Birmingham City University students create life-size effigies of Shakespeare and some of his most iconic characters

A life-size installation featuring more than a dozen of Shakespeare’s most famous creations – handcrafted from paper and cardboard – is open to the public, free of charge, at Birmingham City University.

Tamora Queen of the goths
Tamora, Queen of the Goths (from Titus Andronicus).

With scale models over six feet tall, a three-metre-high balcony and even a walk-in tavern, it has been made as a tribute to mark 400 years since the Bard’s death.

Each piece in the installation was individually crafted by 22 first year students from the University’s Design for Theatre, Performance and Events degree course.

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet.

The students used techniques learned on the course to sculpt 780 metres of corrugated cardboard and nearly 5,000 metres of brown paper into the setting and characters.

Among the figures are a likeness of William Shakespeare himself, writing at his desk, and full size replicas of King Lear, Caliban, Richard III, and Romeo & Juliet.

Caliban
Caliban (from The Tempest).

The exhibition took nearly three weeks to create, with students working day and night to make each component from scratch, as well as selecting music and lighting to complement each element.

The installation is housed in the Shell space at the University’s Parkside Building. It is open to the public, with free admission, until Friday 26 February.

Balcony
Viola (from Twelfth Night).

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust helped students research the project. When the project ends, a number of characters and settings will be transported to Stratford-upon-Avon for display.

Shakespeare desk
Shakespeare at his desk.

The tavern in the installation is intended to replicate London’s historic Gorge (or “George”) Inn, sometimes referred to as “Shakespeare’s Local”.

Traditional Elizabethan music plays in the exhibition hall, while words from The Two Noble Kinsmen – thought to be Shakespeare’s final play – make a poignant tribute to the Bard.

Juliet
Juliet (from Romeo and Juliet).

“It’s very rare that you get an art installation that really looks at the times that Shakespeare was writing in,” says the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Marie Brennan.

“As well as looking at new interpretations of his own work. It’s really an unusual and creative concept to bring those two together into one installation.

Peter Quince
Peter Quince (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Titled “The Figure in Space – Shakespeare”, the exhibition is on until Friday 26 February at Birmingham City University: The Parkside Building, 5 Cardigan Street, Birmingham B4 7BD. Admission is free.

Go here for a map and directions.

Exhibition at Dr Johnson’s House in London celebrates Shakespeare and charts the 18th-century origins of Shakespearean ‘Bardolatry’

A new exhibition at Dr Johnson’s House in London will showcase a range of prints, portraits, books and ephemera. Never before displayed together, they chart the relationship between William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), two of the most quoted Englishmen in the language.

The exterior of Dr Johnson’s House

The exterior of Dr Johnson’s House

 

Shakespeare in the 18th century: Johnson, Garrick and friends celebrates the 250th anniversary of Johnson’s critical edition of Shakespeare’s plays.

Johnson’s The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765) has been credited with firmly establishing a scholarly interest in Shakespeare, after almost a century during which works by the playwright had been radically amended and adapted.

Four years after its publication, enthusiasm for Shakespeare reached its apogee in the world’s first Shakespeare festival, the 1769 ‘Shakespeare Jubilee’ masterminded by Johnson’s great friend and former pupil, the actor David Garrick (1717-1779).

Over the succeeding centuries, national celebration of Shakespeare reached such a pitch it was popularly dubbed ‘Bardolatry’ – a trend that continues to this day.

Garrick as Shakespeare's Richard III

Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III

 

Johnson’s Shakespeare combined a survey of Shakespeare’s plays with analysis of critical editions to date, and its accompanying ‘Preface’ remains the cornerstone of Shakespeare criticism.

This exhibition at Dr Johnson’s House – the home in Gough Square where Johnson began this work, and also finished his great Dictionary (1755) – explores Johnson’s contributions, and those of members of his circle, to contemporary understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare.

Their work built on earlier 18th-century critical editions of Shakespeare by scholars such as Nicholas Rowe (1709), Alexander Pope (1725), Lewis Theobold (1726), Thomas Hammer (1743-44) and WilliamWarburton (1747).

Samuel Johnson’s The Plays of William Shakespeare, 1765

Samuel Johnson’s The Plays of William Shakespeare, 1765

 

The 18th century saw efforts by numerous editors to establish the authenticity of Shakespeare’s texts whilst, at the same time, theatre-goers enjoyed 18th-century adaptations with new scenes and endings devised by actors and theatre managers.

Garrick may have serenaded Shakespeare’s birthplace at the 1769 Jubilee, yet his own production of Romeo and Juliet freely adapted and ‘improved’ the bard’s original ending, allowing the ‘star-cross’d lovers’ one final farewell.

This was an established tradition extending back to dramatist Nahum Tate’s 1681 adaptation of King Lear, where Lear lives and Cordelia ascends to the throne, having married Edgar.

