Shakespeare Uncovered Teacher Viewing Guide

The Comedies with Joely Richardson

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The Gist: Joely Richardson whom you will know by face if you don’t immediately know her by name is an English actress whose broad range of work speaks for itself (The Tudors, Nip/Tuck, Anonymous, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), and whose family has been acting Shakespeare for generations: she is the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and director Tony Richardson, and the granddaughter of Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson. Richardson is investigating Shakespeare’s comedies because, as she says, “The comedies are all about new life, new laughs, new loves, and they are driven by strong, comic heroines.” Her driving question is: “How is it that the comedies still have to power to entertain us, enthrall us, and move us?”

Focused particularly on Twelfth Night and As You Like It, she moves through London querying scholars, directors and actors, and observing rehearsals and performances at Shakespeare’s Globe. She watches different filmed productions of these two plays, and chats about the heroines in wonderfully personal and illuminating conversations with her mother. We are her colleagues as she travels through each play, exploring the characters of Viola and Rosalind more deeply to be sure, but thinking through other aspects of the comedies as well:

  • The significant role that twins play, in Shakespeare’s comedies and in his life
  • The real and delightful complexities for actors and audience of cross-dressing in Shakespeare’s day . . . in the case of Rosalind, for example, the actor was a boy playing a girl who plays a boy pretending to be a girl
  • Shakespeare’s true feelings about women, and his obvious love and respect for strong women

Not To Miss:

  • Richardson’s visit to the National Portrait Gallery to learn about the first women who played Shakespeare on stage, and when and why they did
  • Mother and daughter (Redgrave and Richardson) breaking down the scene in which Rosalind offers to cure Orlando of his love (III,ii). Redgrave calls this “the most wonderful, teasing, merry, heartfelt scenes that were ever written for a woman”
  • Bits about the wild popularity of Twelfth Night, and who thought the play should be named Malvolio
  • Germaine Greer’s thoughts on what motivated Shakespeare to leave home and family in Stratford and head for London
  • Examples from an all-male production of As You Like It in the discussion on cross-dressing
  • Snippets from a range of Twelfth Nights and As You Like Its, including Rosalinds played by Vanessa Redgrave (1963) and Helen Mirren (1978), and a bit of Kevin Kline’s Jaques (2006)

After Watching, Keep On Talking (with colleagues or students):

  • Several female scholars state that Shakespeare’s women are older, more worldly-wise, and “smarter than the boys.” True? False? Can you cite evidence from the plays themselves to support your view?
  • Now that women play women’s roles on stage, have we lost something in the theatrical experience? Why or why not?
  • Joely Richardson concludes that one reason the comedies maintain their freshness and relevance for us is because they are all tales about one person trying to love another. Do you agree or disagree? What are other reasons that the comedies still speak to us?