to half-empty houses.

Michelle Terry has previously stated that her tenure at the Globe has “a socialist agenda”. Hopefully she’s not using Venezuela as her model.

But back to Elizabeth Winkler and her article in The Atlantic. ‘Was Shakespeare a Woman?’ has already found an audience. The publication has quite a big following and dodgy Shakespeare clickbait has long been a reliable attention-grabber for a media that is running dangerously low on both ideas and integrity.

But at least some of The Atlantic’s readers will be thinking: “If they can be this wrong about Shakespeare, what else are they wrong about?” before arriving at the sobering conclusion: possibly everything.

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In the article itself, Winkler dreams of her revelations dealing “a blow to the cultural patriarchy” so that women could “at last claim their rightful authority as historical and intellectual forces…”

It’s heady stuff, and any push-back by rational people will no doubt be decried as abuse, harassment, bullying and, wait for it, hate speech.

Because, while the leading fruitcakes of the Great Derangement are constantly telling us we’re living in the 1930s, we’re really not. We’re actually living in 4BC, with dozens of fervid religious cults all vying for supremacy. What this is really about is not that Shakespeare was a woman – he wasn’t. But it is necessary for the purposes of the cult that its adherents accept and proclaim that Shakespeare was a woman. Cults always demand that their followers believe the unbelievable, it is a means of uniting them against the world they wish to ultimately conquer.

We live in an age of identity politics, and almost every identity group I can think of comes with its own pet Shakespeare authorship theory and preferred candidate. So it is highly likely that the hacks at The Atlantic will be walking this path again.

To quote from the man himself, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Shakespeare Magazine is an independent online publication for everyone who loves Shakespeare. Read our latest issue completely FREE here.

Buy Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro.

The Oxfraud website for in-depth debunking of anti-Stratfordian thought.

Book tickets for Henry IV Part 2 at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Shakespeare Magazine 15 is celebrating 50 years of Franco Zeffirelli’s unforgettable 1960s film production of Romeo and Juliet!

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Issue 15 of Shakespeare Magazine celebrates 50 years of Franco Zeffirelli’s classic film of Romeo and Juliet.

We have an exclusive interview with Juliet herself, Olivia Hussey, along with readers’ memories of R & J, and an account of growing up (and old) with the film by Editor Pat Reid.

Also this issue, we have an exclusive extract from Paterson Joseph’s memoir Julius Caesar and Me, and we also take a look at Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow, and chat to Australian Shakespeare star Kate Mulvany.

Plus loads more, including Shakespeare with Subtitles, Shakespeare in Schools, and the beautiful Shakespeare Doodles of Gary Andrews.

Here’s the full list of contents:

Three gorgeous covers celebrating 50 years of Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.

An exclusive interview with Juliet herself, Olivia Hussey.

The Editor writes about growing up with Romeo and Juliet.

The Readers remember Romeo and Juliet.

And that’s just for starters! Also this issue…

Want to enjoy Shakespeare more? Try using Subtitles!

How Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow took flight.

The beautiful Shakespeare doodles of Gary Andrews.

Revisiting Ian McKellen’s thrilling Richard III film.

Scandal! Why is Shakespeare Uncovered not being shown in the UK?

Does Shakespeare belong in schools?

Antony Sher’s Year of the Mad King reviewed.

The treasures of the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

An exclusive extract from Paterson Joseph’s Julius Caesar and Me.

Why Australian Shakespeare star Kate Mulvany feels Richard III’s pain.

Oh, there’s also a really good Mercutio anecdote in the Editor’s intro.

And you’re going to love what’s coming up next issue

Wishing a Happy, Peaceful and Prosperous 2019 to all our readers!

An urgent message from the Editor: We need your help to survive! Please donate to Shakespeare Magazine to help keep us alive and moving forward into 2019.

From Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid:

Hello, and thank you for reading this. It’s the time of year when generous people are donating to their favourite causes, so I’m asking once again for your help to keep Shakespeare Magazine alive.

