Shakespeare Magazine 06

shakespearemagazine

Issue Six of Shakespeare Magazine features five exciting, inspiring and controversial Shakespeare interviews: actor, author and linguist Ben Crystal; novelist Andrea Chapin; UK comedian Sara Pascoe; Kill Shakespeare co-creator Anthony Del Col; and visionary actor-educator Ben Walden (interviewed by Top Teacher Phil Beadle). Also this issue: our US Staff Writer nabs a part in The Taming of the Shrew, and we take a fresh and surprising look at "To be or not to be". Plus! Some of the most brilliant Shakespeare books out now.

At last! A magazine with all the Will in the world

SHAKESPEARE

FREE

Hamlet

Alone?

Exploding

the myth of

“To be or

not to be…”

Issue 6

Art

thou

Grumio?

Our college

girl takes on

The Taming

of the Shrew

Big Books

Giveaway!

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


Welcome

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.

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.

Photo: David Hammonds

Pat Reid, Founder & Editor

SHAKESPEARE magazine 3


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

The

Taming

of the

GRU

6 SHAKESPEARE magazine


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 7


The Taming of the Shrew

Mary

“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.

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

8 SHAKESPEARE magazine


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 9


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”

10 SHAKESPEARE magazine


PASSION IN PRACTICE

FRESH APPROACHES

TO ACTING SHAKESPEARE

Original Pronunciation

Cue-scripts

Physical training

Workshops and Consultancy

www.passioninpractice.com

@passionpractice


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

Serial

12 SHAKESPEARE magazine


Kill Shakespeare


What would you say to a

Shakespearean traditionalist who

was sceptical about graphic novels?

Anthony Del Col, photographed

at Shakespeare’s Globe, London,

October 2014.

“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.”

Killer

SHAKESPEARE magazine 13


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

Witch’s brew:

Lady Macbeth,

as visualised in

Kill Shakespeare.

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.”

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

14 SHAKESPEARE magazine


Kill Shakespeare

“Iago is so

deliciously evil.

He’s always three or

four steps ahead of

everyone else”

Anthony Del Col

SHAKESPEARE magazine 15


Kill Shakespeare

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 16


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”

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.

You’ve just released the Kill

Shakespeare table top game,

you’re working on TV ideas,

what’s next?

“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.”


17 SHAKESPEARE magazine


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

18 SHAKESPEARE magazine


The Tutor

The Tutor is your debut novel.

What were you doing before this?

Reeling

in the

Years

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 19


The Tutor

Andrea

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’.”

behind

the Shoreditch

pub where the

Curtain Theatre

once stood.

Why did you decide to tell the

story from Katharine’s point

of view?

“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.”

20 SHAKESPEARE magazine


The Tutor

“I was taken by that aspect of the muse and the

artist. And also, when you do read what there

is about Shakespeare, it assumed that he didn’t

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

Andrea Chapin,

photographed by

Ric Kallaher.

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?

“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 21


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

Andrea at Stratfordupon-Avon’s

Holy

Trinity Church.

“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

makes me so happy because, overall, I wanted

to achieve a story that people could relate to

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.”


The Tutor is published in the UK by

Penguin on 26 March, priced £7.99

22 SHAKESPEARE magazine


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








Tue 17 Mar 8:30pm

Wed 18 Mar 8:30pm

Fri 20 Mar 8:30pm

Sat 21 Mar 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

24 SHAKESPEARE magazine


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.”


SHAKESPEARE magazine 25


Interview: Ben Crystal

Ben’s

“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

character choices.

“They tend to be earthier, more active

tattoo is a

famous line from

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.”

26 SHAKESPEARE magazine


Interview: Ben Crystal

“Hamlet 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”

SHAKESPEARE magazine 27


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.”

28 SHAKESPEARE magazine


“It’s a celebration of my father’s research and

it’s a continuation and an exploration of it”

Interview: Ben Crystal

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 29


Interview: Sara Pascoe

Great

Shakes!

