At last! A magazine with all the Will in the world
SHAKESPEARE Issue 6
Hamlet Alone? Exploding the myth of “To be or not to be…”
Art thou Grumio?
Big Books Giveaway!
Our college girl takes on The Taming of the Shrew
Brilliant Bard Books up for grabs inside!
Set in stone Five great exclusive Shakespeare interviews!
Shakespeare Hero Ben Crystal Clever Comedian Sara Pascoe The Tutor novelist Andrea Chapin Kill Shakespeare’s Anthony Del Col Superteacher Phil Beadle meets Bard Evangelist Ben Walden Ֆ
Welcome to Issue 6 of Shakespeare Magazine
Shakespeareans tend to have a way with words, and this issue features five interviews to inspire and enlighten anyone with an interest in the Bard.
Photo: David Hammonds
Acclaimed educator and author Phil Beadle verbally spars with actor-director Ben Walden, a man possessed of compelling faith in the power of Shakespeare. And Kill Shakespeare co-creator Anthony Del Col riffs on the exciting possibilities for Shakespeare in TV, video games and, of course, comics. Comedian Sara Pascoe has been delighting audiences with her mixture of amiable whimsy and razor-sharp wit. Here, she tells us all about the 16th Century man in her life – namely Shakespeare. Staying in the 16th Century is Andrea Chapin, whose novel The Tutor introduces readers to a young, ambitious and mercurial William Shakespeare. Rounding off this virtual symposium is one of the most exciting all-round talents in the Shakespeare world right now. Ben Crystal tells us about his workshops, his books, collaborating with his dad, and the wonders of ‘OP’. Enjoy your magazine.
Pat Reid, Founder & Editor
LOVE, SEX & SHAKESPEARE...
“We will always be haunted by the question ‘What inspired Shakespeare’s greatest poetry?’ In her captivating debut novel, Andrea Chapin offers a brilliant solution...” James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare
Published in the UK by Penguin on 26 March, £7.99
! The Taming of the Shrew Our US Staff Writer breaks the gender wall and takes to the stage as Grumio in her college’s ambitious production of Shakespeare’s most boisterous comedy. Words: Mary Finch
Taming of the
The Taming of the Shrew
fter putting on my jacket and straightening my hat, I turned to my sister with an air of expectancy. “You look like an asshole,” she said, laughing. I smiled. That was exactly the look I was going for. I was wearing leather pants, black kicks (that’s what the kids call those shoes, right?), a T-shirt two sizes too large, and a hoodie to match. The ensemble was topped off with a grey beanie on my head, and a bruise around my eye. The final touch was an oversized gold watch on my wrist. The wardrobe was inspired in part by Justin Bieber and Kanye West, so not my normal style. Over the next three hours, I got into fights (losing most of them), made crude jokes, drove go-karts and fought with lightsabres, all in the name of William Shakespeare. I was playing Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew.
“The wardrobe was inspired in part by Justin Bieber and Kanye West, so not my normal style” SHAKESPEARE magazine
!The Taming of the Shrew “I decided that in true Shakespearean fashion I’d try to ‘suit me all points like a man’”
This adventure began three months ago when I decided to audition. The fact that it’d been seven years since my last acting experience didn’t deter me. Nor did the fact that this play features hardly any female roles. Knowing that Messiah College, my small liberal arts school would have an abundance of girls competing to play Katherina and Bianca, I decided that in true Shakespearean fashion I’d try to “suit me all points like a man”. Looking at the array of men’s parts, I considered my petite frame and artsy demeanor, and settled on auditioning for Petruchio’s hot-headed companion Grumio. To my disappointment, I was only called back for the female roles, but when the director, Tom Ryan, was short of someone to read Grumio, I was on stage before he could finish asking for volunteers. One anxious week later, the cast list was up and I was on my way to checking one more item off my bucket list.
Mary is transformed into a brawling Shakespearean delinquent…
With the anxiety of auditions removed, though, I found myself beginning to worry about the fate of this beloved text. The first read-through, which took six hours, did little to boost my confidence in the capabilities of this cast (myself included) to tackle one of the Bard’s most nuanced comedies. Much to my chagrin, my college had not performed Shakespeare in four years, so for most of us this was the first Shakespeare play we had been involved in. But I was not exactly enthralled by the director’s vision – a modern-day Shrew where the Minola family owned a pizza shop in Little Italy, NYC, while Lucentio travelled from Texas and Petruchio came from New Jersey. However, what unfolded over the month-and-a-half of rehearsals astounded me. Tom set the tone from the beginning. “These characters are stereotypical,” he said at the first rehearsal, “but their relationships
The Taming of the Shrew
“The metre gives you everything you need, even the character at times” with each other are complicated.” My anxiety subsided a little. I won’t say we did something with Shakespeare that was unheard of, or unique – I’ve seen too many productions to think that – but it was impressive. Part of Shakespeare’s genius, perhaps the main part, is that he does not tell the story of one, two or even three characters. Every person in his cast has the potential to be the main character of the action. Not only did Ryan know this, but so did each of my fellow cast members. Over and over, Ryan encouraged us to decide on who our character was, figure out the stereotype, discover ways to go bigger. Gremio (Bob Colbert) became a washed-up mobster who had seen better days. Biondello (Cheyenne Shupp) turned into an overzealous and hilariously naive stable hand. Vincentio (Tim Spirk) was a Texan oil baron.
The play features perhaps Shakespeare’s most inspired use of a golf buggy.
Even the Pedant (Austin Blair) became his own character – in this production, a drunkard who spent most of his time passed out on stage. Beyond the hours of rehearsal at night, Ryan encouraged all the actors to study the text on their own time. Since poring over Shakespeare encapsulates most of my free time, it was far from a tedious assignment. For other cast members, who didn’t share this passion, it was more of a chore. Nevertheless, they tackled the challenge with relish and it enlivened their performances. Actors previously unaware of the power of Shakespeare’s words and rhythm were finding it on their own. “It was really exciting to make discoveries as we did that homework,” says Michael Hardenberg (Tranio). “The metre gives you everything you need, even the character at times.” SHAKESPEARE magazine
!The Taming of the Shrew
Tobias Nordlund played Petruchio and struggled with the text before it came good in the end. “My experience with this show and with Shakespeare,” he says, “completely took me by surprise.” When opening night arrived, we were abuzz with nervous energy. Hell Week of rehearsals lived up to its name, but the production far exceeded our expectations. The audience roared when Kate (Rachel Ballasy) duct taped the hands of Bianca (Chrisanna Rock), trapping her on a speeding-up treadmill during the interrogation scene. In the wedding scene, I successfully manoeuvred a golf cart on and off the stage to gasps of surprise. And at the end of the road trip scene, when a member of the college faculty came out of the port-a-potty with toilet paper trailing from his feet, the audience erupted with laughter. Playing Grumio let me fall in love with
The cast strove to make each character as three-dimensional as possible.
