Dr Michael Goodman of Cardiff University wants everyone to sample and enjoy the artistic treasures and historical delights of the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

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What comes to mind when you think of Shakespeare? The latest Kenneth Branagh film, perhaps? Struggling to make sense of the language in school? Merry Englande, ruffs and a good dose of ‘hey nonny nonny’? If we could somehow ask this question to a Victorian, there is a good chance that they would answer: ‘illustrations’.

The Victorian era was the ‘Golden Age’ for Shakespeare illustration. Between 1839 and the end of the century, thousands of illustrations were produced within many different editions of Shakespeare’s Complete Works. New printing technologies meant that books could be produced on a mass commercial scale and illustrated books, for the first time, became affordable to working and middle class families.

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What is so fascinating about these illustrated Shakespeare editions, which were hugely popular in the Victorian era, is that they form a significant part of our cultural heritage and, indeed, our construction of Shakespeare’s plays as we understand them today. Unfortunately, these illustrations are often hidden away in rare books libraries, meaning that they are often inaccessible to members of the general public.

My recent project, The Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive, seeks to rectify this. It is an online, open access resource, which contains over 3,000 of these Victorian illustrations. And it is centred on the four most significant Victorian editions and illustrators of Shakespeare’s Complete Works: Charles Knight, Kenny Meadows, John Gilbert and H.C. Selous.

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The archive came about when I was exploring ideas for my PhD in English Literature at Cardiff University. Initially the project was just going to be concerned with analysing how Victorian illustrators depicted Shakespeare’s plays. However, as my research progressed, it slowly became apparent that here was a remarkable under-explored and underappreciated treasure trove of fantastic, curious, and often unnerving illustrations that deserved to be shared with both academics and the wider public. The illustrations by the Cardigan-born Kenny Meadows, whom one of his contemporaries described as an ‘erratic genius’, are a perfect example of the richness of material available in the archive.

Fortunately, digital technology allows us to reach audiences in a way that is unprecedented. Digital archives allow us to recover hidden histories, celebrate forgotten voices, to enhance our understanding of bygone eras, and to disseminate cultural artefacts in an engaging and innovative fashion. It was with these ideas in mind – about what can be achieved using the digital – I decided to create The Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

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This was, of course, a large undertaking. Each of these editions contain hundreds of illustrations which would require scanning into the computer, alongside being given the appropriate bibliographical and iconographical meta data (basically, the details about where the image came from and what the image contains), so that the illustrations would then be searchable within the archive. Furthermore, I wanted the archive to be as user-friendly as possible, and to incorporate the ability to use social media, so that users could comment upon and share the images on Facebook and Twitter. After four years of working on the project, I launched the archive late last year, and the reaction it has received has been hugely positive.

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The BBC, for example, have made a short video about the archive , while Digital Arts magazine have credited it as being one of the top ten websites for free historical images. Many online literary magazines have also written about the archive, including Lit Hub, while the UK’s Shakespeare Magazine (thank you, Pat!) has described it as a ‘deeply wonderful thing’. As kind and generous as these reactions have been, what I take most from them is that there is a real desire amongst the public to engage with academic work.

Ultimately, I hope the archive will be used in education to help students of all ages to better understand Shakespeare’s plays, and by researchers interested in the Victorian period and Shakespeare. However, the archive is available for anyone to use in whatever way they wish. Moreover, I would like to inspire other people to have the confidence to make similar archives and to recognise that with curiosity, imagination and creativity, we can make scholarship exciting, interesting and available to all.

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We now live in world where, thanks to technology, we can begin to share our cultural history – not just with a privileged few, but with everyone.

Go here to explore the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive.

Olivier Award-winner Sheila Atim stars as shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian in a new and timely screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s much-loved comedy Twelfth Night, released on 25 October.

