TOP 10 INFAMOUS FATHERS IN SHAKESPEARE – NUMBERS 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

Bell_MerchantOfVenice_2017_creditPrudenceUpton_155THE COUNTDOWN OF BADDIE DADDIES CONCLUDES, AS OUR EXPERT PANELISTS NAME THE FIVE SHAKESPEARE CHARACTERS LEAST DESERVING OF A CARD ON FATHER’S DAY.

 Compiled by Andy McLean

 See the list of infamous fathers numbers 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6 here.

5. HENRY IV (Henry IV parts I and II)
Dads the world over can sympathise with the dilemma facing King Henry IV. It’s not easy having a wayward son who neglects his duties in favour of partying with miscreants like Falstaff and Bardolf. So we can understand why the King tries to pull Harry into line.

But the reason Henry IV rates so high on our list of infamous fathers is because of the appalling advice he gives his son. On his deathbed, Henry says the trick to a successful kingship is to: “…busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out, May waste memory of the former days.” In other words, distract people from your shortcomings as a ruler by stirring up xenophobia and uniting your people by waging wars against other nations. (Remind you of anyone?)

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4. SHYLOCK (The Merchant Of Venice)

Actor Mitchell Butel is delighted to be playing one of Shakespeare’s most infamous fathers on stages across Australia right now: “Shylock is on the bucket list for all middle-aged character actors with a bit of European heritage, like me!” says Butel. In The Merchant Of Venice, we certainly see Shylock at his worst. His obsession with money and revenge propel him towards a traumatic showdown in court, as he seeks to take the life of his nemesis Antonio.

However, Butel has some sympathy for the Shylock, and its rooted in his role as a father: “He’s lost his wife. His whole world revolves around his daughter Jessica. So, I think that the loss and the betrayal of Jessica, who’s stolen all this money from him and fled in the middle of the night with a Christian – it’s very messy. In many ways, I think Antonio becomes the target of Shylock’s anger after that loss. Shylock doesn’t like Antonio, that’s set up at the start, but it escalates when Jessica elopes (in a plot that Shylock thinks Antonio is involved in). That is the primary motivator for revenge, as Shylock says: ‘The pound of flesh which I demand of him is dearly bought’”.

Read the full interview with Mitchell Butel about Shylock here.

3. LORD CAPULET (Romeo And Juliet)
Oh Lord Capulet, where did it all go wrong? Juliet’s dad seems to do the right thing early in the play, when he tells Count Paris that his daughter is too young to marry. Capulet even says he would prefer Juliet marry for love, rather than for status or money.

Soon after though, Capulet ruins any hopes for a happy Father’s Day. He gives in to the overtures of Count Paris and tells Juliet she must marry him. When Juliet protests, Capulet flies off the handle and fast tracks the wedding.

Capulet’s fatherly fury unwittingly forces Juliet into a desperate position, where she and Romeo must risk everything to be together. Yet despite his stupidity, we cannot help but feel for this infamous father when his only daughter dies. Sady for him, his tender words are too little, too late: “Death lies on her like an untimely frost / Upon the sweetest flower of all the field”.

COMING TO A STAGE NEAR YOU…
Some of theatre’s most infamous characters are coming to life in Bell Shakespeare’s current and future productions. Shylock is stalking across Australia right now, in The Merchant Of Venice. Octavius Caesar will be waging war in Antony And Cleopatra in 2018. Moliere’s Alceste will be breaking hearts (including his own) in The Misanthrope in 2018. And other infamous villains are also waiting in the wings, in a yet-be-announced 2018 production. Sign up to the Bell Shakespeare newsletter for updates.

2. PROSPERO (The Tempest)
Any parent would struggle if they spent years stranded on a desert island with their daughter, but Prospero still makes some questionable fatherly choices. He waits more than a decade to tell Miranda about her heritage and the circumstances that led to their plight and, throughout the play, he uses magic to monitor and control Miranda.

Author Jane Caro was one of several panelists to nominate Prospero as the most infamous father in Shakespeare, because of: “the way he infantilises poor Miranda on that island, keeping her from knowing anything about the outside world. Prospero is the living embodiment of the harm benevolent sexism can do.”

Cruciverbalist and word nerd David Astle agrees: “Prospero is the first dad to cut off wifi privileges. Rather than offering the wide world, the sorcerer spellbinds Miranda in exile, misguided by love, nourishing his daughter on fantasia.”

Brendan P Kelso, author of the Shakespeare For Kids book series, says part of Prospero’s infamy lies in his ingenuity too: “He masterminded bringing his enemies to him without having to kill anyone. Sure, it’s easy enough to hire a murderer [as other Shakespeare villains do] but to get mother nature to bend to your will – that takes some real cunning.” Prospero also shows some mercy to give The Tempest a happy ending, says Kelso: “He could have easily made this a tragedy if he so desired”.

1. KING LEAR (King Lear)
When we asked our expert panel to name the most infamous father in Shakespeare, there was one name that kept cropping up again and again: King Lear.

“He’s a prime example of a parent who never actually does any actual parenting,” says Shakespeare Magazine editor Pat Reid. “It has become fashionable to describe King Lear as a play about dementia – which is a bit like describing Othello as a play about handkerchiefs. And yet, Lear knows exactly what he’s doing at the start of the play, when he willfully sets in motion all the misery and death to follow.”

Alice Grundy, associate publisher at Brio and editor of Seizure, also picks Lear as the most infamous father in Shakespeare: “He’s so marvelously flawed. Shakespeare shows us some of the best characters are the most broken. And Lear’s soliloquies are some of my all-time favourites, especially ‘O reason not the need’ which is utterly timeless.”

