Monday, 18 April 2016

What is Shakespeare's Greatest Play: Part IV

To mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death (generally believed to be April 23rd, 2016), the blog asked PGS staff to tell us their favourite (and least favourite) Shakespeare plays, favourite characters and favourite productions. Here Ms Brunner and Ms Hart reveal their choices.   

Ms Brunner

      What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?

It's usually the one I'm teaching - currently The Merchant of Venice. Antonio- the merchant of the play's title- is a well-respected and successful businessman. In the play he borrows a large amount of money from someone and then loses it, seeking to avoid the consequences and even taking the moral high ground. 

Some people say that the play should no longer be taught due to its appalling treatment of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, but I would argue that it still has a lot to teach us.  We live in a world full of prejudice and generic stereotypical judgements - and the recent financial crisis reminded everyone of the perils of irresponsible borrowing. Merchant may not be easy to watch in 2016, but it opens our eyes a little wider to the world around us.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why

Rosalind (As You Like It) gets my vote - she's quick, funny and wonderfully strident. 

    What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why ?

Charlotte Cushman: "the only
woman who could play Romeo"
Growing up near Regent's Park, the Open Air Theatre was almost as much fun as London Zoo - the combination of fighting over picnics and watching the stage was very appealing to me and my many siblings. I remember a memorably wet production of AMSND which was - well, wet. But an exciting introduction to Shakespeare nonetheless.

More recently, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet leaves us in no doubt that  Shakespearean verse can be modern and relevant to a teenage audience. 

One production I'd gladly time travel to see would be the 1845 Romeo and Juliet at the Haymarket, where the star-crossed lovers were more crossed than usual- Charlotte Cushman, dubbed 'the only woman who could play Romeo', played the male lead. 

What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?

Miss Hart

King Lear.  I first studied this play at A Level and Mr Pike, my teacher, made the play come alive.  I remember one lesson where we had to stand on the desks and recite the Heath scene in Act 3 imagining that we were in the raging elements.  It was brilliant.  Fundamentally, what draws me to it is the complex relationship between parent and child, as well as the declining mental state of Lear.  I ended up writing about this play for my BA dissertation.  It is an all-consuming piece of drama that leaves you exhausted when you leave the theatre. 

2.      What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?

The Merchant of Venice.  I find the plot a bit boring, which is not a helpful comment to be making when Year 11 are going to sit an exam where this play features!  I don't identify with the characters but do appreciate the sensitive issues that the play explores.  

3.      Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?

Nigel Hawthorne as King Lear
Lear!  This is a character who makes an error of judgement and quickly realises the error of his ways but is so full of pride that he doesn't know how to apologise or retreat from his actions.  I think we can all identify with this, even if we don't admit to making errors.  The final scene where he realises both Cordelia and desperately puts a mirror to her mouth to see if there is breath if so heart-wrenching.  
4.      Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why?

Iago is a bit of a rotter.  The way he manipulates Othello, sets up Desdemona and takes pleasure in the chaos that he causes is pretty villainous behaviour.  

5.      Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why?

Edmund.  He is such a bad chap, it would be hard to resist him!  Despite being an illegitimate child, he has so much power, control and authority. He is incredibly smart and is always thinking about his next move.  Plus, he is pretty good at his speeches!  

6.      What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why (theatre, film or both - choose as many examples as you wish)?Or you could talk about other adaptations (such as books, poems, etc)

I saw a production of King Lear with Nigel Hawthorne playing the part of Lear.  It was fantastic.  He really captured Lear's madness and vulnerability.  The other most memorable part of this production was the Heath scene.  The production team had decided to have great big boulders falling on to the stage to represent that stormy weather but unfortunately most of them landed on the audience.  I remember reading a review where the production was slated for this!  It did remove the sense of tragedy in the scene - it is hard not to laugh when you see a boulder the size of a small car careering across the audience.  


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