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Shanty Productions is an independent film production company, co-founded by Rakie Ayola and Adam Smethurst, and committed to producing drama that speaks to a diverse audience. Its first production is a full text version of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a 400-year-old stage play adapted for the screen to reflect and reach multicultural Britain today.
Adapted and directed by Smethurst, with Welsh actor Ayola (Harry Potter and The Cursed Child) as Executive Producer, Twelfth Night is available on Amazon Prime and iTunes from Thursday 25 October 2018.
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The film stars 2018 Olivier Award winner Sheila Atim as the Bard’s shipwrecked twins, Viola and Sebastian. She has previously performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in the Donmar Shakespeare Trilogy, and is currently playing the role of Emilia in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe.
 
This is a modern, full text version of Shakespeare’s tale of unrequited love, which also features Shalini Peiris as Olivia, Antony Bunsee as Malvolio, Zackary Momoh as Antonio and Upstart Crow’s Dominic Coleman as Sir Andrew Aguecheek among its talented cast.
Twelfth Night is the first feature from Shanty Productions; a new independent film production company committed to producing exceptional drama for diverse, multicultural audiences – creating worlds they recognise and characters they can relate to on accessible platforms for today’s digital natives.
Steven Milller (Fabian), Dominic Coleman (sir Andrew Aguecheek), Simon Nagra (Sir Toby Belch)
Commenting on the driving force behind Shanty Productions, Co-Founder Rakie Ayola said, “It is essentially the realisation that Adam and I could put our money where our mouths are, channel our skills and produce the kind of work we want to see. Work that combines our love of Shakespeare with our need to represent the world as we see it – as we’d like our daughters and their contemporaries to see it.”
On his decision to start with an adaptation of Twelfth Night, Adam Smethurst explained, “With the widespread rise of anti-immigrant populism and governments actively encouraging a hostile environment for refugees, telling the story of the outsider surviving in an alien world on her wit, charm and ingenuity became and remains compellingly urgent.”
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Lead actor Sheila Atim added, “We’re not trying to dumb Shakespeare down; we’re not trying to make it what it isn’t so people can digest it. We’re staying absolutely true to what it is. We’re just bringing it forward to a time when people may feel like they can connect with it more.”
Twelfth Night is available on Amazon Prime and iTunes from Thursday 25 October 2018. For more details, visit the Shanty Productions website.
Antony Bunsee (Malvolio)

Earlier this year, Professor Michael Dobson, the director of the UK’s Shakespeare Institute, visited a university in Ukraine to talk about ‘Spaces for Shakespeare’ (and beer!)

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On 7 May 2018 Professor Michael Dobson gave a lecture titled Spaces for Shakespeare at the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre, Zaporizhzhya Classical Private University, in south east Ukraine.

The Director of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, Professor Dobson spoke to a packed lecture theatre of students, teachers and academics from across central and southern Eastern Ukraine.

Following a lively introduction by Director of the Centre, Professor Nataliya Torkut on Shakespeare Days in Ukraine 2018 (a multi-centre Shakespeare festival), there was an enjoyable, wide ranging and insightful lecture by Michael Dobson on Spaces for Shakespeare.

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“Any space can be a space for Shakespeare,” Professor Dobson stated, “and the more spaces that are a space for Shakespeare the better.”

The lecture took us through the history of Shakespeare’s plays (“His plays are a conversation – always eloquent.”) and performance of them, via the theatres and other places where they have been performed. Trends and styles of different periods in Britain, Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia were covered. Usually-overlooked places in Britain discussed included Middlesborough’s purpose-built post-war theatre, St. Mary’s Guildhall in Coventry, Maddermarket Theare in Norwich, and the planned Shakespeare Playhouse at Prescot, near Liverpool.

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Professor Dobson’s observations ranged from the serious (“It is vitally important that countries as well as having their own culture have culture in common.”) to the light-hearted (“Hamlet is a brilliant stand-up comic as well as a doomed young man.”)

He also addressed a question about Shakespeare authorship theories. He revealed that he spent much time in every lecture dealing with this, and that Shakespeare seemed to simply attract the attention of a significant amount of people who psychologically were attracted to conspiracy theories. Dobson pointed out that there is lots of evidence that William Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and no evidence that any one else did. (The very same week, Prospect Magazine published an article with similar conclusions but more provocative language: ‘Think Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare? You might just be a snob’).

More agreeably, Dobson addressed the role of beer in Shakespeare theatre. “Elizabethan theatre started as pub theatre,” he explained. “You can get a very good range of beer at the RSC, the Globe, at every major theatre. Shakespeare writes beautifully about beer.”

