Shakespeare Solved ®

Shakespeare Solved ® is a forthcoming series of novels that covers the Bard's entire life and work.

These novels solve the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare by transporting us back in time, to walk in his shoes, and see his world through his eyes.

Only when we see Shakespeare in his original historical context can we understand what his plays and poems really mean.

This blog explains some of my ideas and discoveries, to prepare for this series of novels.

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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company

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1. Shakespeare's Shylock Solved 2. Shakespeare's Othello Finally Identified 3. Shakespeare In Love Sequel Solved 4. The Real Romeo and Juliet 5. Shakespeare's Malvolio Solved 6. Shakespeare's Real Petruchio

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Julian Fellowes' Romeo and Juliet 2013 Film

As I mentioned yesterday, I made this past weekend a Romeo and Juliet weekend -- I saw a live production at Washington D.C.’s Folger Shakespeare Theatre and I also went to see the new movie version.
So, today I would like to give you my thoughts on the film version.
I loved it!
It looked beautiful, the music is beautiful, and the story is so well told.

I enjoy simple stories well told. I don’t need a Romeo and Juliet with lots of distractions and a loud soundtrack. I want to enjoy the performances and hear the language spoken by talented actors.
Some critics have said that this film version is slow and bland, but I think it was deliberately old-fashioned in its pacing and storytelling. It wants to make the story clear, and it doesn't rush it at all. 
As such, I enjoyed this film very much, and I think you will enjoy it too. 
I think it should become the standard version to play in schools. While it does take some liberties with the play, it is as faithful as you would want, and it makes the story and the characters very clear.

Douglas Booth as Romeo

You should probably hurry to go see it, because it is not doing so well at the box office and might not be in movies theatres very long.
Sadly, it has not made much money. That is a shame because it is a lovely film that all of you should go see. 
And, if the film does not make very much money then it will be very hard to convince other film producers to invest in other future Shakespeare film adaptations.

Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet

The last major Romeo and Juliet movie was the great but sometimes too frenetic version, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, by Baz Luhrmann -- in 1996!
The last major film version before that was the Franco Zeffirelli version -- in 1968!
Please go see this film and buy the DVD or Blu-ray! I don’t want to wait another 20 to 30 years before the next film version!
So, drop whatever you’re doing and go see this film now!
You will enjoy it. I certainly did.
If you saw the 1996 version, this new film version couldn’t be more different. This version is not set in the present day, it does not have a rock soundtrack, and the Montagues and Capulets fight with swords, not guns.
I love the 1996 version. But it is not faithful to the play. I bought the soundtrack like everyone else, and I’ve watched it several times since then, but if anything, it made me want to see a more faithful version of the play.
This new version is what I was hoping for.
It is very romantic, the actors who play Romeo and Juliet are excellent and excellent together, the other actors are all fantastic, the music is great, and it was filmed in the actual Verona, Italy!
Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet was an inspired choice. She was terrific in True Grit with Jeff Bridges, and her performance here suggests that she will have a long and great career.

I enjoyed her performance because she did not try to force it. She played Juliet as a girl who is in over her head and trying to make the best of a bad situation -- while falling in love with Romeo.
Ms. Steinfeld was 15 years old when she filmed this, and her youthfulness greatly benefits her performance and the film itself. It makes it more authentic.
Douglas Booth as Romeo was an excellent choice. I remember seeing him in The Pillars of the Earth, and he was great in that.

I was really surprised by his performance. He was only 19 years old when he filmed this, but he played the part with such command of the role, that I thought he had been performing Shakespeare for many many years. He made performing Romeo seem effortless.
The other actors were all very well chosen. 
Damian Lewis was perfect as Juliet’s father.  When he explodes in anger at Juliet, it is done very well, without pulling any punches.
Natasha McElhone as Juliet’s mother is also excellent. She is an actress who can do so much with so little, and she was very effective in the later part of the story, and especially when she thinks that Juliet has died.
Ed Westwick as Tybalt was great. He obviously loved to play such a bad guy, and he really sinks his teeth into the role.
Kodi Smit-McPhee, who was great in The Road and Let Me In, plays Benvolio. It is not a big role, but he turns the part into one of the most interesting, especially when he cries as Juliet’s body passes. Very touching.
Lesley Manville as the Nurse was terrific. It is one of Shakespeare's greatest roles and she makes it her own. 