This happy ending was preferred to Shakespeare’s original tragic ending, which was not seen on stage again until the 1830s.

Dr Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare’s King Lear

Dr Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare’s King Lear

 

Clearly, Shakespeare appreciation was at times scholarly and sincere, but could also be irreverent and freely adapted to the tastes of the popular market.

Along with Johnson and Garrick, the exhibition also explores the often underestimated contribution of women to Shakespeare studies.

Items of note include Elizabeth Montagu’s seminal An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear, Compared with the Greek and French Dramatic Poets (1769), and Charlotte Lennox’s Shakespear Illustrated (1753), a comprehensive survey of the dramatist’s sources (both on loan from private collections).

These are exhibited alongside an oak chest (date unknown) which once belonged to David Garrick, and was used to store his stage costumes, and a creamware pottery jug (c.1770—80) decorated with an image of Garrick and one of Shakespeare (on loan from a private collection).

A selection of 18th-century prints represent many of the editors, writers and actors who contributed to Shakespeare scholarship in this period, in addition to an original Victorian oil painting by William Powell Frith (1887) which depicts a meeting between Dr Johnson and the celebrated actress Sarah Siddons.

The garret at Dr Johnson's House

The garret at Dr Johnson’s House

 

A complete first edition of Johnson’s The Plays of William Shakespeare (1765) will also be on display, complemented by volumes from the elaborately illustrated second edition (1770).

“The 18th century saw great change in the treatment of Shakespeare,” says Celine Luppo McDaid, Curator at Dr Johnson’s House.

“While theatre managers were catering to the tastes of their audience, who believed Shakespeare’s works often lacked any sense of poetic justice, scholarly editors like Johnson were returning the works of the Bard to what we recognise today.

“Johnson did a great deal to remove the ‘errours and corruptions’ that time and adaptation had allowed to creep in, and established a mode for modern literary criticism.”

Portrait of Shakespeare in Johnson’s 1765 edition

Portrait of Shakespeare in Johnson’s 1765 edition

 

The exhibition is accompanied by a lively events programme of tours, talks and performances.

Highlights include ‘Playing to the Crowd’, a new dramatic piece by multimedia theatre company Palimpsest, commissioned by the House especially for this exhibition. (Sundays 15 & 22 November, 3pm & 6pm)

Shakespeare in the 18th century: Johnson, Garrick and friends runs until Saturday 28 November 2015.

Entrance to the exhibition is FREE after usual admission to the House.

Go here for further details about the House, the exhibition and the events programme.

Permanently Bard’s energetic take on Romeo and Juliet puts Shakespeare back where he belongs – in the beer garden of your local pub

Images by Kate Reynolds-Haigh (taken at The Links Tavern, Liphook)
IMG_2005
For their fourth year touring Fuller’s pubs with Summer Shakespeare, Permanently Bard present his best known tragedy in a beer garden, to great success.
 
Supported by Fullers, Permanently Bard bring Elizabethan theatre back to its spiritual home – the beer garden. This production is Shakespearean in spirit, with a welcoming and permissive atmosphere, encouraging people to take photos and tweet, and involving them in the show to create a raucous, festival atmosphere.
IMG_2003
The use of the space was impressive, demonstrating the company’s experience with the format. The first act was largely wonderful and rightly treated as a comedy, with a gender-swapped Benvolio (Josie Catherine) adding a new dimension to the early relationships.
IMG_2004
Capulet (Gareth Fordred) commends himself well, equal parts Bruce Forsyth and Oliver Reed. Friar Lawrence (Richard Fish) handled a sudden downpour with aplomb.
IMG_2002
Juliet (Lucy Southall) was a highlight, played adeptly and with a light touch; instantly likeable and engaging, youthful but never childish, spirited but never petulant.
IMG_1999
The show is not without faults, and it feels safe to say that this production is not one for purists. Ad libs were used to communicate thoughts already in the text, while actions sometimes conflicted with it. Whole exchanges of wit were rushed through, while tense scenes had their energy sucked out by long pauses.
IMG_2001
Most disappointingly, the stakes felt under-served in key scenes. Just annoying was a drum, bursting any tension that bubbled up, so prepare yourself for that.
IMG_1997
I say ‘prepare yourself’, because Permanently Bard’s Romeo and Juliet is still an entertaining night out with a committed cast. There is enough charm, charisma and atmosphere to overcome any shortcomings.
IMG_1998
Amid the fun, it still feels like the company wants to tell Shakespeare’s story, and this is a refreshing and recommended alternative for those who may have been brow-beaten by a more po-faced production in the past.
Permanently Bard’s Romeo and Juliet will be touring Fuller’s pubs in and around London until 12 September. Go here to check all the dates.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Titus Andronicus probably wouldn’t be the best starting point…” Teacher and Hour-Long Shakespeare author Matthew Jenkinson offers his tips on approaching Shakespeare with young people

“All’s Well That Ends Well is funny – if you’re fluent in Shakespearean English!” protested one GCSE English pupil to me recently. It is not an uncommon complaint, along with assertions that Shakespeare’s plays are too complicated or difficult for many school children. Well, quite rightly Shakespeare is not going to go away; quite the opposite, as the new National Curriculum puts even greater emphasis on his works.