“Murder While I Smile…” Back in 1996, Sir Ian McKellen starred in a vivid, outrageous and visceral screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. In this classic archive interview, film critic Robin Askew finds the acting legend on fiery, yet thoughtful, form.

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Ian McKellen pulls himself up in his chair and fixes me with the steely glare that generally precedes murder most foul in his extraordinary performance as the eponymous hunchbacked schemer in Richard Loncraine’s visually stunning Richard III. “Let me throw back the challenge,” he demands. “What’s that line about?”

The line in question is “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” – one of two that even those of us who nodded off in Eng Lit lessons will recognise from the play (the other being “Now is the winter of our discontent…”). McKellen’s daring screenplay, developed from Richard Eyre’s stage adaptation, strips away more than 40 extraneous characters, prunes two-and-a-half hours from the play’s usual running time, and commits the ultimate sacrilege of tidying up the Bard’s archaisms. No ‘thees’, ‘thous’ or ‘withals’ here.

But Richard’s desperate boost to the equine exchange rate remains jarringly unaltered in the vivid alternate ’30s England setting, striking the only real false note. He’s sitting in a jeep at the time, f’chrissakes. McKellen is not persuaded that a mechanic might have been more use. “I think people now understand that what that line is about is a man who is desperately trying to get back into the battle and can’t because of the situation he’s in,” he insists. “I think our version’s as good as any other.”

McKellen and Loncraine are holding court at Bristol’s Marriott Hotel as part of a gruelling regional press tour to promote this most accessible of Shakespeare adaptations. They’ve already done Birmingham today and are dashing off shortly to attend a specially-arranged schools’ screening. McKellen has thoughtfully bashed out answers to the six most commonly asked questions about the film (“Why does Richard III talk to the camera?” “Has cinema always been important to you?” and so on), but even these cannot anticipate the demands of newspaper hacks charged with uncovering a Local Angle. No, he corrects the poor woman from the Evening Post who hasn’t seen the film, he has never played in anything at the Old Vic, and since he’s only spending four hours in Bristol he cannot offer an opinion on our lovely city.

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They make an odd couple, Loncraine and McKellen. The latter’s a famously gay theatrical knight whose stage career has been conspicuously more successful than his screen one. The former’s remarkable career began in the swinging ’60s when he marketed such groovy executive toys as the money-spinning Newton’s Cradle. He then graduated to Tomorrow’s World, where he made a further 70 short films about fab gadgets that would revolutionise our way of living forever, but somehow failed to materialise in the corner shop. His directorial debut was Slade in Flame, and he now admits to making films only “when someone is foolhardy enough to give one to me”. His day job is in the lucrative world of commercials. It is Loncraine we have to thank for Bob Hoskins’ “It’s good to talk” and the supremely irritating ‘Papa and Nicole’.

He also admits to a lifelong loathing of Shakespeare, of which he has only now been cured. “I think there are millions of people out there like me who were taught Shakespeare rather badly at school and weren’t allowed to laugh at the funny bits or get horny at the sexy bits,” he explains. “And so I ignored it. And it took me a long while to realise that it was me who was at fault. Shakespeare is the most accessible writer if you approach him correctly for a modern audience.”

You’d have thought this meeting of the minds would result in some almighty arguments on set. “The first day of rehearsals, you’d got Ian, Maggie Smith, Robert Downey Jr., Annette Bening, Nigel Hawthorne… the list of people was quite intimidating,” admits Loncraine candidly. “For me, the great danger as director was that the actors wouldn’t look at me – they’d look at Ian to see whether he approved. And that would have been a disaster because Ian wasn’t directing the movie. So Ian and I used to have arguments, but we’d have them in front of everybody else. It was the only way for people to see that I was strong enough – if that’s the word – to disagree with Ian.”

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“Richard was constantly asking me questions about Shakespeare and challenging me to come up with credible answers,” adds McKellen, who has played Richard III more than 300 times on stage. “And if I couldn’t convince him, then he would win the argument. And he was constantly introducing me to ways of telling a story visually and cinematically, which I wasn’t going to resist because that’s what we both wanted. Anyone who thinks they’re coming to see the play should be disabused of that. The play belongs in the theatre.”

