‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’: The Most Successful Blog Post I’ve Ever Written.

It is a constant source of amusement to me that barely a day goes by without someone reading a post I wrote over two years ago. As hard as I try to write posts that are interesting and engaging, and have some relevance to either readers or other authors the one post that shows up in my blog stats almost every day is ‘Top Four Shakespeare Podcasts’, posted in June 2017.

While I have had some posts that got a great response at the time, othing else I’ve published on this blog has had that kind of perpetual popularity,

The funny thing is, it’s only got three likes, but more people than that visit that post every day. Perhaps WordPress needs to make the “like” button bigger and brighter so that it’s easier to see and click.

Given that it’s the most successful blog post I’ve ever written, I thought it was worth posting again for all the followers I’ve gained since then. Enjoy.

WordyNerdBird

Promo WordyNerdBird Shakespeare Podcasts

I love podcasts, and I love Shakespeare. In these four podcasts, you’ll find the best of those two worlds combined.

#1: No Holds Bard. An informative and entertaining podcast by Dan Beaulieu and Kevin Condardo, directors of the Seven Stages Shakespeare Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  They discuss the plays, words that people in the 21st century might not know, different interpretations, and various performances of Shakespeare’s plays.  They even have a segment where they’ll answer homework questions sent in by students. 

You can follow on Facebook and Twitter.

#2: Folger Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare Unlimited. A podcast that explores the associations between Shakespeare’s writing and the world today through the words we use, ideas we discuss, and performance of the works of Shakespeare and others.

You can find more information on their website.

#3: Chop Bard – In Your Ear Shakespeare. This podcast explores different parts of the…

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A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘King Lear’.

I have loved ‘King Lear’ ever since I saw a performance of the play in my teens and was completely transported by it.
I find it impossible to consider a parent being betrayed by their child without thinking of Lear, and am compelled to utter the quotation, “Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks. Rage! Blow!” at least once during every good storm I witness. 

‘King Lear’ is the story of a king with one daughter who actually loves him and two who are the most selfish, greedy, and deceitful women the kingdom had ever seen. The problem was that he was unable to tell which was which. And so, his story turns to tragedy. 

Shakespeare didn’t have to worry about being historically correct or pleasing the right people with this play, although it wouldn’t be right to show the king as being a bit of an idiot when it comes to his family relationships, so he was sure to stay safe by putting the blame on the king’s horrible daughters and their ambition to take what was not rightfully theirs. Loyalty and faithfulness were, after all, very important qualities and concepts for anyone living in Elizabeth’s England, and you couldn’t have people just seizing land and power that didn’t belong to them. 

It’s not just Lear’s elder daughters, either, that turn on their father. The Duke of Gloucester, faithful supporter of Lear, also feels the dagger of betrayal planted firmly in his back Edgar, by his bastard son, Edmund, who is seeking to take all that rightfully belongs to his brother Edgar. 

In all of this, there are valuable lessons to be learned about who to trust, how to discern who is really loyal to you, and the fact that some people are far more driven by greed and ambition than they are by familial love. Given that we live in a world where kids have been known to turn on their parents and even divorce them in some cases, and where families are divided and sometimes irreparably broken by disputes over money and property,  ‘King Lear’ is clearly a play that still holds relevance for us today. 

It is a beautifully crafted story, full of pathos and tragedy and heartbreak. The language and imagery is magnificent. The dramatic irony of Cordelia’s fall from grace and Lear’s subsequent fall from power at the hands of General and Regan is heartbreaking. Cordelia’s fate hangs in the balance right up to the end of the play while, it seems, the evil people win. That is another point of relatability for the audience: we don’t like seeing the evil people win, and we want to see them get their just desserts. It’s a theme that Shakespeare explores at length in this play, and he expertly positions the audience to keep hoping that Lear and Cordelia will win the day. 

It is the nature of Shakespearean tragedy, however, that pretty much everyone dies and there are a few minor characters left to pick up the pieces at the end, so the audience has to be content with the poetic justice delivered to some and the beautifully tragic ending that comes to others. 

The fact that it doesn’t have a happy ending is one of the things I like about it. Life often involves less-than-happy endings, and it has always seemed to me that those who hope only for happiness are setting themselves up for an enormous struggle when adversity shows up instead. We can’t always have what we want, and Lear would have done well to remember that. Cordelia would have been better off if she had realised that not everyone who should recognise your integrity will do so, and that sometimes you need to play the game better than the cheats do in order to make them lose. 

Sure, I believe in happiness, but I know from my own experience that life is generally far more complex than being able to achieve happiness and simply stay there. We are constantly challenged to maintain a balance  between necessity and luxury, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, lest we be overrun by one or the other. Achieving that balance is the art of life. 