Shakespeare academic Dr Will Sharpe also pointed to language when naming King Lear as the most infamous of father in Shakespeare: “The greatest use in the canon of trochaic inversion in a single verse line, of form moulding function, is to be found in Lear’s litany of ‘nevers’ as he contemplates the fact of Cordelia’s death: ‘Thou’lt come no more. / Never, never, never, never, never.’ In the voice and body it mimics the sound of sobbing…. ‘Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life, / And thou no breath at all?’ If he can only give Cordelia her life again…’

Actor and writer Jada Alberts expands upon Lear: “A childish and arrogant father, whose blindness necessitates his misfortunes. What he needs from his daughters is at first simple – embellished public flattery, is that too much to ask? The answer doesn’t matter, as it’s Lear’s true nature that is revealed in his response to Cordelia, who dares to be honest. Lear’s fall from greatness is sharp; the price he pays, heavy.”

Part of the appeal of Lear is that we pity him, says Alberts: “We become witness to the madness of his mind and it is there we recognise ourselves. And we are devastated for him and for his daughter, Cordelia. Because the truth he failed to see in this case, is love.”

In conclusion, Sharpe sums up the views of many of our panelists in four words: “Terrible dad, great play”.

INFAMOUS FATHER ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently touring The Merchant Of Venice nationally, featuring the infamous father Shylock. View all our forthcoming productions here.

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TOP 10 INFAMOUS FATHERS IN SHAKESPEARE – NUMBERS 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

Coriolanus1_96WE ASKED AN EXPERT PANEL TO NAME THE TEN SHAKESPEAREAN FATHERS LEAST LIKELY TO RECEIVE A CARD ON FATHER’S DAY. TODAY WE BEGIN THE COUNTDOWN WITH NUMBERS TEN, NINE, EIGHT, SEVEN AND SIX.

Compiled by Andy McLean

10. POLONIUS (Hamlet)
Social researcher Dr Rebecca Huntley picked the misguided Polonius as her favourite infamous father from Shakespeare. The close tabs Polonius keeps on daughter Ophelia is something Huntley still sees in her social research to this day: “I recall one father who used to pay his youngest son a dollar to burst into his sister’s room when she was in there with her boyfriend, another who used to hide behind the bins at the fast food restaurant where his daughter worked to see if any of the customers were chatting her up.”

In his defence, Polonius probably means well, says Huntley: “He is genuine in his desire to protect Ophelia; he is trying to keep her safe from Hamlet at his worst. But Polonius makes some pretty terrible decisions and he can’t help but interfere in ways that aren’t at all helpful to anyone.”

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9. EGEUS (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Next on our list of peevish patriarchs is Egeus, who is so adamant about marrying his daughter Hermia off to Demetrius (against her wishes), that he takes his case to the highest authority in the land. The Duke of Athens bows to pressure and rules that Hermia must wed Demetrius or risk being executed or forced to live in a convent.

Egeus doesn’t give a hoot that his daughter loves Lysander, a young nobleman of equal social and economic standing to Demetrius. His fatherly stubbornness sets in motion a chain of events that places his daughter and her friends in great peril. On the upside, hapless Egeus gets his comeuppance when Hermia marries her true love. Let’s hope Egeus eventually warms to his new son-in-law…

INFAMOUS FATHER ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently touring The Merchant Of Venice nationally, featuring the infamous father Shylock. View all our forthcoming productions here.

8. CORIOLANUS (Coriolanus)
After more than 400 years, the jury is still out on whether Coriolanus is a brutish aggressor or a misunderstood war hero but, either way, his parenting skills are undeniably shonky.

Shakespeare academic Dr Huw Griffiths picked Coriolanus as his favourite infamous father: “He’s obviously a terrible influence on his son, who is described as ‘mammocking’ (tearing apart) butterflies for his own amusement, trying to imitate his dad’s militaristic attitude. And he’s also something of an absent father: short of words, long on silences, and more committed to his work than to the family.”

Yet there is something undeniably appealing about Coriolanus too, according to Griffiths. “What people sometimes miss with Coriolanus is that he is also really sexy. Admittedly, it’s his mother who tells us this, describing him as a young man, ‘when youth with comeliness plucked all gaze his way’. During the play, Coriolanus abandons his country and his family to take up arms with his former enemy, Aufidius, a man who welcomes him claiming that his ‘rapt heart’ dances more for Coriolanus than it does for his wife. So, if I am allowed to rewrite, ‘infamous father’ as ‘hot gay daddy’, then I would choose Coriolanus.”

7. LEONTES (The Winter’s Tale)
Bell Shakespeare’s Associate Director James Evans picked Leontes as the dodgiest dad in Shakespeare. And he makes a pretty compelling case for it too: “Through his jealousy and single-minded obsession, Leontes destroys and loses his entire family. He sends out his daughter to be killed. He imprisons his wife. His son Mamillius dies.”

That’s quite a track record, even by Shakespearean standards. Fortunately, Leontes gets a second chance at the end of the play: “After sixteen years of misery and dwelling on his mistakes, Leontes discovers that his wife and daughter are actually still alive, and they are reunited,” says Evans. Still, one can imagine a few awkward moments around the dinner table on Father’s Day.

COMING TO A STAGE NEAR YOU…
Some of theatre’s most infamous characters are coming to life in Bell Shakespeare’s current and future productions. Shylock is stalking across Australia right now, in The Merchant Of Venice. Octavius Caesar will be waging war in Antony And Cleopatra in 2018. Moliere’s Alceste will be breaking hearts (including his own) in The Misanthrope in 2018. And other infamous villains are also waiting in the wings, for a yet-be-announced 2018 production. Sign up to the Bell Shakespeare newsletter for updates.

6. CLAUDIUS (Hamlet)
When asked to pick her favourite infamous father in Shakespeare, actor Kate Mulvany chose a stepfather: “I’ve always had a soft spot for Claudius – the stepfather from hell,” she says.

