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064 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare

064 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare

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

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.

Recommended Play

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!

Photo © Marc Brenner
We have footnotes for this episode …

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.

Become a Patron!

Since I launched The Play Podcast in April 2020, I have managed to eschew any form of advertising or sponsorship, and I would like to continue to produce the podcast without doing so. I therefore invite you to help me to continue to make the podcast by becoming a Patron.
Additional benefits available to Patrons include Footnotes on the plays covered in the podcast, as well as exclusive access to The Play Review.

For details click here

Thank you very much for listening and for your support.
Douglas

The Texts
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them from our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s. Not only will you be supporting independent booksellers, we will also earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Click on the cover to buy from our chosen partner. Thank you.
You might also be interested in …
079 – The Hills of California, by Jez Butterworth

079 – The Hills of California, by Jez Butterworth

A new Jez Butterworth play is a theatrical event. The Hills of California is currently running at the Harold Pinter theare in London’s West End, directed by Sam Mendes. Do not be misled by the title, however, we are not in sunny California, but in the back streets of Blackpool, where four daughters come together to say goodbye to their dying mother. The play is a portrait of lost dreams, of deeply ingrained patterns of love and hurt within a family, and of suppressed and mutable memories.

I’m joined to explore this major new work by Sean McEvoy, author of Class, Culture and Tragedy in the Plays of Jez Butterworth.

078 – The Lover and The Collection, by Harold Pinter

078 – The Lover and The Collection, by Harold Pinter

We have a double-bill in this episode of two short plays written by Harold Pinter in the early 1960s: The Lover and The Collection, both of which explore sexual compulsion and the manipulation of truth within marriage or partnerships. As we record this episode a new production of both plays is playing at the Theatre Royal in Bath, directed by Lindsay Posner.

I’m delighted to welcome Lindsay back to the podcast to talk about these two Pinter gems.

Claudie Blakley and David Morrissey in The Lover
Photo by Nobby Clark

077 – An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen

077 – An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People is a fable of truth and lies, politics and power, and the challenge and costs of pursuing an unpopular crusade to speak truth to power. It’s a story of ‘fake news’, manipulation of the media, the dangers of populism, and the environmental cost of capitalism. No wonder it strikes a chord in our time, for as we record this episode there are two major new productions of An Enemy of the People on the world stage.

I’m delighted to welcome back to the podcast, Ibsen expert, Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, who I was privileged to talk with in episode 74 on Ibsen’s play Ghosts

Matt Smith as Thomas Stockmann
Duke of York’s Theatre, London
Photo by Manuel Harlan

Emma Smith

Emma Smith

Emma Smith

Professor Emma Smith teaches early modern drama at Hertford College, Oxford, with a special focus on Shakespeare. She has written widely on both early modern drama and Shakespeare, including The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare, The Cambridge Guide to Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s First Folio – Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, 30 Great Myths about Shakespeare, the Arden Student Guide: Macbeth, Language and Writing, and most recently the Sunday Times bestseller This Is Shakespeare, published by Penguin.

She is the editor of a collection of Five Revenge Tragedies, and her introduction to John Webster appeared in the program for the 2019 Almeida production of The Duchess of Malfi. A fuller introduction to the play is published in the anthology Women on the Early Modern Stage, a New Mermaids publication from 2014.

She is a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement, and her lectures on Shakespeare and his contemporaries are also available as podcasts from ox.ac.uk or on Apple podcasts.

 

Recommended Play(s)

In episode 17 Emma recommended The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd
In episode 38 she recommended Antigone by Jean Anouilh

 

 

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan at the Almeida Theatre
Photograph by Marc Brenner

 

038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare

Published 2nd December
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, full of relentless energy and shocking violence, infused by an air of the supernatural. With the ghostly witches, the plot of a thriller, and most of all the passionate partnership of the Macbeths and their doomed ambition, this has always been one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. It has some of the most memorable scenes in all of theatre: the witches chanting over their cauldron, the ghost of murdered Banquo haunting Macbeth at the banquet, Lady Macbeth sleepwalking and wringing her bloodless hands, and finally the avenging army approaching camouflaged by the branches of Birnam Wood.