Shakespeare and theatre in new ways. Above all, it cemented my belief that anyone, truly anyone, can do Shakespeare – and do it phenomenally – and that is the reason he is still being performed today. Not necessarily because his ideas were that great or his poetry so complex. But because he created characters that can be understood by all people, as long as the proper amount of work and energy is invested into the production.
“Playing Grumio let me fall in love with Shakespeare and theatre in new ways”
PASSION IN PRACTICE
FRESH APPROACHES TO ACTING SHAKESPEARE Original Pronunciation Cue-scripts Physical training Workshops and Consultancy
!Kill Shakespeare Ultra-vivid, ultra-violent and ultra-cool, Kill Shakespeare is a graphic novel series with added Bard Power. Co-creator Anthony Del Col takes us behind the panels. Words: Brooke Thomas Portraits: Piper Williams Art: Andy Belanger
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.” Anthony Del Col, photographed at Shakespeare’s Globe, London, October 2014.
!Kill Shakespeare “I had been told that Shakespeare was the crème de la crème of storytelling, and I thought there must be a reason why” 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.” Witch’s brew: Lady Macbeth, as visualised in Kill Shakespeare.
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
“Iago is so deliciously evil. He’s always three or four steps ahead of everyone else” Anthony Del Col SHAKESPEARE magazine
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.” 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.” 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.”
Hamlet (left) takes on Romeo in one of Kill Shakespeare’s trademark mash-ups.
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.” SHAKESPEARE magazine
!Kill Shakespeare “I’d love to immerse players into a world where you can play as one of Shakespeare’s characters and interact with all the others” You’ve just released the Kill Shakespeare table top game, you’re working on TV ideas, what’s next?
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.”
Self-taught man: the young Anthony explored Shakespeare’s works outside of school.
“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.” 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.”
!The Tutor “I had a lot of fun playing around with Venus and Adonis because it is such a wonderful and sexy poem” Andrea Chapin
The Tutor is your debut novel. What were you doing before this?
Reeling in the
Young, ambitious, full of passion… Andrea Chapin’s novel The Tutor features a version of William Shakespeare readers may not have encountered before… Interview by Mary Finch
“When I started The Tutor I had been, for almost 15 years, a book doctor. That is someone who works on other people’s books before they are published, often with an agent or sometimes with an editor. It’s now over 250 novels and memoirs that I have worked on. It’s fairly anonymous, maybe an acknowledgement or line saying thank you, but usually not even that. Because no one wants to publicise that they had someone work on their book before the actual editor worked on it. “I had been doing that non-stop for quite a while, but I had always wanted to write my own novel and it hadn’t worked out yet. I think I had, in my own journey, reached a point where I was really wondering, ‘Am I going to write my novel or not?’” Was there a catalyst that brought the novel about? “My brother-in-law said at Thanksgiving, ‘Everyone in the theatre world is reading this amazing book, James Shapiro’s A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare:1599 !’ I thought it sounded like something I would really like to read. Looking at one year of Shakespeare’s life from many different angles – from the political, from the religious, from the economical. But that was all. “Then, a couple days before Christmas, I was buying presents, last-minute books to put under the tree. And there, sitting in paperback, was this book my brother-in-law had mentioned to me. So, I bought it, wrapped it up, and put it under the tree for myself. “It was a larger gift than I had anticipated. When I started reading it, I was completely fascinated, and I was especially fascinated by the prospect of the lost years. What was Shakespeare doing during chunks of his life? I thought to myself, ‘This is the job of a fiction writer – to imagine what Shakespeare was doing!’ “Part of that curiosity goes back to that I have worked with a lot of authors and I have SHAKESPEARE magazine
!The Tutor “Shakespeare would have gone to Oxford. But his father’s fortunes failed and Shakespeare had to go off to make money” seen their names before then they showed up on the New York Times Bestseller List. I also taught fiction workshops at NYU, and worked with a lot of authors who were just beginning, who were just launching. “I began mulling over this idea of the lost years and what Shakespeare was doing before his name ever appeared in print. I kept thinking, ‘Even though Shakespeare feels like like a god, a huge force in our world, he was a person’.”
Why did you decide to tell the story from Katharine’s point of view?
Andrea behind the Shoreditch pub where the Curtain Theatre once stood.
“I decided I couldn’t write it from a male point of view, and thought, ‘What if I created someone like me? Someone who has worked very collaboratively with authors, helping them create plot lines, really helped them develop their books. What if a character like that worked with Shakespeare? And that is how the whole thing launched. I started fooling around with it, toying with it. And interestingly, I have to say that when I started writing Katharine there was something very magical, almost chemical, about it. The Tutor came from a more honest place in my own voice than anything else I had previously written.” In your story Shakespeare is complex and oftentimes a bit unlikeable. Where did that version of the Bard come from? “I wanted to veer away from the warm and fuzzy Shakespeare. Not that there has been one, but in Shakespeare in Love – which I love – he is just so adorable. I had my own ideas about developing a character that ended up being fairly ruthless and narcissistic, but still very compelling. Sometimes those people can be not the nicest, but still be extremely intriguing and dazzling because of their brilliance. “While I was doing research, I read a lot about Picasso and Françoise Gilot, one of his partners. She wrote an amazing autobiography about what it was like to be Picasso’s muse. She really is the only one of his muses who escaped with her life in a way. She had to leave him – he was sleeping with someone else but he also couldn’t let go of her.”
or husband, because he wanted to get where he wanted to go. And he did! “Not only to write the sort of poem that he wrote withVenus and Adonis, and get a patron like the Earl of Southampton – that is amazing. But also to decide not to be just a poet, not to be just a player, not to be just a playwright, but actually to be a businessman too and be a part of the company. That shows incredible ambition.” Where do you think that ambition could have come from?
