Category Archives: Shakespeare


(Reevel Alderson’s article appeared 9/19, BBC Scotland.)

A rare edition of Shakespeare’s last play has been found in a Scottish Catholic college in Spain.

The Two Noble Kinsmen, written by Shakespeare with John Fletcher, was found by a researcher investigating the work of the Scots economist Adam Smith.

The 1634 printing could be the oldest Shakespearean work in the country.

In the 17th Century the seminary in Madrid was an important source of English literature for Spanish intellectuals.

The Two Noble Kinsmen was included in a volume made up of several English plays printed from 1630 to 1635.

Dr John Stone, of the University of Barcelona, said he found it among old books in the library of the Real Colegio de Escoceses – Royal Scots College (RSC) -which is now in Salamanca.

What is The Two Noble Kinsmen about?

“Friendship turns to rivalry in this study of the intoxication and strangeness of love,” is how the Royal Shakespeare Company described the play, which is based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale.

It was probably written around 1613-14 by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, one of the house playwrights in the Bard’s theatre company the King’s Men.

It was likely to have been Shakespeare’s last play before he retired to Stratford-on-Avon. He died there in 1616 at the age of 52.

Described as a “tragicomedy” the play features best friends, who are knights captured in a battle.

(Read more)


(from The New York Times, 9/21; Photo: The Forward;  via Pam Green.)

The actor recalls a chance encounter that led to a memorable performance.

Sept. 21, 2020

To the Editor:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and I shared a gondola in Venice during the 500th anniversary of the Ghetto in 2016. I was filming the “Merchant of Venice” segment of the PBS “Shakespeare Uncovered” series, and when her boat broke down, I invited her to share mine.

She stood no higher than my shoulder, which startled me, and even now in my memory, our first meeting is one of surprise, because her quiet, assured stillness projected something much bigger and stopped me cold. I imagine it affected everyone the same way; it was calming. Her bodyguard was just about twice her size, and my sense of him was that he was so proud to be her protector.

She and I sat next to each other in the ride to her hotel, and I invited her to act with me in the trial scene from “The Merchant of Venice”; I’d been scheduled to appear in a mock-trial appeal of Shylock’s verdict. She instantly agreed, and it’s on tape somewhere.

After we did the Shakespeare scene, there was an imaginary argument of Shylock’s appeal between real-life international lawyers and scholars, with Ruth as chief justice. They then retired to chambers for half an hour, and when they returned, Chief Justice Ginsburg found for Shylock on several grounds, one of which was that counsel for the defense, Portia, did not have a license to practice law, but also that Shylock, if he had known of the deadly consequences of his actions, would have never insisted on the pound of flesh.

Further, if he had been aware and still insisted, then he was obviously mentally incompetent, therefore not responsible for his actions.

The simplicity, the logic, the clarity of her decision revealed the woman herself, her grace, her intellect and, most of all, her humanity. And now, of our great loss.

F. Murray Abraham
New York

(Read in The New York Times)



 (Ajay Kamalakaran’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 9/18.)

Despite Russia’s overwhelming passion for the bard’s works, few in the country are aware of Shakespeare’s mentions of the country in his plays.


Ever since Alexander Sumarokov translated Hamlet into Russian in 1748, Russian intelligentsia has been passionate about the works of William Shakespeare.  

The great English bard’s plays and sonnets have been Russianised to such an extent that they have left an indelible mark on the country’s cultural landscape. Shakespeare even inspired Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov and Boris Pasternak. 

Vladimir Vysotsky as Hamlet (Moscow, Taganka Theater, 1971)

In the 1970s, it was incredibly difficult for a Muscovite to get a ticket to watch poet, singer and actor Vladimir Vysotsky play the role of Hamlet.  More recently, in 2016, a Moscow Metro train was decorated with quotes and images of characters from Shakespeare’s plays. Despite this love for the bard’s works, few in Russia are aware of the bard’s mentions of Russia in his plays. 

Ian McKellen rides Shakespeare train in Moscow metro.

In The Winter’s Tale, Hermione, the virtuous and beautiful Queen of Sicilia, who is falsely accused of infidelity by her husband Leontes, made these remarks when charged with adultery and treason: 

“The Emperor of Russia was my father:
O that he were alive, and here beholding
His daughter’s trial! that he did but see
The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes
Of pity, not revenge.”

