Thanks to a couple of nearby anniversaries, we are hearing more than ever not only what great theatre Shakespeare is, but also what a positive influence he is. By and large, this is true. But the commemorative coin has another side, which is Shakespeare’s repeated mobilisation by fascists, racists and regimes we despise. Firstly, this is a story worth telling. Secondly, what does it mean for the plays today? Ahead of a talk on the subject in Oxford on 11th May, Sheldrake thinks aloud.
Ben Jonson. Rival or friend of Shakespeare? Grumpy old bore or stout moralist? In a typical cop-out, Sheldrake thinks both caricatures are true. Jonson is an awkward playwright at the best of times, but his plays are well worth the seeing. Sheldrake gives you his personal top three.
Falstaff will exceed the bounds of whatever box you try to put him in, a truth I found out for myself in the last Short Sheldrake on Shakespeare. I return to complete some unfinished business on this occasion, finishing off some remarks about why Falstaff is so popular in the Henry IV plays and giving some thought to his influence after his off-stage death early in Henry V.
Globe Education is launching its new season, a rich array of theatrical and academic events culminating in a two-day conference next April. Sheldrake went along to the Globe to interview Dr Will Tosh to talk about the theme of the season, namely Amity, and some of the upcoming events, including performances at the Inns of Court. Amity is the Renaissance ideal of friendship and if you know the magic of, in Cole Porter’s memorable phrase, a perfect blendship, then tune in for some reflection on the subject.
Shakespeare nicked stuff from everywhere; prose narratives, history books, other plays. Sheldrake rattles through a few of the old chestnuts and a few of the lesser-known borrowings, showing Shakespeare as a great adapter of stories.
In a resumption of normal service that is perhaps not quite the triumphant return he would like, Sheldrake confesses himself drawn more to the ideas of Measure for Measure than its drama. The discussions of Virtue and Justice in the play are strikingly front and centre, and the social aspects of these philosophical ideas form the matter of this episode. Dodging the comedy/dark comedy/tragicomedy/problem play debate, Sheldrake gives you Measure for Measure; a play about the nature of society.