We associate Shakespeare with humanity, warmth, generosity and kindness when he writes about people who have made a wrong decision. Even Richard III at the beginning of his play tells us what a dreadful life he’s had until now. Troilus and Cressida is different. Shakespeare is merciless with his characters and shows the Trojan War as a perverse catastrophe for everyone unlucky enough to be caught up in it. From the scheming warriors at the top to those suffering at the bottom, Shakespeare shows us two civilisations, Greece and Troy, buckling under their own weight.
The Tempest is a difficult play to nail down. It is also the most reinterpreted and adapted of Shakespeare’s plays. In this episode, Sheldrake pursues three themes – Love, Power and Art – and examines how they have been reinterpreted over the centuries.
We seem to spend much of our lives asking whether things are worth it. Are they worth the money, the time, the effort? Are we getting value for money? Is something worth it? And everybody in The Merchant of Venice seems to be asking that kind of question too. Venice itself seems to be all about cost and Belmont seems to be all about value. But is it that simple?
Sir John Falstaff is a river who has burst his banks. He has taken on a life beyond Shakespeare’s plays and become a myth in his own right. Anybody who has a thirst for life is described as Falstaffian, he has had operas written for him, actors at the mature height of their comic powers have repeatedly enjoyed success as this embodiment of festivity and he remains an unassailable favourite with audiences. Is he just very entertaining, or is there more to it than that?
King Lear is a work of obvious genius, so what to say about it in fifteen minutes that can illuminate it? Using the historical idea of service, and the relationship between service and – believe it or not – love, we can get a handle on all sorts of relationships in the play. And Sheldrake thinks these handles can help us whether we are in a classroom, sitting room or rehearsal.
The BBC has had its ups and downs with Shakespeare. One insufficiently well-known up was its series of Shakespeare adaptations broadcast in 2005. In this episode, Sheldrake reviews the set of four ninety-minute adaptations featuring such actors as James McAvoy, Billie Piper, Damian Lewis, Keeley Hawes, Rufus Sewell, Imelda Staunton and Jonny Vegas that would coincidentally make a great Christmas present for the Shakespeare enthusiast.
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.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona is not a play many people have read. Though were they to read it, they might think they have, because it reads like an anthology of Shakespeare in the 1590s. Sheldrake takes the opportunity to hold the mirror up to comedy by reading in parallel with Romeo and Juliet, Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It, along the way outlining some rules of the Shakespearean world.
Form is almost absent from the modern critical radar, which has put Love’s Labour’s Lost on the back burner. In a courageous rear-guard action, Sheldrake tries to demonstrate the formal beauty of Love’s Labour’s Lost, and explains why that formal beauty matters.