“I was taken by that aspect of the muse and the Andrea Chapin, artist. And also, when you do read what there photographed by is about Shakespeare, it assumed that he didn’t Ric Kallaher. really go home much. Early on he had three children, and by 24 or 25 was probably in an acting company. By 27 or 28 his name appears in London and then he is really in London. He does not return to Stratford as his home until a couple years before he dies. “What also struck me was the type of ambition that he needed was so huge. I am not saying that every ambitious person is a narcissist, but I played around with the idea that this person had to want it so badly that he would use people, and not be the greatest dad
“Well, his father. We don’t know if John Shakespeare could read or write, but he held about 15 positions in Stratford, ending up being the equivalent of the mayor of Stratford. That is an ambitious man. Shakespeare saw that. John Shakespeare also applied for a coat of arms, and married up – Mary Arden owned the property his parents worked on. To send your child to grammar school you had to have a certain political standing, and John Shakespeare made sure he had that. Shakespeare had, as a role model, an extremely ambitious man. “So Shakespeare is someone who saw this ambition and then something happened. Was the father a catholic? Was he a drunk? Was he ill? We don’t know. But something happened and his father stumbled, right at the time when Shakespeare would have gone on to Oxford. Someone with Shakespeare’s skills would have the opportunity, but right at that time his father’s fortunes failed and Shakespeare had to go off to make money, changing everything.” Can you give us a glimpse of your process and research? “In the beginning of all of this, an agent that I doctor for asked if I had read any good books, and, since I had just written the first couple chapters of my book, I mentioned that James Shapiro’s book had kind of changed my life. And she laughed, and said that he was one of her clients. Things progressed, she put us together, and Professor Shapiro was extremely SHAKESPEARE magazine
!The Tutor “I mentioned that James Shapiro’s Shakespeare book had kind of changed my life. And she laughed, and said he was one of her clients” more recent translations. Then, once I went to Ovid, I could see where so much of the poets of the time, certainly Shakespeare, got the seeds that became their works. “In my journey, I joke that I have given myself at least a master’s, maybe a PhD, in Elizabethan literature and history on my own. I really thought it was important to see what his influences were as much as I could. That’s why I brought them in and had so much fun doing it.” What do you hope readers will take away from your novel?
generous in information. I could email him and he opened doors in terms of where I needed to go for research. That was terrific. “Before I opened Shapiro’s book, I had always enjoyed Shakespeare but I hadn’t been obsessed with Shakespeare. It was when I started digging into the research, and all of his plays, and each sonnet, and then the poems, that I became truly obsessed. “I felt like I had to familiarise myself with what was going on in literature during that time. I delved into Philip Sidney, and other contemporaries. I went back to Ovid, and often had three different books in front of me with different annotations – the translation that Shakespeare would have used and two
“I would love for my readers to learn about Shakespeare and his life as they, hopefully, enjoy the story. I had a lot of fun playing around with Venus and Adonis because it is such a wonderful and really sexy poem. I would love for readers to become curious about those other works of his. “Reviews have said that the situation of Kate and the other characters is one we’ve all found ourselves in, like when our friends say, ‘What are you doing with him?’ and someone says, ‘You just don’t understand!’ And that Andrea at Stratford- makes me so happy because, overall, I wanted upon-Avon’s Holy to achieve a story that people could relate to Trinity Church. now. I wanted to make these characters not feel ancient or archaic – not just Will and Kate, but the larger context of family and her relations. I wanted them to feel like contemporary folks.”
Ֆ The Tutor is published in the UK by Penguin on 26 March, priced £7.99
Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Library of Birmingham & Hôtel Teatro Theatre Company present a Young REP 18-25 Company production
Hamlets Based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Adapted and directed by Daniel Tyler
Library Of Birmingham
Travel around 10 ¾SSVWSJXLI0MFVEV] SJ&MVQMRKLEQ EW7LEOIWTIEVI´W MGSRMGTPE]MWGYX YTVIEVVERKIHERH WTVIEHEPPEVSYRH XLIFYMPHMRK
Tue 17 Mar Wed 18 Mar Fri 20 Mar Sat 21 Mar
8:30pm 8:30pm 8:30pm 5:30pm & 8:30pm
£10.00 (£7 Concessions)
!Interview: Ben Crystal “Irrespective of whether or not it becomes popular, there is nothing a Shakespeare geek is excited more by than an unexplored area of his field”
One of the most admired all-rounders in the Shakespeare world, Ben Crystal reckons we should “speak the speech” the way the Bard did. And that means “from the gut and the groin…” Interview: Helen Mears Portraits: Piper Williams
Interview: Ben Crystal
Perhaps best known for his Shakespeare on Toast book and Passion in Practice workshops, Ben Crystal is an actor, writer, producer and director. Alongside his father, linguist David Crystal, he has pioneered the practice of Original Pronunciation, getting as close as he can to how Shakespeare would have sounded to Elizabethan audiences. Would you define your work as a Shakespearean quest? “Yeah, definitely! I didn’t start out on a quest, I started off wanting to act it more than anything. And then the ideas for the books came up one by one and I became known as the boy who wrote that book. I struggled to get acting auditions for Shakespeare and then, partly though the writing and partly through needing an outlet, I found myself doing more workshops, writing more, exploring more. Finding the issues in both performance and education and in audiences’ perception of Shakespeare and what seemed to be missing, and chasing that down. “Now, through following this path of spreading the word of the Bard, I’ve explored disciplines like pronunciation, become fascinated by the idea of the original Shakespeare ensemble, found myself with an education programme, an OP programme and a Shakespeare ensemble. If you’d asked me when I was 16 or 17 what my dream was, it would have been to be at the RSC. But you follow the path you’re on, and the path I’m on certainly seems to be a quest. I’m very happy with it.” Could you explain Original Pronunciation for those who are new to the term? “It’s a recreation of the soundscape, the accents that Shakespeare’s actors spoke in 400 years ago, in the same way as the Globe spaces are
recreations of the original spatial dynamics. It’s a recreation of a sound system, not an attempt to be authentic – because that’s impossible, and there’s only so much you’re going to learn from authenticity. The Globe spaces are as close as we can get to what the spaces looked like, felt like, and we have spent a fair amount of time trying to work out how that can change or improve the way that we act Shakespeare. It’s exactly the same with this sound.” How do you go about recreating the accent? “It’s based on my father’s scholarly work for The Globe in 2004. He gathered all the evidence he could from three sources. One of these was the rhymes. Often Shakespeare’s rhymes don’t work in a modern accent. To let them rhyme again requires particular types of vowel qualities. That’s one source of data. Then, if you go back to the Folio and the Quartos, they used to spell a lot more like they spoke. So, for example, the word film was spelt philome which is very definitely a two syllable word (fil’um) which you still hear in Northern Ireland. That’s an Elizabethan pronunciation carried over from 400 years ago. “Then there were people who wrote linguistic-like descriptions of what the accent sounded like. With those three sources of data combined you get to about 90 percent and that last 10 percent drives my father crazy, but he can’t fill it in. I see it as a great advantage because it means that if you and I were to form a Shakespeare company using OP then we would sound 90 percent the same but then that last 10 percent will be filled up with our natural accents, the story, the audible vocal sound of our experiences. Compare that to using RP [Received Pronunciation] which is not tied to a particular geographic location. “If there is one thing that accent means to people, it’s identity and territory. To me, the idea that Shakespeare should be spoken in this identity-less accent where it flattens out everybody’s character and they all sound the same, takes away its inherent uniqueness.”
