Shakespeare All Over: Jackie French, Jenny Lovell, Tony Thompson

Shakespeare All Over: Jackie French, Jenny Lovell, Tony Thompson


ORGANISER:
Good morning. JENNY LOVELL:
Good morning, hello. (Sings) Good morning, hello, hello.
Yes, I’m the one up here in the funny clothes. Hello, my name is Jenny and I am kind of compere,
MC, Moderator for our session this morning called ‘Shakespeare All Over’.
Just before I introduce the other wonderful people on stage here with me, can we see…because
we are all lovers of Shakespeare up here, I know, how many of you are already studying
a Shakespeare play at school? Fantastic! Who’s about to start studying some Shakespeare at
school at the end of this year or next year? Next year? Yeah, Year 9s put your hand up.
Teacher says. Fantastic! Anybody seen a film of Shakespeare like Baz
Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’? Gorgeous! How many ladies here are 13 or 14 years of age?
Excellent! You would be married by now. JACKIE FRENCH:
No, you wouldn’t. JENNY LOVELL:
Yeah! They are saying, fantastic! Excellent, now we have stirred.
So, welcome, welcome. Today we are going to introduce you to some of the world of Shakespeare
and a little bit into the world of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. As I said, my name is Jenny.
Joining me on stage is our lovely actor, Amelia Bishop, say, “Hi Amelia.”
Excellent! Amelia, come over this way. Also on stage, and I am going to give you your
official introductions now that are written down, we have Tony Thompson, who is a writer,
teacher and musician…I am sorry I stood in front of you. He has also worked as a gravedigger.
We might have to ask him about that afterwards. And a construction worker. Tony was on the
selection committee that chose the English books for the VCE study, so you can boo him
now. Boo! No! As well as reading books, Tony also writes
them. He is the author of a new novel, ‘Summer of the Monsters’, based on the early life
of Mary Shelley who wrote the story of ‘Frankenstein’. He’s also written a biography, ‘Shakespeare,
the Most Famous Man in London’. And that’s the cover of the book which you will want
to seek out, teachers, because there’s lots of good stuff in there.
Also joining us on stage is Jackie French who is the Children’s Laureate for 2014 to
2015 which is pretty astonishing. She follows in the inspirational work of Alison Lester
and Boorie Monte-Prior. Jackie is a champion of books and reading and you can find out
more about Jackie’s role as the Children’s Laureate at childrenslaureate.org.au.
Jackie has written novels, picture books, history and more. Some of the books have won
national and international awards and sold millions of copies. Others were eaten by wombats,
she says. She is a historian, ecologist, dyslexic and a passionate worker for literacy and the
right for all children to be able to read. And today, we are looking at her wonderful
book called ‘I am Juliet’, which is her reimagining, through Juliet’s eyes, of the whole story
of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. So, do please welcome the panel today?
Now, you will have seen this wonderful thing up on the board here. We thought to get you
kind of into the speaking of the language, we should do the best thing which is to insult
each other. So, what happens with the insult kit is that you take a word from one side,
one column, add it to the word in the next column and then the final column which is
the noun. So, we’ve got two adjectives and a noun.
You can go straight across the line, you can mix them up. I need five volunteers. Alright,
you might want to stand back a little bit further. I am going to figure out one…oh,
excellent! You have to say, “Thou art a…” And I want you to really give it, yeah.
So I am going to look at you and I am going to say, “Thou art a beslubbering beef-witted
barnacle.” Come on, give me one back. “Thou art a…” Go for it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thou art a pribbling hedge-born loudater.
JENNY LOVELL: No! How dare you! Take that! Can you hand
the mic to somebody else? You can go back and sit back down. This young gentleman has
got one. Amelia, have you got an insult for this young gentleman?
AMELIA BISHOP: Thou art an artless fat-kidneyed flax-wench.
JENNY LOVELL: Oohh! What’s your answer to that? Come on,
give it to us. AUDIENCE MEMBER:
Thou art a spongy plume-plucked pignut. JACKIE FRENCH:
Pignut! Excellent word. JENNY LOVELL:
Pass the microphone to the young man there. You can sit down. And, Jackie, have you got
an insult for this young lady here. There she is in her lovely blue scarf.