The ‘Scottish play’ was written in 1606, in some way as a compliment to the new monarch and sponsor of Shakespeare’s theatre company, James I or James VI of Scotland. The three “weird sisters” may owe their creation to the king’s well-known obsession with witchcraft, and the story and consequences of a regicide echo the real-life assassination attempt by Guy Fawkes less than a year before.

Since the 17th century the parts of the central couple have attracted the greatest actors of the age, and the story has inspired multiple films, including those by Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski and more recently in 2015 by Justin Kurzel, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the title roles. As we record this episode The Tragedy of Macbeth is also running on stage at the Almeida Theatre in London, directed by Yael Farber, with riveting central performances from James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan.​

I am joined in this episode by a familiar face, Professor Emma Smith, who teaches Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford. Emma was my expert guest in episode 17 of the podcast where we talked about another murderous Jacobean play, John Webster’s wonderful potboiler The Duchess of Malfi.

 

Professor Emma Smith

Professor Emma Smith teaches early modern drama at Oxford, with a special focus on Shakespeare, on which she has published a number of books, including The Cambridge Guide to Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s First Folio – Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, 30 Great Myths about Shakespeare and most recently This Is Shakespeare published by Penguin last year, and which was a Sunday Times bestseller. Her lectures on Shakespeare are also available as podcasts, which you can find on the Oxford university podcasts pages. She is reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement and most pertinently perhaps for our purposes, she also happens to have written the Arden Student Guide: Macbeth, Language and Writing.

Recommended Play

Emma recommended Antigone by Jean Anouilh

Photo © Marc Brenner
We have footnotes for this episode …

The Footnotes to our episode on Macbeth include observations on the unnatural, propulsive pace of the play, and on the origins and interpretations of Shakespeare’s three ‘weird’ sisters.

Patreon Page

BECOME A  PATRON!

Since I launched The Play Podcast in April 2020, I have managed to eschew any form of advertising or sponsorship, and I would like to continue to produce the podcast without doing so. I therefore invite you to help me to continue to make the podcast by becoming a Patron.
Additional benefits available to Patrons include Footnotes on the plays covered in the podcast, as well as exclusive access to The Play Review.

For details click here

Thank you very much for listening and for your support.
Douglas

The Texts

If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Through our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s you will also be supporting independent bookshops. Thank you.

You might also be interested in …
079 – The Hills of California, by Jez Butterworth

079 – The Hills of California, by Jez Butterworth

A new Jez Butterworth play is a theatrical event. The Hills of California is currently running at the Harold Pinter theare in London’s West End, directed by Sam Mendes. Do not be misled by the title, however, we are not in sunny California, but in the back streets of Blackpool, where four daughters come together to say goodbye to their dying mother. The play is a portrait of lost dreams, of deeply ingrained patterns of love and hurt within a family, and of suppressed and mutable memories.

I’m joined to explore this major new work by Sean McEvoy, author of Class, Culture and Tragedy in the Plays of Jez Butterworth.

078 – The Lover and The Collection, by Harold Pinter

078 – The Lover and The Collection, by Harold Pinter

We have a double-bill in this episode of two short plays written by Harold Pinter in the early 1960s: The Lover and The Collection, both of which explore sexual compulsion and the manipulation of truth within marriage or partnerships. As we record this episode a new production of both plays is playing at the Theatre Royal in Bath, directed by Lindsay Posner.

I’m delighted to welcome Lindsay back to the podcast to talk about these two Pinter gems.

Claudie Blakley and David Morrissey in The Lover
Photo by Nobby Clark

077 – An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen

077 – An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People is a fable of truth and lies, politics and power, and the challenge and costs of pursuing an unpopular crusade to speak truth to power. It’s a story of ‘fake news’, manipulation of the media, the dangers of populism, and the environmental cost of capitalism. No wonder it strikes a chord in our time, for as we record this episode there are two major new productions of An Enemy of the People on the world stage.