The simplest way to donate to Shakespeare Magazine is via PayPal.

The magazine is currently surviving on donations and patronage, so anything you can afford to give is greatly appreciated.

One exceptionally generous lady in the USA has been donating as much as $1,000 per month. This will end shortly, so if we can find another donor (or donors) to match that amount it would be hugely helpful in ensuring the magazine’s survival.

If you are considering making a large donation and wish to know more, please feel free to contact me directly. My email is: shakespearemag@outlook.com

Meanwhile, here’s a brief report on the magazine’s recent activity:

It’s been a productive few weeks. I’ve written a lot of articles, and given much-needed updates to both the website and the newsletter service. Our Facebook and Twitter continue to do well, while the most recent issue of the magazine (14) is now our fourth most popular ever, and still rising.

Right now I’m working on Issue 15. Thus far, the Art Editor has sent over a total of 32 pages, so we should be ready to publish next week. We’re also giving the magazine a slight redesign, to keep the visuals fresh and try out some new styles.

From a purely selfish point of view, it would be wonderful not to have to worry about money and instead just concentrate on publishing the magazine, and making it as good as possible. Hope you can help!

I’ll leave you with some lines from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 38:

“If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.”

Very best wishes,

Pat Reid – Founder & Editor, Shakespeare Magazine

“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.”

Along with millions of other viewers, we were gripped by the recent BBC drama Bodyguard. So our interest was well and truly piqued when we heard that a Shakespeare-influenced fan theory had emerged, which claims the series contains numerous references to Romeo and Juliet…

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We love a mystery (and a Shakespearean challenge), so we decided to see if we could piece together the entire theory based on just the few tweets and headlines we’d already seen…

So here goes. We understand that the theory is based on the fact that the co-lead character in Bodyguard is named Julia Montague. But first…

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Bodyguard is written/created by Jed Mercurio. Does he have a thing about Romeo and Juliet? Well, interestingly his name is almost exactly the same as Mercutio – Romeo’s best friend.

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Mercurio and Mercutio are both Italian names, both derived from the Roman god Mercury. This is also where we get the word ‘mercurial’, meaning ‘unpredictable’. Shakespeare’s Mercutio is certainly that.

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Mercutio’s legendary death-scene line: “A plague a’ both your houses”. There is certainly the suggestion in Bodyguard that both sides – indeed all the squabbling factions – are totally corrupt, and happy to let innocent people suffer and die.

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Romeo is a Montague, Juliet is a Capulet. They marry (and die) very young, causing the reconciliation of their warring families. In Bodyguard, Julia Montague is the Home Secretary, a mature and highly-successful woman.

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Is Julia Montague the writer’s idea of how Juliet might have turned out if she lived in our era?

(In the way that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was supposedly a grown-up, modern-day version of Pippi Longstocking)

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Okay, so if Julia is Juliet, who’s Romeo? Not her conniving Chief Whip ex-husband Roger Penhaligon*, that’s for sure.

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(*By the way, famous Cornish actress Susan Penhaligon got her first break playing – you guessed it – Juliet)

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We forgot to mention that Julia Montague is played by the marvellous Keeley Hawes! We don’t know if she’s ever played Juliet, but here she is as Shakespeare’s Elizabeth Woodville in The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses.

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The obvious candidate for Romeo is the Bodyguard himself, David Budd, played by Richard Madden.

Incidentally, Richard played Romeo on the stage a couple of years ago – and was even featured on the cover of Shakespeare Magazine.

And, of course, David Budd. As in Rose Bud. As in Juliet’s famous musing on Romeo: “That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet…”

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As we hinted before, every Romeo needs a Mercutio. Just like Mercutio, David’s friend Andy is a loose cannon and a cryptic truth-teller. And as with Romeo and Mercutio, David is ultimately responsible for Andy’s death.

