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

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.

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.

You might also be interested in …
048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing is rightly renowned for the “merry war” of wits between the reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, but alongside their brilliant partnership, there is also a darker story of misogyny and betrayal that gives the play a more complex and challenging character. Lucy Bailey, director of the joyous production currently running at the Globe Theatre in London joins me to review this romantic rollercoaster.

047 – Middle, by David Eldridge

047 – Middle, by David Eldridge

David Eldridge’s new play Middle, now playing at the National Theatre, follows on from his 2017 play Beginning. It is the second in what will be a “triptych for the theatre”, capturing epochal moments in couples’ relationships. I’m delighted to welcome David back to talk about the important dramatic trilogy he is building.

046 – All My Sons, by Arthur Miller

046 – All My Sons, by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play All My Sons is both a searing family tragedy and an exploration of the moral challenges that Miller believed were inherent in the American Dream. Douglas Rintoul has recently directed a wonderful production of this devastating play at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.

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

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.

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.

You might also be interested in …
048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

048 – Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing is rightly renowned for the “merry war” of wits between the reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, but alongside their brilliant partnership, there is also a darker story of misogyny and betrayal that gives the play a more complex and challenging character. Lucy Bailey, director of the joyous production currently running at the Globe Theatre in London joins me to review this romantic rollercoaster.

047 – Middle, by David Eldridge

047 – Middle, by David Eldridge

David Eldridge’s new play Middle, now playing at the National Theatre, follows on from his 2017 play Beginning. It is the second in what will be a “triptych for the theatre”, capturing epochal moments in couples’ relationships. I’m delighted to welcome David back to talk about the important dramatic trilogy he is building.

046 – All My Sons, by Arthur Miller

046 – All My Sons, by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play All My Sons is both a searing family tragedy and an exploration of the moral challenges that Miller believed were inherent in the American Dream. Douglas Rintoul has recently directed a wonderful production of this devastating play at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.