!Interview: Ben Crystal “OP is a recreation of the accents Shakespeare’s actors spoke in 400 years ago in the same way as the Globe spaces are recreations of the original spatial dynamics.” How different does it feel to perform in OP? “Acting in RP versus OP or even in your own natural accent, your actor’s centre will shift. A lot of people find in RP that their centre tends to be around their throat. When I act in my natural accent I find that my centre shifts to my chest. And with OP the centre shifts all the way down to your gut and into your groin. You plant your feet much more firmly on the ground and it tends to lead you to stronger Ben’s tattoo is a character choices. famous line from “They tend to be earthier, more active King Lear.
choices and, as a knock-on effect, you tend to move faster as well. You follow Hamlet’s advice to ‘speak the speech trippingly on the tongue’. It ramps everything up and you’re flying around the stage connecting with fellow actors in a vastly different way. One of the final results of all that is that it tends to engage your heart rather than your head. And people tend to find that it’s easier to understand and they tend to get more emotionally engaged. And that’s all we want – to make you laugh, make you cry, bring the audience along with us.” Do you think OP can attract bigger, more mainstream audiences? “That’s an interesting question. Because of course I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be spending time on it. But I have to caveat that it’s not a cash bunny. I don’t see it as the sort of a performance quality in Shakespeare that money can be made out of necessarily. I’m excited by it. Irrespective of whether or not it becomes popular, there is nothing a Shakespeare geek is excited more by than an unexplored area of his field.” Is there a key thing that you’ve discovered by performing in OP? “There are plenty of lost rhymes and lost puns, but the biggest discovery has been more ephemeral, really. More abstract or intangible, because you end up with a different play on your hands. You speak the lines differently and end up with characters who are completely different animals to those you expected. When I did Hamlet there was no question that he was anything like the stereotypical passive, indecisive, boring fellow. He became almost Sherlock Holmesian in the way he was trying to discover the truth. He was active. And that, in part, came from the OP. So we’re rediscovering the plays in new lights, not just the words.”
Interview: Ben Crystal
â€œHamlet became almost Sherlock Holmesian in the way he was trying to discover the truth. He was active. And that, in part, came from the OPâ€? SHAKESPEARE magazine
!Interview: Ben Crystal What other interesting things do you think are currently happening Shakespeare-wise? “The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is interesting. There are plans to build a Shakespearean theatre for Shakespeare North. I’m intrigued by the Maxine Peake Hamlet that was up at the Royal Exchange and by the all-female company explorations that have been going on at The Donmar. There’s a lot of younger companies exploring Shakespeare – there’s Smooth Faced Gentlemen, The HandleBards, who go round on bikes. There’s lots of cool, interesting stuff in the underground as well as all the companies running around the country doing open-air Shakespeare. It’s interesting that both the Globe and the RSC have brought
Interestingly, the word ‘Crystal’ occurs 20 times in Shakespeare’s works.
in international companies. The reason we’re having this conversation, the reason there’s a Shakespeare Magazine is that these plays really, really are wonderful. He had a capacity and a knack for exploring the human condition and the way that we think – and why we do the things that we do – in such an amazing way that it’s really hard to get them wrong. And yet we do. There is something that these international companies are tapping into. “Or maybe it’s tapping into something in us. Because we are both in tandem released from the pressure of ‘how are they going to deliver this famous line?’ I think we are being taught a lot by Europe and Eastern Europe about something that we’re missing with Shakespeare, craft and a long rehearsal period, a return to the ensemble. They are not restricted because they’re not bound to our language and they have a playfulness with it that I think we’re losing.” You’ve travelled widely, how would you say Shakespeare is perceived around the world? “Away from the UK everyone loves him! It’s a generalisation but it’s not too far off. I do not meet students who dislike him so much overseas but I do encounter this ownership issue that whilst they have a tremendous passion, heart and love for Shakespeare, there is still this idea that ‘We don’t do it right because we don’t have the right sound or we don’t have English training’. “Americans have embraced OP, though. Because the accent that left London 400 years ago got on the boats and went to the Americas. So when they hear OP they don’t say ‘Oh God, that sounds alien to us’. They hear accent qualities they can relate to and rather than thinking ‘We can’t do Shakespeare because we don’t have that beautiful RP accent. We don’t have any ownership over Shakespeare, even though we love him’, they say ‘Oh my goodness, he actually sounds like us, we can do this’. So it’s no wonder that they’ve embraced it. There is some really, really fascinating work both in the States and across the world. I just wish there was more flow, that more would come over. And, indeed, the other way.”
Interview: Ben Crystal
“It’s a celebration of my father’s research and it’s a continuation and an exploration of it” lucky to have both that working and familial friendship with him and my mum. And I’m especially lucky that, considering how much of an expert he is, how experienced he is – and that even though sometimes it does take a little bit of shouting – he is always perceptive and open to new ideas. “You can’t really ask for a better colleague than that. So to be able to take his research on and explore it practically, it’s really wonderful. It’s a celebration of his research and it’s a continuation and an exploration of it that he wouldn’t necessarily be able to do himself. So we are a good partnership in that respect.”
We’ve mentioned your father, David Crystal. In You Say Potato the relationship between the two of you bounces off the page. What’s it like work with your dad? “It’s a pain in the neck and it is the most wonderful, joyous experience that you could possibly wish for! I came up with the idea for Shakespeare’s Words when I was 22. I was lucky to work with a parent at such a young age. We became friends, and we got to know each other so quickly. He certainly wasn’t used to someone telling him he was wrong. There absolutely were disputes. He taught me how to articulate an argument, he taught me how to articulate myself. I am utterly blessed and feel
“For my next trick…” Ben Crystal prepares to overturn the education system.
So, if you had one big Shakespearean aspiration, what would it be? “To change the education system, fundamentally, from the top down or the bottom up, whichever way is quickest. To refresh Shakespeare production and performance and the perception of it in a similar way that Gielgud, Olivier, Burton or Branagh has done. I would like very much to spend a considerable amount of time training and forming a company – much like the ensemble I’ve been starting to form – in a Globe-like space, and see where that may take us. To have artistic directorship of a place like The Globe or the Wanamaker, building our own space and recreating a similar sort of dynamic, that would be fine. “And coming away from these experiences in 20-25 years time and having someone in their twenties or thirties saying ‘Ben Crystal’s wrong, his ideas had their time and now this is where we need to go with Shakespeare’ would be a dream come true.”
