Psalm 137 begins with one of the more lyrical lines in the Hebrew Bible: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” It ends eight lines later with one of the thorniest: “Happy shall he be, who taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” Partly because it deals with music—another famous verse asks, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”—the psalm has been like poetic catnip, a siren song luring musicians and composers.
Since he was born a year after the Witchcraft and Conjuration Act of 1563 brought about the era of the witch trials in England, it is hardly a surprise that witches and witchcraft would come to feature in Shakespeare’s work.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical is a runaway success on Broadway—enough so that just about everyone reading this post, regardless of personal demographics or geographic location, will likely have heard about it. They might also be listening obsessively to the original-cast CD. Perhaps they’ve even memorized it. Hamilton has already won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it earned a record 16 Tony Award nominations, with high expectations for a sweep at the awards ceremony on Sunday, June 12th.
Although there was hostility towards witchcraft and sorcery well before the 16th century, it is in this time period where we see religious and legal punishment juxtaposed with the increasing use and enjoyment of special effects in plays to convey magic and the supernatural.
Human beings are subject to a continual process of bodily transformation, but shape-shifting also belongs in the landscape of magic, witchcraft, and wonder. Marina Warner, in her award-winning essays Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self, explores this idea ranging from Ovid to Lewis Carroll. In the extract below she looks at Shakespeare’s use of magic and demons
25 May is National Tap Dance Day, commemorating tap dance, our earliest American vernacular dance form and a national treasure. But how how many notable tap dancers can you name?
Along with the many creative ways that Shakespeare killed off his characters, there are even more ways to represent those deaths in the form of fun illustrations. Not a stranger to death himself, Shakespeare was living and working in a time where rampant disease and social violence were daily norms.
With a record-breaking sixteen Tony Award nominations for his hit musical “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda will soon have to clear some space on his trophy shelf next to his Grammy and Pulitzer. But there is something remarkable about the play that all the critical acclaim has missed entirely. Reviewers have rightfully celebrated Miranda for telling the life story of one of America’s greatest Founders using energetic numbers, a multiethnic cast, and a strong emphasis on hip-hop.
Mortality is not a theme that Shakespeare shies away from in his works, and in many cases death serves an integral part of a play’s plot. Occasionally his deaths are tragic, others are gruesome and violent, and others are just creative (we’re looking at you, Antigonus), but they play move the play along or resolve its final conflict.
Tango is a multidimensional art form including music, dance and poetry. It grew out of the confluence of cultures in the Río de la Plata region in South America and has since had over a century-long history. Here are ten things that you might not know about Argentine tango music.
Although Shakespeare employed disguises in many of his plays for the sake of comedic effect — take Sir Falstaff dressed as the obese aunt of Mistress Ford’s maid, for example — many more of his characters are entangled in other serious, deceptive plots. The majority of disguises are assumed with the sole purpose of concealing the individual’s true identity, many times for the assurance of his or her safety.
There is a wonderful Christopher Rush novel, Will (2007), in which Shakespeare says that what he does best is death: “I do deaths you see. And I can do the deaths of children. Their lips were four red roses on a stalk… – that sort of thing.” From the death of young Rutland in 2 Henry VI to the unexpected death of Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s plays are full of loss.
In early modern England, social violence and recurring diseases ensured death was a constant presence, so it is only natural to find such a prominent theme in Shakespeare’s plays, especially his tragedies. His characters died at the hands of one another more often than from natural causes, whether stabbing, poisoning, or beheading (or a combination of the three!).
Forever demanding new performers to interpret them for new audiences under new circumstances, and continuing to elicit a rich worldwide profusion of editions, translations, commentaries, adaptations and spin-offs, Shakespeare’s works have never behaved like unchanging monuments about which nothing new remains to be said.
In 2012, when the world tuned in for the opening ceremony of London’s Olympic Games, they were witness in part to a performance of one of Shakespeare’s most famed speeches, delivered by one of today’s most revered Shakespearean actors. Kenneth Branagh, dressed as English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, offered lines from The Tempest in the spirit of the ceremony’s larger theme, “The Isles of Wonder”.
It’s 1608. You are passing by the bookstall of the publisher Thomas Pavier on Cornhill, a stone’s throw from the elegant colonnades of London’s Royal Exchange, when something catches your eye: a sensational play dramatising a series of real-life gruesome domestic murders. A Yorkshire Tragedy has that enticing whiff of scandal about it, but what persuades you to part with your hard-earned cash is seeing the dramatist’s name proudly emblazoned on the title-page: “Written by W. Shak[e]speare”.