Paul Giamatti as Friar Laurence

But the one performance that I want to really single out is Paul Giamatti as Friar Laurence. Wow. He is such a talented actor, and he is great in everything he does. 
But he takes the role of the Friar and makes it just about the definitive version. There is not one false note in his performance.
When he discovers Romeo and Juliet dead in the tomb, it is truly powerful. If you aren’t crying by that moment, he will make you cry.
I would love to see him in some more Shakespeare, in just about any role. 
Julian Fellowes adapted the play for the screen. I have always enjoyed his work over the years, up to and including Downton Abbey. When I originally heard that he was writing this version, I was a little surprised. I wasn't sure what he had in mind.
But now I know. He, with the director Carlo Carlei, wanted to get to the heart of this story, and make a lush, romantic, and timeless film version. 

It may not be your favorite version of the play (it's hard to compete with Leonardo DiCaprio and music by Radiohead) but it deserves to be watched and enjoyed in its own right.
David B. Schajer

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Folger Shakespeare Library's Romeo and Juliet

Since I had tickets to see Romeo and Juliet live at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. for this weekend, I decided to go see the new Romeo and Juliet film on Saturday -- and make it a Romeo and Juliet weekend!
I’ll write about the film tomorrow, but first let me tell you about the play.
It was great!

If you are able to go see it, you really should. It’s entirely worth your time.
It is playing through 1 December and you can get tickets and information here:
I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want share some of my thoughts with you.
I love going to the Folger because the theatre is not very large and it is designed after the theatres of Shakespeare’s time. The actors almost always run through the length of the theatre itself and it makes the experience very immersive, which I love.

Interior of the Folger Theatre

The show, directed by Aaron Posner, is definitely going for a younger audience. The actors, the music, the tone of the play is edgier than usual.
As much as I prefer a more classical approach to Shakespeare, I don’t think this choice harmed the production. It is just a matter of taste.
I had just seen the new film version of the play, which was unapologetically classical in its approach and perhaps too much so. I can’t say it was boring, but it could have used more energy. And the film didn’t really get the comedy in the play correct.
This production really goes for as much comedy as possible. 
I love the gag with the frozen yogurt. Hilarious!
All too often the play is performed as if the comedy isn’t even there. I am convinced that Shakespeare wrote as much humor as possible in order to keep his audience entertained, and in order to make the tragedy more effective. This production gets the humor written in the play.
So, if you like like Romeo and Juliet on the edgier and funnier side, then this is the perfect version of the play for you.
Not far away from me in the theatre, there was a young boy, probably around 12, who was laughing all the way through.
During the intermission, I overheard him say “I know this is supposed to be a tragedy, but there’s a lot of funny stuff in it!”
That kid got it. Shakespeare, wherever he is, is smiling.
And the teacher who taught him that it’s just a tragedy needs to see this production at the Folger.
The cast was excellent and full of energy.
Erin Weaver was fantastic as Juliet. She was funny, smart and very feisty -- in a good way. She has a natural command of the language and the part, and I think she really connects with the audience.
Also, I have rarely seen a stage actress (or film actress for that matter) who can convincingly cry as well as she can. As good as she was during the lighter moments, she just nailed it later during the more dramatic scenes. 
Erin Weaver

Michael Goldsmith was very good as Romeo. He certainly looks the part -- tall and handsome. He is not quite the Romeo I was expecting, but he is full of youthful energy and the chemistry is very good between him and his Juliet.
The balcony scene was especially quite good between them. I like the fact that it’s not just Romeo who climbs towards his lover. That was unusual, and fun to watch.

Erin Weaver and Michael Goldsmith

The rest of the cast is great. It’s hard to write about each and every one of them. They are all so good, and they obviously love this play.
But I do want to mention Sherri Edelen as the Nurse. I love the Nurse character, as many people do. Every actress I have seen perform it does it slightly a different way.
But Ms. Edelen does even more than I expected. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it has to do with the fact that we, in the audience, must really believe that she loves Juliet with all her heart. 
Ms. Edelen is completely convincing in her love for Juliet.
I also want to mention Brian Dykstra as Juliet’s father. I think it is a thankless role, since he has to be such a terrible father. 
While I have never seen an actor perform this role and disappoint, Mr. Dykstra is spectacular. 
He takes the role to a whole different level. When he mimics his crying and “puling” daughter, it is  horrible in precisely the right way.
The play’s music was quite good, and especially effective later in the play.
I hope you go see this production. It will open your eyes to a different Shakespeare than you may have previously known!