Mulvany loves Claudius because, even though he’s a villain, he has a conscience: “He pleads with God to wash clean his murderous hands – a divine bargain that reveals his innermost guilt and fear. And I do believe he loves Gertrude deeply (‘my Queen’, as he refers to her in his prayer). I feel a little too sorry for Claudius when he’s watching the Murder of Gonzago and begs for light. There’s something about it that makes me feel for him, the murderous bugger.”

COMING SOON
Stay tuned on social media as Bell Shakespeare continues the countdown of Shakespeare’s Top Ten Infamous Fathers. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

TOP 10 GREATEST WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARE – NUMBER 1

WE ASKED AN EXPERT PANEL OF ACTORS, DIRECTORS, WRITERS AND FANS TO PICK THEIR FAVOURITE FEMALE CHARACTERS IN SHAKESPEARE. TODAY WE REVEAL THE NUMBER ONE.

Compiled by Andy McLean

See the list of fabulous females, numbers 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6 here.

See the list of fabulous females, numbers 5, 4, 3, and 2 here.

JOIN THE DEBATE

Who is your fave female in Shakespeare? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your view on Twitter and Facebook

  1. LADY MACBETH (Macbeth)

Deceptive, determined and dangerous – Lady Macbeth is the ultimate femme fatale. Her name came up again and again among our expert panel.

Actor and writer Kate Mulvany, who played Lady Macbeth in 2012, loves the character for her contradictions: “She is bold but broken, hilarious but heartbreaking, grief-stricken but godless. She has a way with words that could flay a soldier – and does. And she makes us love her, even when we shouldn’t. She’s the kind of person I’d want to hang out with even though I know she’s a bad influence!”

Social researcher Dr Rebecca Huntley adds: “Lady Macbeth is the original great woman behind the not so great man. She’s evil but she owns it.” And , author of the Shakespeare For Kids book series, enthuses: “They could’ve almost called the play Lady Macbeth. There are other great female characters out there but Lady Macbeth is the true mastermind.”

Actor and writer Jada Alberts says that there is much more to Lady Macbeth than simply being evil: “She is clearly the driving force behind Macbeth’s willingness to act and her ambition is almost solely focused on him. There is proof in this by just how many times she refers to herself in comparison to her husband.”

In her wake, Lady Macbeth leaves a trail of nagging questions, says Alberts: “Does grief play a role, the loss of a child? What does the throne mean to her and why? When she is Queen, does she feel any satisfaction? I think the most interesting question of the play is: What does Lady Macbeth want?”

Shakespeare Magazine editor Pat Reid sums it up thus: “Lady Macbeth is such a pivotal character, and delivers so many infamous lines – it’s always surprising that her part is actually relatively small. She takes a dark delight in language, and there’s something very appealing about that. She commits evil crimes, and yet we sympathise with her because she’s ultimately driven mad by guilt. Simply put, Lady Macbeth is a great role (but not a great role model).”

COMING TO A STAGE NEAR YOU…

Some of theatre’s greatest female characters are coming to life in Bell Shakespeare’s current and future productions. Right now, Portia is outwitting all before her on stages in The Merchant Of Venice. In 2018, Cleopatra will have men on (and off) stage in the palm of her hand, when Antony And Cleopatra tours Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. And in a gender bending masterstroke, Moliere’s Alceste will be played as a woman in The Misanthrope at the Sydney Opera House in 2018. Sign up to the Bell Shakespeare newsletter for updates.

 

 

TOP 10 GREATEST WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARE – NUMBERS 5, 4, 3, 2

THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUES AS WE NAME THE TEN GREATEST WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARE. TODAY OUR EXPERT PANEL PICKS NUMBERS FIVE, FOUR, THREE AND TWO.

Compiled by Andy McLean

See the list of fabulous females, numbers 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6 here.

  1. CLEOPATRA (Antony And Cleopatra)

Bell Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Peter Evans is relishing the chance to explore one of Shakespeare’s most charismatic women when he directs Antony And Cleopatra in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne in 2018.

“Cleopatra is one of those special Shakespeare characters who outlive the plays – you can imagine her existing outside the bounds of the play,” says Evans. “Her strengths and her faults are out there for everyone to see. She has enormous intelligence and wit and verbal dexterity, but then there is insecurity and paranoia which makes her very human.”

Despite moments of romance and frivolity, Cleopatra must also lead her people during a time of war, says Evans. “She’s burdened with huge responsibility and pressure, and Shakespeare leaves a lot of ambiguity over Cleopatra’s actions. When she abandons Antony in battle, is she just frightened, as she says? Or is she actually looking after the future of her people and playing the two Roman sides off against one another? Ultimately, Cleopatra is unknowable and that’s why she’s endlessly fascinating.”

JOIN THE DEBATE

Who is your fave femme in Shakespeare? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your view on Twitter and Facebook

  1. VIOLA (Twelfth Night)

When asked to name his favourite female in Shakespeare, academic Dr Will Sharpe immediately thought of Viola in Twelfth Night and her ‘patience on a monument’ speech. “Which, if you don’t know – you must go and read right away!”

Sharpe says: “Ovid’s Metamorphoses was close to Shakespeare when he wrote Twelfth Night, and the play explores many metamorphoses that seem to centre on Viola: of gender, of desire, of the living into the dead and back again.

“Pushing the comic potential of androgyny and homoerotic desire into more serious emotional concerns, Viola is described as ‘Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy, in similar terms to Ovid’s Narcissus.”

Sharpe points out that, in the version of the myth which Shakespeare probably read, Narcissus does not drown but wastes away, fixating on his own image. “Echo is unable to do anything but pity him and echo his cries. In her guise as a man, Viola shows an Echo-like sympathy with the suffering of others, though, paradoxically, the daughter of the story who pines away as Echo did, is herself.”

TURNING THE TABLES

It’s a gender-bending switch that Shakespeare himself would surely enjoy: In The Misanthrope in 2018, Moliere’s male protagonist will be reimagined in female form in a contemporary Australian translation of the play by Justin Fleming, directed by Lee Lewis and co-staged with Griffin Theatre Company. View all Bell Shakespeare’s forthcoming productions here.

