Trevor Nunn: 'The Bard is more relevant than the Bible’

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.140  Wednesday, 19 March 2014


From:        Richard Waugaman <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         Tuesday, March 18, 2014 at 5:57 PM

Subject:    Trevor Nunn on the Bard versus the Bible


The beginning of my comment on this story on The Telegraph’s website is “Trevor Nunn is not unusual in thinking in terms of false dichotomies. The most neglected literary source for Shakespeare’s works is the Bible.”


Rick Waugaman


Trevor Nunn: 'The Bard is more relevant than the Bible’

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.139  Tuesday, 18 March 2014


From:        This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 18, 2014 at 4:02:24 PM EDT

Subject:    Trevor Nunn: 'The Bard is more relevant than the Bible’ 


[Editor’s Note: This is from The Telegraph. –Hardy]


Trevor Nunn: 'The Bard is more relevant than the Bible’ - Telegraph

As he brings two plays to the West End, Sir Trevor Nunn has lost none of his vigour after a life spent shaking up theatre’s establishment


By Elizabeth Grice

8:34PM GMT 16 Mar 2014


It pains him to have to say this, but there is no better time to be doing a play about the English fixation with class. Hardly knowing whether to chuckle or throw up, Sir Trevor Nunn acknowledges that the aristocratic gravel has been beautifully prepared by Julian Fellowes and that a nation in thrall to Downton Abbey is a nation primed for his own latest transfer to the West End: Noël Coward’s satire on the upper classes, Relative Values.

With a metaphorical curl of the lip and a whiff of amusement, he says that the success of Downton, the most popular period television series ever, just goes to show that “nothing whatsoever has changed, despite the number of attempts at socialist revolution to bring about a completely equal world”. The old socialist has had to reconcile himself to the unpalatable truth: “There is an absolute fascination with class. It is as riveting as it is distressing.”


[ . . . ]


Apart from a pattable paunch, glimpsed between buttons six and seven on his shirt, the ageing process seems to have passed him by. The denims he has been wearing since about 1961 don’t look in the least incongruous, as they would on most men of 74. In fact, if I mistype him as 47 it seems to make more sense. In some lights, his goatee appears grizzled but his thick, dark hair, also c.1961, is still, improbably, thick and dark. He might be the scruffy boy who has strayed in through the stage door to get autographs.


“I swim my 50 lengths every weekend. I run. I go for very, very long walks. I am keen to stay fit and healthy,” he says. “I hate having birthdays. I’ve decided to count backwards.”


He is of an age and distinction – some say the finest and most versatile theatre director in the world – when it doesn’t seem impertinent to start an autobiography. In fact, he has to speed up. “If I’m not careful, by the time the book comes out, everyone will have forgotten everything I’m talking about.”


He has reached year two of his six-year run as artistic director at the National Theatre, so he has dealt with his precocious 18-year directorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company, with Cats, with his stupendous nine-hour Nicholas Nickleby, his famous Macbeth - and with three actress wives: Janet Suzman, Sharon Lee-Hill and Imogen Stubbs.


[ . . . ]


Sir Trevor’s ambition is to direct all the 37 plays. Seven more to go. He walks Shakespeare’s streets, knows a Shakespeare line or verse for every situation and has devoted years of his life to interpreting him. What does this man mean to him? There is a queer pause. Sir Trevor stops rocking from side to side in his chair like a metronome. “Shakespeare is my religion,” he says. “Shakespeare has more wisdom and insight about our lives, about how to live and how not to live, how to forgive and how to understand our fellow creatures, than any religious tract. One hundred times more than the Bible. I’m sorry to say that. But over and over again in the plays there is an understanding of the human condition that doesn’t exist in religious books.”


For this lodestone, he has many people to thank, not least the English teacher at his secondary school, Peter Hewitt, who “made it [reading Shakespeare] a living thing, through anecdote, example and jokes”, and who cast him in school plays. “It was pure idolatry. I worked enormously hard for him. I needed to impress him.” Hewitt went out on a limb to encourage the working-class boy to apply for a scholarship to Cambridge, and persuaded the headmaster to make a subvention from the Poor Boys’ Fund so that he could go to Cambridge for a week to take the exam.

He was already an eager little thesp. His CV actually dates from the age of five, when he was sent among the audience at his school Nativity play to collect money. Because he had to chant: “Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, please put a penny in the old man’s hat”, he thought he had better try to be an old person. “So I did a doddery movement and a quavery voice, and at the end of the play Mrs Pierrepoint, the teacher, said: 'You are a very good actor.’ I thought that was absolutely overwhelming.”


 [ . . . ]


“From those early days, I’ve always thought of music as part of theatre and I really don’t think I’m distorting anything when I say so did William Shakespeare. He embraced the power of music in theatre. He was not afflicted by the notion that for people to express themselves in song is some lower form of theatrical life.”


At 13, he went professional. He was so small and emaciated that he was quite believably cast as an 11-year-old boy in Life with Father at his local rep, Ipswich Arts Theatre. His stage father was Paul Eddington, not long out of drama school; Wendy Craig the country cousin. “I was hugely impressionable. It was wildly exciting.”


His own father, Robert, was a carpenter, his mother, Dorothy, a seamstress in a machine shop. “Though my childhood was wonderful and I don’t think of it as deprived in any way, we had no money of any kind. When I started to talk seriously about going into the theatre, my parents were the absolute opposite of the shocked parents who say: 'Get a decent job, like working in a bank.’ They encouraged me. If that’s a route outwards and upwards, they thought, go for it.”