P.S. Please come back tomorrow for my review of the film version.

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Shakespeare Muse of Fire Documentary

I can’t wait to see the new documentary Muse of Fire, on BBC4 tonight at 10pm.

The filmmakers talk with most of the greatest actors today who have performed Shakespeare, including Dame Judi Dench, Tom Hiddleston, Alan Rickman, and many more.
Dame Judi Dench

There was a recent article about that documentary. Some of these actors had some rather surprising confessions.
Michael Gambon, famous for playing Professor Dumbledore, admits that he is “frightened” by Shakespeare.

Michael Gambon

Mark Rylance (perfoming Twelfth Night and Richard III on Broadway now) arguably the greatest stage actor in the world today, and one of the greatest interpreters of Shakespeare, admits that he sometimes has “that familiar feeling of giving up at a Shakespeare play”.

Mark Rylance

Ralph Fiennes admits that when he was at school he “didn’t know how to answer a complex question about King Lear.”

Ralph Fiennes

I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a hard time sometimes with Shakespeare!
I’m in good company!
I think these are wonderful confessions they are making.
It is good that they can frankly express what it is like to grapple with Shakespeare’s work.
Hopefully, these confessions will comfort others, especially students, when they get frustrated with Shakespeare. 
We are all human and all of us get lost in Shakespeare from time to time.
Also, hopefully it will inspire other actors, especially those who have never done any Shakespeare, to try it for themselves. For example, I have written before about Emma Watson, Keira Knightley, Russell Crowe, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
What I find fascinating is that in my own education, and in the education of others, so little attention is paid to Shakespeare the man, and the world in which Shakespeare was living.
I have an uncle who took a graduate level course on Shakespeare. He couldn’t wait to dig deep into the subject, to read the plays in detail, discuss their meaning and explore Shakespeare’s life and times.
He was profoundly disappointed when the Professor spent the entire time discussing the use of certain words and images. Instead of looking at the big picture, they studied the fine print.
When Shakespeare is taught as literature, as is so common today, it should come as no surprise that people, even people as brilliant and talented as Micheal Gambon, Mark Rylance and Ralph Fiennes, would find Shakespeare difficult.
If Shakespeare were taught differently, where his plays and poetry were discussed in the context of the period in which he lived -- how he performed for Queen Elizabeth and King James! -- I have no doubt that  students would find him more interesting, and engaging.
Please do yourself a favor and watch this very interesting documentary.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The National Theatre's Othello

I went to see a NT Live screening of Othello at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.

Over the next few months the STC is screening Othello, Macbeth starring Kenneth Branagh, Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, Hamlet starring Rory Kinnear and Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston.
If you are anywhere near Washington, D.C. I strongly urge you to see these. The quality of the screen and sound system was very impressive. The tickets are well priced at $16.
For more information and tickets please visit:
I was excited to see this production of Othello from the National Theatre, directed by Sir Nicholas Hytner, and starring Rory Kinnear as Iago and Adrian Lester as Othello. I had read the reviews about it months ago and it sounded very exciting.

Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester

Sadly, I was disappointed with the production.
I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share some of my thoughts about this production.
I don’t really mind if Shakespeare is transplanted to other times and places. I do prefer the plays to be performed as close to Shakespeare’s period as possible.
Instead of making the play more accessible to me, this modern-day production never stopped distracting me. As hard as I tried to enjoy this production, it repeatedly struck false notes.
For example, when Adrian Lester says “Rude am I in my speech, And little bless'd with the soft phrase of peace” it falls very flat, since he has the most eloquent voice of any of the actors on the stage.
In the play, when Desdemona’s father Brabantio learns that Othello  and Desdemona have secretly wed, he is furious and goes to see the Duke of Venice. Brabantio accuses the black Othello of corrupting and stealing his white daughter and wants the Duke to punish Othello.
This makes a lot of sense if the play is set in 16th century Venice. It makes no sense for Brabantio to interrupt a meeting of military leaders in an government office in the 21st century. 
The matter of race, of Othello’s skin color, in this modern setting loses all of its meaning.
In this production, Othello is a general sent to war in Cyprus, but this Cyprus looks an awful lot like Afghanistan or Iraq. 
I have no problem with that. But I do find it strange that his wife would be allowed to join him there -- for their honeymoon!

