In the shocking light of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse revelations, it’s now very difficult to watch Shakespeare in Love. But there’s more: “This is a scandal that reaches many corners of our Shakespearean world, writes Brooke Thomas.

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What’s your favourite Shakespeare inspired film? For many of us, the 1998 classic Shakespeare in Love is the one we return to again and again. It’s a feel-good movie that we can share with anyone, not just our fellow bardophiles. It’s a warm, charming film that introduced a lot of people to Shakespeare and showed a fun side of Bill to some of those who’d been put off by dry school sermons. It’s got a great script, an amazing cast, and it won loads of Oscars.

It was also produced by serial sex abuser Harvey Weinstein.

The film’s female lead, Gwyneth Paltrow, has made a detailed and harrowing accusation against Weinstein. Her co-stars Judi Dench and Colin Firth have made statements condemning the producer. So has the film’s director, John Madden. Another co-star, Ben Affleck, is now enmeshed in a scandal of his own.

Harvey Weinstein, along with his brother Bob, was founder of the Miramax Company, and later the Weinstein Company. As well as giving us numerous classics of modern cinema, they were linked, via production, co-production or distribution, to several other Shakespeare films, including Prospero’s Books (1991), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1996), a version of Hamlet (2000) with Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh’s Love’ Labour’s Lost (2000), “O” (2001), a modern-day reworking of Othello, and, later, Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (2010), Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2012) and Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015).
Another actress, Romola Garai, well known for her Shakespearean stage roles (including Cordelia to Ian McKellen’s King Lear), has come forward to share her own account of abuse by Weinstein.

The victim accounts paint Weinstein as a vulgar, cowardly man. Luring his victims into solo encounters, turning up to meetings in various states of undress, screaming at Paltrow after she’d dared tell her then boyfriend about his come-ons. Gross and leering in his dressing gown, the very embodiment of that well-known character – the casting couch pervert, the professor who would boost your grade, the boyfriend who paid for all those expensive dates. Nothing comes for free in this town, Sweetheart.

This is a scandal that reaches many corners of our Shakespearean world. How are we to feel? How are we to respond now we know these women who we admire so much, who gave performances we adore, were targeted behind the scenes by this predatory man?

Although it’s 401 years after his death, Shakespeare is still tainted by this, in a sense. We in the audience applauded Harvey Weinstein for giving us these films. We didn’t know the truth – that, to him, Shakespeare was just another thing to be abused and exploited. But Shakespeare tells us something very clear about such men of power – their reigns always end. They always fall.

When I started writing this piece I typed this inane opening line: “The entertainment industry has been shocked in recent weeks by the revelations about Harvey Weinstein.” It’s incorrect as well as dull. We’ve been furious, sickened, brimming over with outrage and solidarity for the victims, but shocked? How can we be?

As Meryl Streep commented in her statement about the allegations “The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar.”

I’m not saying we knew about these specific offences with this specific man – although some did allegedly enable Weinstein and they’ll have their own questions to answer in time. I’m saying that we’ve heard this story before. We know how this works.
One in five women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 (Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2013). This isn’t a rare and startling occurrence. This is something that we’re used to negotiating, in the workplace and beyond.

We live in a world where the 45th president of the United States was elected to office after we heard him confess to sexual assault on tape. Where an anonymous Hollywood agent’s quoted response to the evolving allegations against Weinstein was both dismissive and Shakespeare-defiling: “To me, it’s much ado about nothing… Welcome to Hollywood!”
Sexual assault is commonplace. An open secret. Usually dutifully derided in public and yet quietly accepted in some private spheres.

Some of the statements from Weinstein’s victims and others supporting them cite fear about their future career as a reason not to step forward before. They were intimidated, vulnerable, scared. They stopped working with Weinstein. Quietly advised others not to. The ones who were brave enough to kick up a stink were silenced. Paid off. Allegedly booted from future roles.

Women are still asked why they don’t always speak up about men like Weinstein. The simple answer is that usually we watch them – that professor, that producer, that executive, that rich or powerful lover, relative, or friend – walk away unscathed from our accusations. Have you ever had that nightmare where you’re trying to run but your limbs collapse under you like they’re made of paper? That’s how speaking up against these men feels. In the entertainment industry. In any industry. In this society.

If you do speak up, chances are you’ll get swept away in a wave of “But he’s such a nice guy!”, “That’s just how he is” and, of course, “Don’t make such a fuss.” That’s before you get to the inevitable victim-blaming questions. “Why did you meet in a private room?”, “Did you really tell him to stop?”, “But she carried on working for him afterwards?”