A Favourite Shakespeare Play: Richard III

I enjoy many of Shakespeare’s plays, but I do have a few particular favourites. 

At the top of that list would be Richard III. one of the history plays and part of the series that explores the conflict between the Lancaster and York branches of the Plantagenet family tree which we call The Wars of the Roses. 

Shakespeare’s characterisation of Richard as the ultimate villain is so masterful that it shaped how Richard was viewed for centuries afterward. The fact that the history was severely distorted and, at times, entirely fabricated, and that Shakespeare’s representation of Richard was hardly realistic, has nothing to do with it. Shakespeare was a playwright, not a historian, after all, and therefore not inclined  to let the truth get in the way of a great story. 

Of course, it was in his interests to cast Richard in a less than positive light. Shakespeare was very conscious of the fact that his Queen, Elizabeth I, was the granddaughter of Henry Tudor who defeated Richard in battle at Bosworth to become Henry VII. Making Richard less worth of the crown further legitimised Henry’s claim to it, and therefore reinforced her own. In a time when conspiracies and plots against Elizabeth were numerous, the validation of her place on the throne of England was essential for any playwright hoping for royal approval, and patronage from among the upper classes. 

Thus, Shakespeare’s Richard is a man who not only recognises his evil nature but delights in it and determines to see how much he can achieve with it. 

Richard’s choice to pursue evil rather than good from the very start sets the tone of the whole play, and the audience knows they are in for one hell of a ride. His soliloquies deliver profound insights into the evil mind of a villain. They are absolutely fascinating, crafted with intrigue and malice that horrify and enthrall the audience at the same time. It’s riveting stuff. And as Richard puts his schemes into action and celebrates his own cleverness and cunning when they succeed, the audience is acutely aware that they are watching an evil genius in action. 

My favourite character, though, is Margaret, the former queen of Henry VI. She is strong, she is angry, and she is hell-bent on justice. Margaret speaks vitriol and hurls insults and curses so effectively that Cecily, Richard’s own mother, asks Margaret to teach her how it’s done. She attains a level of Shakespearean Insult proficiency that nobody else ever quite managed, not even Richard himself.

The language of the play is magnificent. From the insult competitions to the curses that burn with the brimstone of hell itself, there is not a word wasted in this play. The imagery is incredibly powerful, and the emotive language is so clever and subtle that while the audience may recognise that the characters on stage are being deceived, they don’t realise until after the fact that that they, too, have been positioned and manipulated by a master of the art. 

It is only at the end of the play, when one realises they feel a little sorry for the villainous Richard, that the audience understands how the language and drama of the play have seduced them.   

To take a man from the pages of history, craft him into something hateful, and have the audience still feel something other than hatred for him— albeit, while most likely feeling hatred for him at the same time— is testimony to Shakespeare’s genius as a wordsmith and playwright. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith is best known as the author of ‘101Dalmatians’, but I much prefer this beautifully sentimental and highly engaging book.

Set in 1930s England, the story of the Mortmain family is told by Cassandra, who begins her narrative with one of my most-favourite-ever opening lines:

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it. The rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy.”

Another feature of this book that I really enjoy is Cassandra’s frequent references to books and plays she has read and enjoyed. In that sense, she is the literary forerunner of Rory Gilmore, the booknerdy lead character in the TV show Gilmore Girls. Other characters, too, make scattered literary references throughout the book. 

It does frustrate me that the only copy I have on my shelf is one with a movie-based cover image— I generally avoid those, but this is my last remaining copy, which I picked up in my favourite book rescue shelter upon discovering that my other copies had disapeared. It was their last copy, too. Like The Scarlet Pimpernel, this is a book that has migrated from my shelf to those of family and friends on multiple occasions. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ by Baroness Orczy

I looked for my paperback copy of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ last night in order to include it in the image for this post. It wasn’t there. Again. 

So, I slipped in my vintage copy of Eldorado, another book in the same series, because it does have a really beautiful title page.

I can’t tell you how many times I have bought ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ in paperback. It just keeps disappearing— which means a good number of my friends and family members probably have it on their shelves. I hope they’ve read it, because if they haven’t, they’re missing out. 

It’s a mystery adventure story about an unidentified Englishman who helps French aristocrats escape France, and therefore the guillotine, during the ‘Reign Of Terror’ after the French Revolution. Of course, there’s only one thing the French want more than to chop off the heads off the rich and powerful, and that’s to chop off the Scarlet Pimpernel’s Head, so maintaining the mystery of his identity is definitely in his interests. 