JACKIE FRENCH: OK. Eye of pig and nose of dog, hear thy fart
breath boil and bubble. JENNY LOVELL:
Ooh. She is made one up. She is a writer. JACKIE FRENCH:
Oh, no, no, no. JENNY LOVELL:
Oh, that’s just the introduction. JANN:
No, that is Shakespeare. JENNY LOVELL:
I know that is Shakespeare. Beautiful. JACKIE FRENCH:
It’s definitely Shakespeare. Never ever, ever think those words in Shakespeare are nice.
We just don’t know what a lot of them mean. JENNY LOVELL:
Lovely. Will you insult us back, come on, give it to us.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thou art saucy rude-growing nut-hook.
JENNY LOVELL: Ohh. Gorgeous. Can you hand the mic over?
Tony, come here and there is a young man here that has annoyed you, I think.
TONY THOMPSON: This guy. This guy. Thou art a bootless, common-kissing
apple-George. JENNY LOVELL:
Go on insult him back. How dare he do that? AUDIENCE MEMBER:
Thou art frothy, full-gorged harpy. JENNY LOVELL:
Male harpy. Good! Pass the microphone on. This lady…oh, I don’t know if I like the
look of her. I think you are…thou art a mammering, hedge-born hugger-mugger. Take
that. Come on, give it to me. AUDIENCE MEMBER:
Thou art a bawdy… JENNY LOVELL:
Bawdy! AUDIENCE MEMBER:
..dread-bolted bladder. JENNY LOVELL:
She is saying things about my age now. Excellent. Tony, will you insult…can you give another
insult… Well done. Would you insult one of these ladies and I’ll get Jackie to insult
the other lady. TONY THOMPSON:
Craven crook-pated plack-dish. JENNY LOVELL:
Excellent. Can you say that a bit louder because of SBS? We didn’t hear you so much. Thou art
a… TONY THOMPSON:
A droning, dog-hearted death token. JENNY LOVELL:
Ooh. Death token! Come on. You’re not going to take that.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thou art a frothy, flap-mouthed foot-licker.
JENNY LOVELL: Ohh. Take that! Beautiful. Can you take the
microphone back over to there? Jackie, do you have an insult for this young lady?
JACKIE FRENCH: Thou sluggard rank unweeded garden. Things
slime and pussy possess you nearly. JENNY LOVELL:
From Hamlet that one, yeah. Palfret. Yeah, so gorgeous. Yes?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible)
JENNY LOVELL: If you stand in the aisle way, just there,
you can actually…you might be able to… JACKIE FRENCH:
Or would you like to come and whisper some really, really, really horrendous ones?
JENNY LOVELL: Come. Have a look there.
JACKIE FRENCH: Have a look on that one.
JENNY LOVELL: Once you’ve got one, turn around and give
it to us full bore. JACKIE FRENCH:
How about…puking… AUDIENCE MEMBER:
OK…um… JENNY LOVELL:
Stand back, Jackie. AUDIENCE MEMBER:
Thou art a fribbling, ill-nurtured maggot pie.
JENNY LOVELL: A maggot pie!
JACKIE FRENCH: Really good call.
JENNY LOVELL: Think you. Wonderful! Please give all our
volunteers a round of applause. Lovely. Fantastic. So, we are into the language.
This is Shakespeare – if you Google Shakespeare insult kit you will be able to find this on
the web. It’s a heap of fun and after a while, you can end up making up your own insults,
which is really delicious. So, to begin our session today, I’m going
to ask Tony…I’m going to hand over to Tony now to tell us a little bit about Elizabethan
London. You have some interesting facts. TONY THOMPSON:
Hi. Now, the first thing is I am Canadian. OK. So, when I start talking don’t go, “What’s
he talking about?” Anyway, listen, the thing is, I don’t know that much about Shakespeare.