The Winter´s Tale. Act V. Scene III

This reference to the Emperor of Russia in a play that was written in 1610 has puzzled scholars studying the works of Shakespeare. 

“Hermione seems to be the only Russian character in Shakespeare, and perhaps on this account, she is made of sterner stuff than many of his other heroines,” J. M. Draper wrote in an article for The Slavonic and East European Review in December 1954. “She threatens, albeit in jest, to keep her guest Polixenes a prisoner; she will not weep or let her ladies weep when she is sent to prison, and she pleads her cause as a ‘great king’s daughter’ preferring death to dishonour.”  Draper added, however, that there was no characteristic “unmistakably Muscovite” about her. 

In the 1995 autumn issue of the Shakespeare Quarterly, Daryl Palmer wrote that by evoking a Russian ruler, Shakespeare “encourages his audience to undertake a fleeting albeit bracing ‘passage from one sign system to another’, from English questions on kingship to Russian queries on the same theme.”  

Bears and sables 

Shakespeare’s Russian references go beyond people and extend to two animals that are symbols of Russia – bears and sables. In Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark tells Ophelia: 

“Nay, then, let the devil wear black, for I’ll have a suit of sables.”  

The play was set in Denmark, but it was through the country’s waters that sable furs reached Britain from Russia.  

There are references to the Russian bear in Macbeth and Henry V.  The Duke of Orleans mentions the bear in the third act of Henry V, when he tells Rambures: 

“Foolish curs, that run winking into the mouth of a 
Russian bear and have their heads crushed like 
rotten apples! You may as well say, that’s a 
valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion.” 

(Read more)



(Michael Paulson’s article originally appeared in The New York Times, 9/6; Photo: The New York Times; via and  Pam Green.)

Actor Jessika Williams in Staunton, Va., Sept. 3, 2020. Williams, who said she not only wanted the title role in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” but needed the work, made a decision no actor wants to make: She resigned from the Actors’ Equity union, potentially giving up a variety of benefits and protections, to take the part. Melanie Metz/The New York Times.

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Jessika D. Williams has wanted to play the title role in “Othello” since she was a teenager.

Now she’s 35, with quotes from Shakespeare tattooed down both arms, and after years studying in Scotland, working in Britain and traveling the United States by van to perform in regional theaters, she finally got the part this summer, at the American Shakespeare Center, a destination theater in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

There was only one hitch, but it was a big one: the coronavirus pandemic.

Actors’ Equity, the labor union representing performers and stage managers, barred its members from in-person performances around the country, citing safety concerns. The union then made a handful of exceptions, mostly in New England, where infection rates are low; the Virginia theater was among scores denied a waiver.

The American Shakespeare Center, located in a rural community with few cases and with a company of actors who signed an “isolation covenant” and live together, decided to proceed anyway, using nonunion actors and elaborate safety protocols.

Williams, who said she not only wanted the role but needed the work, made a decision no actor wants to make: She resigned from the union, potentially giving up a variety of benefits and protections, to take the part.

Now she is part of a troupe performing “Othello” and “Twelfth Night” in repertory, with each production being staged indoors, outdoors and online, so patrons can choose however they are most comfortable seeing the show. (The indoor stage, called the Blackfriars Playhouse, is described by the company as “the world’s only re-creation of Shakespeare’s indoor theater.”)

Actors’ Equity has been critical. The union accused the nonprofit theater of abandoning its commitment to safety and listed it as among a handful that are “no longer Equity producers.”

But the American Shakespeare Center sees the situation differently, noting that in normal years, it employs not only Equity and non-Equity actors at its home in Staunton, Virginia, but also a non-Equity touring ensemble that performs in Staunton as well as on the road. When the pandemic prompted the theater to cancel its main season, it decided to come up with a safety plan and stage the two plays now running with the nonunion company.

In a phone interview from Virginia, Williams talked calmly and confidently about her decision, the “Othello” production and the pandemic. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

You’ve been thinking about playing Othello since you were a kid. Why?

I was like, “Oh, there’s a Black character in Shakespeare? I’ve got to play it!”

What do you think the significance is of playing the role as a Black woman?