One aspect of the play which very quickly gave way to more cinematic sensibilities was Richard’s dramatic demise in the climactic battle. “We always knew there was going to be a battle because that’s what Shakespeare gave us,” explains Loncraine. “But he didn’t kill Richard on stage. The guy walks off and someone else walks on and says, ‘The king is dead. Long live the king.’ Well, you couldn’t do that to a cinema audience or they’d rip the seats out. Richard had to die on screen.”

Both men resist any attempts to draw parallels between their militaristic ’30s stylings and Nazi Germany. “It looks like Nazi imagery, but actually it’s only red and black,” points out the director. “The helmets are 1962 NATO helmets and the characters wear Greek uniforms from the 1980s that we fiddled with.”

Indeed, the film’s lavish set design and imaginative use of locations are what lend it such a distinctive flavour. McKellen stresses that “this is an English play about English characters with English characteristics” and it exasperates him that the idea of an alternate ’30s England riven by civil war still confuses some of the film’s critics.

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“The ’30s is perhaps the most recent period of our history when someone from within the ranks of the establishment might have taken over, when dictatorship and tyranny were in the air all over the rest of Europe. The first review we got was not from a drama critic but from a political correspondent in a right-wing newspaper, who said: ‘Here they go again, these lefties’ – ‘lefty luvvies’, I think we were called – ‘rubbishing the right wing. Why can’t they set Richard III in Soviet Russia rather than Germany?’ And you think, well, did he see the film. What on earth’s he talking about?”

It was during a Radio 3 debate with vehemently anti-gay Tory hack Peregrine Worsthorne that McKellen first ‘came out’. He subsequently became the first openly homosexual actor to accept a knighthood, in the face of bitter opposition from fellow activist Derek Jarman. His next project takes him to Hollywood, where he’s to star in Bryan (The Usual Suspects) Singer’s big-budget adaptation of Apt Pupil – a story from Different Seasons, the Stephen King collection that also yielded The Shawshank Redemption. Given that Tinseltown has been described as the world’s biggest closet, what do they make of him over there?

“Yeah, well, that’s a simple question with a long answer really,” he says after a pause. “It’s currently as difficult to be openly gay if you’re an actor in Hollywood as it was a couple of generations ago to be openly Jewish. Because you had to change your name and disguise the fact that you were Jewish. Under McCarthy, you had to disguise what your politics were. At the moment, it’s thought that you have to disguise the fact that you’re gay. Not if you’re an executive. Not if you’re a manager, a writer or a musician. That’s thought to be all right. But if you’re an actor, it’s thought to be death.”

The furrowed brow of concentration gives way to a broad grin. “So it gives me the greatest of pleasure to arrive in Hollywood on public occasions and talk about being gay because, in fact, nobody gives a damn. I can see the difference between the stage I’m at in my career and someone who’s starting out and trying to be a heterosexual sex symbol. But we’ll have to wait and see what happens. Some young man or woman will come out and be honest about themselves and maybe the whole thing will change overnight.

“When I played in And the Band Plays On, which was only three years ago, they couldn’t find an American actor who was prepared to play a gay character – whether he himself was gay or not. This was before Philadelphia and Tom Hanks. So they cast an actor who was 20 years too old for the part, the wrong nationality and didn’t even look like the man I was supposed to be playing. It was crazy. But Hollywood doesn’t hold the mirror up to nature. It holds up a distorting mirror – the world as they would like it to be.”

This feature originally appeared in Venue Magazine. Richard III was released on 26 April 1996. Shamefully, the film is not currently available on DVD. Second-hand copies of the deleted UK release regularly sell for £30 on eBay. Beware of European imports which have non-removable subtitles.

“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.

“Richard drives the action, Hamlet is defined by his lack of action…” Known for her one-woman interpretations of both Richard III and Hamlet, performer Emily Carding tells us what Shakespeare means to her.

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Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?