It’s a great read for lovers of Historical Fiction, but there’s also enough mystery, romance and adventure for readers of those genres to enjoy, too. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Barchester Towers’ by Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope has quite a few novels to his name, of which I have enjoyed most, but ‘Barchester Towers’ is the pick of the bunch. If you are only ever going to read one of his works, choose this one. 

While Dickens was writing novels that exposed the social issues and injustices of his time, Trollope was doing the same thing in a slightly different way. Trollope’s ‘Chronicles of Barsetshire’ turned the readers’ attention to the structures and conventions of the church hierarchy in Victorian England, framing clerical life in a comedic way that highlighted the hypocrisy and manipulation that plagued the upper ranks of the church. His Palliser Novels series focuses on political life and the machinations of Parliament and government, once again with a good degree of satire and cynicism.

Trollope’s characterisation is every bit as clever and masterful as Dickens’, and the humour with which he wrote is just as engaging. I find it most disappointing that Trollope is not as widely read or renowned as Dickens. The reason for that lies in the fact that Dickens’ books made him the champion of the lower classes, giving him very widespread appeal and ensuring a loyal readership, while Trollope tended to write more about the challenges faced by the middle and upper classes as society changed. Those issues were just as real, but far less relatable and interesting to the masses. 

‘Barchester Towers’ is a gem of a book. It’s quite easy to read, and very entertaining. While The Guardian listed it as one of the 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’it is much higher on my own list,  hence its inclusion among the novels featured on this blog as one of my top 25 classic novels. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘The Three Musketeers’ by Alexandre Dumas

The ultimate story of friendship, loyalty and chivalry, ‘The Three Musketeers’ is full of the adventure, swordfighting and drama that was life for the king’s Musketeers of the Guard. This book transports the reader to early 17th century Paris and all the intrigues and machinations of courtly and public life.

I always felt a bit sorry for d’Artagnan that the book wasn’t called ‘The Four Musketeers’, but on the other hand, Athos, Aramis and Porthos were exactly the kind of men that a swashbuckling heroic adventure story should be named after.

I guess d’Artagnan could be satisfied knowing that many people would know his name even if they couldn’t name the others.

The Musketeers’ catch cry, “All for one and one for all!” has been adopted and echoed many times by groups of friends the world over, including my beloved Indie Fabs, six author friends bound by friendship, support and loyalty.

This is still a tremendous read which I highly recommend. Of the movies and TV adaptations I have seen, the black and white movies I grew up watching almost did the book justice, and the recent BBC TV production The Musketeers is brilliant, but they aren’t quite the same as reading the book.

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘The Wind In The Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame

A favourite since my childhood, ‘The Wind in the Willows’ features Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger as  the main characters in a delightful story about friendship and adventure. 

The stories are enchanting and memorable, conjuring images of rural England in days gone by.

This is a wonderful book for children, and a great choice for reading together as a family. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘My Brilliant Career’ by Miles Franklin

Many readers outside of Australia may not have heard of either this wonderful book or its author, but I would heartily recommend them to read it.

‘My Brilliant Career’ was the first Australian novel to be published. Franklin sent her manuscript to Henry Lawson, who liked it so much that he wrote a foreword and submitted it to his own publishers.

Although presented as a romantic story, It’s actually something of an anti-Romance. Sybylla Melvyn is an artistic and independent young woman who experiences a series of downturns in her family’s circumstances and finds herself at the wrong end of the same social expectations and judgements to which she had always been resistant.

While not opposed to the idea of love, that is not where Sybylla sets her hopes for happiness. The book does reflect the growing influence of the women’s movement in Australia and the changing values and expectations of young Australian women at the turn of the 20th century. 

The story is so realistically and vividly written that it caused Franklin considerable grief: people assumed the book was based on her own life and family and made such awful judgements about her that she withdrew the book from publication until after her death. While there may indeed have been autobiographical elements in the story, it was only ever presented as a work of fiction. In the end, it is a very poor reflection on those readers who chose to be so critical that they entirely missed the beauty and depth of a wonderfully told story. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker

There are lots of vampire stories being written and read today, but ‘Dracula’ is where they all started. It’s classic Gothic horror in a story told through letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings in addition to the narrative, so it has multiple narrators. None of them have all the information and some are not even first-hand witnesses, so it’s a bit like piecing together a puzzle as you read. It builds up a lot of intrigue and suspense as the story becomes darker and deadlier. 

‘Dracula’ has inspired many films, TV shows, books, comics, cartoons and plays over the years. Other writers and filmmakers have created their own vampire stories, and some of them are really good. Even so, Bram Stoker’s sheer originality, powerful writing and ingenious storytelling style make the original classic really hard to beat.