“It’s Giving Tuesday. Please Donate to Shakespeare Magazine…”

Dear Friends, I’m no Shakespeare, so I’ll keep this brief.

It’s Giving Tuesday, so if you want to donate to a good cause, please make it Shakespeare Magazine.

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Financially, it’s been another brutal year. I’m gutted that I’ve not been able to publish a new issue of the magazine.

However, I have been able to keep the website and social media platforms running. Twitter has been particularly successful. We’ve nearly at 18,000 followers, and in our most successful month alone our tweets reached a massive 1.9 million people!

Facebook has done well too. We’ve reached 11,000 followers, and had some hugely popular posts this year, sometimes reaching as many as a quarter of a million people.

I’ve also launched an Instagram account – a great fun way to celebrate Shakespeare imagery.

We’ve had some popular and controversial articles on the Shakespeare Magazine website, including ‘Shakespeare Derangement Syndrome’, ‘All Crowns are Hollow’, and my epic 2,300-word review of ‘The King’.

So here we are. I’m another year older, 25 pounds lighter, and I’ve shaved off the wispy little beard that was my constant companion in 2018.

For Shakespeare Magazine to keep going, it needs advertising revenue, donations and patronage. By modern media standards, it would take an absurdly small amount of dosh to finance 12 issues a year.

If you’re able to help, donate now! (And quick, or I’ll grow the beard back…)

All my best wishes, from the muddy banks of the River Avon,

Pat Reid – Founder and Editor

PS Adding this in a moment of madness… If I can get FIVE Shakespeare Magazine readers to donate $1,000 each, I hereby pledge to skinny-dip in the River Avon on Christmas Day!

Timothée Chalamet in The King: England’s legendary warrior prince is reinvented as a petulant and introverted man-child in this ponderous revision of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V plays

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Warning: This review contains spoilers.

There’s never any Shakespeare on Netflix, the online streaming channel which seems to specialise in teenage shows about Satanism and suicide. Still, we’ve held off cancelling our subscription in order to see The King.

The film is the brainchild of Joel Edgerton, who co-writes, produces and plays Falstaff. His fellow Australian David Michôd (who made the excellent Animal Kingdom) directs and co-writes. The project first came to our attention a couple of years ago when Edgerton made some comments about cutting the “long-winded” Shakespeare speeches and adding some Game of Thrones spirit to proceedings. I tweeted scathingly about this at the time, but to be fair to Edgerton, he has played Prince Hal and Henry V on the Australian stage, and he seems like a pretty open and honest (not to mention talented) bloke, so his vision for The King might just work…

The film has a pretty striking opening with young northern noble Hotspur (Tom Glynn-Carney) sending an unfortunate Scottish spear-carrier the way of all flesh. Then we see Hotspur in conference with King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn), where he refuses to hand over his prisoners, and spits out a selection of scathing and treasonous insults in his monarch’s direction.

We then relocate to the tavern where Henry’s elder son Prince Hal (Timothée Chalamet) is misbehaving. We quickly learn that Hal really hates his Dad. In fact, his bad-mouthing of the old man is almost as treasonous as Hotspur’s.

By now we’ve been introduced to Falstaff (Joel Edgerton). Now, Shakespeare’s Falstaff is infamous for being exceedingly old and humongously fat, but Joel Edgerton is neither. His Falstaff has a bluff rugby player physique and his character is full of bluff ‘wisdom’ to match. His accent sounds Yorkshire to me, but at different points in the film will veer from Mancunian to Scouse to Scots. Initially, he seems more Hal’s Kindly guardian than the gleeful corrupting influence of Shakespeare’s version.

The film does have some nicely framed interiors – there, put that on the DVD sleeve! But storytelling cliches abound – so of course we have to have the hero refusing his quest in the form of Hal refusing to go and see his dying dad (and later refusing to go to war with France) and so on.

Hal surprisingly bests the rebel Hotspur in a bout of single combat rather early in the film, which of course robs the confrontation of the revelatory power it has in Henry IV Part 1. At this point my impression of Hal is that he’s a somewhat sulky, slightly slimy, sexually ambiguous vampire who seems unable to make eye contact, treats people like dirt, and is no friend of the square meal. The traits of Shakespeare’s Hal, which have fascinated audiences and readers for 400 years are clumsily smelted into an uneasy mixture of narcissism and self-hatred. Well, I suppose that’s very 2019. The problem is that he seems too languid to ever have truly been a hell raiser. This Hal is less Bullingdon boy and more lonesome emo.