I know that’s disappointing because I’m on this panel, but I did write a book about Shakespeare,
and one of the things I found out was, writing the book, is that nobody, nobody knows anything
about Shakespeare. A lot of people make up stuff which is what
I did, I made up the whole book. It is a biography, it’s in the non-fiction section of the book
store, but I made the whole thing up because there’s only about, maybe, five, six, seven
facts about Shakespeare and that’s it. Which is really weird, when you think of it.
I mean, this guy…there are a lots of plays floating around his name on them and everybody
seems to…I mean, he was a popular playwright, but nobody seemed to know the guy. Nobody
ever wrote a letter saying, “Dear Bob, you know, I had lunch with Shakespeare yesterday
and he was telling me about his new play.” Nothing. Nothing like that. No diaries. Shakespeare
didn’t write any letters to anybody. It’s strange. It’s really strange. Nobody knows
the answer to it, unless some like, English guy goes up in his attic and finds, you know,
in his 600-year-old house and he finds all these old letters or something, we are never
going to know about this mystery. So, this presented a considerable problem
for me when I started to write the book. Because, if you are going to write a biography of Shakespeare,
what are you going to write about? There is only five or six facts, that’s not even a
page worth of material. So, I was in kind of a tricky position and
I thought, “What can I do? How can I handle this? What can I…what can I say about this
guy?” And I thought, “Well, OK, there’s not a lot, there is no letters, there is no diaries,
all the things historians normally use, but do you know what there is? There’s 36 plays
with Shakespeare’s name on them.” And I thought, “I’m going to look in the plays,
and the plays are going to tell me what kind of guy Shakespeare was.” OK? So, who is studying
a Shakespeare play? Which one are you guys studying? ‘Merchant of Venice’?
What are you guys studying? ‘Romeo and Juliet’! Have you noticed, about ‘Romeo and Juliet’
that it kind of gets sold as a play about love. I remember my grade 8 teacher, Miss
Whitney, coming in with the play and saying, “Oh, children, this is a play about love.”
And then we started to read it and there was just one fight after another in it. The whole
thing, it’s just a fight, after fight, after fight, and everybody gets killed.
Have you noticed that Shakespeare’s plays are really, really violent? Have you noticed
that? They are violent. The ‘Merchant of Venice’ it’s got some violent ideas in it but that’s
not even the start of it. ‘Titus Andronicus’, a guy cuts his own hand off. That’s terrible.
And ‘King Lear’? A guy gets his eyes poked out which is really ghastly except one time
I saw it performed with ping-pong balls and they were bouncing around and, you know what,
ever since then, every time I see the play I burst out laughing at that part really inappropriate.
But, the thing is, is that the plays are violent so I started thinking to myself, “Why are
these plays so violent?” Like, what kind of guy writes such scary plays? Think about ‘Hamlet,’
at the end of ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Hamlet’ is like a horror story, it ends like a horror movie.
Everybody is dead. Everybody is dead on the stage and, you know, there’s one guy, you
know, trying to get away. It’s just like Halloween or something. It’s a terrible story.
‘Richard III,’ it’s a bloodbath. All of these plays. Macbeth’s got a ghost covered in blood
in it. And I thought, “Man, this Shakespeare guy was he crazy? Was he like a psychopath?
Was he obsessed by violence? What was wrong with this guy?”
And then I thought, “No. No, that’s not it. Because a really crazy psychopath guy right
36 plays that were so good. Chain him up and, ‘Write your plays now!'”
No, I thought that is not it. I thought that is not it. I thought the violence was there
but it probably wasn’t inside Shakespeare so I thought, “Where was it?”
If you want to know about somebody, like, if you’ve got a crush on somebody and you
want to know something about them, one of the things that you can really quickly find
out about somebody is that where they live. Like, what neighbourhood they come from. And
yeah, and then you can make all kinds of associations about what kind of person they are.
I say, I live in Footscray, and you guys go…hmm… You make, you know, you make certain associations.
So, I thought where did Shakespeare live? If I could find out about where Shakespeare
lived, like, if I could see, if I could just see in my head Shakespeare’s walk to work
every day, I could get an idea of what kind of person he might have been and I could write
this book. And that would be great. So I started researching Shakespeare’s London,
and I found out the strangest thing about Shakespeare’s London and it just absolutely
stopped me when I found out that in Shakespeare’s London, everybody – students, dogs, cats,
horses, babies, teachers, writers, everybody…all day, every day…drunk.