I was doing a lot of research into the men who have played this before me, and something that came up a lot was, how do you play this beautiful person and not fall into the trap of perpetuating the idea that Black people are overemotional, monstrous, barbarous creatures? As a woman, I feel like I was able to get around the fear of that, because it didn’t have to do with being a man, it just had to do with being a human being. Also, it’s just really great to hand a female a role of this size — we’ve seen female Hamlets, female Richard IIs, we just recently saw a female Lear — and I think that’s important that women can tackle these epic roles.

You opted to resign as a member of your union to take the role. Can you explain what happened?

It was really sad, actually. To me it felt like Equity was assuming that I was being thrust into an unsafe situation, and that’s not how I felt at all.

But at the end of the day, I wasn’t receiving any unemployment, and I needed a paycheck. I live in a van and travel from job to job, and that had just broken down. And I have a lot of love for this place and a lot of love for the people in the community. It’s a small town, and the theater drives the restaurants and the small businesses. And I chose to stay.

It was a really, really tough decision for me. I really hoped that Equity would understand, and I hope that they will understand in the future. But ultimately I needed a job, and there weren’t a lot of other opportunities, and I felt a lot safer at the ASC than if I had to pick up a job at a grocery store or go work a service industry job and find my all the way across the country during the pandemic and move in with my mother, who is elderly and at risk.

It felt like the right thing to do, and I don’t regret it.

Do you feel safe?

I do, actually. I really do. Staunton has been pretty low as far as COVID cases are concerned. We all live in one building. The theater is a two-minute walk from where we all stay. No one is traveling. No one is taking public transportation. It’s scary at times, but that’s the nature of the world we’re living in.

What would you want the union to hear from you?

I wish that they had considered it more thoroughly. I completely understand from their standpoint — from a very New York-centric and Broadway-centric perspective — that it just doesn’t seem doable. They couldn’t come down here because of the travel restrictions, but they don’t really know what our theater is like or what this community is like. I wish they had considered our SafeStart protocols a little more thoroughly. I just hope that Equity understands my position in choosing to jump into survival mode and take care of myself, my immediate community, and the theater.

In this production, Othello is not the only character played by an actor of color. How do you think having a diverse cast affects the way we see the play?

I feel like it eliminates a lot of preconceived notions of exactly what the play is about. It’s not that the play isn’t racist, but the play isn’t actually about racism — it’s about a lot. And I think that having other members of the cast of color helps to pull out and highlight other aspects of the human condition that Shakespeare is touching on in this play.

Why are you so drawn to Shakespeare’s work?

The words to me have always felt really visceral. Speaking the text does things to my body. I’m not a scholar, but the more plays I dig into, I really think that Shakespeare had a good grip on humanity, and even though it’s stuck and confined in gender roles and history and tropes and stock characters, he really does get to the essence of the human condition.

You and the other actors live together in a pandemic bubble. What has that been like?

I feel like I’m married to every single individual in this company right now. It is tough. It can be isolating. But we do our best. We bake for each other. We cook for each other. And we really rally together when someone is having a hard time.

Your audience is masked. How does that affect your ability to relate to them?

We don’t get that collective reaction. It makes you have to work harder. If I’m going to take something to the audience, or ask them a question, I really have to look into their eyes, and I might not know what I’m getting back. But if someone is leaning forward, or leaning back, we can still gather information.

What are your expectations for next summer?

I do hope that the American theater gets up and running. I do hope that Equity continues to work with these smaller regional theaters, because I don’t think that there is a “one size fits all” here. I hope that we can get people to gather again. We’ve got to find a way to continue to educate and enlighten and entertain.

© 2020 The New York Times Company


(Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh; this article appeared in Brewminate, 8/27; photo: Royal Opera; via Pam Green.)

Macbeth appears to have cleverly positioned Scotland between her more powerful neighbors yet he did not isolate Scotland either.


Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, (died August 15, 1057), was King of Scots (also known as the King of Alba) from 1040 until his death. He is best known as the subject of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth and the many works it has inspired, although the play is historically inaccurate. Shakespeare’ Macbeth immortalized the Scottish king but as a dark, tormented character driven all but insane by his own foul deed, the crime of regicide. Separating the man from the myth is a challenge for any historian. What can be deduced is that he is much more likely to have slain Duncan, his half-brother and predecessor, in battle than to have murdered him. He may well be credited with forging Alba into a viable state, transforming what had been a loose clan confederacy into a nation where people recognized common ties and loyalties across the sparsely populated and often inaccessible hills and vales. As did later Scottish kings, Macbeth appears to have cleverly positioned Scotland between her more powerful neighbors yet he did not isolate Scotland either. He encouraged trade, improved the kingdom’s infrastructure, entered a political alliance with the Holy Roman Empire and strengthened the Church by negotiating a direct relationship with Rome.