  1. QUEEN MARGARET (Henry VI parts I, II, 3 and Richard III)

Like all of Shakespeare’s greatest characters, Queen Margaret is a marvelous tangle of contradictions: a seemingly helpless hostage who, even in her weakest moments, controls everyone around her. We first meet Margaret of Anjou in a desperate moment in Henry VI part I when she is captured by Suffolk. Apparently powerless, Margaret remains quietly defiant and shrewdly plays her way out of trouble. Soon she is married to King Henry VI, where she displays a level of opportunism that would make Iago green-eyed with envy.

While her young husband dithers, Margaret gets stuck in. She strikes decisive blows in the power plays at court, successfully plotting the downfall of Humphrey, the Lord Protector. She later raises an army to fight with York, before stabbing him to death. And when the War Of The Roses begins to go pear shaped, Margaret secures reinforcements from France.

Sadly for Margaret the battle is eventually lost and, by the time the Henry VI trilogy ends and Richard III begins, Margaret is a hostage once more. Yet even when she is publicly belittled and ridiculed, Margaret isn’t done. The embittered curses she places upon her captors near the start of Richard III have all come true by the end of it.

SHAKESPEARE’S WOMEN STEAL THE SHOWS

Bell Shakespeare is currently staging The Merchant Of Venice, where Portia outwits an entire brains trust of men in a Venice courtroom. Then in 2018, Bell Shakespeare will tour Antony And Cleopatra, featuring the warrior queen Cleopatra. View all our forthcoming productions here.

  1. PORTIA (The Merchant Of Venice)

In The Merchant Of Venice, Shakespeare gave Portia considerably more lines than any other character for a good reason: She’s one of the greatest characters in all of his plays. The finest legal minds in Venice fail to undo Shylock’s bloodthirsty quest for revenge but Portia succeeds where they have failed, armed with nothing but a disguise and her wits.

Actor Mitchell Butel is currently witnessing the genius of Portia every single day, as he is performing in The Merchant of Venice: “Her ‘quality of mercy’ speech has become one of the most famous speeches in all of western literature,” says Butel. “Shakespeare, perhaps more than any other English writer, wrote female characters with intense intelligence, integrity and often more wisdom than men. I think that’s one reason why Portia is so popular with audiences.”

(Read a full interview with Mitchell Butel about The Merchant Of Venice here.)

Author Jane Caro chose Portia as her favourite woman in Shakespeare: “I love the way she sticks it to the blokes, even though they never actually realise it. I also love and hate that her moment of subversion and liberation from sexism comes amidst Shylock’s misery and defeat at the hands of racism.”

Alice Grundy, associate publisher at Brio and editor of Seizure, also picked Portia: “When I studied The Merchant of Venice in high school, I was delighted to encounter Portia. A feverishly clever woman who also happens to be beautiful. At the time, feeling frustrated by the arbitrary rules of my school, I loved the way she managed to turn the conventions of the law and her father’s prescriptions on marriage to her advantage.”

WHO WILL BE NUMBER ONE?

Stay tuned on social media as Bell Shakespeare reveals number one in the Ten Great Women in Shakespeare. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

TOP 10 GREATEST WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARE – NUMBERS 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

WE ASKED AN EXPERT PANEL TO NAME THEIR FAVOURITE FEMALE CHARACTERS IN SHAKESPEARE. TODAY WE BEGIN THE COUNTDOWN WITH NUMBERS TEN, NINE, EIGHT, SEVEN AND SIX.

Compiled by Andy McLean

JOIN THE DEBATE

Who is your fave femme in Shakespeare? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your view on Twitter and Facebook

  1. NURSE (Romeo And Juliet)

Oceans of ink have been used to debate and fixate over the impossible dilemma faced by the young lovers Romeo and Juliet. But there is another (often overlooked) character in the play who has the thankless task of trying to hold it all together when everything falls apart around her.

“Spare a thought for the Nurse, because nobody else does,” says cruciverbalist and word nerd David Astle. “As lovers vow and woo around Verona, this nameless in-betweener tries to be all things to Juliet, her pseudo-daughter.”

The Nurse is worried sick, like any parent would be, says Astle: “She’s a wannabe bestie, left stranded by romance, awash in what-ifs.” Throw in some of the funniest one liners in the play (memorably delivered by Michelle Doake in her 2016 Helpmann-nominated performance) and you’ve got one of the most entertaining and underrated female roles in Shakespeare.

  1. EMILIA (The Two Noble Kinsmen)

Shakespeare academic Dr Huw Griffiths also picked a woman in Shakespeare who is often overlooked: Emilia from The Two Noble Kinsmen “for her impassioned resistance against the patriarchy”.

Griffiths makes a compelling case: “‘True love ‘tween maid and maid’, she tells us, ‘may be / more than in sex dividual’. When Hippolyta puts it to Emilia that she might end up having to marry a man, Emilia responds tersely ‘I am sure I shall not’, and ‘I am not against your faith, yet I continue mine’.”

“Emilia also works on behalf of three women whose husbands have been killed by ‘cruel Creon’, refusing to allow them to kneel to her, claiming that, ‘What woman I may stead that is distressed / Does bind me to her’. That is, she is there to help any woman that finds herself in trouble at the hands of men. Of course, she does end up having to get married against her will to a man who is probably more in love with his dead male friend than he is with her. But she closes the play by joining this prospective husband in mourning the loss of his dear friend.”

COMING TO A STAGE NEAR YOU…

Some of theatre’s greatest female characters are coming to life in Bell Shakespeare’s current and future productions. Right now, Portia is outwitting all before her on stages in The Merchant Of Venice. In 2018, Cleopatra will have men on (and off) stage in the palm of her hand, when Antony And Cleopatra tours Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. And in a gender bending masterstroke, Moliere’s Alceste will be played as a woman in The Misanthrope at the Sydney Opera House in 2018. Sign up to the Bell Shakespeare newsletter for updates.