Everybody was drunk in Shakespeare’s London. All the time. And why? Because they drank
beer, all day. If this was 1595, you guys would all have beer in your hands. I would
have a beer. Everybody drank beer all day. So, why? Was Shakespeare’s London like a party
place? Alright! They just partied all day? No, no, that wasn’t it, of course. When people
to work. They weren’t smashed, there were just tipsy, a little bit drunk because they
were drinking beer all day. Why were they drinking beer all day? Does
anybody want to guess? Yeah, they couldn’t drink the water. Sometimes
I really had to drag it out audiences. So, very good.
They couldn’t drink the water and they didn’t know…they didn’t know how to purify the
water, right? They didn’t know what all you guys know. Even Shakespeare, the smartest
guy in the whole world, didn’t know that if you boil water you can drink it. He just didn’t
know that. But, they noticed that when they drank beer,
they didn’t die. So, they drank beer instead of water. Because, if you drink water you
wouldn’t just get sick, gone! You’re dead by lunchtime. That’s it.
Because it was the Thames River and everybody throws their junk in there. I mean, it you
still wouldn’t want to drink water out of that thing.
But, anyway. So, this is what happened. I thought to myself well, OK, everybody is a
bit drunk. So, what happens in a crowded city full of drunk people. What’s Shakespeare’s
sin? What is he walking through on the way to work? What is he living with every day?
And I thought what do drunk people do? Drunk people do a lot of things. I’m not going to
tell you about all of them, of course. But, I will tell you about a couple of them.
The first thing that drunk people do, mildly drunk people, is they sing. Right? They love
to sing. That’s what karaoke is all about. Drunk people singing, someone gives them the
words. So, everybody in Shakespeare’s time was walking
around singing. Didn’t have iPods, of course. And so they would…and Shakespeare’s plays
have a lot of music in them. We kind of ignore that part of them now, but that was a big
draw for Shakespeare’s audiences. They could see live bands and they could hear music.
And they couldn’t…there was no recorded music, so they would buy the words and they
would learn them and sing them. So, there was all these drunk people walking
around, singing, and I thought, oh well, that doesn’t really explain people cutting off
their own hands or getting their eyes poked out, does it? You know, it doesn’t really
sound that bad, it sounds kind of nice. But then I found out this other thing. Or
I realised this other thing, I guess. But the other thing that drunk people do. What’s
the other thing that drunk people do? Yeah. Violence. Gee, audiences get that really quickly.
They fight because the little part of your brain that says, “That guy who just bumped
into you, he is not like your mortal enemy, this isn’t of the invasion of Czechoslovakia,
just let it go,” that shuts down. So, when somebody bumps into you, you push them back
and… And I thought, “Ah, OK, OK, so drunk people
fight. They are singing but they also fight. So, now I am getting closer to the kind of
place Shakespeare might have lived. I hope that you guys have never seen drunk
people fight and I hope that you never do. But if you do, this is what it is going to
look like. Right? It’s not like in the movies, right? It’s a really stupid…nobody knows
how to do it properly. And I thought, you know what, big deal. Bunch
of drunk people throwing half…you know, ridiculous punches at each other. That does
not explain anything and it doesn’t tell me why the place was so violent.
Then I realised this other thing. This other really important fact. There were no cops.
There were no cops. And, there were no banks. So, people had to carry all their stuff with
them, all the time, all their money. All the money they had they would carry usually in
a purse right around here somewhere. And, everybody knew that everybody was carrying
all their money with them so, and there were criminal gangs in London, it was a crowded
city and, you know, these gangs would come out and they would rob people. It was a dangerous
place. So, what did people do? Well, they armed themselves.