So how can parents or teachers aid in the understanding of Shakespeare among their pupils or children? The most empowering thing you can say, at first, is “Do not worry about understanding all (or any) of the words”. It is amazing how quickly a pupil’s brain can shut down because they are panicking about ‘getting’ everything the first time around. Understanding comes with time, re-reading, and patient explanation.

CS9B6725
It is also enhanced by watching Shakespeare on the stage. But parents and teachers need to be judicious about this. Watching a poor stage production will have pupils running a mile in the opposite direction, and they certainly won’t feel inclined to explore the text in any greater depth. Watching a great stage production can have the opposite effect.

There is no need to traipse long distances to Stratford or London these days either. The Globe Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, respectively, have released some excellent DVDs of their recent stage productions. So you can now break up three-hour-long productions in the classroom or at home, pausing to discuss what is happening or to go to the loo.

Attending a live production can be exhilarating, but I would wait until the children have gained some traction. Making them stand in the rain at The Globe for three hours, as a first experience of Shakespeare, probably won’t have them begging for more.

CS9B7508
Watching a live performance enables pupils to work out plots by seeing the interaction between characters and hearing the tone employed by expert actors. I have used Roger Allam’s Falstaff scenes, performed at The Globe in 2010, to convey to pupils what happens in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. I have been amazed at how much laughter has come from individuals who just would not have understood the text if we had merely read it from the page.

The other way to get children engaged with Shakespeare is to get them on their feet, acting out parts. Again, a sensitive and judicious approach is necessary here. First of all, the choice of play is vital. Titus Andronicus probably wouldn’t be the best starting point. Parents and teachers also need to be understanding of the fact that many pupils, especially as they stumble through adolescence, will be quite reticent about standing up and delivering elaborate metaphors.

CS9B6704
There are two powerful ways to counter this. The first is to create a culture in school and at home where drama is an everyday feature – it is not nerdy or distant. The second – obviously – is to ‘differentiate’ the casting, ensuring that the allocation of parts reflects the confidence and ability of the pupils. Giving a reticent child the part of Macbeth will put them off Shakespeare for life, as will giving a confident actor the part of First Servingman. One of the joys of Shakespeare’s history plays, in particular, is the number of roles available, with differing levels of intensity; every pupil can find their niche.

There are very few schools out there that will be able to stage a full three-hour Shakespeare play, which is why I have been editing a new series of abridged versions in the Hour-Long Shakespeare series. As the title suggests, each play lasts about an hour when performed, with central characters and the overall narrative arcs preserved. This is by no means a novel project – the plays have been abridged since Shakespeare’s day, as evidenced by the discovery in 2014 of a First Folio in St Omer, France, in which Jesuits made cuts to suit their pupils.

CS9B7559
What is new about the Hour-Long series, aside from some original scene shifting (don’t use these texts in exams!), is the use of a Chorus in all of the plays. Shakespeare himself famously used a Chorus in Henry V, for example, but adopting this device in other plays enables any number of pupils to get involved as narrators, offering summaries of excised sections of plot, or acting as Roman citizens in Julius Caesar, the tyrant’s conscience in Richard III, or the witches in Macbeth – all with the text still in front of them.

Removing the pressures of learning vast amounts of lines, or spending too long on the stage, enables usually reticent pupils to engage with Shakespeare in performance. Maintaining juicy title roles with headline speeches attracts those keen actors who are ready for something more challenging. In sum, Shakespeare hopefully becomes more manageable for those who would normally be scared off.

Matthew Jenkinson is director of studies at New College School in Oxford. Hour-Long Shakespeare: Henry IV (Part 1), Henry V and Richard III is available now, priced £10. Hour-Long Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Julius Cesar will be published in September.

Lois Leveen, author of the novel Juliet’s Nurse, talks about the power of the plague in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet

“As Mercutio is dying he says not once, not twice, but three times, ‘A plague on both your houses!’ And that made me think about plague, which first came to Italy in 1348 and killed about 40 percent of the population.

LoisLeveenHeadshot by John Melville Bishop

“When I started the novel I never thought that we would be struggling with something like what’s happening with Ebola now. But certainly there is so much fear about contagion and disease. We understand contagion and infection much better, but in an era where understanding about why some people got sick and others didn’t, why some people died and others got better…

©Globe/Opus Arte

©Globe/Opus Arte

 

“Trying to imagine, not what it was like live through that – because the book is set ten years after that wave – but people are really dealing with what it means to be dealing with that aftermath. Cultural or social post-traumatic stress disorder that everybody in society is dealing with.