  1. BEATRICE (Much Ado About Nothing)

Feisty, funny and fiercely loyal, Beatrice is one of Shakespeare’s true romantic and comic heroes. All the highlights in Much Ado About Nothing stem from the chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick. In their early verbal jousting, Beatrice proves more than a match for her husband-to-be. And it is her unswerving allegiance to Hero that propels Benedick to risk his life defending her cousin’s honour.

Shakespeare also gives Beatrice the best lines in the play. A prime example being the exquisite moment when she finally, somewhat reluctantly, reveals her affections to Benedick: “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.”

  1. ROSALIND (As You Like It)

Bell Shakespeare’s Associate Director James Evans picked Rosalind, who spends most of As You Like It in disguise, running rings around her would-be husband Orlando.

“Rosalind is obviously extremely intelligent but also extremely compassionate,” says Evans. “She knows what she wants and she’s in control of her life. And what I particularly love is that she teaches the young man in her life how to treat her. She actually schools him in how to be a good man in a relationship and I think that’s wonderful.

“In Shakespeare’s comedies, the men are always clueless and fickle and have absolutely no idea what’s going on. It’s the women who ground them and the women who are in control – and there is none better than Rosalind. She’s got a way with words that’s absolutely brilliant, she’s got great respect for family and also for herself and other people. I just think she’s the best. She’s my favourite.”

  1. JULIET (Romeo And Juliet)

Sometimes misrepresented as a helpless victim, Juliet is actually the gunpowder in the plot – rebelling against the overbearing and hapless men in her life. When Romeo’s impulsiveness places them both in peril, Juliet is the brains of the operation.

When playing the character for Bell Shakespeare in 2016, actor Kelly Paterniti pointed out the amazing journey that Juliet goes upon in the play: “She transforms in front of our eyes from this very young dutiful daughter to this mature young woman who disobeys her parents and goes for what she wants. She’s very headstrong and incredibly imaginative.”

Actor Ray Chong Nee chose Juliet as his favourite female in Shakespeare: “Juliet’s strength and determination prove to be her undoing, but her love cannot be denied nor matched by any other character in the play for its poetry and beauty: ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea. My love as deep. The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are inifinite’.”

Ray Chong Nee is starring in the 2018 Bell Shakespeare production of Antony And Cleopatra.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Stay tuned on social media as Bell Shakespeare continues the countdown of the Ten Greatest Women In Shakespeare. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

 

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL

ACTOR MITCHELL BUTEL REVEALS THE INSIDE STORY OF PLAYING SHYLOCK IN BELL SHAKESPEARE’S 2017 THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.

BY ANDY MCLEAN

The Merchant Of Venice is more than 400 years old, but it still strikes a chord with audiences the world over. Why do you think that is?
The Merchant Of Venice is just such an exciting play. The narrative is full of suspense and the characters are fascinating. It’s so compelling to watch.

At its heart, the play looks at how we deal with difference, and how we respond to people who are not like we are. That’s still very, very relevant today; whether it’s Christian versus Jew, or Israeli versus Palestinian, or Muslim versus Christian – or even not a religious thing. It’s a notion of one subset of a social stratum against another. The Merchant Of Venice also forces us to ask: If someone wrongs you, do you respond in kind or is there a point at which mercy comes in to it? In society today, we are still dealing with these issues; and in our personal lives we also deal with these issues too.

What drew you to this 2017 production of the play?
There are so many reasons. First, Shylock is on the bucket list for all middle-aged character actors with a bit of European heritage, like me! Second, I’ve only performed with Bell Shakespeare once before [playing Roderigo in 2007’s Othello] but I love the company so much; they do incredible work. Third, I’ve really enjoyed the work of rising director Anne-Louise Sarks over the past few years. Fourth, there’s such a lovely group working on the play – some cracking actors, clowns and good-hearted people.

Shylock has been described as one of the most divisive fictional Jews in history. Why is that?
In theatre and literature there have been many anti-Semitic caricatures of Jewish characters. The Jew has been presented as the devil or the dog or the goat. And of course, in the past 400 years, there have been anti-Semitic readings and performances of The Merchant Of Venice. But I think Shakespeare, the disruptive marketer that he was, was trying to do something different.

Shylock suffers so much bigotry and prejudice and that’s the origin of his resentment and bitterness. Ultimately, I don’t think he is a bad person. I see a proud, stubborn man who is the target of so much hate and so many bad deeds that he comes to a place where he can only see revenge. That’s very sad but, in the context of the play, I think it’s justifiable. This is a personal vendetta. It’s more representative of someone who is obsessed by loss, rather than someone who’s motivated by purely religious conditions. That’s my reading of it.

In our production, Anne-Louise and Benedict Hardie, the dramaturg, have given another Jew in the play, Tubal, some lines in Yiddish that roughly translate to “Show mercy Shylock, show mercy”. So, there’s another Jew in this production saying, “Calm down. You don’t have to do this. There is another option…” which I think is really interesting.

 As well as the religious persecution, Shylock also suffers some devastating family events. We learn in the play that Shylock’s wife has died previously and then we see his daughter, Jessica, run out on him. How does that affect him?
He’s lost his wife. His whole world revolves around Jessica. So, I think that the loss and the betrayal of the daughter, who’s stolen all this money from him, fled in the middle of the night with a Christian – it’s very messy. In many ways, I think Antonio becomes the target of Shylock’s anger after that loss. Shylock doesn’t like Antonio, that’s set up at the start, but it escalates when Jessica elopes in a plot, which Shylock thinks Antonio is involved in. That is the primary motivator for revenge, as Shylock says: “The pound of flesh which I demand of him is dearly bought”.