See where this is going? They all carried swords and they carried knives in here and
in their boots and they carried blackjacks and they carried knuckledusters, anything
they could carry, these people were weighed down by weapons, just in case someone came
up and said, “Give me your gold.” So, now I think…oh, oh, I’ve got it. It
is a city full of drunk people with concealed weapons. That’s a bad combination. That’s
a really bad combination. So, I guess what happened at that point was I said, “Wow, I
see. This is a really violent city. So, Romeo and Juliet, yes, it is set in Verona, but
this is Shakespeare’s London, this is what you are seeing in that play.
Sure, it is about love and you know, whatever. Conflict, all the things, you know, the big
ideas that go up on the white board at school, but, it is also a guy writing about the place
that he lived in. And one thing is…I will just finish or with
this. One thing…if you are not…a little bit not sure about Shakespeare, the language
and the big ideas and all that kind of thing, the trick to Shakespeare is recognising that
this was a real person who lived in a real city. OK? And he walked to work through this
every day and he put on the stage what he thought people would recognise.
So, if you can sort of…when you are reading it, try to see the real guy in there and the
real experience. I think you’ll enjoy the plays a lot more.
And that’s what I will leave you with. Alright, thanks.
JENNY LOVELL: Thank you, Tony. We are now going to…just
before Jackie speaks, we’ve created a little piece of performance from her book, ‘I am
Juliet’. And in this reimagined version of Shakespeare’s play, we actually see the events
of the whole play through the eyes of the 13-year-old Juliet. As I said to you guys,
13 and 14 you would be married in Shakespeare’s England.
There’s a wonderful mix in this book of both Shakespeare’s text and also contemporary writing.
And Jackie brings this story live for you new readers.
Here, we meet Juliet at the big party that she is had to celebrate her coming of age
and a feast to welcome the Count de Paris, a man who has come to negotiate marriage with
her and her father. But Juliet has always dreamed that one day
she would meet a man who truly loves her. And she has just danced with a stranger, a
stranger that has captivated her heart, looked at her with love and desire, just like in
her dreams. This is ‘I am Juliet.’ AMELIA:
Then have my sin, the lips that they have took. Give me my sin again.
JENNY LOVELL: Oh, my lady Juliet. Your mother is very pleased,
the Count de Paris is very impressed with this gathering. Your mother…oh, you look
just like a grown up lady. Your mother has said, “I have wished for such a daughter and
I have her now.” Oh, there will be a betrothal ring this summer.
AMELIA: I cannot marry the earl now. What will my
mother say when I refuse him? What will my father think of his daughter choosing a man
to love? JENNY LOVELL:
My lady Juliet, are you ill, my sweet? AMELIA:
No, good nurse, but I would like some wine or ale to drink.
JENNY LOVELL: Stay here. I will fetch it for you. Oh, your
cheeks are hot. AMELIA:
This stranger. Who is he? Where is he? I do not even know if he lives here in Verona.
The rubies on his fingers, his fashionable rapier and his bearing will tell me he is
wealthy. It doesn’t matter. Anyone here can tell him who I am. He will come to the house
tomorrow to seek my father’s leave to court me.
Father will find out his family and estate. Perhaps he has royal connections like the
Earl of Paris. Where are you my dark-eyed love?
There! By the door. Leaving. Without a farewell? JENNY LOVELL:
(singing) AMELIA:
Nurse! JENNY LOVELL:
Yes. What is it? AMELIA:
Who is that young gentleman? JENNY LOVELL:
The one with the silver stocking tops? Oh, that is the son and heir to old Tiberio.
AMELIA: Who is he that is now going out the door?
JENNY LOVELL: Oh, with the eagle plume in his hat? Oh, young
Patricio. AMELIA:
No, the man who follows him who did not dance. JENNY LOVELL:
I do not know. AMELIA:
Go. Ask his name. If he is married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed. Go!
She looks grim. The news is bad. JENNY LOVELL:
His name is Romeo, and a Montague. The only son of your greatest enemy.
AMELIA: A Montague? That cannot be. My only love sprung
from my only hate? Too early seen unknown, and known too late.
JENNY LOVELL: What’s this?