This legacy, one that later kings would make their own, informs a tendency for Scotland to see herself as a secure and stable base from which people can participate in a global community. For much of its history, Scotland struggled with Scandinavia and England to assert her freedom and right of self-determination. Under Macbeth, Scotland was free but not inward looking—her face was set towards the world. Increasingly, her commercial agents would travel throughout Europe. This desire for self-governance alongside commitment to participation in a global economy continues to characterize Scottish identity. When more people see themselves as members of an inter-dependent world, with common responsibilities for the welfare of all, people will shift from selfishly thinking about their own interests, to considering everyone’s needs.

Origins and Family

Macbeth was the son of Findláech mac Ruaidrí, Mormaer of Moray. His mother is sometimes supposed to have been a daughter of the Scottish king Malcolm II (Máel Coluim mac Cináeda). This may be derived from Andrew of Wyntoun’s Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland which makes Macbeth’s mother a granddaughter, rather than a daughter, of Malcolm.[1] Macbeth was probably Duncan’s half-brother.

Macbeth’s paternal ancestry can be traced in the Irish genealogies contained in the Rawlinson B.502 manuscript:

Mac Bethad son of Findláech son of Ruadrí son of Domnall son of Morggán son of Cathamal son of Ruadrí son of Ailgelach son of Ferchar son of Fergus son of Nechtan son of Colmán son of Báetán son of Eochaid son of Muiredach son of Loarn son of Eirc son of Eochaid Muinremuir.[2]

This should be compared with the ancestry claimed for Malcolm II which traces back to Loarn’s brother Fergus Mór.[2] Several of Macbeth’s ancestors can tentatively be identified: Ailgelach son of Ferchar as Ainbcellach mac Ferchair and Ferchar son of Fergus (correctly, son of Feredach son of Fergus) as Ferchar Fota, while Muiredach son of Loarn mac Eirc, his son Eochaid and Eochaid’s son Báetán are given in the Senchus fer n-Alban.[3] So, while the descendants of King Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín) saw themselves as being descended from the Cenél nGabráin of Dál Riata, the northern kings of Moray traced their origins back to the rival Cenél Loairn.[4]

Macbeth’s father Findláech was killed about 1020 – one obituary calls him king of Alba – most probably by his successor as ruler of Moray, his nephew Máel Coluim mac Máil Brigte (Malcolm, son of Máel Brigte).[5] Máel Coluim died in 1029; although the circumstances are unknown, violence is not suggested; he is called king of Alba by the Annals of Tigernach.[6] However, king of Alba is by no means the most impressive title used by the Irish annals. Many deaths reported in the annals in the eleventh century are of rulers called Ard Rí Alban – High-King of Scotland. It is not entirely certain whether Máel Coluim was followed by his brother Gille Coemgáin or by Macbeth.

Gille Coemgáin’s death in 1032 was not reported by the Annals of Tigernach, but the Annals of Ulster record:

Gille Coemgáin son of Máel Brigte, mormaer of Moray, was burned together with fifty people.[7]

Some have supposed that Macbeth was the perpetrator. Others have noted the lack of information in the Annals, and the subsequent killings at the behest of King Malcolm II to suggest other answers.[8] Gille Coemgáin had been married to Gruoch, daughter of Boite mac Cináeda (“Boite son of Kenneth”), with whom he had a son, the future king Lulach.

It is not clear whether Gruoch’s father was a son of King Kenneth II (Cináed mac Maíl Coluim) (d. 1005) or of King Kenneth III (Cináed mac Duib)(d. 997), either is possible chronologically.[9] After Gille Coemgáin’s death, Macbeth married his widow, Gruoch, and took Lulach as his stepson. Gruoch’s brother, or nephew (his name is not recorded), was killed in 1033 by Malcolm II.[10]

