On Shakespeare Today

 

Dame Judi Dench is one of the best Shakespearean actresses of the late 20th Century. She may be the best. She made her professional debut in 1957, and still performs today.

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent, by Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea, provides a remarkable overview of her Shakespearean career. With O’Hea providing the sounding board, Dench provides a lively reminiscence of her life.

The book started out as O’Hea collecting an oral history of Dench’s acting career for the Shakespeare’s Globe archives. He wanted her impressions of the Shakespeare plays in which she appeared. They realized the recordings had appeal beyond Shakespeare or theater scholars.

The result is a lively, frequently hilarious, and always entertaining discussion of Shakespeare by two outstanding thespians. Chapters alternate between those centering Shakespeare plays in which Dench performed followed by one discussing different aspects of Dench’s Shakespearean career. Dench’s non-Shakespearean career are discussed only in context to her Shakespearean work.

Dench takes readers inside her career, discussing every aspect of it, her successes, failures, and odd happenings. She also reveals life behind the stages, discussing the personalities she has interacted with and the shenanigans that occur. She presents what goes into making a play, the company, the rehearsal process, dressing room etiquette, how different theaters affect a performance.

The heart of the book is the chapters about the plays.  Dench explores Shakespeare’s purpose in each play. She discusses her performances in each play and how her interpretation of the character changed as she gained experience. She also discusses how playing different characters – such as Ophelia or Gertrude in Hamlet – changed her perception of the play. The book is illustrated with Dench’s marginalia, drawings doodled in her scripts.

She also puts each play in historical context, defending Shakespeare from Woke attacks and censorship. She is not a historical purist who demands Shakespeare must always be performed in Elizabethan costume and Elizabethan staging. She shows how modern updates can enhance the play, but wants changes appropriate to Shakespeare’s values.

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent is a gem. It offers insight into both Shakespeare’s work and Dench’s career. She explains why Shakespeare remains relevant today and her continuing love for his work. For both Shakespeare and Dench fans, this is a book that must be read. For those only peripherally acquainted with the two, read the book. It might turn you into a fan.

“Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent,” by Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea, St. Martin’s Press, April 2024,‎ 400 pages, $32.00 (Hardcover), $15.99 (E-book), $26.99 (Audiobook)

This review was written by Mark Lardas, who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

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There are 10 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Member
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I love Judi Dench. And now I’ve ordered the book! It sounds like great fun.

    • #1
  2. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp
    @MarkCamp

    Sounds like a great Mothers’ Day gift for someone I know who greatly admires Dame Judi.

    Thanks, Mark, for this review.

    • #2
  3. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    I am buying two copies to give as gifts to Shakespeare lovers I know.  

    • #3
  4. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I love Judi Dench. And now I’ve ordered the book! It sounds like great fun.

    It really is.

    • #4
  5. GPentelie Coolidge
    GPentelie
    @GPentelie

    What a delightful post. 

    In token repayment, …

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_X1dbO-quI

     

    PS: Book ordered.

    • #5
  6. Brickhouse Hank Contributor
    Brickhouse Hank
    @HankRhody

    Back in college I took a course in Shakespeare. We saw bits of an excellent production of Macbeth, with Judy Dench playing Lady Macbeth and Ian McKellan playing the eponymous Thain. They did good work, but I had a bit of a hard time disassociating them from M and Magneto respectively. 

    Actually, there might be a crossover fanfic in that right there.

    • #6
  7. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    GPentelie (View Comment):

    What a delightful post.

    In token repayment, …

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_X1dbO-quI

     

    PS: Book ordered.

    The video was delightful. 

    • #7
  8. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Macbeth teaches the same things as Plato’s Republic.

    That is all.

    • #8
  9. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Macbeth teaches the same things as Plato’s Republic.

    That is all.

    And notify us when that scholarly research is published.

    • #9
  10. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Brickhouse Hank (View Comment):

    Back in college I took a course in Shakespeare. We saw bits of an excellent production of Macbeth, with Judy Dench playing Lady Macbeth and Ian McKellan playing the eponymous Thain. They did good work, but I had a bit of a hard time disassociating them from M and Magneto respectively.

    Actually, there might be a crossover fanfic in that right there.

    That is a truly weird idea. It might work.

    • #10
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