Olivia Vinall and Adrian Lester

So much of the play is set in this war-zone that it never ceased to distract me that  this young attractive blond woman is running about the base camp in civilian clothes.
As far as the performances are concerned, I was disappointed.

Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester

I like Adrian Lester quite a lot, and I was so excited to see him in this. He is a great actor. But I would have preferred to see him as Othello not in a modern setting.
I can believe that a Moor, who has been fighting wars for most of his life and had been sold into slavery, could be undone by Iago’s schemes and be brought to commit murder. I have a very hard time believing this of a career officer in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
Perhaps my greatest disappointment was the depiction of Iago.
We first meet Rory Kinnear (a great actor, especially as Henry IV in the Hollow Crown version of Richard II) as Iago as he exits a pub, swilling a pint of beer and lighting a cigarette, and not in his uniform. 
He looks like a rather common bloke. But when he talks, he sounds like a rather dim-witted thug, a football hooligan perhaps. 
As the play progresses, it almost seems as if Iago’s plots and schemes to destroy Othello are less a matter of careful planning, than just good luck.
I consider Shakespeare’s character of Iago to be one of the most profound portraits of evil. I think Iago is the smartest person in the play, and to portray him as rather dull and malicious robs the character of his true power.
One of the most important reasons I think we watch this play is because we want to understand why Iago does what he does, to understand the nature of evil. He is fascinating and enigmatic.
I didn’t find anything to fascinate me in this portrayal of Iago. He’s just a really bad guy.

Adrian Lester and Olivia Vinall

I like the actress Olivia Vinall, and I thought she did a good job. But her portrayal as a feisty and spirited young woman is at odds with the character as written.
Desdemona as written in the play is strong and beautiful, but she is obedient to her husband, as it would be expected in the 16th century.
This Desdemona is far from obedient, and seems to come and go as she pleases more like a unruly schoolgirl than the “gentle,” “divine,” “virtuous” and “sweet” woman as written in the play.
I would have preferred to see all of these fine actors in a period version of the play, without all the distractions of the modern day. In that version I think they could have been quite good. Instead of focusing their attention on the outward trappings of the play, they could have been allowed to pay attention to their performances, and the power of the language.
As it was, I think their performances were rushed and unfocused, and they were not allowed to take time with the language.
I encourage you to see this production for yourself. It is one of Shakespeare's greatest masterpieces and you should see it as many productions of it as you can.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Shakespeare's Globe Richard III on Broadway

I wrote about Shakespeare’s Globe production of Twelfth Night yesterday, and today I would like to share my thoughts on the production of Richard III.

It was truly brilliant.
If you are anywhere near New York City, you must see it!
It is only playing for 16 weeks, so hurry up and buy your tickets ASAP!

For a schedule of performances and more information, please visit:

It is the best Richard III I have ever seen, and I doubt that I will ever see a production as perfect as this.
However, there are some problems, and there are several ways in which it could be even better.

I am not a professional theatre critic, but having studied this play so much and having written a version of it that sets in the Elizabethan world Shakespeare wrote it for, I do have some very specific criticisms of this production.
Last year I wrote about this production when it was performed at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. A theatre critic wrote that he didn't like the humor. I defended the director, Tim Carroll, and Mark Rylance who were creating a Richard III that made you laugh.
I agree with them wholeheartedly. As I wrote my version of the Richard III play, I discovered that it is in fact a very funny comedy, and quite unlike any production I had ever seen.
So, imagine my delight when I had the opportunity to see the play for myself in New York City.

As I watched the play on Saturday night, I was very entertained and laughed often, thrilled to see the play so well performed -- and played for laughs.
Mark Rylance is a brilliant actor, and he made some very insightful choices in portraying the character of Richard III.

