About this Recording
NA202412 - Shakespeare's Lovers

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Lovers


Look up the word ‘love’ in a dictionary of quotations and you will, of course, find more famous lines by William Shakespeare than by any other writer. Love inspired him to some of his greatest lines — lines that have slipped into the everyday conversation of English-speaking people around the world. All of Shakespeare’s lovers are paired as inevitably as Adam and Eve, all have the shared wit and heady sexuality of the young couple in the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon, and their stories are as timeless. Romeo and Juliet is certainly the favorite love story of all time. Even in India today, variations on the tale are the most common plots for novels and films.


The roles of Shakespeare’s lovers are gifts to the actors as well as the audience. Juliet, for example, only exists in performance; these are plays after all, not novels. On the page, Juliet is merely a buried diamond — and each actress, discovering her, cuts and polishes the jewel uniquely for display. I have never known an actress who, having once played Juliet, could quite let go of the part afterwards. Shakespeare’s ability to step so sensitively into the whirling mind of young Juliet, willfully planning a night of love with Romeo (“Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds…”) is remarkable.


It is this skill at portraying both the man’s and the woman’s feelings,  coupled with an abiding humor, which makes his love scenes so attractive. There is nothing so sexy as a shared sense of humor, and Shakespeare’s lovers are well matched in this respect. In The Taming of the Shrew, for example, Petruchio softens Kate’s resistance in their first encounter as much with skillful wordplay as by any other means: “Where did you study all this goodly speech?” she asks, with real curiosity.


Everyone in Shakespeare’s day would have had a huge repertoire of bawdy songs and verses, and Shakespeare capitalized on this in all his plays. This folk culture is unfortunately newly lost to us in an era of television and video games, and a good deal of the sexual innuendo in the plays is missed by the modern audience — making the job of playing one of Shakespeare’s naughty clowns much less rewarding -— and harder work — for the actor today than it would have been in the sixteenth century. The ribaldry and scatology in the comedies is, however, as much to be found in the love scenes as in the comical gobbledygook of the clowns: “Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting?” asks Petruchio, answering himself: “In his tail.” Kate responds: “In his tongue.” “Whose tongue?” he presses. “Yours, if you talk of tails; and so farewell.” “What! With my tongue in your tail?” Game, set and match. “Who could be out, being before his beloved mistress?” asks Orlando in As You Like It. “Not out of your apparel — and yet out of your suit!” replies Rosalind. Of course, men played all Shakespeare's women; this must have added an extra frisson to the love scenes. In this scene, for instance, Rosalind was a male actor dressed up as a girl disguised as a man pretending to be a girl! Something for everyone!


Because his plays were for the most part performed in the open air, in daylight, they move fast. Shakespeare had no such things as blackouts and curtains to hide scene changes. Everything is in the text — Shakespeare’s actors must therefore be painters as well as interpreters. He does not transpose easily to the screen largely for this reason. Cutting one of his scripts for film means either losing some of the greatest lines or doing the same job twice: once in the lines, and again with the lens. The thrill of Enobarbus’s lyrical attempt to recapture the legendary magnificence of Cleopatra’s entrance: “The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne/Burned on the water…” would be seriously undercut by any film-maker’s attempt to recreate the event. Recording these scenes for an audiobook, of course, is a joy — no blackouts or curtains here — just Shakespeare and us.


Shakespeare obviously cared for his lovers. It is fascinating to discover that the very first time they meet, Romeo and Juliet are instantly unified, like two halves of a puzzle, by a shared sense of humor expressed in fast-thinking, rhyming verse. More remarkable still, this verse is in the form of a strict Elizabethan sonnet — a fact that is not particularly for us to notice, but demonstrates the writer’s own love of the youngsters. From the gloriously loose-limbed prose of Rosalind and Orlando in As You Like It to the impeccably-turned, lyrical and witty verse of Lorenzo and Jessica (“The moon shines bright…”) in The Merchant of Venice; from Troilus and Cressida’s corrupted imbroglio to the fading luxury and whimsical hedonism of the two passionate lovers in Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare has given all of us, actors and audiences, gifts to treasure and be inspired by.


Notes by Bill Homewood


About the Readers


An Associate Artist of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Estelle Kohler’s long career as a Stratford leading lady began with her famous Juliet to Ian Holm’s Romeo, for which she won the London Critics’ Award. She has won other awards and nominations for a great range of work on stage, film and television. Many screen credits include the joint lead in the series The Main Chance, The Beaux Stratagem, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the film Death Is Part of The Process. Recent credits include Titania at the Open Air Theatre and Anna in Old Times at Birmingham. Recent productions for the RSC have included: Queen Tamora in Titus Andronicus (Olivier nomination), Hester in Hello & Goodbye (Olivier nomination), Goneril in King Lear and Adriana in the Olivier Award-winning production of The Comedy of Errors.


Bill Homewood has an extensive record of leading classical roles with major repertory companies: the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Open Air Theatre, where, in 1992, he played Oberon, Banquo and the joint lead in the Olivier Award-winning musical The Boys from Syracuse. Homewood has played Feste and Orsino in Twelfth Night for the RSC and won the Liverpool Post Award for Malvolio at Chester. Musical comedy credits include Zinnowitz in Grand Hotel and Pontius Pilate in the 20th Anniversary tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. Television and film credits include Hamlet; The Talisman; the lead in the BBC TV series Spy Trap; Coronation Street; Crocodile Shoes and his own series, Wise Guy, for BBC TV. Bill’s first novel, Jehovah’s Farm was published in 1995.

Close the window