Find out more about Ben’s approach to Shakespeare at www.passioninpractice.com SHAKESPEARE magazine
!Interview: Sara Pascoe
Shakes! Stand-up comedian, actress, writer, vegan and all-round clever clogs Sara Pascoe is a big fan of the Bard, and sheâ€™s not afraid to shout about it. Interview by Brooke Thomas
Interview: Sara Pascoe
Studying English at Sussex University fostered Saraâ€™s appreciation of Shakespeare.
!Interview: Sara Pascoe
“How on earth?”
“I’ve got an English degree, and a big part of my life at university was throwing off the misunderstandings and misapprehensions I’d had about Shakespeare at school and coming to appreciate him properly. At school I think we got taught Macbeth and King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the teacher would say ‘Oh, you see what he’s saying here? He’s saying this’, and I would think ‘How on earth?’ I just didn’t believe them, I thought the teachers were making it up. Then when I was at university we had to read virtually all of the plays and we went into much more depth. That was when I suddenly realised how clever Shakespeare was, and it was mindblowing.”
=SY´PPEP[E]W½RH her in the library at parties…
“My favourite play…”
“I did love the Sonnets. I think they’re so accessible and they have such universal
“I suddenly realised how clever Shakespeare was and it was mind blowing.” 32
themes – death, and time, and how we replicate ourselves. If I had to pick a favourite play… I really loved The Winter’s Tale actually, and I remember thinking Measure for Measure was brilliant, but I think probably Hamlet is my favourite. “The one I seem to have seen most is As You Like It. I saw an RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing which had Tamsin Greig as Beatrice. They set it I think in Cuba or South America and it was just fantastic, really rhythmic and hilarious.”
“If Shakespeare were here today…”
“Shakespeare nowadays? Oh gosh, it would be something incredible, wouldn’t it? He was so fantastic at creating these flawed heroes where you could absolutely see how life had made them behave in a certain way, and because of that behaviour drama just unfolds everywhere around them. He’d put everyone else to shame because he’d be writing comedies and dramas and films all at the same time. Even now, people would probably be saying ‘Is it really just one man? It must be a committee of people doing it secretly!’”
Interview: Sara Pascoe
“He understands how people can be trying to be good, but also that their worldview might be slightly too myopic to enable them to see anything larger” “He always sees the full picture”
“I just think he understands human psychology so brilliantly. He understands cause and effect, he understands how people can be trying to be good, but also that their worldview might be slightly too myopic to enable them to see anything larger. However, he as the writer always manages to see the full picture and always, especially in the greatest of the plays, manages to create such a viable world that it doesn’t seem fictional. I recently saw the Macbeth they did at the Globe where they made the play a comedy, very successfully. And I thought that was so fantastic because the ambitions of the Macbeths had such lightness of touch all of a sudden, and the play still held together, it still felt true.”
“Ten Things I Hate About You”
“I think what was always surprising, probably because of the age I was when they came out, was finding out that things like Ten Things I Hate About You was The Taming of the Shrew. It’s always great when you think ‘Oh! Yes, I see, it’s that story!’ I’ve been watching House of Cards, and they’ve very clearly jumped off from Macbeth.”
“On being a teenage skateboard fairy”
“I do talk about Shakespeare in my show that I’m touring with at the moment. I have a little routine about being told that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a comedy and how as a 15, 16-year-old having teachers try to say ‘Look, here’s the joke – the queen loves a donkey!’ you just think ‘I don’t get it’. The routine’s about that and how in our production we were trying to liven it up. Everyone wants to do their own ground-breaking thing with Shakespeare, even though it’s all already been done. So I played Puck, but I was on a skateboard and I knocked myself out. Twice. I wasn’t very good at the skateboard. We really thought this was groundbreaking at the time.” SHAKESPEARE magazine
!Interview: Sara Pascoe “All about the attitude”
“I think that’s what’s so interesting about new productions, they make you meet characters again in a different way. I really like Hermione from A Winter’s Tale. I think that her speeches are so brave and courageous. I’ll always love Kate from The Taming of the Shrew too, but she doesn’t even really talk very much in the play. It’s much more the attitude and the performance of her, isn’t it? “Beatrice and Benedick’s whole repartee with each other, it’s so brilliant to watch on stage because it doesn’t come across on the page in the same way. Trying to overhear somebody else’s conversation while hiding behind a pot plant, I always think that’s so hysterical.”
“Women with brains and activity and thoughts”
“I think in terms of his time he was incredible. This was a time when women weren’t allowed on the stage. To be born a woman and want to be creative was impossible. You couldn’t own property, you couldn’t earn money, you were either born into a rich family to be married off, or you were born with no money and very limited options. “Shakespeare did write women with brains and activity and thoughts, and I think in some plays the women are as varied as the men in terms of morality and intelligence. Although now for actresses the number of men on stage to the number of women is probably a bit frustrating, it could be a whole lot worse, so I think he should be respected for that. “Also people are now putting on allfemale productions. That’s so exciting because in Shakespeare’s day it would have been an all-male company, and now the opposite is completely possible.”
“Hang on a minute, is that a person hiding behind a pot plant over there?”
“I played Puck, but I was on a skateboard and I knocked myself out. Twice.” 34
“Most Shakespeare thing I’ve done…”
“This isn’t so much a Shakespeare thing as a me thing, but I’ve been to the RSC twice to do stand-up. I got to do stand-up on the stage at the Swan, and that was amazing. Stratfordupon-Avon is a wonderful place. You walk around thinking ‘Oh my god, this is where Shakespeare was born’. Then I remember that I live in London – where he chose to live.”
Go to sarapascoe.com for Sara’s latest tour dates.
Our UK Staff Writer is a freelance writer based in London. She learned to love the Bard during her BA at Royal Holloway, University of London, and she recently graduated from their MA Shakespeare Studies programme. You can find Brooke on Twitter @ literallygeeked where she hosts a short story competition called #SmallTales every week.
Mary Finch Our US Staff Writer is
in her fourth year studying English at Messiah College in central Pennsylvania. Will first grabbed her attention in secondary school and hasn’t let go since – she reads, recites and watches Shakespeare whenever possible. Besides going on irrational adventures to see performances with her friend Alison, Mary also has a passion for swing dancing, dabbling in calligraphy and tending to her ever-growing window garden.