The way he walked with a little stooping gait, the way he talked with a manner that could turn from brash to pitiful in a second, the way he interacted with other characters was all riveting to watch. You can not take your eyes off him.
But when he turns to the audience and talks to us, he is far less effective.
The Richard III character must draw us in, seduce us, and make us want him to succeed against the others characters. He must makes us accomplices and co-conspirators in his evil deeds.
Mr. Rylance chose not to do this. His Richard is almost antagonistic with the audience, and he sets himself apart from us. 
There was one moment in the performance I saw, when he says: “Relenting fool, and shallow, changing woman!”
Someone in the audience made a disapproving sound. Mr. Rylance responded to this person, and made a sound of his own, which I would roughly translate as “Go stuff yourself!”
To me this was the funniest moment of the night, because it was the most Elizabethan moment. 

By that I mean that audiences in Shakespeare’s day were very loud and would not only make noise but talk back to the actors. The actors would be accustomed to this and would have to be prepared not only to perform their roles, but also to manage the crowds.
Mr. Rylance brilliantly turned the moment into humor, and the audience laughed.
However, instead of challenging the person in the audience, I think the moment would have been funnier if Richard would try to cajole the audience into agreeing with him.
So, instead of getting the audience to side with him, Mr. Rylance chose to perform the role without their support.
This is a critical error in my opinion and it damages the rest of the play.
Another error was his choice to play Richard as the same person for us and for the other characters on stage.
Richard should be played with two different faces. The face he shows to us, the audience, should be proud, vain and strong. The face he shows to the other characters should be weak and obsequious.
When he is crowned King in the play, he should remove the mask of weakness he has been wearing, and reveal himself to his court as the proud and strong man he really is.
While the production I saw worked quite well the way it was, I could see with my own eyes that it did not go far enough to entertain the audience.
From my seat, I could clearly see the audience members who were seated on the stage in seats that were built to resemble the galleries of the Globe.

Here is a shot from the Twelfth Night production, with some people from the audience seated on stage

Very often they looked distracted and bored. They were not engaged with the play.
They were especially disengaged when Mr. Rylance was not on stage. This makes a great deal of sense, since his character is the most entertaining, and the play is really all about him.
But even sometimes when Mr. Rylance is on the stage he did not fully capture their attention and entertain them.
If he had been playing to them throughout the play, trying to win their affection and constantly looking them in the eye, I doubt they would have looked as bored as they did.

He could even woo them in the early part of the play, and then turn on them in the later scenes. In effect, he has made his accomplices into his hostages on stage, jailed in the galleries.
This choice not to engage the audience also has a negative effect on the rest of the cast. 
The other actors are very very good, and they are obvious masters at their craft.
But Richard III is an odd play. Shakespeare does not want us to like any character in the play. They are all bad, and not one of them is deserving of our sympathy.

The stage is shared by murderers, jail-keepers, royals and aristocrats. The royal family comes across as pathetic and foolish. There is not one truly sympathetic character in the play. 
There is a very telling line about these royals when Clarence is confronted by the two murderers whom Richard III has sent to kill him. 
Clarence asks them who they are: “what art thou?”
One murderer says: “A man, as you are.”
Clarence chooses to insult these armed men: “But not, as I am, royal.”
What is Shakespeare doing? He is making us dislike Clarence, and perhaps even wishing that he would die as soon as possible.
Does Clarence’s jailer, the Keeper, really want to listen to Clarence’s dream, or does he yawn and listen without interest because he has nothing better to do?
I think it is funnier if Clarence is a insufferably royal bore. I think Shakespeare’s audience would have thrown food at him.
When Richard woos Anne over the body of her father, King Henry VI, are we really supposed to believe that she is virtuous and good?
By the end of the scene she has allowed herself to be wooed by the truly despicable Richard. So, she can not be as good as all that.
If she is not good, then perhaps she deserves not our pity, but our scorn. What kind of woman spends even a second with the man who killed her husband and her father?
There is so much comedy in this scene, and unfortunately this production misses it.
At the end of this scene, Mr. Rylance rushed the next lines of his soliloquy, some of the greatest lines in the entire play: “Was ever woman in this humour woo'd? Was ever woman in this humour won?”
It was a moment squandered, because it is one of the greatest opportunities for Richard III to woo and win the audience, to bring us to his side.
The character of Queen Elizabeth, and the rest of the courtiers for that matter, are misunderstood in this production. I have never seen a correct depiction of them, but it is again a lost opportunity to create more humor in the play.
King Edward IV’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, was not born of royal blood, but was a commoner.
Elizabeth Woodville was one of King Edward’s subjects, and he took the extraordinary step of marrying her. She was the first commoner to become Queen of England.
By marrying her, he elevated her and her entire family. But it also created a great deal of animosity, at court and in the country.
So, would Shakespeare’s audiences have liked her, her family, and her husband the King for having married her? 
Would that audience have considered her of true royal blood, or would they have disliked her and thought of her as a gold digging social climber?
In my version of Richard III, I have her speak in a common accent whenever possible, and then assume a fake royal accent while at court. This would have increased the humor and made Shakespeare’s audience hate her even more.