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David Westhead, who plays the Prime Minister in Bodyguard, appeared in the 2007 Doctor Who story The Shakespeare Code as “Will Kempe”. We know for a fact that famed clown Kempe (or Kemp) appeared in the ORIGINAL production of Romeo and Juliet – he’s named in the stage directions.

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The one thing everyone knows about Romeo and Juliet: THEY DIE. And the hospital staff affirm that Julia Montague did indeed shuffle off her mortal coil – after injuries sustained in the mysterious explosion that interrupted her controversial speech.

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But Shakespeare’s not that simple. Juliet, advised by a friar, takes a potion that simulates death. Unaware of the plan, Romeo kills himself. Juliet wakes up, sees Romeo dead, and in turn kills herself.

This doesn’t sound a lot like Bodyguard.

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This is why fans reckon that Julia (like Juliet) may not actually be dead. Will she return in the final episode? Also, David (like Romeo) did try to kill himself after learning of Julia’s demise. But someone put a blank round in his gun, so he survived.

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One of the most popular characters in Romeo and Juliet is Juliet’s Nurse. And there is a nurse in Bodyguard (albeit of the medical variety) in the form of David’s estranged wife Vicky, played by Sophie Rundle – who looks rather like traditional depictions of Juliet.

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And from among the other characters, here’s top cop Ann Sampson, played by Gina McKee. The first line in Romeo and Juliet is spoken by Sampson of the Capulets, who then bites his thumb at the Montagues to start a brawl.

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To conclude, yes, Bodyguard does seem to have quite a few Romeo and Juliet references. But essentially it’s a political/terrorism drama, so we don’t think it really qualifies as a remake or reimagining of Shakespeare’s play.

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Crucially, Romeo and Juliet are young. They’re star-cross’d lovers whose families are at war. They confide in Friar Lawrence and he marries them in secret. David and Julia are mature adults who embark on a clandestine affair. It’s very different.

And, lest we forget, Romeo and Juliet contains some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful poetry in the English language.

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Bodyguard isn’t in quite the same league.

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Heck of a thriller, though. Even if we didn’t get the stupendously Shakespearean showdown were hoping for in the final episode…

Here endeth our take on “Bodyguard – the Romeo and Juliet Connection”. Do let us know if you spot any Shakespearean references or themes we’ve missed!

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

In the week that Issue 13 of Shakespeare Magazine is finally published, Editor Pat Reid is “thrilled and honoured” to appear as the latest guest in the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s legendary and long-running podcast!

We’re delighted to announce that Shakespeare Magazine’s Editor Pat Reid is this week’s guest on the long-running and supremely entertaining Reduced Shakespeare Company podcast.
You can listen to the podcast here. Hope you enjoy it!

Episode 572. The Shakespeare Magazine, 27 November 2017 (Length 17:05)

Pat Reid
Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid.

Pat Comments: “I’m thrilled and honoured. Reduced’s frontman Austin Tichenor interviews me with considerable eloquence and charm to explore the story of Shakespeare Magazine, with plenty of laughs along the way. He says the loveliest things about the magazine too. I’m still smiling!”

From the Reduced Shakespeare Company website:

“Pat Reid, the creator, editor, and publisher of Shakespeare Magazine, talks about how the magazine began, why it briefly stopped, and how it has risen again.

“Download all the issues here, then hear Pat discuss how his love of Shakespeare led to this passion project, the complexities of publishing, the importance of fandom, the ironies of branding, the shock and surprise at immediate positive feedback, the glorious idea of treating a 400-year-long gone author as if he’s still alive, the time his love’s labour was almost lost, and how it seems that all’s well has indeed ended all well.”

Austin Tichenor Reduced
Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

You can listen to all 572 Reduced Shakespeare Company podcasts on their website.

Yes, it’s here at last! The long-awaited Shakespeare Magazine Issue 13 has finally arrived – and world-renowned King Lear superstar Ian McKellen is our latest cover artist!

Issue 13 Cover
The great man talks about the challenges of playing King Lear, while Fiona Shaw explains Katherine from The Taming of the Shrew and Patrick Stewart discusses Shylock from The Merchant of Venice.