JulietsNurseCover

“And trying to think about what it would be like to have to go on in the wake of that when you don’t really have a scientific understanding of what happened, and trying to make sense of the world.”

Read the full interview with Lois Leveen in Shakespeare Magazine 05.

Author Lois Leveen talks about the suffering that underpins the main character of her Shakespeare-inspired novel Juliet’s Nurse

“In some ways, I had to stop looking at what the core theme might be for Shakespeare, because I had to discover what it was for Juliet’s Nurse. There are plot points, and certainly characters, and even lines or riffs on lines, that I pull over from Shakespeare. But it really is ultimately Angelica’s, the Nurse’s, story. In that sense, the theme was really clear from the beginning – that line about having her own daughter who died.

©Globe/Opus Arte

©Globe/Opus Arte

“I remember talking to someone I know, a mother of young children, about the experience of having a child die and the mother said, ‘If that happened to me, I don’t know – I would lay down and die too’.

“And that was not an option for Angelica, or other women and men living who loved their children dearly in those centuries and centuries in which the death of a child was quite common. We shy away from suffering, and think of it as something to be avoided, but suffering is inevitable and survival is not something that happens in opposition to suffering. Survival is something that happens because we learn to assimilate suffering into our lives.

LoisLeveenHeadshot by John Melville Bishop
“So again, on a social level what’s present for the Nurse and for the other characters in the novel, because it’s present in the play, is the question of how do you make sense of suffering and how do you find hope in what seems like devastating loss?

“I wouldn’t say that was Shakespeare’s theme in Romeo and Juliet, but it definitely became my theme in Juliet’s Nurse.”

JulietsNurseCover
Want to find out more about Lois Leveen and Juliet’s Nurse?
Read the full interview with her in the latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

Issue 5 of Shakespeare Magazine arrives just in time for 2015 – and, yes, it’s still completely free!

Cover 05
Yes, we made you wait for it (sorry about that) but the latest completely FREE issue of Shakespeare Magazine is finally here.

Our scintillating cover story celebrates the amazing Shakespeare documentary film Muse of Fire.

We also investigate Shakespeare and the Tower of London, and take a trip to Staunton, Virginia – home of the American Shakespeare Center.

Meanwhile, actors from Shakespeare’s Globe have teamed up with a crew of legal eagles to perform at the famous Inns of Court.

Lois Leveen rethinks Romeo and Juliet with her evocative novel Juliet’s Nurse, while the experimental Filter Theatre Company remixes Macbeth at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol.

Plus! You could win a copy of Station Eleven, the thrilling post-apocalyptic Shakespeare novel by Emily St. John Mandel.

Go here to read Issue 5 of Shakespeare Magazine right now.

And a very Happy New Year to our readers all over the world!

Shakespeare gets a Pulp Fiction makeover with this irreverent cover art for new paperback editions of Othello and Romeo & Juliet – and we have 5 sets up for grabs!

Othello pulp cover R&J pulp cover
A glowering, ruffed-up Mr T as Othello? An inescapably post-teenage Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as Romeo & Juliet? It can only mean one thing: William Shakespeare is receiving a cheeky remix from Pulp! The Classics.

With lurid, genre-splicing cover art from David Mann, the series already includes editions of classic novels like Pride & Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but Shakespeare is the first playwright to join their ranks.

And a spokesperson for Pulp! The Classics tells us they hope to release a complete set of Shakespeare titles in due course.

Priced £6.99, the Pulp! The Classics editions of Othello and Romeo & Juliet are on sale at bookshops from Thursday 6 November.

But if you don’t want to shell out your hard-earned groats, we have FIVE pairs of the Shakespeare titles to give away.

To be in with a chance of winning one simply send an email to us at shakespearemag@outlook.com with ‘Pulp Shakespeare!’ in the subject line.

Don’t forget to include your name, address and contact number. Closing date is Thursday 13 November – best of luck!

For more on Pulp! The Classics, check out their website here or follow on Twitter: @pulptheclassics

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet staged in Manchester’s historic Victoria Baths

Romeo and  Juliet (image: Jessica Tremp)

Romeo and Juliet (image: Jessica Tremp)

From Wednesday 10 September to Saturday 4 October, Manchester’s extraordinary Victoria Baths will be the setting for an original promenade performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The drama is retold as a contemporary fairy tale set in a criminal underworld of Eastern Europe and influenced by Eastern European stories, music and film.

The three atmospheric empty Victorian swimming pools will be transformed into a dangerous, seductive and entertaining world with an ensemble of bold and colourful characters and the music of Gypsy bands and Balkan choirs.

For more information and to book tickets, go here.