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Meet the cast of Illuminating Shakespeare

Get to know the team behind the Illuminating Shakespeare project as they reveal their stand-out Shakespearean memories, performances, and quotations.

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What was your first encounter with Shakespeare?

“In fifth grade we were taken to a performance of Romeo and Juliet. As hormonal adolescents we were scandalized by ribald actions of some of the extras (they were kissing in a semi-prone position on the apron of the stage) at the party where Romeo meets Juliet for the first time.”
— Christian Purdy

“My first encounter with Shakespeare was seeing an open-air production of As You Like It when I was about eight; I understood nothing at all about it.”
— Simon Thomas

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream studied at school I think around the age of 13, though that was swiftly followed by repeated studying of As You Like It almost every year from age 15 to 21.”
— Katie Hellier

“My uncle had a beautiful old complete edition of Shakespeare’s plays in two volumes on his shelf that I used to take down and look through whenever I went to stay at his house. I didn’t understand what I was reading, but it made me curious as to who this Shakespeare was. Later, when I came to study him at school, the first play we read was The Merchant of Venice. I loved it and never looked back.”
— Kirsty Doole

“I was first introduced to Shakespeare when I was studying for my GCSEs and had the chance to explore his romantic comedy Twelfth Night. With complex love triangles, gender swapping, and a shipwreck, it certainly made interesting reading and the modern twist in the film adaptation She’s the Man back in 2006 wasn’t that bad either.”
— Emma Turner

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Hannah Paget is Marketing Executive for Trade Books and Project Co-ordinator for Illuminating Shakespeare.

“My first encounter with Shakespeare was in my Year 8 English class. We studied Twelfth Night and it was the first time I realised how funny Shakespeare could be, even if some of the jokes went a little over my head at the time. We also got to watch the film adaptation starring, amongst a stellar cast, Ben Kingsley as Feste. He’s been my favourite Shakespeare character ever since.”
— Alex Beaumont

“In medieval gardens in Stamford, singing an arrangement of ‘Full Fathom Five’ at the start of an outdoor Tempest. Magical.”
— Phil Henderson

“I read my share in high school, and later in college. But those encounters were primed by 90s Shakespeare: Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. I’m sure I didn’t understand half of what I was hearing, but loved them nonetheless, and that made future readings more appealing.”
— Regan Colestock

“I can remember my mum telling me the story of Macbeth (she’s an English teacher) when I was quite small. The first Shakespeare I think I ever saw was Julius Caesar at Stratford, but I fell asleep.”
— Emma Smith

“I first read Romeo and Juliet in a ninth-grade high school English class. I didn’t appreciate Shakespeare’s work as much as I do now; I’ve since re-read the play several times and it’s now one of my favorites.”
— Abbey Lovell

* * *

Which character(s) have you acted?

“In college I was cast as Adam in As You Like It. I was nineteen playing a 70+ year old devoted manservant. Later I was cast in An Actor’s Nightmare and got to deliver a few lines from Hamlet where Horatio tells Hamlet how he saw his father’s ghost.”
— Christian Purdy

“At school, I played Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Holofernes (Love’s Labours Lost). Being short and not particularly glamorous, at an all-girls school, I was always cast as an elderly man or a sprite. You can call them character roles, or you can just face up to the grim truth about yourself.”
— Sophie Goldsworthy

“I’ve never acted any of the big characters but I have done several turns as the ‘misc’ character actor – the guy who plays all of the other characters in the play. My favourite was in my GCSE version of Macbeth, I got to play a malevolent spirit who threw stuff at Macbeth. I managed to hit him right on the back of the head with a heavy juggling ball (don’t ask) and we still got an A*.”
— Alex Beaumont

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Sophie Goldsworthy is the Editorial Director for Academic and Trade, and has been publishing Shakespearean texts and scholarship for the Press for the best part of 20 years.

“I’ve never acted in a Shakespeare play, however I was regularly given the part of Macbeth in our A Level Literature read-throughs – partly because I was incessantly enthusiastic, partly because I was one of the few willing to commit to a Scottish accent.”
— Helena Palmer

“My first and only Shakespeare role was a theatre class production of Hamlet, where I played the title character. I was on exchange in Toronto for a year, and as the only person in my class with an English accent I was somehow considered a good fit for the Shakespearean language. They very quickly regretted that choice when they realised my acting ability. It was great fun though.”
— Hannah Paget

“I acted as Juliet’s nurse in high school, which was an exciting role to play. I’m no actress, but performing with my classmates was fun, and the assignment brought Shakespeare’s characters and their story to life.”
— Abbey Lovell

* * *

What’s the best Shakespeare production you’ve seen?

