Michelle Terry as Puck
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, May 2023
Photo by Tristram Kenton
064 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is arguably Shakespeare’s first great comedy. It is undoubtedly one of his most enduringly popular works with producers and audiences alike. The play has all the ingredients of classic romantic comedy: a magical setting, a merry-go-round of earnest young lovers, a fairy King and Queen, and a troupe of hapless comic actors, all given a supernatural spin in the course of a single moonlit night. But is the dream-like world of the wood outside Athens as benign a place as we imagine?
As we record this episode a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is in repertory in the Summer season at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London, where the Artistic Director, Michelle Terry, gives an outstanding performance as the sardonic sprite, Puck.
My guest to help explore Shakespeare’s wondrous “visions” is Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford. Emma has appeared twice before on the podcast, sharing her deep knowledge of The Duchess of Malfi, and of Macbeth.
Emma Smith is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford. Her books on Shakespeare’s First Folio, The Making of the First Folio and Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book have been published in new editions to coincide with the 400th anniversary this year. She is currently working on an edition of Twelfth Night, and a new book on Elizabethan art and culture.
Emma recommended Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel, which we covered in episode 63.
Emma also volunteered to return to talk about any other Shakespeare play that we haven’t yet covered!
The Footnotes to our episode on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream include observations on the forest as a setting for love and dreams, on the play as democratic drama, and on the not-so-hidden meanings in the names of the rude mechanicals.
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Shakespeare’s devastating exploration of race, reputation and jealousy, The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice was a popular success when it was first performed during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in the centuries since it has provoked a wide range of responses as successive generations have grappled with the racial identity of the eponymous character. As we record this episode a new production of Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London views the play’s treatment of race through a contemporary lens, setting the play within the London Metropolitan police force, a topical environment for racial inspection.
I am privileged to welcome as my guest someone especially qualified to help us navigate the tricky waters of Shakespeare’s play, Farah Karim-Cooper, Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Kings College London, and the author of The Great White Bard – Shakespeare, Race and the Future.
Ken Nwosu as Othello and Ralph Davies as Iago
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Photo by Johan Persson
Harold Pinter’s disturbing exploration of toxic masculinity and sexual maneuvering, The Homecoming premiered in 1965. The play’s portrait of misogyny, and even more disturbing, the apparent female complicity, was shocking at the time it was written. Nearly 60 years on the sexual politics is if anything even more difficult to watch. So what was Pinter’s purpose in presenting such a provocative piece, and how do we process it in the post Me-Too age?
I am joined by Matthew Dunster, the director of a scintillating new production of the play at the Young Vic in London, who can help us answer those questions about Pinter’s challenging classic.
Lisa Diveney as Ruth at the Young Vic – photo by Dean Chalkley.
Henrik Ibsen’s dark family drama Ghosts provoked outrage when it was published in 1881, its treatment of sexual disease, incest and euthanasia too much for the critics. More than 140 years later its portrait of repressed truths and social hypocrisy remains as powerful as ever.
Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, helps us review Ibsen’s unflinching drama.
Hattie Morahan as Helene Alving at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, London, December 2023. Photo by Marc Brenner.