I’m delighted to welcome back to the podcast, Ibsen expert, Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, who I was privileged to talk with in episode 74 on Ibsen’s play Ghosts

Matt Smith as Thomas Stockmann
Duke of York’s Theatre, London
Photo by Manuel Harlan

017 – The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster

017 – The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster

Lydia Wilson as the Duchess at the Almeida Theatre
Photograph by Nadav Kander

 

017 – The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster

John Webster’s 400-year old revenge tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi, has always had a reputation as a potboiler of a play. Although set in Italy, it depicts a world of courtly ambition, love and intrigue fuelled by the existential battle between the Devil and God, that audiences in England at the time of James 1 would certainly have recognised. It is a play notorious for its bloody plot, but it has also endured because of the poetry of its language and the indomitable character of its protagonist. There have been two recent revivals in London, one a dark and daringly modern production at the Almeida theatre this past year directed by Rebecca Fracknell, with Lydia Wilson in the title role, and a more traditional rendition in 2014 with Gemma Arterton as the Duchess, when the play was the first to open the Sam Wanamaker theatre, the Globe’s evocative indoor space. Both of these two productions affirmed that the Duchess remains a powerful female paradigm in our patriarchal world.

I’m delighted to be joined in this episode by an expert on Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, Professor Emma Smith. Emma teaches Shakespeare at Hertford College, Oxford, and has written widely on Shakespeare and early modern drama. Her introduction to John Webster appeared in the program for the Almeida production of play, and she has published a fuller introduction to the play in the anthology Women on the Early Modern Stage.

Professor Emma Smith

Professor Emma Smith teaches Shakespeare at Hertford College, Oxford and has written widely on early modern drama, including The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare and The Cambridge Guide to Shakespeare, as well as editing a collection of Five Revenge Tragedies. Her most recent book This Is Shakespeare published by Penguin last year, was a Sunday Times bestseller. Her lectures on Shakespeare and his contemporaries are also available as podcasts from ox.ac.uk or on Apple podcasts.
Emma also often works with theatre companies, and her introduction to John Webster appeared in the program for Almeida production of The Duchess of Malfi. A fuller introduction to the play is published in the anthology Women on the Early Modern Stage, a New Mermaids publication from 2014.

Recommended Play

The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd

Photo © Marc Brenner
We have footnotes for this episode …

The Footnotes to our episode on The Duchess of Malfi include John Webster and the business of funerals, visions of the afterlife in the play, and our favourite metaphors in Webster’s metaphysical verse.

Patreon Page

BECOME A PATRON!

Since I launched The Play Podcast in April 2020, I have managed to eschew any form of advertising or sponsorship, and I would like to continue to produce the podcast without doing so. I therefore invite you to help me to continue to make the podcast by becoming a Patron.
Additional benefits available to Patrons include Footnotes on the plays covered in the podcast, as well as exclusive access to The Play Review.

For details click here

Thank you very much for listening and for your support.
Douglas

The Texts

If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Through our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s you will also be supporting independent bookshops. Thank you.

You might also be interested in …
079 – The Hills of California, by Jez Butterworth

079 – The Hills of California, by Jez Butterworth

A new Jez Butterworth play is a theatrical event. The Hills of California is currently running at the Harold Pinter theare in London’s West End, directed by Sam Mendes. Do not be misled by the title, however, we are not in sunny California, but in the back streets of Blackpool, where four daughters come together to say goodbye to their dying mother. The play is a portrait of lost dreams, of deeply ingrained patterns of love and hurt within a family, and of suppressed and mutable memories.

I’m joined to explore this major new work by Sean McEvoy, author of Class, Culture and Tragedy in the Plays of Jez Butterworth.

078 – The Lover and The Collection, by Harold Pinter

078 – The Lover and The Collection, by Harold Pinter

We have a double-bill in this episode of two short plays written by Harold Pinter in the early 1960s: The Lover and The Collection, both of which explore sexual compulsion and the manipulation of truth within marriage or partnerships. As we record this episode a new production of both plays is playing at the Theatre Royal in Bath, directed by Lindsay Posner.

I’m delighted to welcome Lindsay back to the podcast to talk about these two Pinter gems.

Claudie Blakley and David Morrissey in The Lover
Photo by Nobby Clark

077 – An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen

077 – An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People is a fable of truth and lies, politics and power, and the challenge and costs of pursuing an unpopular crusade to speak truth to power. It’s a story of ‘fake news’, manipulation of the media, the dangers of populism, and the environmental cost of capitalism. No wonder it strikes a chord in our time, for as we record this episode there are two major new productions of An Enemy of the People on the world stage.

I’m delighted to welcome back to the podcast, Ibsen expert, Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, who I was privileged to talk with in episode 74 on Ibsen’s play Ghosts

Matt Smith as Thomas Stockmann
Duke of York’s Theatre, London
Photo by Manuel Harlan