It’s still a bloody way to exact revenge though isn’t it? Shylock wants to inflict a fatal injury upon Antonio, and pursues that all the way to the Duke’s court. But after Portia exposes the legal flaw in the case, Shylock is punished. What do you make of that punishment?
I think it’s horrific. Having previously implored Shylock to be merciful, Portia and the Duke then show very little mercy towards Shylock. They grant him his life but they take everything from him, and castrate him on so many different levels. They take his money from him and we see the effect that has upon Shylock: “You take my life when you take the means whereby I live”. And they force him to become a Christian, stripping him his Jewishness, which is perhaps just as cruel as what Shylock was intending to do to Antonio. And all this punishment can only be meted out because Shylock is considered an “alien” and not a Venetian citizen.

The basis for the punishment is that Shylock is different; he is an outsider.

The 2017 Bell Shakespeare production of The Merchant Of Venice is being performed in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney – and is touring nationally – until 26 November 2017.

Andy McLean is a Sydney-based writer who grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon. He frequently tweets and shares Shakespeare minutiae from @1andymclean

 

IN CONVERSATION WITH PETER EVANS

Artistic Director of Bell Shakespeare and Director of Richard 3, Peter Evans, discusses
what provoked, interested and challenged him in deciding to programme and direct
one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays.

Is Richard 3 more relevant now than it was when it was written in 1592?

When you think about reasons for doing this play, it’s difficult to avoid the fact that Richard 3 is swimming in political relevance. The truth is that this play has always been
relevant – there is always a political situation somewhere that could have come from
Richard’s machinations. For our times, this play is completely about Trump. It’s also important to recognise that it’s about so much more than that – it’s about history and how little we have moved on in 400 years – to not recognise that becomes reductive to the work. Its importance to us and the way that we as an audience engage with the play is that we can see that it’s reflective of the way power is grabbed, or that language is degraded, or the way that fear is used to incite loyalty in times of political unrest.

Does this production occur in a specific time or location?

This production is a continuation of my interest for the last 5 years of finding contemporary and abstract spaces that aren’t of a specific time or place, that work in the way Shakespeare’s stage at The Globe did. It’s quite clearly a stage on which we place our world, and everything on it moves fluidly. The staging enables us to travel quickly from scene to scene, whilst being a psychological space that can encompass ‘all the world.’

Compared to my more recent productions, the world we’ve created for Richard 3 is slightly different. It’s set in a room rather than an open space, however the principle is the same. In this production the characters are trapped for the entire play in one room, set up as a kind of party or convention. Changing the location from a 15th century castle to an unending party that no one can leave, is less about the location and more
about building a community. It is a Court. Who’s in, who’s out in the social world. At this party the stakes are a little higher than most! By not only standing by silently, but also
assisting his rise to power, Richard’s inner circle seek to protect their own place in the pecking order. Richard 3 is a great example of how it isn’t just about the people who climb to the top, it’s also about the people who support them. And more often than not it ends badly for the enablers.

I’m not interested in creating a contemporary equivalent to a historical event or finding
some period or location that makes modern sense of where Shakespeare set the play. I think each of the plays exist on the stage and that they always have truth and reality in them, but not necessarily through representing real locations and real spaces.

What do you think this play has to share with audiences about power?

The History plays are about cycles. We’re painting a picture of a society that is
constantly evolving, but in a sense is in an endless repeat of grabs for power. Cycles
of violence, grief, and rage. That cycle is at the centre of all of the history plays and in this particular work we explore how a protagonist’s/antagonist’s movement towards power ironically erodes his influence. It gets less and less, until he is destroyed and the next person takes over. Within our world all of the women play one role, but we have the men emerging as different characters. They fold into playing two or three different roles and after people are killed they fade back into the party,before eventually unfolding again as
another character. This is where the doubling and tripling of characters in our production gets interesting – we have a conveyor belt of characters who don’t speak up, who look after their own interests. They each get destroyed, but each of them has a moment of recognition. They acknowledge their hubris, or their schadenfreude, greed and/or naivety. And then the cycle continues.

What interests you most about Richard’s progression towards the crown?

One of Richard’s fascinating traits, and part of what makes him so successful, is that he’s unlikely. You can’t imagine him as ruler so you are unbalanced throughout his performance. People and scenes are often off-centre because they can’t believe what
just happened, or anticipate what might come. There is a sense that reality has
been shifted and Richard’s road to power is incredibly unlikely, with too many steps to
get himself to the throne.

It would be fair to assume that few characters in Richard 3 know they’re in a play about Richard 3 – most people in the first half of the play think they’re performing in Edward 4, and that it’s about a time of peace  and reconciliation. Then they think they are in Edward 5, all efforts are towards crowning the young Prince. Only Richard and the people he gathers around him [and Queen Margaret] know that Richard is the centre of the play. Only a few know that they are trying to get him to the crown, not realising that he will destroy everybody who could potentially usurp him once he’s at the top.

This is what makes Kate Mulvany perfect to play the role of Richard – the unlikeliness of it. Many characters in Richard 3 don’t see what he’s doing until it’s too late, and by then Richard has enough power and enough people around him to force his way on to the throne. Not only her gender, but her actual stature, makes her an unlikely threat. They
underestimate how smart and audacious Richard is, and how far he’s willing to go;
that he is more ruthless and will go further than anybody else. Audacity is an important
trait also.

Kate’s ability to play extreme humility means that you become more aware of Richard as the consummate actor. As Richard changes ‘character’, the scenes within the play almost change genre. When it’s necessary for him to be the victim, the poor crippled little boy, Kate is astonishing at dropping into that moment, and suddenly we find
ourselves unexpectedly empathetic towards Richard. You then come up against all these
social norms where you think “even though you killed all those people it’s terrible that
the other characters are so cruel to your face”. That’s a really interesting space
to explore.