The reason I’m rehashing all this hideously familiar territory is that I cannot understate how brave Weinstein’s victims are for speaking out, how admirable and important their actions are. Did you know that only an estimated 15% of victims of sexual violence report it to the police? Speaking up about this is still subversive. Lavinia’s removed tongue and hands in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus are a grim, but apt, parallel for modern-day women. We are not supposed to tell. “I was expected to keep the secret,” Paltrow said.

Several excellent articles and threads have been circulating on social media about this situation. One by Helen Rosner includes the line: “The burden of defending a workplace from sexual predation cannot be carried alone by women and our whisper network.” The term “whisper network” resonated with me. We tell who we can. We try to protect each other from falling victim to these abusers. Because that’s all we’ve been able to do for so long. I think most women will recognise this culture – the necessary silence cut with urgent whispers. “Don’t be alone with him.” “Don’t pick up anything he drops.” You know this story. At least one in five of us didn’t hear the whispers. We know this story.

Through all the righteous anger, weariness and, frankly, bitterness that this is how things are, one emotion emerges strongest for me: hope.

If this powerful man can be publicly denounced for his abusive behaviour, why not the others? Finally, frustratingly slowly, things are changing. People are starting to believe women when they speak out. We’re lending courage to silent victims every time we applaud the people who have come forward. And supporting victims is finally being normalised by influential people across all industries. Justice is starting to catch up with the Weinsteins, the Saviles, the predatory monsters of this world.

I hope they’re watching. The others. The abusers hiding behind their power, their money, our fading fear. I hope they see Harvey Weinstein fall and know a sea change is coming. The whisper networks are watching too, and we’ll no longer hold our tongues.

Hark! Now I hear them.

Official website for Rape Crisis England & Wales

Paris-based journalist Carolina Rosendorn asked Shakespeare Magazine’s Editor Pat Reid three brief questions about tourism in the Bard’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. His response was a 2,000-word sprawl of sightseeing tips – and unabashed Shakespearean fan worship.

Interview by Carolina Rosendorn        Photos by Emma Wheatley

Do you consider yourself a Shakespeare fan? Why? What do you love about his work? Please feel free to elaborate as much as you want.

PAT REID: “Yes, I do consider myself a Shakespeare fan. One of my reasons for launching Shakespeare Magazine was the recognition that Shakespeare does have fans in the modern sense of the word. Shakespeare – and his body of the work – has fans in the same way that a famous actor or band or football team has fans. You get this with lots of cultural figures from the past, but with Shakespeare the fan energy is equal to all of the others put together.”

“For a fan like me, Shakespeare is endlessly fascinating. Even if I was to focus solely on his life and works, that would keep me occupied forever. But Shakespeare touches on so many things – and so much Shakespeare-related activity has taken place in the centuries since his death – that I’d need multiple lifetimes and several additional brains to even begin to process it all.”

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“People often ask me if I ever run out of material for the magazine. The truth is that if I was able to cover all meaningful Shakespeare activity in the world, the magazine would be a thousand pages long – and I’d have to publish a new issue every day.”

“There is definitely a ‘trainspotting’ element to being a Shakespeare fan – being amused by gloriously tacky Shakespeare merchandise or delighted by a knowing reference to Hamlet in the Power Rangers TV show. But what I love about Shakespeare’s work is that it seems to touch on all the important questions of life, and seems to offer suggestions for how to get through it. Shakespeare’s plays are broadly divided into Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, and ultimately his works range from hilariously funny to educational to emotionally enriching. You can’t ask for much more from an artist.”

“Not forgetting Shakespeare’s Sonnets and long narrative poems, which are also all of those things. But to give one example of the power of Shakespeare I’ll choose Romeo and Juliet. It’s become quite fashionable to be dismissive of that play, but I remember standing reading it on a London tube station a few years ago, and I had tears running down my face because Shakespeare’s words were just so beautiful.”

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Why do you think that people all over the world visit his birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon?

“Whenever you have fandom you always find a kind of quasi-religious element, and Shakespeare has certainly spread around the globe like a religion. So it’s not unusual that people want to make pilgrimages to the shrine, as it were. But even without the Shakespeare connection, Stratford-upon-Avon would still be a lovely place (although perhaps it’s because of the Shakespeare connection that people have fought to preserve its essential loveliness).