“The best Shakespeare production I’ve seen is probably the RSC’s 2007 Much Ado About Nothing, with Tamsin Greig. It was set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, for some reason, but what made it brilliant was Greig’s hilarious performance.”
— Simon Thomas

“I’ve been to so many Shakespeare productions I’ve lost count, but I think the best one that I ever saw was a production of The Winter’s Tale at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon. The stage was set-up as a library in a grand old house, where all the action unfolded. However, as that infamous stage direction came to fruition (“Exit, pursued by a bear”) the shelves of books unbelievably transformed into the form of a bear, dragging Antigonus away. I’ve never forgotten it!”
— Hannah Charters

“I don’t know about best, but certainly the most memorable was an open air production of Love’s Labour’s Lost I saw back home in Glasgow in about 2003. Every summer a local theatre company put on a season of ‘Bard in the Botanics’ in the Botanical Gardens where the audience would collect a small plastic stool and cart it around the Gardens as each scene took place in a different location. This particular production was set at the end of the Second World War, so was all in 1940s dress. It was a glorious June evening and as we walked around, we’d occasionally catch sight of a simultaneous production of Titus Andronicus in the distance…”
— Kirsty Doole

“I was lucky enough to see Judi Dench and Anthony Hopkins play Anthony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre in the late 1980s. I can still hear Dame Judi uttering: ‘Give me to drink mandragora. … That I might sleep out this great gap of time / My Anthony is away.’ It gives me chills.”
— Sophie Goldsworthy

“I saw the RSC production of Hamlet that David Tennant was in. Tennant was injured so we saw his understudy who was amazing. The scenes with the mirrors were unforgettable.”
— Katie Hellier

ET
Emma Turner is Senior Marketing Executive for Literature in the UK.

All’s Well That Ends Well in Central Park in 2011. The Delacorte Theater is reason enough to go, tucked into the woods behind a little castle; it feels a bit like summer camp. But the staging was also clever and effective, and a comedy/romance is great summer viewing.”
— Regan Colestock

“I was bowled over by Josie Rourke’s Coriolanus at the Donmar with Tom Hiddleston.”
— Emma Smith

“I’ve seen many productions of Hamlet in my time, but one of the best has to be the Young Vic’s 2011 production with Michael Sheen in the title role. It was set in the gymnasium of a psychiatric unit in the eighties, which was as arresting as it sounds. I’ll never forget the climax of the play scene, where Hamlet lifted a blaring stereo above his head in what seemed to be a twisted nod to Say Anything.”
— Helena Palmer

“The best Shakespeare production that I’ve seen was a performance of Macbeth during Shakespeare in the Park a few summers ago.”
— Catherine Foley

“Friends of mine acted in a performance of Macbeth in college. I knew the effort and time that they’d given in practice, and I enjoyed seeing their hard work pay off on stage. ”
— Abbey Lovell

* * *

What’s your favourite quote? 

“My favourite quote comes from Julius Caesar:
‘Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.'”
— Christian Purdy

Much Ado is also my favourite play by Shakespeare, but I have (rather macabrely) told my loved ones that I want this, from Twelfth Night, printed on the front of the order of service at my funeral:
‘Clown: Good madonna, why mournest thou?
OLIVIA: Good fool, for my brother’s death.
Clown: I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
OLIVIA: I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
Clown: The more fool, madonna, to mourn for your brother’s
soul being in heaven.'”
— Simon Thomas

“‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool’ – Touchstone in As You Like It, Act 5, scene 1, line 31″
— Hannah Charters

“Going back to Twelfth Night it has to be ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.’ It’s such a clever quote in the context of the play and it sounds like it could easily have been written by someone in the last few years.”
— Alex Beaumont

“I’m afraid I have a bleak weakness for Albany’s ‘Humanity must perforce feed upon itself / Like monsters of the deep’ from King Lear.”
— Emma Smith

“The most meaningful quote for me is from Hamlet: ‘I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams’.”
— Helena Palmer

Emma Smith
Emma Smith is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford and adviser for Illuminating Shakespeare.

What’s your favourite play or sonnet?

