Acquire too high a fame



The Globe has just announced its summer season – the first under Emma Rice who is taking over from Dominic Dromgoole as Artistic Director.


I haven’t booked any tickets yet (and that’s partly because booking hasn’t opened yet) – although I am impressed by the number and range of shows on offer, but I am reserving judgement slightly on what may happen. Emma Rice has had a number of recent interviews which suggest she’s an interesting choice for the role.

In an interview she said she found reading Shakespeare hard going.

“I have tried to sit down with Shakespeare but it doesn’t work. I get very sleepy and then suddenly I want to listen to The Archers.”

Now I don’t in the slightest disagree that Shakespeare is much easier to follow on stage than on the page. But in many cases that is because the director and cast have put a lot of effort into “sitting down” with Shakespeare to make sense of it for the audience. It is hard graft, but it really, really feels to me that it is her job.

Shortly afterwards, she was interviewed by John Humphries for the Today programme and was manoeuvred into suggesting that Shakespeare might be better if smoothed into more modern English. The example given was one of my favourite lines from Cymbeline, as it goes:

Golden lads and girls all must,

As chimney sweepers come to dust

The suggestion was made that, since chimney-sweepers was apparently a Warwickshire dialect term for dandelions, that it would be simpler to change the line. But that would be to miss the first and more straightforward reading – those golden lads covered in the soot of the chimney-sweep, for the sake of a (frankly poorly provenanced*) piece of slang. I am by no means the only one who thinks this way. Emma Rice may well have trapped into this position by Humphries – I admit I would not be at my best in an early morning interview. But that presents a worrying picture of its own – how can the woman be expected to properly develop an artistic vision if the media are using interviewing techniques more fitting for a corrupt politician?

Most annoying to me, though, is that she has decided to Cymbeline again this summer (so only about 6 months after the Sam Wanamaker Production), albeit not using Shakespeare’s words, and writing it all from Imogen’s point of view. Why???? Cymbeline is fun but slightly bonkers and by no means an essential part of the canon – why is a second outing needed so urgently? Why does Emma Rice consider Imogen so interesting or important compared to all others of Shakespeare’s underrated, underdeveloped ladies? I’d kill for a Lady Percy play – or the internal workings of Coriolanus’ wife’s mind – my gracious silence indeed…

Despite all of this, I am trying to reserve judgement. I will book some tickets, because the only fair way to judge Emma will be to see what she actually produces. After all, as Rumour says

   Rumour is a pipe

Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,

And of so easy and so plain a stop

That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,

The still-discordant wav’ring multitude,

Can play upon it.

* By this I mean that it cannot be dated back nearly as far as Shakespeare – not surprising to me, since the chimney sweeps I can imagine being likened to dandelions are the Dickensian brooms which were only really necessary for the narrow and twisty flues of post-industrial houses (and not Tudor mansions) and were invented in 1828.



7 thoughts on “Acquire too high a fame

  1. Ooh, that sets alarm bells ringing, doesn’t it? No, Shakespeare’s not the easiest, but that’s not the point. He’s been reverred for four hundred odd years for his words, his poetry – some of his plots are crackers and the storylines he often stole from elsewhere – but the poetry is his. And if you’re watching a play, you can work out what’s going on without understanding every word. Sounds like a slippery slope. I know it’s good to do condensed versions or have Romeo and Juliet raps to engage teens, but you need the original works too.
    It’ll be interesting to see how her first season goes. and as you say, Cymbeline’s an off choice. Hmm. I’ll watch this space with interest


    • Exactly Lynn, the words are what makes Shakespeare, and you need actors (and directors) who really understand it to convey that meaning to an audience – if they’re lost we won’t have a chance!
      It may be so much storm-in-a-teacup, as these things often are, but we’ll see…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Let’s hope you’re right. If there’s one venue that needs to value Shakespeare in all his glory, surely it’s the Globe. But, actions speak louder than words, so only the season will tell. Must check the programme out, though – would really love to see a production there. And at the Sam Wannamaker.


  2. westville13

    One of your references reminds us that what Shakespeare probably meant by “come to dust” was dying – c.f. Hamlet Act 5 Scene 1

    “To what base uses we may return Horatio; why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stuffing a bunghole”

    in which case the dandelion is even m ore irrelevant.


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