“Personally, I love going there. It’s a beautiful and tranquil place. It has quite a magical feel, similar to other historic English towns like York, Bath and Oxford – and it has a certain mystical kinship with ancient sites like Glastonbury, Avebury and Stonehenge. I think a lot of people visit Stratford-upon-Avon because of Shakespeare, but end up falling in love with the place for its own qualities.”

“As a tourist destination, Stratford-upon-Avon seems to run like a well-oiled machine. It’s able to accommodate huge numbers of people without getting too uncomfortable, and thankfully I haven’t noticed the kind of environmental damage you might expect from so much human traffic.”

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“For a typical visit with my partner and child, we will drive the 75 miles from Bristol and park in the town centre. We’ll buy a ticket that allows us to visit the Birthplace and other related houses (usually the ticket allows return visits too). At the Birthplace, we’ll ask some of the actors to perform a speech or scene or sonnet for us, and one of the musicians does a splendid version of Titania’s Lullaby from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“Then we walk over to Holy Trinity Church to visit Shakespeare’s tomb and see the famous effigy. Next to the church is the Dell, a pleasant park by the river. In the summer they have open air performances by amateur companies. It’s free, and often highly entertaining. While waiting for the next show, we can hire a rowing boat and enjoy splashing around on the river. This is right next to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and it’s not unusual to see one of the star actors chatting to students on the lawn. Also nearby is The Dirty Duck (it’s a pun on ‘Black Swan’), a legendary pub where the actors go boozing after performances. On a sunny day, with ice-cream in hand, it’s all rather blissful.”

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“Stratford-upon-Avon is also an academic centre, with the Shakespeare Centre, the Shakespeare Institute and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s own avenues of research. Once I went to interview the venerable Professor Stanley Wells, who has since been knighted. Afterwards, he took me to the office next door to meet his colleague Paul Edmondson, so I was able to do an impromptu interview with him as well. There are several other Stratford-based academics I’m keen to interview, and the Shakespeare Institute certainly has the aura of being a wonderful place to study.”

“It’s impossible to walk around Stratford-upon-Avon without embarking upon some imaginative speculation about Shakespeare and his life-long relationship with the place. This is a creatively healthy and imaginatively rewarding pursuit, just as long as you don’t confuse your speculation with objective fact.”

“Shakespeare Magazine has readers all over the world, and this has certainly educated me in terms of how different nationalities relate to the English language and England itself. Often, countries that have serious political differences with the UK are home to particularly fervent Shakespeare fans. I’ve concluded that people have a powerful desire to find common ground, and Shakespeare can be an important conduit to that.”

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“And Shakespeare still has that mark of quality – people everywhere know that he’s supposed to be the best of the best, and so they want to find out more.”

“In this day and age, I have to say that I worry about Stratford-upon-Avon’s vulnerability to a terrorist attack. It would be a nihilistic, self-defeating gesture by the perpetrators, but it would be a tragedy for civilisation.”


Do you think that everyone who does is a true Shakespeare fan? Or is there some kind of myth around his figure that attracts tourists even if they are not familiar with his actual work? I have come across a fair amount of “Shakespeare lovers” who in fact haven’t really read his work – only seen movies like Shakespeare in Love and such…

“I think probably the vast majority of visitors are not true Shakespeare fans, but that’s fine. Most adult visitors have at least some level of genuine interest in Shakespeare, and visiting Stratford-upon-Avon can only increase that. When I went to Hong Kong and visited the ‘Big Buddha’ nobody berated me for not being a true Buddhist, and I still found it an amazing experience. Likewise, I’m delighted that people from China want to visit Shakespeare’s home, and I’m confident most will take away from it something that they find meaningful.”

“Yes, there is definitely a mythic element that attracts tourists even if they have little or no formal experience of Shakespeare. Especially in the English-speaking world, Shakespeare is so embedded in the culture that people often don’t realise they’re ‘speaking Shakespeare’. So Shakespeare’s Birthplace is also the point of origin for vast swathes of our cultural identity. Visitors recognise this and respond to it in different ways – from pleasant surprise to full-scale intellectual epiphany. And importantly, people always seem happy and excited to be there. Stratford-upon-Avon seems to have an inbuilt feelgood factor.”

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“Expanding on the mythic idea of Shakespeare… there are, of course, many documented myths relating to Shakespeare and his works, and new ones keep emerging all the time. Part of Stratford-upon-Avon’s attraction is the way it feels like so much mythic energy is focussed in one relatively small and aesthetically-stimulating location.”