Piper Williams Our Chief
Photographer is a freelance fashion and portrait photographer from Portland, Oregon, now working out of Surrey. He spends his days timetravelling via historical docudramas, silent films, and vintage radio broadcasts. These adventures are a catalyst for his imagery and his wardrobe. His current project, 1928, is a modern take on the Jazz and War age aesthetic. Also in the works is a Steam, Diesel and Cosplay inspired series of Shakespearean characters.
Meet thy makers... Just some of the contributors to this issue of Shakespeare Magazine
Phil Beadle has taught Macbeth at
Francis RTM Boyle has worked
least 20 times (though remains acutely in the theatre for 20 years. He aware it is each new class’s first time). discovered his love for Shakespeare He has (what he thought was) the by reading Julius Caesar when he French for “Against Nature” tattooed was ten. He went on to earn a BFA on his upper arm. As musician, in Theatre from the University of songwriter and lyricist ‘Philip Kane’, Rhode Island and an MLitt and he is not averse to stealing lines off MFA in Shakespeare and Renaissance the Bard, and his song ‘After the Literature in Performance from the Shipwreck’ includes the line “We’re Mary Baldwin College/American just two spent swimmers trying to Shakespeare Center partnership. hold our heads above the water”. Both Follow him on Twitter: he and Ben Walden are contactable via @FrancisRTMBoyle www.independentthinking.co.uk
teaches English Literature, Film and Media Studies at an FE college in Ipswich. She has loved Shakespeare since her schooldays and at weekends can be found volunteering at The Globe or the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. She is currently studying for an MA in the Advanced Teaching of Shakespeare. She is at her happiest when watching Shakespeare, exploring castles and monastic ruins or listening to Fall Out Boy.
Andrea Chapin (Penguin, £7.99) As featured in this very issue, Andrea Chapin’s novel skilfully imagines the young William Shakespeare’s missing years in a gripping and romantic historical ½GXMSR
Big Books Giveaway!
The Shakespeare Book
Consultant Editor: Professor Stanley Wells (DK, £16.99) The latest in the award-winning DK Big Ideas series mixes powerful graphics with levelheaded text, compiled under the watchful eye of eminent Shakespearean Stanley Wells.
William Shakespeare is arguably the most written-about person in history. And, as these four new publications show, he remains the hottest name in print today. Indeed, these two richly imaginative novels and two lovinglycompiled reference works have all caused tremors of excitement in the Shakespeare Magazine office. So we’ve acquired FIVE copies of each to give away to you, our esteemed readers... To be in with a chance of winning one of these books, just send an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with either ‘Tutor’, ‘Aemilia’, ‘DK’ or ‘Oxford’ in the subject line. (Send separate emails if you’d like to win more than one of the titles) Closing date is Friday 10 April. Best of luck!
Dark Aemilia Sally O’Reilly (Myriad, £8.99) The formidable Aemilia Bassano is an orphan at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, where she fatefully encounters playwright William Shakespeare in Sally O’Reilly’s sumptuous novel.
The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary
David Crystal and Ben Crystal (Penguin, £7.99) Aimed at teenagers, but likely to appeal to all Shakespeare fans, this gorgeously-illustrated tome sees the Crystals bring Shakespeare’s language alive for a new generation.
! w Ne
978-178135128-4 £12.99 Available in paperback and as an eBook
“Beadle’s star continues to rise as one of the most recognisable teachers in the country. The latest addition to Phil Beadle’s How To Teach series, is a practical guide for teachers to help raise literacy standards, outlining a collection of rules to enable teachers to engage with pupils in a meaningful and productive way.” The Bookseller Magazine
Phil Beadle’s How To Teach series
978-184590393-0 978-178135053-9 978-178135135-2
!“To be...” “The RSC adaptation has David Tennant’s Hamlet all alone, with Ophelia scurrying off before the speech”
David Tennant played Hamlet with the RSC in 2008. Here, he explores the play for the Sky Arts series My Shakespeare.
“…or not to be”
Even people who aren’t sure what a soliloquy is know that Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” is the most famous soliloquy in theatre history. There’s just one problem. It’s not actually a soliloquy. Words: Francis RTM Boyle
!“To be...” “All nine original Hamlet printings agree that Hamlet is not alone – Ophelia is also onstage throughout the speech” “To be or not to be…” Spoken by the title character of Hamlet, the most famous speech in the history of theatre is 34 lines and 271 words long. Apart from providing titles for (or being quoted in) countless other plays, poems, novels, TV shows and movies, it has also appeared on posters, T-shirts, coffee mugs and keyrings. It’s even been translated into Klingon (“taH pagh taHbe”). There are at least 379,000 hits on the internet for the first line alone. This speech is many, many things. One thing it is not, however, is a soliloquy. The image of the ‘lone prince’, so endemic
Maxine Peake’s Hamlet debuted last year at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.