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PLAYLIST:… SUPPORT THE CAST AND CREW: HOMEPAGE:… Follow: @TSMGOnlineLive on Twitter | @TheShowMustGoOnline on Facebook/Insta TIME IN AWARDS: ENTER: The Show Must Go Online – Shakespeare for everyone: a global movement creating new productions of the Complete Plays, performed live every Wednesday, free forever CAST: HENRY PERCY “HOTSPUR” – Mark Laverty HENRY “HAL”, PRINCE OF WALES – Seb Yates-Cridland @seb_wyc KING HENRY IV – Andy McLeod @AndyMcleod09 THOMAS PERCY, EARL OF WORCESTER – Gillian Barmes SIR JOHN FALSTAFF – Jack Baldwin @JonJackBaldwin OWEN GLENDOWER – Leo Atkin SIR RICHARD VERNON – Sakuntala Ramanee EDMUND MORTIMER, EARL OF MARCH – Naila Mansour @NailaMansouroff LADY PERCY – Natalie Ann Boyd @natalieannboyd ARCHIBALD, EARL OF DOUGLAS – Julie Martis @juliemartis SIR WALTER BLUNT – Callum Lloyd @CallumLloydT EARL OF WESTMORLAND – Shamiso Mushambi @ShamisoMushambi EDWARD POINS – Duncan Hess @TheRealMrHess HENRY PERCY, EARL OF NORTHUMBERLAND – Simon Balcon RICHARD SCROOP, ARCHBISHOP OF YORK – Henry Jenkinson @henryjenkinson BARDOLPH – Daniel Cordova @dancordova ENSEMBLE – Rhiannon Willans @rnwillans, Jason Blackwater @JasonBlackwater, Philippa Hammond @philippa_uk, Sasha Wilson @_sashawilson SWINGS – Danny Adams @dannyeadams, Phoebe Elliott @phoebeelliott96 GUEST SPEAKER: Eric Rasmussen Eric Rasmussen is Foundation Professor of English at the University of Nevada. He is the co-editor, along with Sir Jonathan Bate, of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Complete Works of Shakespeare. PRODUCTION TEAM: Director: Robert Myles @robmyles Producer: Sarah Peachey @PeacheyLDN Casting Director: Sydney Aldridge @sydneyamee Stage Manager & Master of Props: Emily Ingram @EmilyCIngram Fight Direction/Stunts: Yarit Dor & Enric Ortuno @YaritDor @EnricOrtuno Sound Design: Adam Woodhams @AdamWoodhams1 Guest Speaker Curation: Ben Crystal @bencrystal Associate Producers: Natalie Chan @NatalieNat_Chan Matthew Rhodes @RhodesTheatre Social Media & Patreon Manager: Ruth Page @ruthfpage Infrastructure Support: Dr Ed Guccione, Dr Kay Guccione PR: Kate Morley @KMorleyPR Welsh Translations: Lynwen Haf Roberts


Stratford Festival

King John house program:… When the rule of a hedonistic king is questioned, rebellion ensues, culminating in the chilling attempt to commit an atrocity against a child, whose mother’s anguished grief cannot atone for her blinkered ambitions for her son. Don’t miss the rare opportunity to see Shakespeare’s King John, in this magnificent, “deliciously contemporary” production.

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After seeing this production of ‘King John’, on 6/21, Father’s Day, Bob Shuman has now seen all the plays of Shakespeare, including ‘Cardenio’.


(Mark Brown’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/10.)

Location of the Red Lion, which predated the Globe, has been subject of debate for years

Archaeologists believe they have found remains of one of the most elusive of all known Elizabethan structures – the earliest purpose-built playhouse in Britain and a prototype for a theatre that staged plays by a young William Shakespeare.

The Red Lion is thought to have been built around 1567 and probably played host to travelling groups of players. Its precise location has been the subject of conjecture and debate for a number of years, but archaeologists are as certain as they can be that they have found its remains at a site in the East End of London where a self-storage facility once stood.

“It is not what I was expecting when I turned up to do an excavation in Whitechapel, I have to be honest,” said Stephen White, the lead archaeologist on a team from UCL Archaeology South-East. “This is one of the most extraordinary sites I’ve worked on.”

The Red Lion playhouse was created by John Brayne, who nine years later went on to construct the Theatre in Shoreditch with James Burbage, the father of the Elizabethan actor Richard Burbage. The Theatre was the first permanent home for acting troupes and staged plays by Shakespeare in 1590. After a dispute it was dismantled and its timbers used in the construction of the more famous Globe on Bankside.

Before the Globe and the Theatre, there was the Red Lion, which was in effect a prototype, said White.

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