Anyway, the events of the Henry IV plays are raced through in 30 minutes as Henry senior dies and Hal becomes King Henry V. Then there’s an interesting scene where Henry receives congratulatory gifts from the rulers of places mentioned in other Shakespeare plays. This scene also reveals Henry’s court to be surprisingly small and rather parochial. From France, he receives the insulting gift of a ball (in the play, of course, it’s a box of tennis balls), which he bounces off a wall in a manner reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Stripped of Shakespeare’s poetry and wit, this script can feel ponderous and banal. Chalamet certainly isn’t helped by clunksome lines like “I appreciate your umbrage, William”, but compared to Saoirse Ronan in this year’s Mary Queen of Scots he’s almost likeable. And at least we haven’t had a gender studies lecture yet. Oh, hang on though – there’s still one hour and 40 minutes left to go.

As a new king, Henry’s approach is to pardon all his dead dad’s enemies. Although when his Chief Justice (Sean Harris) says “Great reforms are best enacted with regime change” it sounds like it’s come straight off the autocue at a White House press briefing.

I may have dreamed it, but I think there’s a bizarre moment where Henry’s kid sister (Thomasin McKenzie) strokes a camel. She’s the Princess of Denmark and wise beyond her years, so she gives him sage advice (presumably before boarding a private jet to go and combat climate change). Henry reiterates how “all the unrest in the kingdom” was his father’s fault. His anti-dad hatred really is deeply unappealing, especially since the old man seemed pretty cool, from what we saw of him. At this point, I feel my attention waning. The film seems headed for the valley of sanctimony.

And I feel bad for saying it, but the longer Timothée Chalamet is on screen, the more the film’s vitality seems to ebb away. At times I find myself wondering ‘why are we wasting time with this fella?’ as he just seems like a minor character. We want Henry the bloody Fifth, not some twitchy man-child.

“You wish to be a king for the people” says the Sean Harris advisor guy a bit later. Then he mentions “the mood of the people”. I get the impression he used to work for Tony Blair. After having played a severely constipated Macduff in Kurzel’s Macbeth, Harris’s approach here seems to be to recite every line as if he has a hedgehog in his throat.

After a French assassin is caught, Henry decides to send some tough words back to Charles of France. But will he ever stand up straight, that’s what I want to know? That stoop is really starting to grate. Also, there’s 86 minutes left, and I’m beginning to wonder if anything will ever happen. For a film that set out to cut all the “long-winded” Shakespeare, there is an awful lot of talk. Yes, Shakespeare can be slow-moving, but the pace of The King is positively glacial.

Some traitors are caught, but when Henry says “Tomorrow you will have your heads cut off”, the timing of the line is so odd that I burst out laughing. His next line, “I have chosen you as an advance party to Hell”, sounds like something out of The Expendables. We are nudging into ‘so bad it’s bad’ territory.

At this point I’m wondering how can Chalamet be such an uncompelling lead. He’s got good hair, great cheekbones, he’s quite beautiful in an early-’80s English pop star way, but where’s the vitality? It makes me appreciate how bone-crunchingly brilliant Tom Hiddleston was in this role. The Hollow Crown was historical pageant, bawdy comedy and medieval action movie, but still Shakespeare through and through. I can understand the need for a radically different approach (if, indeed, the makers of The King are even aware of The Hollow Crown), but why so dull?

The subsequent execution scene is well done, and properly horrible. My prayers have been answered and Henry is finally sitting up straight. An absurd twist promptly follows – Henry returns to the tavern to recruit Jack Falstaff because there’s no-one else he can trust.

This is the point at which Falstaff’s accent veers into Scottish, while Henry’s dialogue is now so cumbersome it’s like he’s gargling marbles.

By now I’ve pinpointed what bothers me about Chalamet’s performance: it’s like he’s heavily medicated. And the mumblecore performance simply doesn’t work in the medieval context. Okay, I can appreciate you don’t want to be bellowing like Olivier, but how’s this going to work in the upcoming battle scenes? Are you going to whisper to the troops? Use sign language?

And so it is that Falstaff – Shakespeare’s legendary coward, wastrel and bullshit artist – is here introduced to Henry’s captains as a heroic battle veteran who’s going to lead them. I don’t know what they were thinking, but this is surely the apotheosis of Hollywood/Globalist Entertainment Corp idiocy.

It’s like those Stallone films where Rocky and Rambo make a creaky comeback, except Joel Edgerton doesn’t really look old enough to be making a comeback. And how weird that Falstaff, who famously wasn’t in Henry V, now seems to have become the main character.