on the stage, duly made the transition to TV and motion pictures. Laurence Olivier’s 1948 version placed Hamlet alone on a windswept tower of Elsinore. Grigori Kozintsev’s 1964 version is another lone Hamlet, this time walking along the Danish shore. Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 film sees Hamlet alone in his father’s sepulchre. Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film places Hamlet in a mirrored hall, practically alone but for Ophelia hiding out of sight. Peter Wellington’s 2003 adaptation of the speech for the series Slings & Arrows features a seated, lone Hamlet. Gregory Doran’s 2009 TV adaptation of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet has David Tennant’s Hamlet all alone, with Ophelia scurrying off immediately before the speech and tromping back on just as he finishes saying “Soft you now.” Despite the entrenchment of the lone Hamlet on our cultural understanding of Hamlet, when we study the six quarto and three folio printings that comprise the original texts, we find the following: one, that the famous speech cannot be a soliloquy; two, that the entering Hamlet should know he is being spied upon; three, that Ophelia’s presence must be addressed; and, fourth and lastly, that Hamlet may be reading as he enters the scene. My methodology does need some explanation. I believe in the primacy of the text: dramatic texts are the most important factor in creating a production. The words of a text are the skeleton of a play, and basing one’s interpretation on elements not in the text is problematic at best. Now, I’m not trying to say there is only one way of doing any play or moment from a play. I only distinguish between two kinds of performances – those that agree with the text and those that do not. Soliloquies feature lone speakers, but all nine original Hamlet printings agree that Hamlet is not alone, as Ophelia is also onstage throughout the speech. Therefore, the classical
understanding of “soliloquy” does not apply. Further, the “To be or not to be” speech features none of the characteristics of Hamlet’s actual soliloquies. In those speeches, he follows a pattern – he speaks about Claudius, the late King Hamlet, and, usually, Gertrude. Hamlet does discuss his family with some other characters, but when he knows he is accompanied by potential spies, he stays away from the topic of his family. The “What a piece of work is a man” speech, delivered just after Hamlet discovers he cannot trust Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, is an elaborate deception. When Hamlet delivers his speech to appease his friends-turned-spies, he does not mention the circumstances of his father’s murder. He only mentions the King and Queen as the people to whom Rosencrantz and Guildenstern must report. “I will tell you why, so shall my anticipation prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the King and Queen moult no feather.” Since “To be or not to be” takes place with others on stage, and since it deviates from the
Naeem Hayat is one of the actors playing Hamlet on the Globe Theatre’s twoyear world tour. (image: Bronwen Sharp)
patterns Shakespeare established in Hamlet’s actual soliloquies, it cannot be a soliloquy. Since the speech is not a soliloquy, it cannot be staged as a soliloquy and still be faithful to the text. Text-based stagings focus on what is written. For instance, Hamlet, entering into the scene, knows he is being observed. The original printings agree that, by this moment in the play, Hamlet has discovered that his schoolmates have been dispatched by the King to spy on him. Further, all but one of the printings agree that Hamlet enters into the scene because he has been sent for by the King. The remaining printing, the First Quarto, does not mention this at all. What happens next is a strange division; all folio printings agree that the King and Polonius hide before Hamlet enters, while all quartos state they exit after Hamlet enters. The quarto texts allow Hamlet to see the King and his crony hide; Hamlet would clearly know he is being spied upon. In all three folio printings, the King and Polonius exit before Hamlet enters the scene. Even if a director chooses the folio option, it is still reasonable that Hamlet knows he is being spied upon. Hamlet already suspects Claudius on some level before the action of the play, as evidenced by his response to the Ghost’s news that Claudius murdered Hamlet’s father: “O my prophetic soul! / Mine uncle?” The King has just sent for Hamlet. If, as in the folios, Hamlet enters not seeing the King and Polonius, he still has another reason to be suspicious: the King is absent, but Ophelia is directly in his path. Let’s talk about Ophelia and the issue of the silent actor. In order to stage the scene, we must have a better understanding of Ophelia and her relationship with Hamlet. She has only appeared twice before, in scenes revolving around her relationship with Hamlet. Ophelia speaks on this subject with her father, Polonius, saying her relationship with Hamlet is an honorable and affectionate one that has included every promise, save that of matrimony. Polonius dismisses this as Hamlet merely wanting to master her chaste treasure and commands her to never see Hamlet again. When Ophelia is placed in Hamlet’s way, SHAKESPEARE magazine
!“To be...” “Since the speech is not a soliloquy, it cannot be staged as a soliloquy and still be faithful to the text”
she is being used to provoke her boyfriend into showing why he is behaving so strangely. This is part of Polonius’ plan to discover if Hamlet is mad for his daughter’s love. Claudius accedes to the plan and, immediately before Hamlet’s entrance, describes his plan to Gertrude, that Hamlet should “affront” Ophelia. The meaning of the word “affront” is crucial: “to put oneself in the way of so as to meet; to accost, address.” By strategically placing Ophelia onstage, Polonius and Claudius mean for her to come face to face with Hamlet so they can hear what follows between them. As a result, Ophelia could be Hamlet’s audience, either in part or in whole. Before this passionate meeting, there is one more discovery to address: what Hamlet is doing as he enters the scene. The First Quarto offers a fascinating option. In it, before Hamlet enters for “To be or not to be”, the King says,
New production Women Playing Hamlet offers a fresh take on “To be or not to be”.
“see where he comes poring upon a book.” This is similar to Gertrude’s statement in an earlier scene, “But look where sadly the poor wretch comes reading,” which appears in all other printings of the story. It may be the First Quarto misplaces Hamlet’s entrance, but this anomaly bears study. Hamlet does have a book in other scenes, so a Hamlet who enters reading can be textually valid. In fact, the book he reads may still exist. Douce in 1839 and Hunter in 1845 noted that Girolamo Cardano’s 1576 book Comfort includes passages very similar to a portion of Hamlet’s speech: “…saying, that [death] did not only remove sickness and all other griefs but… what should we accompt of death to be resembled to anything better then sleep… and to die is said to sleep.” Compare all this talk of death, the easing of griefs, and sleeping to this famous portion of Hamlet’s speech: “To die – to sleep, No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep…” A reading Hamlet opens up a new possibility to the speech. If Hamlet is reading about death, his speech might refer to the book. Shakespeare gives us a similar situation in Henry IV, Part One, where, examining a letter from a confederate, Hotspur reads a phrase and then makes a scathing response. If this formula were applied to Hamlet’s speech, “the question” may refer to ideas raised in the book itself. A staging using this reading can allow the prop to help explain why Hamlet is in this frame of mind. Studying the original texts with a respect for their primacy reveals that the cherished long-established vision of Hamlet simply does not agree with the text. The options revealed by the text and its established circumstances are
“To be...” many and must be explored in a production. After studying the evidence, I staged the scene two different ways. In the first, Hamlet entered reading, responded to the book like Hotspur in Henry IV, and discussed the contents with Ophelia. In the second staging, I took Hamlet’s book away, allowed him to see Claudius and Polonius exit, and had him confess his dark thoughts to Ophelia. The first staging was greatly intellectual. Hamlet mused about the ideas of death, sharing them on that level with Ophelia. This Hamlet is the consummate philosopher, matching wits with Ophelia and even referring to the book she is carrying. The concepts of death and release are explored with great cerebral impact, so much so that, in directing a full production, I can easily see Hamlet reading voraciously through the early stages of the play. The second staging focused upon the circumstances of the characters. Hamlet, knowing he is spied upon, takes refuge in the arms of his forbidden love but is unable to tell her the whole truth of his problems. Ophelia, torn by duty to her father, her King, and her love, must react to Hamlet’s considering death and suicide. This staging speaks to the troubles as written by Shakespeare and had great emotional and visceral impact. Similar to the first staging, I can see a full production of this sort of Hamlet. These are two very different interpretations of the “To be or not to be” speech, but it is vital to remember they are both based on Shakespeare’s texts. “So what?” you may be thinking. “Why is this important?” Well, for hundreds of years the theatre world has embraced a version of Hamlet that does not agree with the words Shakespeare wrote. Elsewhere in Hamlet, Shakespeare commands “suit the action to the word”, charging us to base our versions of his work on the words he left behind. He did the job of a playwright well, creating the skeleton of his plays. It falls to us to give that skeleton a heart, a soul, and scars.