“Paul Edmondson says that every day he is irked to hear tourist guides in Stratford-upon-Avon perpetuating certain myths about Shakespeare. But ironically, Paul has himself been reinvestigating other Shakespeare myths, and asking if they might have a grain of substance.”

“Yes, I have also encountered self-proclaimed Shakespeare lovers who actually don’t know much about the subject. I try not to judge them too harshly. There’s an aspirational dimension to it, wishing to be seen as a culturally well-rounded person. I will admit that when I was younger I used to imply that I knew more about Shakespeare than I really did. I know a lot more about Shakespeare now, but I can cheerfully admit there’s a vast, yawning chasm of what I don’t know. For me, Shakespeare is a life-long learning project, and Shakespeare Magazine is a way to help myself and others with that.”

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“Shakespeare in Love is actually a great film for introducing people to Shakespeare, and it becomes more enjoyable as you gradually understand all the in-jokes and references.”

“One thing that really frustrates me is when people share dreadful fake Shakespeare quotes via social media. I wish we could shut down the stupid websites that originate these things, because it’s a form of cultural vandalism. Conversely, I love the meme of the actor Tom Hiddleston looking angry ‘because someone, somewhere is misquoting Shakespeare’.”


If there’s anything you want to add, please feel free to do so? Any insights you might have about Shakespeare as a tourist attraction would be interesting.

“Many of the big engine rooms of Shakespeare study and performance are now situated in North America. And I sometimes suspect that some of those guys are starting to believe that their take on Shakespeare is the real deal, and the version that belongs to England is somehow an inferior version. This is how you get ridiculous situations like a Shakespeare festival in Oregon spending millions of dollars on ‘modern-day translations of Shakespeare’, as if Shakespeare’s actual words constitute some kind of problem that needs to be fixed. I certainly appreciate that geographical distance can inspire valid perspectives on Shakespeare, but it’s insane to think that Stratford-upon-Avon and London can be written out of the equation.”

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“There are people in this world who deeply resent the UK because of its colonial legacy – and other, more recent, crimes – but they still love Shakespeare. So it’s strange to see Shakespeare himself apparently falling victim to a form of US cultural imperialism. I should add that, because Shakespeare Magazine has so many US readers and contributors, it’s arguably as much an American publication as it is a British one. The story of Shakespeare in America will never run out of steam, but it’s a story that begins in London and – crucially – Stratford-upon-Avon.”

“I would just like to add that, as tourist attractions go, Stratford-upon-Avon is a pretty great one. There’s loads to see and do, and it’s not too expensive if you plan wisely. There are plenty of London locations with compelling links to Shakespeare, but in Stratford-upon-Avon every inch of the place is connected to the man and his journey from cradle to grave. To stand on the same patch of turf as the greatest Englishman who ever lived is a powerful and precious privilege.”

Read the Shakespeare Magazine guide to Stratford-upon-Avon here.

Ultra-vivid, ultra-violent and ultra-cool, Kill Shakespeare is a graphic novel series with added Bard Power. Co-creator Anthony Del Col takes Shakespeare Magazine behind the panels…

What would you say to a Shakespearean traditionalist who was sceptical about graphic novels?
“About seven years ago I myself was sceptical about comic books and graphic novels. I thought that they were all just superhero stories about men in tights and capes, that sort of thing. Then Conor (McCreery, Kill Shakespeare co-creator), who had been working part time at a comic book shop at that time, started putting some really interesting and provocative titles into my hands. Things like Y: The Last Man, Fables, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Blankets – all these things from different genres. It made me realise how interesting a storytelling medium it actually is.

“With comic books and graphic novels you’re not limited by budgets or anything like that, you’re only limited by your imagination. It’s actually a very thought-provoking medium. Yes, you have the visuals in front of you, but you don’t have all. There are interesting stories being told between the panels.”

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I know you were considering other mediums back when Kill Shakespeare was just an idea. Are you happy you settled on this one?
“Absolutely. Traditionally Shakespeare is viewed as very highbrow, which is unfortunate, and comic books are perceived as lowbrow. I thought it was poetic to make them meet half-way, to put the highbrow with the lowbrow. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, not to be read, and in a lot of classrooms across the world the experience is to have a teacher or someone in the class read it out for you. In the comic book medium we can bring everything to life, even more so than Shakespeare could himself in some cases. Hamlet meets pirates in the play – it happens offstage but you hear about it. In the very first edition of Kill Shakespeare you actually see this huge pirate battle. You can’t do that on stage. We write Kill Shakespeare, we have Sherlock Holmes vs Harry Houdini – I’ve fallen in love with the medium and I can envision myself writing comics for the next 30 years.”