AMELIA: A rhyme I learnt from someone that I danced
with. It was not a lie. For, we danced our own dance
in the shadows, he and I. JENNY LOVELL:
Oh, come away. The strangers are all gone. AMELIA:
Gone? He will never be gone from my heart. But he is a Montague. How could a Capulet
love a Montague? Who am I? Who is Juliet if not the dutiful daughter who loves and hates
where she is told? JENNY LOVELL:
Come away. Your father is very pleased and so is the Count de Paris. Are you not as well?
What do you feel? AMELIA:
I know not what I feel. JENNY LOVELL:
Oh, come. AMELIA:
Is it only a few hours since I walked this way? I was a girl then. I am a woman now.
Love was a word to me. A dream. Love was not for Juliet Capulet and now, it is life itself.
He is a Montague. JENNY LOVELL:
Come, come my sweet, take your rest. (sings) Oh, my aching bones.
AMELIA: Has there ever been a day as long as this?
His name is Romeo. He is a Montague. Was he the Montague that Tibbles spied? Was that
why Tibbles stormed from the hall? If my father had known that there was a Montague in his
banquet hall, why had he not thrown him out? Perhaps he knows that not everyone who wears
the name of Montague is evil. Is the hatred between our houses a game that
adults play? Well, I will play my parents’ game of hatred no longer. I have heard his
name before. Now, I remember, a cousin once said, “Romeo is a good lad, for a Montague.”
Tibbles has never boasted of fighting with Romeo Montague. No one has ever laughed at
the heir of Montague lying drunk in the streets or brawling at the city gates. No, if there
had been bad to tell, someone would have told it.
I cannot marry the Earl of Paris now. My loyalty to Capulet vanishes with the torchlight. I
have been used. Played as a chess piece, played for a marriage. Now I am myself, not theirs.
Just Juliet. Are you sleeping out there, my love? How can
two names keep us apart? Romeo, Romeo, give up your name. It is only your name that is
my enemy. Oh, be some other name. What’s in a name? That which we call a rose would smell
as sweet with any other name. Throw away your name and for that name take all myself.
JENNY LOVELL: The end.
(Applause) Jackie French.
JACKIE FRENCH: The bloody head thudded over my garden wall
at midnight. I had never seen a severed head before. I had never seen a dead body. Dead
bodies belonged to the world of men. Beyond my garden wall.
This is a play written where girls might be whores, they might be nurses, they might be
wives, they might be bar wenches…but, mostly they were daughters and they were wives, and
that was all. But for a few years, just a very few years
towards the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, Shakespeare was able to write a play where
a girl made the running. A girl proposes marriage, a girl is the centre of the play and does
the unthinkable. She chooses her love and she proposes to him and she is the one who
proposes marriage to Romeo and plots the entire book.
But a few years after that, Queen Elizabeth died and, from then on, almost until today,
people have played Juliet as this sweet innocent maid. But even more importantly, they have
forgotten she was 13. 13-year-old girls, in fact, did not marry in Shakespeare’s time.
Royalty might be betrothed, even at six months old, or 10 years old. But the average age
for a girl to marry in Shakespeare’s London was 18.
The average age for a man to marry was 27. Because you needed to actually be established
in your career before you could afford to marry.
So, this is a play where a 13-year-old girl, is shown on stage with her teenage husband
in bed. Today, this would be illegal to be shown on television. You cannot show a 13-year-old
girl in a sexual scene on TV or on the stage. Juliet was only 13.
Is there anyone here who has been in love? Is there anyone here who believes in love
at first sight? OK. Don’t rely on it but I fell in love with my husband, not at first
sight, but at second sight. I saw him walk up the steps to our garden and I knew that
this was the man I would spend the rest of my life with until death us do part. And even
though it took a year for me to be sure of that, I was right. And so was he.
My brother met the woman he has now been married to for nearly 45 years, and again, it was
love at first sight. Don’t rely on love at first sight. But yes, it happens.
This is a book about sex. About violence. But it is also about love and courage, extraordinary
courage. This is about two young people who refuse to accept the stupidity of their elders.
Two young people who realise that for no reason anyone can remember, their families are enemies.
And they have the courage to say, “We will not be our parents, we will not be our families,
we are going to change, not just our own destiny, but the destiny of the city.”