“As a writer, this year I’m immersed in the esoteric level of Shakespeare’s plays for a book I’m currently writing for Llewellyn Publishing. I also recently incorporated many quotes and speeches from the plays into a science-fiction storytelling piece for London Science Museum. However, as a performer this year, apart from Richard III (a one woman show) which has toured to Pakistan and Romania this year – and will, I suspect, continue to tour on and off for some time – the focus has been overwhelmingly on Hamlet. I played Hamlet for a full-cast production in Sussex for a small tour, which may be revived at some point. And I’m currently [August 2018] in Edinburgh with Brite Theater’s new show, Hamlet (an experience), a solo audience-interactive adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous play.

“It’s fascinating to be so absorbed in both Hamlet and Richard III, and to note the similarities and differences. Richard III drives the action himself and makes the audience complicit in his decisions. Hamlet is defined by his lack of action and his sharing his indecision with the audience. Both comment upon conscience and cowardice: Hamlet’s ‘Thus conscience does make cowards of us all’ and Richard’s ‘Conscience is but a word that cowards use’.

“In Richard III, the audience participation is passive and manipulated and controlled by myself as Richard. In Hamlet (an experience), it’s proving fascinating and rewarding to stand back and watch what the audience choose to bring to it, within the scope awarded to them via simple cue-scripts. Hamlet is a role that demands vulnerability and complete exposure of the soul to an audience. It’s a scary role to take on for so many reasons, and we’re pushing boundaries. I’m loving the journey.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?

“I have an MFA in Shakespeare, so these last few years I think I’ve learned a lot of surprising things! Perhaps I surprise myself most by moving away from being quite traditional and purist to being incredibly playful, post-modern and experimental. The most important realisation was that there is no ‘holy text’, that there are so many different versions, and that they were almost certainly abridged and improvised around in performance in Shakespeare’s day, butchered by the Victorians, and make the most wonderful raw material for us to work from in making contemporary theatre today.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?

“I don’t know that I can say I am really like Mercutio as such, but certainly playing him was a very comfortable fit. As an actor I bring myself to every role I play, and part of the joy is in exploring all the different facets of humanity, finding those points of commonality and connection, so this is a really difficult question. In some ways I think perhaps I am most like Prospero, and that goes for the shadow side as well as the good. I’m a single parent, I often feel isolated, I have unresolved family issues, a large collection of magical books and I have a tattoo on my right foot which reads ‘By my so potent art’.”

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” (The Tempest)

You have the power to cast anyone in the world (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?

“This is a really tough question because I keep thinking of castings that have already happened. McKellen as Lear I’m seeing in September, and Rylance as Iago I’ll catch in the Autumn too. I’d like to see Judi Dench play Prospero. That would be something special. Let’s have Tilda Swinton as Ariel while we’re at it.”

Shakespeare Magazine Issue 14 is here – And it’s All About Hamlet!

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HAMLET is the theme of Shakespeare Magazine Issue 14, with each and every article devoted to the fictional Prince of Denmark and the play that bears his name.

Rhodri Lewis asks “How Old is Hamlet?” while Samira Ahmed wonders “Why do Women Love Hamlet?” and we review recent productions of the play starring Tom Hiddleston and Andrew Scott.

There’s a set report from the making of Daisy Ridley’s Ophelia movie and a visit to Hamlet’s historic home, Kronborg Castle.

We also delve deep into the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive’s Hamlet collection, while Gyles Brandreth tells us about his ‘family’ production of the play, and Alice Barclay recounts how she taught a group of amateur actors to become Hamlet.

Go here to read all 14 issues of Shakespeare Magazine completely free.

Actress and producer Joanna Pickering has been telling us about an exciting new TV project, Actors On, which “explores dramatic literature, including Shakespeare, by experiencing the actor’s creative process”

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Pickering as Lady Macbeth

A British actress and producer based in the USA, Joanna Pickering has most recently performed the role of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth in a dramatic series, Actors On. This ambitious new TV series aims to help others explore dramatic literature by experiencing the actor’s creative process.

The show was created by stateside Shakespearean actor and teacher Jeff Monahan. “The main aim of Actors On is for younger actors to access the world of Shakespeare, and without expensive fees,” he says. “It is more about the journey for the actor working on their roles, how to break into difficult texts and find character, than showing a finished product.”

