Just one month to go until the day itself – 23 April, the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and therefore the perfect time to reflect on what kind of humans we are capable of being. Shakespeare always wrote masterfully from the perspective of the excluded and marginalised in society. While we have no recorded political statements in his own voice, we do have the words of someone who was clear-eyed about the damage that will be wrought when prejudice gains power.
Give a few minutes to listening to Sir Ian McKellen speak the part of Sir Thomas More from the play of that name (a collaborative work from Shakespeare and several other poets). The piece is an apt reminder of what it really means to allow ourselves to be governed by what is worst in ourselves. I think it shows Shakespeare’s exceptional talent for imagining himself into other peoples’ place.
Here is the giddyingly learned Sylvia Morris at The Shakespeare Blog with all kinds of background on this play, its history and relevance.
And here is Harriet Walter with the same speech. Perhaps some Australian actors might like to add their version?
The State Library of NSW (situated in the heart of Macquarie Street, and fronted on the Mitchell Library side by the very grand statue of Shakespeare in the middle of the road, that everyone forgets is there) is holding some Shakespeare 400 events in April.
an exhibition of Shakespeare’s First Folio and other historic items
opening the Shakespeare Room to the public from 18-23 April
screenings of classic Shakespeare films
a trivia night on 21 April
a range of family activities on the 23 April
a performance and album launch by Paul Kelly on 23 April
The National Library of Australia is hosting a conversation between two specialists in early modern drama and publication, Professor Ian Donaldson and Professor Ian Gadd.
Professors Donaldson and Gadd are two of the world’s most venerable voices on the role of English literature in shaping our culture. In particular, Professor Donaldson is and editor and biographer of Shakespeare’s contemporary Ben Jonson, and Professor Gadd is an expert in the history of the printing and publishing of books.
This is also an opportunity to hear from Dr Kate Flaherty, the pre-eminent expert on the history of Shakespeare in Australia, who will be chairing the event.
From the website: “To mark Europe Day and the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, Emeritus Professor Ian Donaldson, Univesrity of Melbourne, and Professor Ian Gadd, Bath Spa University, explore how the playwright and poet became a global phenomenon.”
In association with The EU Centre for Global Affairs and the Centre for the History of Emotions, Adelaide
“So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet seasoned showers are to the ground.”
Poetry lovers near the nation’s capital should head to The Street for a once-only chance to hear all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets performed live.
Hear William Zappa and Tobias Cole, under the direction of Dianna Nixon, give voice to some of the most famous poems in the English language, along with the ones that only see the light of day more rarely. Zappa has one of the most illustrious pedigrees in Shakespeare performance in Australia, and the piece is being performed with live accompaniment.
Melbourne University has just launched its own Shakespeare 400 site, curated by the inexhaustible David McInnis. It’s packed with events being hosted by the University throughout the year, including lectures, workshops and performances.
If you’re in Melbourne at any time during 2016, be sure to check in with their site to see what’s coming up.
Another outing for Margaret of Anjou, previously seen in Perth.
A rehearsed reading at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, directed by Kim Durban, and performed by the Third Years of the Arts Academy, Federation University Australia.
Margaret of Anjou, is a ‘new’ play by William Shakespeare, constructed by Elizabeth Schafer and Philippa Kelly. Which is basically the good bits of the three Henry VI plays, and the mad bits of Richard III. Watching Queen Margaret, as depicted by Shakespeare, is to travel along on a roller-coaster ride of a life, if the roller-coaster was made out of filleting knives and scorpions.
Saturday April 23rd at 4pm.
Preceded by a performance of “Shakespeare’s Songs and Sonnets” at 2.30pm. Students of the Arts Academy will present some favourites of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and a cappella group VOX will sing a selection of songs from Shakespeare.
Entry is by donation, but tickets can be pre-booked.
While we don’t have anything like as many to choose from, the smaller numbers of female characters in Shakespeare’s plays means the ones who are there tend to be the vivid splashes of colour in a field of grey Lords. Be they virtuous, evil, complex or intermittently disturbingly underwritten, they all do tend to be memorable.
Do you favour the ingenues, the grand queens, or the lowly comic matrons?
Rosalind in As You Like It was probably Shakespeare’s most popular heroine for a long time, with Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing running a close second. Perhaps Juliet is his most famous female creation, though Lady Macbeth may be the most discussed. Cressida would be the most maligned, though the contrarian Bernard Shaw found her delightful. However, not all his wonderful women are leads. Emilia’s willingness to die to defend Desdemona’s reputation means she commands the final act of Othello. The Winter’s Tale is full of women, as is The Merry Wives of Windsor. Vanessa Redgrave reminded us how riveting Volumnia can be. And did you know that Joan of Arc appears in Henry VI?
Crucially, one of Shakespeare’s identifying characteristics as a playwright is his depiction of friendship between women. Women in Shakespeare frequently put love of a friend ahead of love for a husband, father or country. He often wrote his women in pairs, and frequently had the more outspoken of the two offer a vigorous defence of her quieter companion, or of women in general.
I tend to have favourite moments, rather than favourite characters or plays. This is one of my favourite speeches. It comes from Titania, Queen of the Faeries, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as she explains to her husband Oberon why she will not let him have a little human boy. I love what it says about female friendship, and how it shows us a character whose elevated status doesn’t prevent her from sitting on the sand on the beach chatting with a friend. I love her loyalty and her steadfastness. I also love that Shakespeare knew what a heavily pregnant woman looks like when she moves, and made that into intimate humour shared between women.
Set your heart at rest:
The fairy land buys not the child of me.
His mother was a votaress of my order:
And, in the spiced Indian air, by night,
Full often hath she gossip’d by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking the embarked traders on the flood,
When we have laugh’d to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
Which she, with pretty and with swimming gait
Following, her womb then rich with my young squire,
Would imitate, and sail upon the land,
To fetch me trifles, and return again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die;
And for her sake do I rear up her boy,
And for her sake I will not part with him.
A little game courtesy of the students from NUTS (the NSW University Theatrical Society). Can you tell which of Shakespeare’s plays is being represented by the cunningly performed tableaux?
Let’s start with an easy one:
2. Another warm-up to get you into the swing of the game:
3. Here’s one we don’t see performed as often:
4. Getting a little tricker now:
5. A better known pastoral comedy. Not seen so often these days, but it used to be wildly popular:
6. Giving the History plays a look in:
7. What about this old favourite?
8. And another crowd-pleaser, but with a sad lack of blood in our props supply:
How did you do? Answers below…
Hamlet 2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream 3. All’s Well That Ends Well 4. Love’s Labours Lost 5. As You Like It 6. Henry IV 7. Romeo and Juliet 8. Macbeth (although that’s a wakizashi he’s holding, so technically it’s Throne of Blood – getting one in for the film buffs!)