So we get to France, where there’s some good siege engine action, and Chalamet seems more charismatic when speaking French. It’s a fugly film, though – the English are just a succession of interchangeable dour men with pinched faces and slightly overcooked regional accents. Falstaff has now overtaken Henry as the most annoying character, but Henry seems to be in love with him. And then the Dauphin (Robert Pattinson) turns up to chat in the middle of the night.

This is an eccentric performance by Robert Pattinson. Well known for playing a vampire in The Twilight Saga, he threatens to drain Henry’s body of blood. He’s like a Monty Python character, but he does capture some of the prideful idiocy of Shakespeare’s Dauphin. However, R-Patz quickly reveals a predilection for decapitating little English boys, so it’s clear he needs a serious talking-to.

There is some semi-interesting stuff about methods of waging war, but Falstaff is becoming such a pompous bastard and it’s all terribly heavy handed. Maybe if the whole thing was in French it would fool me into thinking it was good.

The subsequent Henry-Falstaff face-off seems to imply sexual intimacy, as did the scene at the beginning where Hal performed impromptu surgery on Falstaff – yes, really.

There are so many lulls in the action that even the lulls have lulls. Which makes me ponder that whenever people set out to make Shakespeare “less long winded” they always follow the same approach: 1. They take out all the good stuff. 2. They replace it with a bunch of new stuff which paradoxically has the effect of slowing everything down and bumping up the run time, and 3. They just generally make it incomprehensible. Ergo: The King.

There is so much that could be cut here: a scene where a messenger is called for and issued instructions like it’s going to be significant but then nothing much happens as a result of it. And the other problem is that it’s so static. Too many scenes of people sitting and talking, or standing and talking, or walking slowly and talking. The very things that stage versions of Henry V try to avoid, this film can’t get enough of them.

Well, it’s the eve of the battle and surly Falstaff has revealed himself to be a master tactician and all-round dispenser of earthy wisdom. Henry, however, hopes to avoid battle, and challenges the Dauphin to single combat – well, it worked with Hotspur.

The Dauphin responds with gross sexual insults, so Henry finally gets really riled and gives a stirring speech to his troops. Okay, it’s not Shakespeare, but at least he puts some much-needed vim and vigour into it.

The battle (Agincourt) is well done, especially when Henry enters the fray and we follow him from one crashing life-or-death martial encounter to another. It’s literally hand-to-hand combat, often dispensing with weapons altogether. We don’t even see Henry wield a sword until a satisfying encounter with the Dauphin, which I won’t spoil. Suffice it to say, it’s a rare occasion where a major change to Shakespeare (and to actual historical events) works really well.

We bid adieu to Falstaff, but now Henry goes to meet the French king – another windbag – who proposes that Henry marry his daughter Catherine (Lily-Rose Depp), or Princess Stony McStoneface, to give her full title.

(Is it deliberate that Timothée Chalamet is so un-kingly in this? On the voyage back to England he looks like a little orphan boy in one of the Titanic’s lifeboats.)

A bit of romance would be nice at this point, but Princess Stony has other ideas. “I will not submit to you,” she announces in a drab monotone. “You must earn my respect”. A minor point, but Princess Stony has just told us that she doesn’t speak English, but then proceeds to inform Henry at great length what a worthless little toerag he is – in English. At any rate, it feels like the aforementioned gender studies lecture has arrived. Or maybe it’s a job interview. “Do you feel a sense of achievement?” she asks icily. I’m half expecting her to follow up with “Why do you want to work in Human Resources?”

Admittedly, the acting styles are fairly complementary here – in that he’s a blob of jelly and she’s a plank of wood. In Shakespeare, of course, this scene is played for bilingual laughs – although recent stage productions have done everything in their power to remedy that. And so she sneers while he squirms, but once again it’s a scene with two people talking while seated. It’s not exactly a rollercoaster thrill-ride.

“All monarchy is illegitimate,” Princess Stony opines. Which is great, as I was just thinking that what this film needs is an injection of Neo-Marxist theory.

“It would seem that you have no explanation for what you have done,” she continues, with all the moral authority you’d expect from someone whose brother liked to chop children’s heads off. Clearly rattled, Henry then turns detective to uncover the true motives of his shifty war enthusiast of a Chief Justice. So now we’ve had three awkward scenes of static conversation in a row. This time, however, Timothée Chalamet sits while Sean Harris is commanded to stand precariously on a stool. I can’t help thinking it must be a metaphor for something.

Finally the film ends. So what have we learned? I dunno, maybe ‘Don’t send a man-child to do a warrior king’s job’? We are a couple of hours older, not a lot wiser, and there’s still no Shakespeare on Netflix. Ah well, at least we can cancel our subscription now.

The King was released on Netflix on 1 November 2019.

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.