“My favorite of Shakespeare’s sonnets is no. 104, which begins, ‘To me, fair friend, you can never be old…’ Shakespeare writes that, though time continues to pass, his beloved’s beauty never fades in his eyes.”
— Abbey Lovell

“My favorite plays are the comedy capers, like Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well That Ends Well. I also have a funny appreciation for King Lear, being a middle daughter named Regan.”
— Regan Colestock

The Tempest, hands down. It was unlike any other Shakespeare I’d read so far, and I just really, really enjoyed it.”
— Kirsty Doole

“I love Macbeth. It’s so atmospheric and genuinely terrifying at points.”
— Katie Hellier

Romeo and Juliet. Without a doubt, as tragic as it is, I think most people can’t help but get sucked into the world of two star-crossed lovers who ultimately meet their demise. It’s the original love story.”
— Emma Turner

“My favorite play is The Merchant of Venice, and my favorite sonnet is Sonnet 130, which is one of many devoted to the ‘Dark Lady’.”
— Catherine Foley

Twelfth Night. Non-stop wit.”
— Phil Henderson

“Much Ado About Nothing is my all-time favourite Shakespeare play. It gets a bit sinister in the middle but I love the back and forth between Beatrice and Benedick. There is a brilliant BBC ShakespeaRe-told version (2005) with Sarah Parish and Damian Lewis set in a newsroom that I have watched many times!”
— Hannah Paget

* * *

Which Shakespearean character would you like to be for the day and why?

“Without a doubt, Falstaff. Who wouldn’t want to spend the day debauching at the Boar’s Head Inn with outlaws and brigands.”
-– Christian Purdy

“Sorry to keep harping on a theme (I have read others, honest!) but I’d love to be Beatrice for a day. She’s so brilliantly sassy.”
-– Simon Thomas

“I’d like to be Robin Goodfellow, often referred to as Puck, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, because I’d like to be able to move so fast that I can ‘put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes’!”
-– Hannah Charters

“Controversial as it may be, I would have to choose Lady Macbeth. Who wouldn’t secretly want to be a Shakespearean villain for the day? Ambitious, brutal, and manipulative, she takes no prisoners. Arguably one of the most powerful female figures in literature, she is a lady who knows what she wants.”
— Emma Turner

“Falstaff, obviously. For the lifestyle.”
-– Sophie Goldsworthy

HP
Helena Palmer is Marketing Assistant for Literature in the UK.

“Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, who wouldn’t want to be queen of the fairies for the day, or is that my inner six-year-old girl talking?”
— Katie Hellier

“One of Macbeth’s three witches. Or the ghost of Hamlet’s father. Earthly and supernatural powers.”
–- Regan Colestock

“A comic woman – maybe Viola or Beatrice. They get what they want.”
— Emma Smith

“I would love to live like Prince Hal for a day, to get the best of both worlds: part time heir to the throne of England, part time party animal!”
— Helena Palmer

“If I could be any Shakespearean character for a day, I would be King Henry VIII of England. Even though he was a real historical figure, and not a character created by Shakespeare, it would still be interesting to see inside the mind of such an infamous and volatile person.”
— Catherine Foley

* * *

Which Shakespearean characters would you match-make or have round a dinner table and why?

“I’d love to introduce Cleopatra (from, of course, Antony and Cleopatra) and Petruchio (from The Taming of the Shrew) because I think she’d make mincemeat of him. But I’d want to stay well away from them. At my own dinner table, maybe all the twins from Comedy of Errors, so I can sort out their confusion with a simple two-second conversation.”
— Simon Thomas

“Dinner with Beatrice and Benedick. With a phone to record what they said.”
— Phil Henderson

“Obviously not Falstaff. For the lawsuits. I’d get Cleopatra round to sort the catering, and invite Hamlet’s father and Banquo’s ghost. Imagine the leftovers.”
— Sophie Goldsworthy

“Feste (Twelfth Night), Falstaff (The Merry Wives of Windsor), and Mercutio (Romeo and Juliet). I think all three of them know how to have a good time and would probably end up under said dinner table.”
— Alex Beaumont

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Featured image credit: Shakespeare’s Birthplace – Stratford upon Avon by Elliott Brown, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

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  1. […] Meet the cast of Illuminating Shakespeare – “In fifth grade we were taken to a performance of Romeo and Juliet. As hormonal adolescents we … It was great fun though.” “I acted as Juliet’s nurse in high school, which was an exciting role to play. I’m no … […]

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