A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be leading a seminar at RADA on Measure for Measure. In preparing for that seminar I found myself disagreeing with much of what I said in my own podcast episode on the play. So here I rebut and refute many of my earlier claims. One of the great pleasures of working on Shakespeare is that one’s opinions are seldom allowed to stand still.
It’s difficult to know what, and particularly who, to talk about in Othello. Iago is a distraction, Othello likes to inflate his own sense of himself, whilst Desdemona can seem even less than she is. Which is odd, because the characters too find themselves not quite knowing how to interpret what they see in front of them. Or they misunderstand completely and interpret too easily. Their perspective is awry. And because Shakespeare wants to show us just how easy it is to do that, he makes audience after audience lose their perspective too.
Twelfth Night seems to be everyone’s favourite Shakespeare play. Why is this the case? Could it be something to do with the fact that it is a play about playing? This play is a hymn to the pleasure and virtue of playing and play wins over anti-play, though of course the real motto is that it’s the taking part that counts.
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.
We all have an image in our mind’s eye of Shakespearean performance during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but what happened between then and now? Why didn’t the Restoration court like Shakespeare? Who is David Garrick? For answers to all these questions and more, seek no further.
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.
A very great number of Shakespeare performances in Britain are conducted by amateur companies. People gathering together to do Shakespeare for fun. The open-air festival is a particularly popular brand of this. Sheldrake has been involved with the Pendley Shakespeare Festival for some time, and from this year’s Festival he uncovers the meanings of Shakespeare that emerge in these kinds of events.
The soliloquy is one of Shakespeare’s most recognisable and distinctive theatrical devices. It is in no small part responsible for his fame as a dramatist of human psychology. Was Julius Caesar the gateway in Shakespeare’s soliloquising art between the 1590s and the 1600s? Sheldrake takes a close look at a few speeches from the play.
For many years, Globe Education has been staging performances with scripts of the plays of Shakespeare’s contemporaries in a series called Read Not Dead. They have worked their way through over 200 plays, but the opening of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse means they now have a permanent and splendid home. To decide which play should be the jewel in the crown of the current season, they held a husting featuring four plays backed by four teams. Sheldrake was there.
Attempts to reconstruct the original performance circumstances of Renaissance plays, either literally or imaginatively, have been a constant companion to fascination about the literature. How did these plays actually get put together? What was the process? Would the actors recognise the concept of a rehearsal process? Sheldrake investigates.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets are things you nearly always read alone. But there is a rich seam of drama and conversation to be mined from them, as Sheldrake found recently when he saw them read aloud at the Royal Festival Hall.
Where did the magic happen? We’ve all heard of the Globe, but what did it mean for a play to be written for one playhouse rather than another? And what, for that matter, did it mean for Shakespeare to be attached to the Globe for most of his career? Sheldrake gallops through some answers.
As social politics continue to change with gathering speed, works of literature have to catch up or fall by the wayside. The plays of Shakespeare, written in a very different age from our own, must be scrutinised. Does this play, a notorious battle of the sexes, pass the test? Sheldrake thinks so.
The current production of Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theatre in London has the sort of theatrical courage that all Globe productions, indeed all Shakespeare productions, should have. Much like the play, this production takes risks, and they pay off big time.
London was growing up fast in Shakespeare’s day. Whether you’re familiar with Shakespeare or not, Timon of Athens seems a very peculiar play. But armed with some context, its connection with Renaissance finance and city drama become apparent.
The scarcity of scenery on Shakespeare’s stage does not mean that there were no impressive visual effects. One way of awing an audience was with fine costume. As a primer to the full Henry VIII episode next week, Sheldrake describes the impact of costume in two scenes from that play.
As You Like It is liked by audiences, disliked by academics. What then does this tell us about how crucial performance is to the success of the text? Consequently, Sheldrake argues, engaging with the performance of this play and others should be not only a pleasure for the serious Shakespearean, but also a duty.