Gender also helps us to look at the misogyny in Richard’s character. Shakespeare is interested in misogyny and a lot of his central characters have a deep fear of women. Richard either blames women for his situation or he dismisses them. And that
notion coming out of a female actor, even though Kate is playing a man, points it out.
This is another reason why the women are so important in this play – we don’t double their characters, so they become a constant in carrying grief and rage throughout.

Kate’s Richard is quite confronting because what she brought into the rehearsal room is
the belief that he is created, not born. She sees the victim in him, so there is a sense
of empathy that is confronting. What I also believe is that Richard understands what he has done. And that whether he was born or made a villain, he has a deep appreciation that the pursuit of power has left him completely alone. Perhaps he has always been alone. But like a lot of Shakespeare’s villains he isolates himself to achieve his ambition, then once he has achieved it there is no one to share it with. We exploit this by having Richard constantly surrounded, never alone on the stage. He experiences the proper loneliness of being surrounded by people – truly alone where you have no relationships and no way of connecting with anyone. The fruitless pursuit of power, that eventually kills him.

Richard 3 will play at Sydney Opera House (until the 1 April), Canberra Theatre Centre (6 – 15 April) and Arts Centre Melbourne (20 April – 7 May). Book your tickets now!

TOP 10 SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS: NUMBER 1

REVEALING THE LOWEST OF THE LOW – THE MOST DEVIOUS SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAIN.

Compiled by Andy McLean

Read about villains 10 (Regan), 9 (Goneril), and 8 (Claudius).

Read about villains 7 (Henry V), 6 (Richard III), and 5 (Macbeth).

Read about villains 4 (Tybalt), 3 (Lady Macbeth), and 2 (Aaron the Moor).

JOIN THE DEBATE
Who is your favourite Shakespeare villain? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your views on Twitter and Facebook.

1. IAGO (Othello)
When we asked our global panel of experts to name the Shakespeare villain they most love to hate, there was one character who kept turning up like a bad penny: Iago.

This is a character who is single-mindedly evil. From the opening scene of Othello to the last, Iago does nothing but plot, connive and scheme to bring down Othello and all those who love him. In fact, Iago is so utterly evil that, for centuries, audiences have puzzled over what could possibly have driven him to such depths of depravity.  As Shakespeare enthusiast Lis from the Hollow Crown Fans website, says: “You can’t figure out what drives his actions psychologically. They are out of proportion with simply being passed over for a promotion.”

Social researcher and writer Dr Rebecca Huntley also names Iago as public enemy number one: “You really can’t go past Iago. He’s an evil genius and extremely good at identifying people’s weaknesses and turning them against each other. He’d be an excellent office psychopath.”

That’s a view shared by Dr Huw Griffiths from the University of Sydney: “There is something incredibly stylish about this man, an outsider to Venice, who causes absolute havoc and appalling violence through an almost compulsive need to implant fantasies into other people’s brains, using his highly persuasive speech. But when asked for an explanation, he simply says, “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak word.” I love the irony of the situation: a man who has done nothing but talk, now that he is asked to tell the truth, is insisting on silence. He’s pleading the fifth and, as I said: stylish. This silence must, in part, be about the extent to which his malevolence is ultimately inexplicable. But it is also a further extension of his villainy. He continues to stick two fingers up to the system right to the end.”

Follow Hollow Crown Fans on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Rebecca Huntley on Twitter.

Follow Dr Huw Griffiths on Twitter.

VILLAINS ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently staging Othello – featuring number one villain Iago – at the Sydney Opera House until 4 December. And soon after that, Richard 3 will be stalking across stages in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (February to May 2017).

TOP 10 SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS: NUMBERS 4, 3 AND 2

OUR COUNTDOWN OF THE MOST DESPICABLE VILLAINS IN SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS IS GETTING TO THE SHARP, POINTY END.

HERE, WE REVEAL NUMBERS FOUR, THREE AND TWO.

Compiled by Andy McLean.

Read about villains 10 (Regan), 9 (Goneril), and 8 (Claudius).

Read about villains 7 (Henry V), 6 (Richard III), and 5 (Macbeth).

4. TYBALT (Romeo And Juliet)
Compared to some of the other villains on our list, Tybalt might not be considered the worst of the worst. He’s certainly a hateful little punk but he only leaves one dead body in his wake. So why does he rank so highly?

Because it’s Tybalt’s hot-headed violence that turns Romeo And Juliet from a romantic comedy into possibly the most heartbreaking tragedy in literary history. For most of the first two Acts, the play is really a story of puppy love, parties and wisecracks.

That all changes when Tybalt slays Mercutio (one of the most outrageously funny characters in the Shakespeare canon). From that moment, events spin dangerously out of control. Having seen Tybalt murder his best mate, Romeo turns from a lover into a fighter and kills Tybalt. And then everyone’s fate is sealed. (Way to go, Tybalt.)

3. LADY MACBETH (Macbeth)
While her husband provides the brawn, it is Lady Macbeth who is the brains behind the Macbeths’ bloody ascent to the Scottish throne. Actor and playwright Kate Mulvany played Lady Macbeth in Bell Shakespeare’s 2012 production and she’s lost none of her affection for the character since.

“Lady Macbeth’s villainy is strangely inspiring!” says Mulvany. “She is ambitious, funny, driven, sexy and smart. She’s not a villain for the sake of being a villain. She chooses villainy as a recovery from her own grief – the loss of her child. There is a deeper, darker psychology to her, which makes her choices all the more fascinating.”

Mulvany also admires Lady Macbeth’s powers of persuasion. “What a way with words! She can seduce the darkest spirits of hell in just a few words – ‘Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here…’ Whoa. Her vernacular is delicious – not just for the actor, but for the audience. And no matter how despicable she is, you can’t help but secretly, naughtily, be cheering for her on the inside.”

Kate Mulvany will play the title role in Bell Shakespeare’s new production of Richard 3 in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne from February to May 2017.