“It’s been a great experience,” Joanna tells Shakespeare Magazine. “We are still shooting as it is being performed for camera, on stage and then interviews as the actor prepares. We performed a lot of it on stage, which was fantastic”

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Joanna Pickering and Jeff Monahan on stage as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth

The pilot for Actors On has been made with support from Shakespeare in The Park, PSTV studios and The Porter Theater in Pittsburgh. It will air on cable for public educational purposes at the end of year in USA, and the producers are now taking the series to bigger networks such as Netflix.
“I actually saw your [Shakespeare Magazine] tweet about why they did not have Shakespeare on Netflix,” Joanna says. “And that’s what we are trying to change, to get it into the mainstream, to make it cool.”

Monahan describes Actors On Macbeth as being similar to the style pioneered by Al Pacino in his 1996 documentary/performance hybrid Looking For Richard. Referring to Pickering’s performance as Lady Macbeth, he says: “Joanna brings a sensual ferocity to her role as Lady Macbeth. We’re approaching the couple not as a ‘butcher’ and his ‘fiend-like queen’, as Malcolm refers to them, but as a man and wife dedicated to each other and intimate confidants. I knew Joanna was right for the role, having seen her perform and from how passionate she was about delving into the part.”

Pickering regards it as one of the most challenging roles in dramatic history. “I spoke in preparation with directors Catherine and Paul Calderon,” she says, “who pointed me in the direction of researching Lady Macbeth afresh from the eyes of a warrior who would fight for her country. I researched feminist papers and I tried to play her strength, ambition and need for power over the femme fatale villain – more as a Celtic warrior fighting for her people, where murdering kings was not so unusual. I made no judgement on her actions but attributed them with bravery, and, of course, ruthlessness.”

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Speaking on the overall experience, Pickering is excited, “It was a challenge and delight to work on Lady Macbeth – given the actors whose footsteps I was following. And although it was small budget, the performance edits will be on screen for time to come. I am ready for The Globe! I was very grateful to my experienced and talented co-stars.”

Check the Actors On cast and series information on imdb.

For more information about Joanna Pickering and her work, or to contact her, visit her website.

Set photography by Tanya Dovidovskaya

In a Shakespeare Magazine Exclusive, actress Alison Campbell gives a beautiful performance of the legendary ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech from Shakespeare’s As You Like It

Shakespeare Magazine visited the cast and crew of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare at the 2018 Bristol Shakespeare Festival. Alison Campbell, who’s playing Shakespeare himself, gave us this beautiful performance of one of his greatest speeches, as spoken by Jacques in As You Like It (Act II, Scene 7).

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans every thing.

Text via Open Source Shakespeare

Inspired by James Shapiro’s classic book, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare is running at Bedminster’s Stackpool Playhouse (situated in a well-known local church) until Saturday 14 July. Produced by Jacqui Ham, the play has been written and directed by Ed Viney. Apart from Alison as Shakespeare, the cast is completed by Kirsty Cox as Philip Henslowe and Chris Yapp as Will Kemp.

1599 cast
Running at a short and sharp 70-minutes, it’s a fun and family-friendly introduction to some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, characters and speeches. It also features the actors building an impressive wooden replica of Shakespeare’s Globe as they act out the playwright’s story.

Go here for more information about 1599 and to book tickets.

Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Andrew Scott, Florence Pugh, Jim Broadbent and more… Meet the stellar cast of the BBC’s epic new television production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, directed by Richard Eyre

King Lear - Generics
In the fictional present, the 80 year-old King Lear divides his kingdom among his daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, according to their affection for him. Cordelia refuses to flatter him, so he banishes her. Having acquired power, Goneril and Regan expel their father from their homes. At the same time, Lear’s prime minister, Gloucester, is betrayed by his son Edmund and his other son, Edgar, is forced to go into hiding. Lear becomes mad, Gloucester is blinded – both the kingdom and the family descend into chaos and warfare.