Because that is something too that we forget when we read the play. There is a prince in
this book and the prince was the ruler of the city, the prince wanted peace and the
enmity between the Capulets and the Montagues to finish. All they had to do was marry and
get to the prince and there would have been a happy ever after.
This was not the plot of a stupid girl. This was not the plot of a desperate girl. This
was a very resolute, intelligent young woman who realised that, if she could marry the
boy that she loved, the prince would support their union and she would change the history
of her city. And she almost made it. This extraordinary,
incredible heroine, Juliet. And yet, in the centuries after that, theatre producers, people
who have taught it, have played her as being this sweet simpering little Miss that things
happen to. But she was not. This is probably the stroppiest, most courageous
woman in the history of theatre. And, in a very real sense, she did not die.
The bit I am going to read now is the words of possibly the first person to ever play
Juliet and the actor was a young boy. A very young boy. He would have been sold to Shakespeare’s
troupe. Back then, there was a plague, there was famine. Because of the plague, often crops
could not be brought in, it was a desperate time.
This boy was probably sold to Shakespeare’s troupe at the age of eight or nine or ten.
And, until his beard started to grow, until his voice broke, he would be given girls’
parts. And it didn’t matter that he could not act. Because, after all, what use is a
girl? A girl would only be given a few lines…nah, it doesn’t matter.
Dress yourself up in gorgeous costumes and no-one is going to pay any attention to you.
But he suddenly realises, given this part, he is the major player and he is terrified.
Because he has never even dreamed he would be given a major part in a play.
“Jam lay in bloody puddles on the stage. Rob stood behind the curtain waiting to go on.
Terror bit him, gluing his silk slippers to the floor. And suddenly, she was there or
she was him or he was her. It didn’t matter. “Somehow, his feet became her feet. She glided
onto the stage, her face downcast, eyes glancing obediently at her mother. And, all at once,
he understood what Simon had told him during his first week with the company. “Words are
all very well, boy, but a true actor can bring the crowd to tears without a word. That is
our mystery, lad. The playwright puts down the words, but the audience that watches,
they are ours.” “You’re mine, Rob thought. For these few moments,
every lady, gentlemen, servant or apprentice here belongs to me. And to her as well. For
Juliet was with him. Some where, some time, there had been a girl. Perhaps her name was
even Juliet. It was her strength that drew in those gazes.
And she was here today in the words that he would say, in his every gesture, in their
minds, pleading for love to triumph over enmity. “And you will weep for me, Rob thought. Each
one of you. Even you men sitting straight as broomsticks so your neighbours don’t see
your tears. Every day till you are dust, you will remember how you watched a young girl
die in front of you. For love. “There will be no actor in your memory, no
theatre and no stage. Just the girl. The aching of her tears, the tears you shed for her and
for me. “She did not die. She cannot die as long as
actors tread the stage. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow she soars above your webs of
hate. Today, and in your memory for ever more. I am Juliet.”
For anyone who has ever loved, for anyone who has ever felt caught up in the senseless
webs of hate or other people, this is the play that will speak to you and will give
you courage. And yes, it is in the language of hundreds
of years ago, read it the first time and skim through it. And forget about the bits that
are difficult. Read for the heart of the play for the girl and for that message from so
many hundred years ago. That message that will not die.
And the second time, perhaps, read it for the words. Because, once you get over the
old-fashioned language, the words as well as the message, are beautiful.
JENNY LOVELL: We’ve got…do we want to bring chairs up
or stand? JACKIE FRENCH:
You tell me. JENNY LOVELL:
We’ve got about four minutes before the session finishes. The session is so short. We’d like
to throw open to you guys, if you would like to ask any questions about Shakespeare, or
a question of Jackie, or a question of Tony. Has anybody got a question they feel they
would like to ask? Everyone is going, “Oh, we can go early to lunch, Miss.”