Rory Kinnear played Hamlet at the National Theatre in 2010.
“Ophelia says her relationship with Hamlet is honourable. Polonius dismisses this as Hamlet merely wanting to master her chaste treasure”
!Interview: Ben Walden
Interview: Ben Walden
Actor Ben Walden is a man on a mission to educate and inspire. And his weapon of choice is Shakespeare. All of which makes him the perfect candidate for a rare interview by award-winning teacher, author and contrarian Phil Beadle.
Images courtesy of European Council of International Schools
“He has kill’d me, mother.” I have witnessed this epitome of weakness delivered so thoughtlessly as to render the desolation of Macduff as kindergarten mawkish. The forlorn bleat of an innocent without a name as he’s descended into the writhing masterpiece of eternity comes usually in Disneyfied pastels. Not so the last time I was in the same dark room as this line. I sat, horrified, on an uncomfortable bench with two of my three sons flanking me, both of them rigid with fear as The Porter brutally slammed down a trapdoor, through which, milliseconds ago hard light shone, disappearing it, and along with it the anguished cry of the death of promise. The second time I met Ben Walden the conversation went like this: Ben: “What did you think?” Phil: “Yeah, it was great. Really good.” Language can be drivel. What I had meant to say about the touring version of Macbeth that I’d just seen in Deptford that Ben directed was that it had all the visceral thrill and panicinducing horror of the Hellraiser films. But I didn’t. The reason my words disappointed me so particularly is that the first time I met Ben Walden I thought he may well have been one of the coolest people I’ve ever encountered. Unassuming in a pastel V-neck in a circle of middle-aged white men of above-average professional capital at the AGM of the firm we both work for, Independent Thinking Ltd, he introduces himself in anger: fists of tears which he cannot and vehemently will not suppress roll down his cheeks. The object of his anger? What the proud philistine Michael Gove – He’s dead. He’s dead. That B-movie, lowlife, literate bozo is dead! – is doing to arts provision and education for working class children. I understand the anger that gave
!Interview: Ben Walden “Ben’s version of Macbeth had the visceral thrill and panic-inducing horror of the Hellraiser films” vent to his tears, as I feel it acutely myself. The third time I met Ben Walden I left a decade-and-a-half old yellow corduroy jacket containing my phone and house keys in a pub in East Grinstead. I couldn’t be bothered to go down there to pick it up, and miss it still. I then left the notes for this interview in Montenegro (it’s a long story) and that is why this interview is five months late. I had met with him to discuss the impact of Shakespeare on his life. If you do not know who Ben Walden is, and you should, he was a member of Mark Rylance’s original company when the Globe opened, is an actor of seriousness and note, and now runs a company, Contender Charlie, whose mission is to bring the power of Shakespeare’s text to inner city kids, and who subsidises this work, which they do for next to nothing, by giving presentations to corporate clients on what they can learn about leadership from Henry V. I ask him some penetrating questions:
because of this Edgar’s line in King Lear – ‘The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say” – reverberates strongly with me.”
Phil: “What lessons from the plays have you applied to you own life?”
Phil: “Tell me the shape of your year?”
Ben: “I was sent to a boarding school when I was a kid, and as a result have always despised not only the concept, but the human manifestation of ‘repressed Englishness’: their reticence, their poison, their cowardice. For me, people should speak what they feel, and
“For me, people should speak what they feel, and because of this Edgar’s line in King Lear reverberates strongly with me” Ben Walden
Phil: “How much of the language infiltrates your own day-to-day expression?” Ben: “The best way to explain this, Phil, would be for you to watch Kate Tempest’s ‘My Shakespeare’.” [I watch it five months after our meeting, after my notes finally return from their sojourn in the former Eastern bloc. I don’t buy Kate Tempest as a performer, but the passion is clear, as is the fact that she’s distanced being a drama school cockney infecting culture with lies. “He’s not something boring taught in classrooms in language that’s hard to understand. He’s not just a feeling of inadequacy when you sit for an exam”].
Ben: “There’s a lot of airports. And those gigs that require air travel pay for the work we do with kids from different environments.” Phil: “What different environments? What do Contender Charlie do… in exactly seven words?” Ben: “Help kids find purpose and meaning. Can I have four more?” Phil: “Grudgingly…” Ben: “…By examining their feelings.” Phil: “What are your feelings about the philistinism of Gove trying to make drama and the performing arts not formal GCSEs?”
Interview: Ben Walden
Ben speaks at the ECIS Annual Conference in Nice, 2014.
Ben: “For me, whether Shakespeare is on the curriculum or not is an irrelevance. Humans are naturally ritualistic. Making drama not a ‘proper’ GCSE doesn’t change that. People will still seek the spiritual. Shakespeare, himself, was a deeply spiritual anarchist, in touch with our deepest nature. His work remains vital no matter what space policymakers have him in this week. Kids will always connect with it like I did. Shakespeare came close to saving my life. When I was overwhelmed as a young adult, I would read a speech for solace and read it again and again. The transient whims of policy-makers are just that.” Phil: “Put the four great tragedies in order of something other than their greatness.” Ben: “Can I put them in the order of how much I like them?” Phil: (Murmurs assent) Ben: “Lear, I give 11/10, Macbeth 10/10, Othello 9/10 and Hamlet 8/10.” Phil: “Harsh on Hamlet?” Ben: “It’s arrogant playwriting. And he is self-indulgent as a character. It is really Shakespeare examining depressed adolescence. Hamlet is caught in his own depression and his own pain, and is a bad lesson. In life, you have to rise above your own pain to see the profundity in and of everything – to see the ‘special providence in the fall of a sparrow’. True wisdom is in being truly present emotionally, facing pain and meeting it head on. Truly wise people don’t fall off the wire.”
“Shakespeare came close to saving my life. When I was overwhelmed as a young adult, I would read a speech for Ֆ solace” Ben Walden
Go to www.contendercharlie.com for more on Ben Walden and his work. SHAKESPEARE magazine
We hope you’ve enjoyed Issue Six of Shakespeare Magazine. Here’s a taste of what we have coming up next time…
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The TV series that gets under Shakespeare’s skin.
Our guide to Shakespeare’s greatest opera hits.
Exploring what Shakespeare means in Turkey.
The real story of Shakespeare and the Essex Revolt.
Issue Six of Shakespeare Magazine features five exciting, inspiring and controversial Shakespeare interviews: actor, author and linguist Ben...
Published on Mar 9, 2015
Issue Six of Shakespeare Magazine features five exciting, inspiring and controversial Shakespeare interviews: actor, author and linguist Ben...