Follow Kate Mulvany on Twitter.

JOIN THE DEBATE
Who is your favourite Shakespeare villain? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your views on Twitter and Facebook.

2. AARON THE MOOR (Titus Andronicus)
For pure bloodthirstiness, it’s hard to go past Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus. Aaron is the lover of Tamora, queen of the Goths. He encourages Tamora’s sons to commit rape, mutilation and murder, then he frames Titus’s sons for the crimes. Plus, he arranges their deaths and, just for good measure, forces Titus to amputate his own hand.

Finally, when Aaron’s wickedness is exposed and he’s apprehended, he shows no trace of remorse. Robert O’Brien, emeritus professor of English literature at California State University, Chico, nominates Aaron the Moor as his favourite villain in Shakespeare, for the character’s “thrillingly defiant speech” at the beginning of Act 5:
I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

Follow Robert O’Brien on Twitter and Facebook.

VILLAINS ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently staging Othello – featuring the arch villain Iago – at the Sydney Opera House until 4 December. And soon after that, Richard 3 will be stalking across stages in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (February to May 2017).

WHO WILL BE THE NUMBER ONE VILLAIN?
Stay tuned on social media in the next few days, when we’ll reveal Shakespeare’s number one villain. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

TOP 10 SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS: NUMBERS 7, 6 AND 5

WE’RE ON A QUEST TO DISCOVER THE ULTIMATE SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS. THE MOST DOWNRIGHT DEVIOUS, NEFARIOUS NASTIES IN ALL OF SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS.

HERE, WE REVEAL NUMBERS SEVEN, SIX AND FIVE.

Compiled by Andy McLean.

Read about villains 10 (Regan), 9 (Goneril), and 8 (Claudius).

JOIN THE DEBATE
Who is your favourite Shakespeare villain? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your views on Twitter and Facebook.

7. PRINCE HAL aka HENRY V (Henry IV, Henry V)
Yes, yes we know. Prince Hal is a hero. One of Shakespeare’s most inspiring, in fact. A gallant fighter, and a brilliant orator. A man who conquers every battlefield he steps onto.

So why is he on our list of villains?

Well for starters: He’s disloyal. Before he becomes king, Hal is happy to party with Falstaff and Bardolph in the den of inequity that is the Boar’s Head Tavern. But the moment he becomes king, Hal publicly turns his back on Falstaff. Later still, he shows no hesitation in sentencing Bardolph to be hanged for theft.

So far, so bad. But that’s nothing compared to what else Hal is capable of. As John Bell points out in On Shakespeare, as soon as Hal is crowned Henry V, he embarks upon a patriotic war that “will deflect rebellion, unite the country and make the new king a national hero.” The inevitable casualties are but a trifling detail.

“The new king bullies and blackmails the Church into sanctioning his cause,” says Bell. Then Henry V undertakes a war of invasion, executes anyone who stands in his way and, during the Battle of Agincourt, commands his soldiers to commit the ultimate war crime: slaughtering thousands of prisoners.

If you’re still in any doubt about Henry V’s villainous credentials, just read the bloodthirsty threat he issues to the besieged inhabitants of Harfleur.

6. RICHARD III (Richard III)
When it came to history, Shakespeare never let the facts get in the way of a good story. There are those who believe King Richard III was, in real life, a good and progressive monarch but there’s no trace of those qualities in the character that Shakespeare creates. In the play, Richard III cons his way to the English crown, and clings to it, thanks to a relentless campaign of conniving, executions and warmongering.

“Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard III is still controversial today, with armies of ‘Ricardians’ angrily protesting that it’s Tudor propaganda,” says Pat Reid, editor of Shakespeare Magazine. “Personally, I wonder if Shakespeare makes Richard so monumentally grotesque as a way of hinting that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.”

Reid nominates the famously hunchbacked villain as his favourite: “He’s so gleefully malevolent that he almost becomes a kind of devil in human form, but he’s also laugh-out-loud funny.”

Reid adds: “He resembles a modern-day serial killer in that we know he’s going to keep on killing until he’s stopped. The whole issue of Richard’s physical deformity adds another dimension. I thought Benedict Cumberbatch played Richard superbly in The Hollow Crown 2 – he’s an arch-manipulator, but at times he seems horror-stricken to be possessed by forces beyond his control.”

Bell Shakespeare’s new production of Richard 3 will hit stages in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne from February to May 2017.

Read Shakespeare Magazine and follow on Twitter and  Facebook.

5. MACBETH (Macbeth)
Shakespeare obviously had a bit of a thing for villainous kings – and Macbeth is possibly the most treacherous of all. With his mind poisoned by prophecies from three witches, Macbeth murders the King of Scotland in his sleep and takes the crown for himself. But once on the throne, paranoia overcomes him. He spends his brief reign ordering the deaths of any potential enemies (and even his best friend Banquo) before the whole thing comes crashing down in a bloody battle at Dunsinane Castle.

Macbeth is a villain so heinous and despicable that actors are actually afraid to say his name out loud. “The curse of Macbeth” is infamous in theatre circles where (according to legend) if you speak his name, disaster will befall whatever play you’re working on.

Sounds like a tall story, right?

Maybe. But the last time Bell Shakespeare staged Macbeth at the Sydney Opera House,  in 2012, half the cast were struck down with food poisoning – and opening night had to be postponed. Now, we’re not saying there’s any truth in the superstition but, then again, we’re still not saying “Macbeth” out loud either…

Read about villains 10 (Regan), 9 (Goneril), and 8 (Claudius).

VILLAINS ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently staging Othello – featuring the arch villain Iago – at the Sydney Opera House until 4 December. And soon after that, Richard 3 will be stalking across stages in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (February to May 2017).

COMING SOON
Stay tuned on social media for updates as we continue our countdown of Shakespeare’s Top Ten Villains. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.