Sunday, May 1, 2016

May 2016

What a Shakespeare month April has been! Newspapers and television have been filled with Shakespeare, his plays are everywhere, celebrations have abounded. So much has happened that I scarcely know where to begin. So I’ll just begin:
Shakespeare Calling – the book
or Adlibris, CDON or Bibliotekstjänsten
Please help promote the book by liking and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Bokus…. And please encourage your local book shops and libraries to buy it!
Once again, thank you all for visiting the blog throughout the years and for supporting this project.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary:
  • Wye is a river flowing from southern Wales to the Bristol channel. The name is Celtic for ‘conveyor’. It is mentioned in Henry IV Part One and Henry V. 

Shakespeare sightings:
  • In the novel The Long Room by Francesca Kay the main character Stephen, when he was at university, fell for the student playing Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Later when leaving a pub, his colleague says, ‘Once more into the breach, old man.’ Another colleague whose baby niece has been saved by modern medicine says, ‘…when people say that they’d like to have lived in ancient times so that they could have had a chat with Shakespeare, I point out that they probably would have died at birth…’
  •  Dagens Nyheter has had so many articles that I will just mention a few: a comparison of Othello and today’s fear and hatred between ethnic groups, a review of an opera version of Hamlet, a rather uninteresting Sunday supplement with various articles about the 400th celebration, a notice on how the Shakespeare hype in England is even worse than here in Sweden, one on Shakespeare and Cervantes sharing the same death date but not day, a long article by Salmon Rushdie about Shakespeare and Cervantes, an interview with well-known actor Mikael Persbrandt doing Macbeth, a review on a Twelfth Night
  • In the very good novel In the Woods by Tana French
    • DCIs Rob and Cassie are talking about Shakespeare and Rob wants to continue but Cassie starts telling him about an attempt to molest her when she was a child.
    • Rob is questioning the father of the victim and asks, ‘Who’s the Shakespeare fan?’ The father doesn’t understand until Rob points out that the man’s three daughters are called Rosalind, Jessica and Katharine, all Shakespeare characters. The father replies that Rob is the first to have picked up on that, and yes, he had gone through a self-improvement period when he read Shakespeare, Milton and other classics. I hadn’t picked up on it…
  • In the novel Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss, young Ally is given A Midsummer Night’s Dream which her puritanical mother finds unsuitable. Ally thinks about various Shakespeare characters throughout the novel.
  • In Jodi Taylor’s One Damned Thing After Another, in which the characters are skilled time travellers, they find two lost Shakespeare plays about the Scottish queen, which makes them realise that some mistake has been made in their travels and history has been changed.
  • In Mark Billinham’s 5th Tom Thorne novel Tom’s friend Phil Hendricks philosophises about human nature and comes to the conclusion that if you want Shakespeare you also get Shipman (a mass murderer, I had to Google him).
  • On The Third Rock from the Sun Dick and Mary are playing a sex board game and Dick gets the question, ‘What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in bed?’ His answer is that he staged Othello in bed and Desdemona was played by a duvet.
  • On The X Files someone (I didn’t note who) used the phrase ‘mortal coil’ etc.
  • On Kulturnytt Jeanette Winterson is interviewed about her new book The Gap in Time, roughly based on The Winter’s Tale, one of a series of novels based on Shakespeare plays. She said among other things that reading Shakespeare is a reality check, comparing today’s refugee situation with the shepherds taking care of baby Perdita in The Winter’s Tale. Today we say that refugee children aren’t our problem and turn them away and Winterson asks, ‘What have we learned in the past 400 years, really?’ 

Further since last time: 
  • Read aloud: excerpts from Shakespeare Calling – the book at a well-attended ‘Breakfast talk’ at the English Bookshop in Stockholm
  • Received and started reading: Kent Hägglund’s Shakespeare en man för alla tider.
  • Performed: with SEST the program for the 400th anniversary on the 23rd and 24th April. On the 22nd Macbeth only was performed but I was there with Shakespeare Calling – the book. All three performances were sold out. Some comments from the audience: ‘brilliant!’ ‘impressive!’ ‘magical!’ ‘the best thing I’ve seen in years!’ ‘I’ll never see a Shakespeare play in Swedish again!’, ‘sooooo impressed, enjoyed everything immensely!’  See further ‘On stage with Shakespeare’, posted today.
  • Bought: Howard Jacobson’s Sherlock is My Name, one of a series of novels based on Shakespeare plays.
  • Watched, a few days after the live sending: Shakespeare Live with the RSC and BBC. It’s available on Svt-play until 15 May Don’t miss it! 