When she faces off with Richard late in the play, the audience should be rooting against her. We should want Richard to tear her to pieces like they are two animals in a bear-baiting ring. The other actors on stage should brandish their swords to build the suspense, and perhaps even find some jokes at her expense.

Mark Rylance with Samuel Barnett as Queen Elizabeth

In this version, she leaves the stage as the dominant character, as if she has won. Not only does this not make sense, but it is another lost opportunity for some humor.
Shakespeare does not want us to like any character, and he wants us to root for Richard as he kills off these characters. Even the Princes come off as brats. 
All of the characters are two-dimensional and flat. They are not meant to be fully formed characters. They are meant to be targets for Richard to shoot at.
The only character that seems to rise above the rest is Buckingham. He is the only character who attempts to be more than two-dimensional.
But ultimately he cannot. By the end he can no longer serve Richard in good conscience.
There are many reasons for this, and I explore them in my version of Richard III. Suffice to say that the relationship between Richard and Buckingham in the play strongly resembled the relationship between Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare, and Shakespeare may have wanted to insert some of his own autobiography into the play.
Above all of these unlikeable two-dimensional characters stands Richard III. He is the only character with any depth and any dimension. He is the only three-dimensional character.
Shakespeare did this on purpose, and he does it frequently, especially in The Merchant of Venice. In that play, Shylock is the only real human character. The rest are caricatures.
Why does Shakespeare do this? Because in this play with all these bad and unlikeable people, Shakespeare wants us to want Richard III to succeed in his plots and schemes.
Shakespeare wants us to root for the bad guy. 
Of course, his audience would have known that Richard eventually gets killed, defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
But while Richard lives, Shakespeare wants us to enjoy his attacks on the royals and aristocrats.
Why would Shakespeare want to do that? I explore this more fully in my version of Richard III, but suffice to say that while he was not an anarchist, I do think he had a healthy fear of monarchs and the absolute power they wield. 
If the other actors on stage play their parts as if the characters they play are good and virtuous and noble, then the play does not quite work. Their scenes become rather dull. 
If the other actors try to make the audience actively dislike them (and want to throw food at them) then there is greater potential to make them funny. Their scenes will come alive.
The last point I would like to make is that Richard III is a fascinating man, and a fascinating character.
I think we watch this play in the attempt to understand him, and understand the evil that he did. He is a mystery to this day.
While I applaud the director, Tim Carroll, and Mark Rylance for making this character funnier and more engaging than before, I do think that they rob the character of his mystery.
Mr. Rylance’s Richard III is a little too dim-witted and a little too weak. There is too much in this Richard III that is “Deformed, unfinish'd.”
Richard III says that while he cannot be like most men, he is “determined to prove a villain.”
I think Shakespeare’s wrote his Richard III character to be much stronger than he was portrayed in this production. 
In conclusion, I strongly urge you to see this version of the play. It is well worth your time, and there is so much of the play that will entertain you and make you laugh.


David B. Schajer

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Shakespeare's Globe Twelfth Night on Broadway

I just saw the Shakespeare’s Globe productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III at the Belasco Theater in New York City over the weekend -- starring Mark Rylance, and directed by Tim Carroll.
They were truly spectacular!
If you are anywhere near New York City, you MUST see these plays!
They are playing only for 16 weeks -- so you must hurry.

For a schedule of performances and more information, please visit
At every performance there will be 250 seats priced at $25.
This is the first time that Shakespeare’s Globe productions have ever been brought to Broadway, and with any luck it won’t be the last time.
The plays are performed in repertory, on alternating nights, and on some Wednesdays and Sundays the plays are performed back to back.
I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to tell you a little about my experience seeing Twelfth Night.
(Please come back tomorrow when I will write about Richard III.)
As I entered the theatre, the actors were on stage and were putting on their costumes and make-up. 
I enjoyed this very much. It gave us a chance to see what it might have been like for Shakespeare himself and his fellow Elizabethan actors in the “tiring room” where they were attired before every performance.

