Sir Patrick Stewart and Shakespeare

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An earlier performance of Shylock

Sir Patrick’s Stewart’s return to Stratford for his fourth major Shakespearian role at the R.S.C. in five years definitely brings star quality to the stage and the town.


The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham marked his return by inviting him to do this year’s Shakespeare Birthday lecture.

A packed audience in The Queen Elizabeth Hall at The Shakespeare Centre waited patiently for him to arrive. He was in conversation with Professor Stanley Wells C.B.E. about ‘Playing Shakespeare; Playing Shylock.’

A whole host of power point images moved across the screen before the session started, showing Sir Patrick’s performances for The Royal Shakespeare Company. These had been brought forth from The Shakespeare Centre’s Library and Archive. His roles in Stratford have include: Oberon, Titus Andronicus, Leontes, Cassius, Launce and, most recently, Prospero, Antony, and Claudius. He has performed a lot of Shakespeare elsewhere, too. Mention should be made of his white Othello surrounded by a black cast for Michael Khan’s Washington D.C. Shakespeare Theatre. And he played Macbeth in the one of the scariest production of the play I’ve seen.

He is here in Stratford to play his fifth Shylock (his first was at school) and he is greatly looking forward to revisiting the role. He is just back from Israel where he was able to do some first-hand research into Jewish culture. He met and spoke with a Rabbi in some detail and observed people worshipping at the wall of the Temple in Jerusalem. Giving nothing away, he hinted that the setting of Rupert Gould’s new production might be controversial. (I’ve since learned it’s to be set in a casino in Las Vegas, presumably in the fake Venice that they have there).

He spoke very interestingly about the difference between performing on stage and on film and answered several questions from the floor. Memories were shared about his Star Trek career and particularly how he learned that the power in film rests with the person behind the camera actually doing the filming. ‘On film you act thought; on stage you act feeling.’ Wise words from a master of the craft, and he even performed an example to show what he meant using part of Macbeth’s ‘If it were done, when ’tis done’ speech.

At the Shakespeare Birthday Lunch this year he was awarded the George Pragnell Prize in recognition of the way his work has greatly enhanced our enjoyment and appreciation of Shakespeare.

He finished by saying ‘Rupert Gould wants to bring Shylock back on at the end of the production in some way. But we don’t quite know how, yet. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.’

Answers on a postcard?

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • I am away on holiday until May 9th – I will contact you as soon as possible on my return.

    All the best


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  • Anonymous

    Sir Patrick’s mighty voice will always “shake” a stage!

  • Agreed.

  • Ty Unglebower

    An amazing actor who, probably due in part to his high profile Shakespeare work, has managed to totally avoid being trapped in Star Trek roles. (A fate not all previous Star Trek stars have been able to avoid thus far.)

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