Stand-up comedian, actress, writer,

vegan and all-round clever clogs

Sara Pascoe is a big fan of the Bard,

and she’s not afraid to shout about it.

Interview by Brooke Thomas

30 SHAKESPEARE magazine


Interview: Sara Pascoe

Studying English at

Sussex University

fostered Sara’s

appreciation of

Shakespeare.


SHAKESPEARE magazine 31


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.”

“My favourite play…”

“I did love the Sonnets. I think they’re so

accessible and they have such universal


her in the library at

parties…

“I suddenly realised how clever

Shakespeare was and it was

mind blowing.”

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!’”

32 SHAKESPEARE magazine


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 33


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.”

“I played Puck, but I was on

a skateboard and I knocked

myself out. Twice.”

“Hang on a minute,

is that a person

hiding behind a pot

plant over there?”

“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.

34 SHAKESPEARE magazine


Contributors

Brooke Thomas

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

least 20 times (though remains acutely

aware it is each new class’s first time).

He has (what he thought was) the

French for “Against Nature” tattooed

on his upper arm. As musician,

songwriter and lyricist ‘Philip Kane’,

he is not averse to stealing lines off

the Bard, and his song ‘After the

Shipwreck’ includes the line “We’re

just two spent swimmers trying to

hold our heads above the water”. Both

he and Ben Walden are contactable via

www.independentthinking.co.uk

Francis RTM Boyle has worked

in the theatre for 20 years. He

discovered his love for Shakespeare

by reading Julius Caesar when he

was ten. He went on to earn a BFA

in Theatre from the University of

Rhode Island and an MLitt and

MFA in Shakespeare and Renaissance

Literature in Performance from the

Mary Baldwin College/American

Shakespeare Center partnership.

Follow him on Twitter:

@FrancisRTMBoyle

Helen Mears

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.

SHAKESPEARE magazine 35


Competition

The Tutor

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


Yes!

It’s the

Shakespeare

Magazine

Big Books

Giveaway!

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The formidable Aemilia Bassano is

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Consultant Editor: Professor

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The latest in the award-winning

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William Shakespeare is arguably the most

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To be in with a chance of winning one of

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with either ‘Tutor’, ‘Aemilia’, ‘DK’ or ‘Oxford’

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Closing date is Friday 10 April. Best of luck!

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Aimed at teenagers, but likely

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fans, this gorgeously-illustrated

tome sees the Crystals bring

Shakespeare’s language alive for a

new generation.

36 SHAKESPEARE magazine


New!

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

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The Bookseller Magazine

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“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.

38 SHAKESPEARE magazine


“To be...”

“…or

not

to

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

be”


SHAKESPEARE magazine 39


“To be...”

Maxine

“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

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

40 SHAKESPEARE magazine


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)

“To be...”

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 41


“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

42 SHAKESPEARE magazine


“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”


SHAKESPEARE magazine 43


Interview: Ben Walden

“Once

more

unto

the

TEACH...”

44 SHAKESPEARE magazine


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

SHAKESPEARE magazine 45


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:

Phil: “What lessons from the plays have you

applied to you own life?”

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

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: “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”].

Phil: “Tell me the shape of your year?”

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?”

46 SHAKESPEARE magazine


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?”

Shakespeare came

close to saving my

life. When I was

overwhelmed as a

young adult, I would

read a speech for

solace”

Ben Walden

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.”


Go to www.contendercharlie.com for

more on Ben Walden and his work.

SHAKESPEARE magazine 47


Next issue

We hope you’ve enjoyed Issue Six of Shakespeare Magazine.

Here’s a taste of what we have coming up next time…

My Shakespeare


The TV series that gets under Shakespeare’s skin.

Opera Shakes

Our guide to Shakespeare’s greatest opera hits.


Turn’d Turk

Exploring what Shakespeare means in Turkey.


High Treason!


The real story of Shakespeare and the Essex Revolt.

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