I was seated right in the front and nearly underneath Mark Rylance himself, as he was dressed as Olivia.
I have read so much about him -- that he is the greatest stage actor today, and that he is one of the greatest interpreters of Shakespeare -- that it was a little unnerving to see him up close.
As you may know, the play is performed in “original practices” -- the costumes are very authentic recreations of what Shakespeare and his fellow Elizabethan actors would have worn, the stage is lighted almost entirely by candles, the musical troupe plays music on instruments authentic to the period, and there were even seats for about 70 members of the audience on the stage itself that resembled the gallery seating of the Globe in London. 
Also, it seemed as if everyone seated in the entire theatre was visible to the actors, so they could see us as well as we could see them -- which must resemble their experience at the Globe.
As excited as I was to see Mark Rylance, I was thrilled to see Stephen Fry in person. I have been a fan of his for a very long time, and it was very exciting to see him on stage. 

It is the first time he has performed on Broadway, and that fact alone should make you see him as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. He is not in Richard III, but don’t let his absence in that play stop you from seeing it!
There is so much I can say about this performance, and I find myself struggling to say how good it was.
While I have seen it before, and recently too at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., there was so much in this production that surprised me and made me laugh. 
The biggest surprise was Mark Rylance’s Olivia. I have been drawn to the other characters so often -- especially Malvolio, Sir Toby Belch and Feste -- that I honestly did not understand how very funny Olivia could be. 
Mark Rylance in front of the onstage galleries audience

Mr. Rylance has crafted such an ingenious character. At the beginning of the play his  Olivia is so tightly wound, and as the play goes he unspools her with such comedic perfection. I was crying with laughter. I had to wipe my eyes quickly too, since I was afraid that I was going to miss anything.
I can’t put it into words, but he makes Olivia’s emotional journey so overwhelmingly powerful that it almost derails the rest of the play -- in a good way. You almost forget the rest of the play.
Like the greatest of actors, he makes very good choices in how he performs. He has obviously made some very meticulous choices in performing Olivia, and they are dead on. The way she speaks with such a brittle and articulate voice, the way she moves across the stage so primly and rigidly, the indecent way she sucks her finger to remove her ring to give to Viola as Cesario -- Mr. Rylance has thoroughly and perfectly put her character together.
I have seen some great performances in my life, and I will not soon forget the pleasure it was to watch a master at his craft perform to such perfection.
The other great surprise was Paul Chahidi as Maria. I have never focused on this character, but he takes this supporting character and takes it to a whole different level.
Paul Chahidi as Maria with Colin Hurley as Sir Toby Belch
He does so much with the role that is unexpected and just plain funny. 
It was sometimes hard to watch, because there were so many moments where the play was a laugh riot, and I was actually becoming exhausted from laughing so much. I didn’t want it to stop, but it was definitely wearing me out!
Mr. Chahidi obviously loves this character and he brought her to life in a way that I didn’t expect. He takes some rather simple moments and lines of dialogue, and just nails them. 
Perhaps my favorite part of his performance is when he looks out to the audience and trembles with excitement (in conspiring against Malvolio) and smiles with this absolute ecstatic glee that made the whole audience roar with laughter.

He stole just about every moment he was on stage, and considering how great the other actors on stage were, that is a very hard thing to do.
The rest of the cast is excellent. Colin Hurley as Sir Toby Belch, Peter Hamilton Dyer as Feste, Angus Wright as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Samuel Barnett as Viola, and the others are just brilliant.
Peter Hamilton Dyer as Feste
I apologize if I don’t go into the details of their performances, but take my word for it that they are as perfect as you would expect from Shakespeare’s Globe. They are obviously experts in their craft, they clearly enjoy working together, and they seem to make this play effortlessly funny.
Stephen Fry as Malvolio?
What can I say?
How can I criticize him? 
I can only say that to see him on stage, and having so much fun on stage, will live with me forever.

Do yourself a favor and go see this Twelfth Night.
You will never forget it.


P.S. Please check back tomorrow for my thoughts on Richard III -- which was less perfect than I expected and less funny than it could have been.
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