Posted this month

On stage with Shakespeare


Happy circumstance brought me into contact with SEST – the Stockholm English Speaking Theatre - and after Facebooking with each other for a month or so they invited me to work with them on their Shakespeare 400 project.


It can have escaped no one that this April marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. To honour this, SEST planned three comeback performances of their successful Macbeth and their well-received Angry Shrews and Merry Wives, a medley of some of Shakespeare’s most interesting women.

And they wanted me to become involved.


In a program of about two and a half hours (including Macbeth) I was given ten minutes. A lot can be said in ten minutes! They wanted anecdotes on being a bardolator, on Shakespeare’s language, on the prevalence of Shakespeare in our society and on the Rose and the Globe.  No problem! On their Angry Shrews and Merry Wives, I thought bits from the play analyses from the book (blog) might be interesting. Not as easy as I thought but after the first rehearsal and seeing what they actually do, and after wise suggestions and requests from the troupe, things fell into place.

Rehearsing. I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun.  Especially dress rehearsal when it starts feeling real (almost), in the amazing medieval Black Friars cellar in Stockholm’s Old Town. Lines are flubbed by most of us and my other job as costume assistant helping Viola change from her Cesario togs into her Mistress Page gown – hooks were missed in backstage murkiness and bulges appeared on the back. But isn’t that the way dress rehearsals are expected to go?

Then suddenly it’s time. The audience is in place and Kristina steps onto the small platform and says, ‘All the world’s a stage!’ The others converge with their lines and then together, ‘Sans everything!’

My cue!

I step out from the backstage nook, not stumbling on the uneven centuries old stone steps, and into the limelight. Nervous, but not. Through the glare I see the faces of friends, on Sunday Hal too, and lots of strangers.  I feel an enormous affection for each and every one.

Me: ‘Hello. I’m Ruby. I’m addicted to Shakespeare.’

They listen, they smile, they laugh. If they notice my small stutters and memory losses they don’t seem to be bothered.

My first bit is done and I step off stage to perch on the stool next to Keith, later to be Macbeth but now doing the sound and lights. Richard steps up to do his powerful interpretation of some of the sonnets and before the applause dies away Ingela enters the stage to start the troupe’s hilarious machine gun exchange of Shakespearean insults.

What? Already my turn again? Back on stage to offer some insight into theatre history in Shakespeare’s day and a few sentences from the book/blog’s play analyses to introduce Angry Shrews and Merry Wives.

Then my bits are over and it feels good! No disasters, lots of laughs. I could get used to this applause…

I slip backstage and listen with the waiting Viola/Cesario as Ingela’s strident Emilia debates with Helena’s sugary southern belle Katherine. It gets a lot of laughs. Viola – on stage, then off and I help him/her become Mistress Page as Helena’s Juliet and Ingela’s Beatrice discuss men over drinks. There is a time factor here but well before Juliet and Beatrice have finished their drinks all of Mistress Page’s hooks are in place and there are no bulges! I listen as Mistress Page and Mistress Ford rage about Sir John Falstaff and plot their revenge. The audience loves it. Then poor Helena (Ingela) and Hermia (Helena) – just like in Shakespeare the names can be confusing! – battle it out in the Midsummer Night’s forest.

Can it already be the finale? Kristina steps out onto the stage again, the troupe offer the epilogue of As You Like It, ending with ‘bid…me…farewell!’

It’s over! But for the bows and I step again onto the stage between Keith and Richard and we bow and it’s sad and happy and wonderful and it’s over and I just want to do it again. And again.

On stage with the brilliant, hard-working, devoted and very talented Kristina Leon, Ingela Lundh, Helena Lewin, Keith Foster and Richard Asker.

On stage with Shakespeare. Loving every minute of it.


PS Off stage too, while they do Macbeth, I admire the calm competence of Jenni Söderqvist, prop and costume and everything-else manager extraordinaire.

PPS Macbeth is even better, if possible, than in November. See review here