Shakespeare : the man who pays the rent

Actor Dame Judi Dench has portrayed many characters (in comedies and in tragedies) in different formats (stage, screen, TV, sound recordings); in the James Bond franchise she was featured in the role of M (the first female to do so), whose character gave it all for Queen and country, and then got bumped off; she has been parodied for being Dame Judi by comedian Tracey Ullman--some videos can easily be found on YouTube and are a hoot; she is known as Judi Dench: with a crack in her voiceand possibly cavorted in the buff, somewhere, long ago.  Because she has performed in many of Shakespeare's plays, she has opinions and questions about what certain lines mean; about what motivates characters and how this affects plots. Her long-lasting fascination with the plays and her insights justify and validate the timeless value of the Bard's works. In a series of interviews with fellow actor and dear friend Brendan O’Hea, both of them explore questions about Shakespeare’s plays in which she has performed. The questions evolve into conversations between two experienced theatre people. Even though neither actor is a scholar, having been in numerous productions of the plays with different directors and different productions over many years, their experiences have imbued them with knowledge that is comparable to that of Shakespearean scholars.

The chapters are arranged primarily by the titles of the plays, but there are exceptions, which are part of the book's appeal. Within the play chapters there are subheadings for the characters she has portrayed. The conversations between Judi and Brendan are candid, natural, touching and often uproarious. They will recount and compare their experiences with actors, directors and particular performances. Sometimes there were mishaps during live performances where the actors, by necessity carried on, often improvising lines in a play, which is a neat trick to do in a Shakespeare play, e.g., in character and in iambic pentameter.  A lovely lagniappe are some of Dame Judi’s drawings that are interspersed throughout the book.

In “Advice,” Dame Judi provides the following: “You mustn’t be dogmatic in what you pass on … the next generation will decide what’s useful and you have no control over that, and nor should you … Be kind, be curious, be playful. And keep a sense of humor … I’d also say that there are no small parts in Shakespeare … And even if you have nothing to say in a Shakespeare play, at least you’re around the words, listening to them every night … I don’t even have to be on the stage saying them–just whispering them quietly to myself can give me an endorphin rush … Shakespeare belongs to everybody …You’ve got to find out what his words mean to you.”

For many years the Los Angeles Public Library has worked with local theatrical companies that perform Shakespeare’s plays, displaying hardcopy brochures at all of our libraries. Times have changed, but the plays go on, therefore here are several companies that perform during the summer. Some performances are free:


If you want to know more about the life of Dame Judi, as she tells it, then read And furthermore.