(Roughly) Daily

“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature”*…

David Suchet and Ian McKellen, John Barton in the background

In 1982, the BBC ran a glorious nine-part series developed and hosted by John Barton, co-founder and director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. A master class in playing Shakespeare, it features RSC members and alumni including Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Peggy Ashcroft, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, Sinéad Cusack, Susan Fleetwood, Sheila Hancock, Alan Howard, Donald Sinden, Michael Williams, and more…

Indispensable for thespians, the series is every bit as rich a resource for those of us who want simply to enrich our appreciation of the Bard. All nine episodes can be streamed on Acorn or You Tube.

* Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2


As we declaim, we might recall that it was on this date in 1967 that Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead premiered at London’s Old Vic Theatre. A glorious piece of metatheater, the play expands on the exploits of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

The action of Stoppard’s play takes place mainly “in the wings” of Shakespeare’s, with brief appearances of major characters from Hamlet who enact fragments of the original’s scenes. Between these episodes, the two protagonists voice their confusion at the progress of events occurring onstage without them in Hamlet.

The title is taken directly from the final scene of Hamlet. In an earlier scene, Prince Hamlet has been exiled to England by the treacherous King of Denmark (his uncle Claudius, who of course has murdered Hamlet’s father to obtain the throne). En route to England, Hamlet discovers a letter from King Claudius which is being carried to England by Hamlet’s old but now untrusted friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The letter commands that Hamlet be put to death upon his arrival in England. Hamlet rewrites the letter to command that instead, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern be put to death. He then escapes back to Denmark. By the end of Shakespeare’s play, Prince Hamlet, Laertes, Ophelia, Polonius, King Claudius, and Queen Gertrude all lie dead.

John Stride and Edward Petherbridge in the Old Vic Production (source)
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