KING LEAR (ANTHONY HOPKINS)
King Lear - Generics
King Lear is the totalitarian ruler of a dystopian contemporary England, whose addiction to power and suppression of emotions have skewed his view on reality. Coming to the end of both his reign and his life, Lear is confronting the rifts in his family and his kingdom which a lifetime of hubris and entitlement have caused.

GONERIL (EMMA THOMPSON)
King Lear - Generics
Goneril is the eldest of Lear’s daughters, married to the Duke of Albany. Emotionally starved by her father and raised to be as ruthless and unfeeling as he often is, Goneril is focussed on gaining the political power she feels she has earned – and will go to any lengths to get it. Her marriage is strained as she aggressively tries to usurp political power, and her husband is caught between loyalty to his wife and his duty to the King.

REGAN (EMILY WATSON)
King Lear - Generics
Regan is Lear’s middle daughter, married to the Duke of Cornwall. Where Goneril presents a veneer of being cold and aloof, Regan is more passionate and gratuitous in her cruelty. While allied on the surface, she and her sister have bitterly competed their entire lives for the affection of their father and continue to vie for both political power and the affections of Edmund. Her relationship with Cornwall is fuelled by a shared sadistic streak, but Regan is ultimately out for herself.

CORDELIA (FLORENCE PUGH)
King Lear - Generics
Cordelia is Lear’s youngest daughter. Kind, brave and honest – she is the antithesis of her sisters. Although Cordelia loves her father genuinely, she is not willing to exaggerate this love to secure her portion of the kingdom and is banished as a result. Despite this rift she continues to support Lear and demonstrates her strength and integrity as he slowly unravels.

EARL OF GLOUCESTER (JIM BROADBENT)
King Lear - Generics
The Earl of Gloucester is the Prime Minister and an influential member of Lear’s government. Accustomed to power and influence, he possesses an arrogance that leads to short-sightedness. Gloucester has two sons – Edgar and the illegitimate Edmund – and as with Lear, his undoing is triggered by misjudging and mistreating his children.

EDMUND (JOHN MACMILLAN)
King Lear - Generics
Edmund is the illegitimate son of Gloucester, who has been abroad for several years. Seething with resentment at his second-class status, Edmund seizes an opportunity to advance politically.

EDGAR (ANDREW SCOTT)
King Lear - Generics
A mild and trusting intellectual, Edgar is the son of the Earl of Gloucester and half-brother to Edmund. Honest but easily manipulated, he falls into the trap Edmund sets to disinherit him and has to flee society in order to stay alive. Edgar is forced to survive outside the comfortable world he knows, but as a result he discovers an inner resilience and shows immense grace when reuniting with his father in tragic circumstances.

EARL OF KENT (JIM CARTER)
King Lear - Generics
The Earl of Kent is a steadfast supporter of Lear, faithful to the king even after he is banished from the court for interceding on Cordelia’s behalf. Despite disagreeing with Lear’s choices, Kent takes up a disguise and follows the troubled monarch and attempts to protect him at any cost.

THE FOOL (KARL JOHNSON)
The Fool is Lear’s loyal companion and occupies the dual role of jester and advisor – one of the few people who, through riddles, can confront Lear with the truth. By his side until the end, the Fool’s title belies his insight and depth of character.

DUKE OF CORNWALL (TOBIAS MENZIES)
The Duke of Cornwall, Regan’s husband, is a sadistic and power-hungry man – cruel and motivated to further his political career at any cost. From his advantageous marriage to his behaviour in the aftermath of Lear’s division of the kingdom, the Duke acts with his own best interests at heart.

THE DUKE OF ALBANY (ANTHONY CALF)
The Duke of Albany is a direct contrast to his wife, Goneril, empathetic and conflicted as he gets caught up in her vendetta against her father. Morally grounded but struggling to exert a sound influence in the chaos created by Lear and his family, Albany must decide where his loyalties truly lie.

OSWALD (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON)
Dedicated chief of staff in Goneril’s household, Oswald is a fastidious man devoted to his mistress and wholeheartedly supportive of her grievances against her father.

Adapted and directed by Richard Eyre, King Lear is broadcast on Bank Holiday Monday, 28 May at 9.30pm on BBC2.

Watch the trailer of King Lear here.