Hollywood may be all about “digitally de-aging” its stars these days, but that doesn’t leave live theatre much to work with. It’s a sad truth that even our greatest heroes age, and will eventually age out of their own greatest roles. I could watch Sir Patrick Stewart play Macbeth forever, but Sir Patrick Stewart can’t play Macbeth forever, you know what I’m trying to say?
Some years ago, Sir Derek Jacobi played Mercutio at the age of 77. That’s not quite the same thing as playing Romeo at that age, though.
And I wish I could find a link, but I remember an interview with Christopher Plummer, while he was playing Prospero, lamenting that there were no more roles left for him to play at his age.
Should you ever decide to embark on a tour of the locations of Shakespeare’s plays you’d find yourself with a long itinerary. The bard’s quill pen roamed the world, from Egypt and Syria to Scotland – this blog has even provided a handy map. Some places, such as England and Italy, were, of course, frequently visited by his imagination. Others, such as Austria (Measure for Measure) and Cyprus (Othello) he only visited once.
Shakespeare shaped these foreign lands to suit his stories. Greece (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Timon of Athens, The Two Noble Kinsmen, etc.), Wales (Cymbeline, Richard II, Henry IV P1) and Turkey (The Comedy of Errors, Troilus & Cressida, etc.) were made the settings for comedy, tragedy, romance, and history. The world truly was his stage to dress – in fact, most of his plays are set abroad, the Globe Theatre, therefore, becoming an actual microcosm of our globe.
Some locations are famously linked with his plays. Who, after all, would not know that Hamlet is set in Denmark? Other links are, perhaps, a little more obscure. Lebanon featuring in Pericles, for example, or the former Yugoslavia (specifically, the area known as Illyria) in Twelfth Night.
Are visitors to Spain’s Basque Country aware that they’re following in the footsteps of the characters in Love’s Labour’s Lost? The location of the French court in All’s Well That Ends Well is a little unclear, but it isn’t hard to imagine Helena and Bertram amidst the grand buildings of Carcassonne. I’m also a fan of the vague Mediterranean setting of The Tempest, which allows me to imagine Prospero roaming Malta, or Menorca, or perhaps Sardinia.
How did Shakespeare know about these far-flung places? As the No Sweat Shakespeare blog once mentioned, even travel between Stratford-Upon-Avon and London was no mean feat. Shakespeare, therefore, didn’t have direct experience of these locations – it was 40 years after Shakespeare’s death when The Grand Tour made foreign travel popular amongst the English elite. Instead he took inspiration from historical texts and other stories (including Italian novellas) – Egypt, for example, has always been well-known to the western world and descriptions of its ancient sites would not have been hard to come by.
“The world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open” – the world isn’t currently our oyster to open, but with Shakespeare’s stages on shores near and distant, perhaps we can, for now, take a little peek and plan for the day when we follow the footsteps of his far-flung characters.
Olly loves to travel and has visited over 80 countries and all 7 continents. He also likes to explore the world through the medium of literature and enjoys matching famous locations with the places he’s been to. Olly runs travel planning blog APlanToGo.com, on which you can download free, highly detailed itineraries for destinations across the globe.
Every once in a while I dream in Shakespeare. That ever happen to anybody else? I always think it’s very cool.
This time there was a production of Hamlet. I can’t tell if I was in it, or directing it, or watching it. But the stage was littered with giant jigsaw puzzle pieces (it helps, of course, that in these quarantine times our house like so many others is busy doing puzzles). As he soliloquized he would pick up a piece, contemplate it, and then find where in the giant puzzle – because the stage itself was a giant puzzle – it fit.
I didn’t get to see the end but upon waking I thought that a great ending would be him reaching the end of the play without finishing the puzzle. But then the scene closes with Fortinbras, or maybe Horatio, picking up a puzzle piece and contemplating it.
I’d do some “If you’ve never seen Slings & Arrows” banter here, but seriously, if you’ve never seen Slings & Arrows, stop reading and go watch it. It’s just that good. To recap, each of the three seasons maps to one of Shakespeare’s plays – Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear (with some side plots thrown in, too). We’re introduced to the series via Geoffrey, our director, who once had a nervous breakdown after he played Hamlet (and yes, now he’s directing it). He’s haunted by the ghost of his own former director. Meanwhile we get to see what makes a Shakespeare festival work, from how they rehearse to how they make money.
And now they’re pitching a prequel about the origins of the festival itself, back in post war America in the 1950s? I’m not sure what play that’s going to map to, or how much of the original cast would still be relevant, but the original just has so much credibility that I’d get in line to see what the creators come up with next. I hope somebody picks it up.
So I was thinking today about a future where we have people on the moon. You know, typically Friday afternoon stuff. Like you might read in a Robert Heinlein novel. I was talking about the next generation being the ones who might live on the moon, who might be the first to perform Romeo and Juliet on the …. wait a second.
How you gonna swear by yonder blessed moon when you’re standing on the fool thing?
For that matter, how is Hamlet going to ask Polonius, “You see that cloud?”
Here’s the game. Which of Shakespeare’s plays are going to need to do some editing once they’re performed on the moon? For bonus points, put on your director hat and tell us how you’re going to creatively get around those lines. Is Romeo going to swear by yonder blessed Saturn?