Our top Shakespeare Unlimited podcast episodes from 2019 feature interviews with authors, directors, actors, and scholars. Happy listening!
In 1994, Deborah Harkness was doing research at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library when she stumbled across the Book of Soyga, a long-lost manuscript treatise on magic that once belonged to Elizabethan scientist and occult philosopher John Dee. Out of this encounter came her idea for a popular novel, A Discovery of Witches, which was made into a television series this year.
How do actors do what they do? How do they stir up emotions, both in themselves and in us as we watch them? Joseph Roach’s 1985 book The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting examined how the actor’s art has been understood by scientists, philosophers, actors, and audiences through history: from Shakespeare’s 17th century, when actors emitted animal spirits through their eyes, to David Garrick’s 18th century, when pneumatic tubes transmitted emotion from the brain to the body. We talk with Joseph Roach about historical theories of acting that affected how our favorite playwrights wrote and even made their way into the most influential acting techniques of the 20th century.
Olivia Hussey was just fifteen when Franco Zeffirelli cast her in Romeo and Juliet. When the film was released in October 1968, it catapulted Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the young actor playing Romeo, to global stardom. For many Shakespeare lovers, Zeffirelli’s film is still the definitive film adaptation of the play. Now, fifty years after the movie’s release, Hussey’s memoir, The Girl on the Balcony: Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo and Juliet, tells the story of the actress’s life before, during, and after Romeo and Juliet.
Actor Edwin Booth was one of the 19th century’s biggest stars. One of the illegitimate sons of equally famous actor Junius Brutus Booth, he made thousands of dollars touring America’s grandest theaters and playing Shakespeare’s greatest roles. But today, relatively few people have heard of Edwin Booth. Instead they remember his brother—also an actor—named John Wilkes Booth. That’s because on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. The Booths’ story is like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, with an unstable father, a rivalry between brothers, and an ending that changes the course of history.
In 1956, Duke Ellington gave a series of concerts at Ontario, Canada’s Stratford Festival. Afterward, festival staff asked the legendary composer—at that point, one of jazz’s elder statesmen—if he’d consider writing a piece about Shakespeare. A year later, Duke Ellington premiered and recorded Such Sweet Thunder, a suite of twelve tunes inspired by the Bard and his characters. We talked with University of New Hampshire Professor of English Douglas Lanier about the suite, the second chapter of Ellington’s career, and how they reflect shifting cultural perceptions of jazz.
A revival this year of the Broadway show Kiss Me Kate featured Cole Porter’s memorable music and Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase as Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham, a bickering divorced couple thrown together when they’re booked to star in a production of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. But 1948’s Kiss Me, Kate also duplicates the sexism of the Shakespeare play at its center. Does Kiss Me, Kate work in 2019?
Have you ever wanted to know more about Ophelia? What does she think about the events at Elsinore? What is her relationship to Hamlet? Whose account of her death should we believe? Shakespeare’s Hamlet leaves lots of questions about Ophelia unanswered. That’s where Lisa Klein’s Ophelia comes in.
Harriet Walter is one of the most acclaimed performers on the British stage. She won the 1988 Olivier Award for Best Actress, the Evening Standard Award for her work as Elizabeth I in the 2005 London revival of Mary Stuart, and has starred in Twelfth Night, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Since returning to theater in 2015, Emmy and two-time Academy Award winner Glenda Jackson has played King Lear on London’s West End and won a Tony Award for her performance in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women. This year she played Lear again in a new production, directed by Sam Gold, on Broadway.
After more than 30 years as the artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, Michael Kahn retired in 2019. This interview reflects back on his long career, Shakespearean performance, and Shakespeare’s continued relevance.
(top: l-r) Glenda Jackson as King Lear in King Lear, 2019. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe. | Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet. | Daisy Ridley plays Ophelia in Ophelia, based on Lisa Klein’s novel. (bottom: l-r) Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase as Lilli Vanessi and Fred Graham in Kiss Me, Kate at Roundabout Theatre Company. Photo by Joan Marcus. | Harriet Walter as Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, at the Donmar Warehouse, 2012. Photo by Helen Maybanks. | Duke Ellington recording Such Sweet Thunder: conducting, examining the score with Billy Strayhorn, and at the piano. Photo by Don Hunstein.