Yes, there is a question here. AUDIENCE MEMBER:
(Inaudible) JACKIE FRENCH:
Was there any truth in the Romeo and Juliet story? Yes, probably. There was at least one
play beforehand in English, written about ten years before this one. But there are many,
many other references and the earliest one found actually claimed it was based on a true
story. And so, yes, I think probably. And in fact,
I think her name probably was, if not Juliet, a variant of that name. And I think it was
probably a variant of Romeo. We can’t know for certain but it is very likely
that, yes, there was a Juliet. JENNY LOVELL:
And, even today, the little balconies outside of windows on houses, usually on the first
floor, is known as a Juliet balcony. It is actually called that now. I think that’s really
interesting. The other thing too, of course, Shakespeare
as a writer, he’d read at school, studied a lot of kind of the metamorphosis stories
of Ovid and a number of different kind of stories and so a lot of his plays were based
on stories that kind of went back to myths and those sorts of things as well. So, as
well as bringing real life, as Tony said, the life he was seeing around him in the streets,
he had those knowledge of ancient stories as well to bring to it.
Other questions? Any other questions? There’s a kind of half little hand up at the very
back there. And there’s a lady in a scarf. We will see who gets the microphone first.
There is a microphone coming towards you. The young gentleman, would you ask your question?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Would all the actors be males including like,
the minors like the nurses? JACKIE FRENCH:
Yep, they were all males. Again, most of the female roles, the young female roles, were
played by boys. But even the older ones, the nurse again would have been an older bloke.
And there are even references to sometimes that actually Lady Watters had forgotten to
shave that morning so you might see her moustache or her beard. It wasn’t until King Charles
II allowed females on stage and that was a scandal. We can’t talk about that now because
it is far too shocking. JENNY LOVELL:
In France, they had more women on the stage but in England they did keep it as an all-male
company. The Globe Theatre in Shakespeare, in London, the re-creation, they still do
productions every so often that have completely male casts. They have done an all-female cast
of one as well. The lady in the scarf. She wanted to ask a
question. AUDIENCE MEMBER:
Jackie, have you considered making ‘I am Juliet’ into a film?
JACKIE FRENCH: Ah. No, I do the book. Other people offer
me options, to turn things into films. So, it’s not up to me, it actually up to someone
to say, “Hey, you like me to make your book into a film?” But, as it has only been out
for about ten days, that hasn’t happened yet. JENNY LOVELL:
So, there we are, hot off the presses. Yes. AUDIENCE MEMBER:
(Inaudible) JENNY LOVELL:
What were the five or six facts you found out?
TONY THOMPSON: You know, every time I say that, I think,
“Why did I say that?” That’s the thing, the facts that we do know about Shakespeare, well,
they are kind of banal, to tell you the truth. We know like, things like, he was born, because
there is a birth certificate, right? He got married, he got married to a woman called
Ann Hathaway… JACKIE FRENCH:
Who was pregnant. TONY THOMPSON:
..not that one. JACKIE FRENCH:
We also know that he got married very, very quickly and that she was pregnant and older
than him and also, that shows here. Where Romeo was able to get a marriage licence the
next day, Shakespeare really knew how to get a marriage licence very quickly and secretly.
Because he had to do it. TONY THOMPSON:
And he died. Apparently. JENNY LOVELL:
And he went to London. TONY THOMPSON:
He was involved in a legal case, quite late in his career, and he signed something, he
lent some money to his son-in-law, and every time he signed his name he spelled it a different
way. Is anybody bad at spelling in here? Because, you are living in the wrong century. Because
in Shakespeare’s time, you could just make it up as you went along.
And, you know which way he never spelled it? JACKIE FRENCH:
The way we spell it. TONY THOMPSON:
The way we spell it. There you go. So those were the five facts.
JACKIE FRENCH: And he also gave his second-best bed to his
wife. Which is absolutely fascinating. JENNY LOVELL:
They now say the second best bed was actually the best one to sleep on so that was actually
a good thing. Ladies and gentlemen, we have run out of time.
I am getting a time signal from the lovely Alex up the top there. But before you all
run and jump up to run away, if you’ve got any quick questions you want to come down
and ask us, please do, but would you please thank Tony Thompson, Jackie French, Amelia
Bishop? I am Jenny Lovell. (Applause)
Get the books, get the plays, read them, have fun. Speak them out loud. Thank you very much.

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