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Which of the characters is your favourite to write?
“When we first started, my favourite character was Iago because he’s so deliciously evil and always three or four steps ahead of everyone else. It almost got to a point where it felt like he was one or two steps ahead of Conor and myself. As time has gone on, and as the project has expanded into other mediums, Hamlet has become my favourite. I look for Hamlet in everything I watch or consume these days. The way we’ve scripted him in the television outline that we’re putting together right now makes him even more fun to write and I think that I… it’s not that I can fully grasp who Hamlet is, but I feel like I’ve gotten a better handle on who he is and the possibilities for his character.”

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What’s the plan for TV?
“The goal for a Kill Shakespeare television series would be to combine the dark fantasy world-building of Game of Thrones with the wit and knowledge of Shakespeare in Love. Game of Thrones is a huge success worldwide, and opened many people’s eyes to the power of fantasy. We think doing Kill Shakespeare as television can do the same thing for Shakespeare.”

Richard III by Andy Belanger

Outside of your own, do you have a favourite adaptation of Hamlet or any of the plays?
“Oh. that’s a good question. I’m gonna go a little off the beaten track, but I do like – it’s not a straight-up adaptation – I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare in Love. Just because it was a way to make Shakespeare accessible and exciting and relevant. I’ll do another cheat, because I am Canadian I have to give a plug for Slings and Arrows.”

I adore Slings and Arrows.
“For those that are reading this that have not watched it yet, I highly recommend it. In terms of straight adaptations, again because it made Shakespeare relevant for a whole new generation, I’ll say Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. I know it has its fans and its detractors. I love how Baz just throws everything and the kitchen sink into everything that he does. That’s the adaptation – out of film, TV, everything – that I’ve enjoyed and watched and rewatched the most.”

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What do you think it is about Shakespeare’s characters that make them so universal?
“Shakespeare was the ultimate humanist. He understood humanity and individuals better than anyone ever has or ever will.

The moment that Shakespeare really came to life for me was the first play I ever read in school. It was The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, who is a character who doesn’t necessarily speak to me – but it’s close to my heart – gives the ‘hath not a Jew eyes’ speech which gives you all this sympathy for him. The next minute he wants his ‘pound of flesh.’ So he goes from being a villain to sympathetic to a villain yet again.

“I find that so fascinating, that within a minute you’re able to see all the different facets – good and bad – of a character.
That’s why I think his characters have stood the test of time and have been done and redone.”

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So your first experience of Shakespeare was a positive one?
“Yes and no. I had a horrible teacher who was completely out of her element. The entire class was unruly. We were in Canada and not excited about Shakespeare – it was a negative experience up front. But I had been told by media and people in general that Shakespeare was the crème de la crème of storytelling, and I thought there must be a reason why. So if I’m not going to learn from my teacher, then I’m going to go out and try to figure it out myself. That’s when I started self-guided learning and sought out and read more things about Merchant of Venice and Shylock.”

Lady Macbeth by Andy Belanger

You’ve just released the Kill Shakespeare table top game, you’re working on TV ideas, what’s next?
“In addition to television I’d like to do a videogame. There are some really fascinating stories being told through this medium. I think they’re called narrative games, where it’s not a first person shooter, it’s more about storytelling and personalities. I’d love to be able to immerse players into a world where you can play as one of Shakespeare’s characters and you get to interact with all the others. In an early brainstorming session, what became the Kill Shakespeare comic was a video game, so I’d love to come back to that and introduce a whole new generation to Shakespeare through that medium.”

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I would play that.
“I know! There would be so many Shakespeare fans, even those who don’t play video games, who’d be like ‘Wait, what? I get to play as Hamlet? That’s amazing!’ and they’d dive into it. I also want action figures. Kill Shakespeare action figures. Because what Shakespeare fan doesn’t want to have an action figure on their desk of Hamlet, or Othello, or Puck?”

Absolutely! So, sky’s the limit, really?
“Sky’s the limit, baby.”

This interview originally appeared in Shakespeare Magazine 06. Go here to read the original version.

Portraits: Piper Williams
Art: Andy Belanger