Also this issue, we look at the TV series that portrayed Shakespeare as a punk, and we delve into the sometimes horrific medical treatments of Shakespeare’s day.

Graham Holderness tells us about The Faith of William Shakespeare, while Jem Bloomfield investigates Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery.

We also have excellent interviews with Sam White of Shakespeare in Detroit and Mya Gosling of Good Tickle Brain.

Not forgetting our round-up of recent Shakespeare Books and our essential guide to Studying Shakespeare!

From director Shakirah Bourne, new film A Caribbean Dream tells us two things – that Barbados is quite possibly Paradise on Earth, and that Shakespeare travels extremely well

Adapted from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Bourne and producer Melissa Simmonds, the film was made on location on the director’s home island of Barbados. Shot in the picturesque environs of Fustic House, St Lucy, the Shakespeare film it perhaps most resembles is Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (2012).

But whereas Whedon’s film was shot in stylish monochrome, A Caribbean Dream adds gorgeous hyper-real colours. Stepping amid its intoxicating jungle greens are a Puck (Patrick Michael Foster) somewhat reminiscent of Quentin Crisp, a suitably capricious Titania (Susannah Harker) and a regal, poetic Oberon (Adrian Green).

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Bourne’s film has a lot of fun with stereotypes. The English people are posh and silly, their behaviour inspiring affectionate bemusement in the knowing islanders. And, it must be said, Shakespeare sounds absolutely fantastic in a Barbadian accent
Shakespeare’s tale calls for an ensemble cast, and there are plenty of good performances, including a loveable Lorna Gayle as Bottom, and charismatic Keshia Pope as Helena, spitting out the play’s most famous line: “And though she be but little, she is fierce”.

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It’s a modern-day affair, so the fairies carry mobile phones, but the rude mechanicals are now poor fishermen who add some local folklore of their own.
Crucially for a Shakespeare film, the sound is excellent, and pretty much all the lines are delivered with clarity. There’s a welcome absence of the mumbling (or getting drowned out by sound effects) that often blights modern productions like the 2016 BBC version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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The upbeat soundtrack includes some jaunty Bajan anthems, and Bottom enamours Titania’s ear with a sweet rendition of “Da Cocoa Tea is a Poison To Me”.
In the tradition of classic Caribbean films like The Harder They Come, the cheap and cheerful feel makes a refreshing change from slick and soulless Hollywood product. And yet, if Hollywood ever gets wind of this simple-but-effective formula, we can expect a big-budget remake of A Caribbean Dream quicker than you can say “Star Wars Trilogy”.

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Although it’s not billed as a ‘straight’ Shakespeare film, it contains a great deal of Shakespeare’s text and, to me, feels true to the spirit of the original. I would also deem it completely suitable for the classroom – apart from one groan-inducing ‘donkey’ joke (although you could argue that this gag is itself Shakespearean).

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For many of the scenes, especially those with the young lovers, it feels like watching a spirited open-air Shakespeare production on a magical Bajan evening. I’d happily sit in that jungle clearing to watch Helena and Hermia (Marina Bye) battling it out while the fairies celebrate with a Caribbean carnival.

A Caribbean Dream is released into UK cinemas (and On Demand via iTunes, Amazon, Google, Virgin Movies) on the 10 November 2017.

A Caribbean Dream poster
Cinemas
Birmingham, MAC (From 13/12/2017)
Ipswich Film Theatre (From 05/12/2017 )
London, Bernie Grant Arts Centre – Q&A with director, producer and cast (From 12/11/2017)
London, Peckhamplex (From 10/11/2017 )
London, Peckhamplex – Q&A with director, producer and cast (From 11/11/2017)
London, Rio Dalston – Q&A with director, producer and cast (From 12/11/2017)
Manchester HOME (From 15/12/2017 )
Torrington, The Plough Arts Centre (From 16/12/2017)