They saw his plays in Stratford-upon-Avon and the Aldwych, at first uneasily because it was all so foreign and they weren’t sure they’d be able to find their seats. Their proudest moment was going to Buckingham Palace when he was awarded the CBE. Sir Trevor says he is uncomfortable about honours but accepted his knighthood because he knew what it would have meant to his parents, who did not live to see it. And because, as theatre people protest all the time, their profession is collaborative. “No one can ever claim in this business that they are solely responsible for something. I never use the title and never require anybody to use it. It would be completely unacceptable to use it in a theatre programme.”


[ . . . ]


Job Opening Possibility

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.138  Tuesday, 18 March 2014


From:        Jane Brody <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 17, 2014 at 8:13:37 PM EDT

Subject:    Job Opening Possibility


The Theatre School at Depaul University in Chicago will shortly be looking for an acting teacher to teach at our conservatory. We are similar to Julliard or Carnegie or the North Carolina School of the Arts, in that we have small classes, all students accepted by audition, and longer class periods than might be found in non-conservatory settings. The announcement hasn’t been made official as yet, but I thought you might know some people who would be interested. And, when the official announcement is put out I will post it.



Jane Brody

Associate Professor, Acting

The Theatre School

(225) 338 9315



Balcony Scene in Romeo and Juliet

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.138  Monday, 17 March 2014


From:        Marianne Kimura <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 15, 2014 at 12:47:32 AM EDT

Subject:    Balcony Scene


> . . . “the balcony

>scene” is the most famous scene in English-language drama.... 

>Why is the balcony so impressed upon the collective

>consciousness, when no character in the play, and nothing in 

>the stage directions, refers to it as such?


>These are questions that doubtless require speculation, and 

>thus I welcome it from this learned and (ahem) not-unloquacious 




Dear Editor, SHAKSPER,


My work directly addresses the question of “why the balcony scene” in R& J is “so impressed upon the collective consciousness.” Two years ago I published an academic paper called “’Juliet is the sun’: the secret anti-coal play and the cosmic heliocentrism of Giordano Bruno”. The basic idea is that the five scenes where the lovers play together stand in relative isolation and produce a series which can be ‘read’: Romeo (man) meets and worships the sun (this is our ‘pagan’ past) encoded in the party scene; next, in the balcony scene, we see man separated from Juliet (yes, at some window or a higher level on the stage) since man has left the sun/nature religions; next, the lovers are married by the friar (the only character allowed into the magic circle since he is Shakespeare encoding himself), and this is some sort of device to show Shakespeare’s passionate goal in a microcosm; next, the lovers separate as man leaves the sun economy to live in exile from the sun economy while he uses fossil fuels; finally, the tomb scene encodes the era when mankind returns to the sun, which doesn’t function well as an economic generative entity anymore (hence Juliet is ‘comatose’ and Romeo thinks she is dead). All of this plays out over centuries or maybe longer, so although it seems dire in the play, it may just seem very slow and natural for us at any given point during our human-lifespan lifetimes.  And I want to add that Shakespeare encoded variations on this theme in his other plays, including positive takes on it in his comedies.


The paper is at my Academia site and it is also here:




So the reason the balcony scene is so important and so spell-binding for  us collectively is that it is us. When we see it, we see that fascinating moment when we made the leap away from being closely bound to nature. Much of our progress has been tied to that leap. But equally, we are naturally interested in the sustainability of our progress and in its future. What I have seen in Shakespeare’s works is a lot of serious and thoughtful efforts to address this issue, and I have published some of my ideas about this in my research. This is not to say that I want to recommend Shakespeare as an authority on sustainability or energy policy. I have no position on that at all.


Just for fun, I wrote a novel called “Juliet is the Sun” (under the pen name Gemma Nishiyama); this novel takes a fun and popular approach to revealing a secret hiding out in the open for centuries. Yes, that Juliet is really the sun. In the end, what impresses me the most about his efforts was his amazing audacity.


Marianne Kimura  


CFP 'Reforming Shakespeare: 1593 and After'

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.137  Monday, 17 March 2014


From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         March 17, 2014 at 7:45:05 AM EDT

Subject:    CFP 'Reforming Shakespeare: 1593 and After'


SHAKSPERians with access to the city of Leicester, England, may be interested in the following Call for Papers:


What: 'Reforming Shakespeare: 1593 and After'


When: 3 June 2014


Where: De Montfort University, Leicester, England


Why: This is a one-day scholarly symposium on the kinds of alteration that have occurred to Shakespeare's writing as it has made its journey from author to readers and playgoers. 'Reforming' may take the sense of being given new shape as authorial or non-authorial adaptation, rewriting, borrowing or allusion and arguments about any of these processes in connection with Shakespeare fall within our purview. 'Reforming' can also suggest correction and improvement, including censorship, editing, and tidying up of text to make it conform to new conditions of reception, and contributions on those topics are also welcome. Send proposals for 15-minute papers to Prof Deborah Cartmell <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> and Prof Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>


WhoProf Graham Holderness (University of Hertfordshire) and Prof Richard Wilson (Kingston University) are confirmed keynote speakers. The rest will chosen from submitted proposals.


Flyer: Please download from http://cts.dmu.ac.uk/news/flyer.pdf and distribute wherever interested parties may be found.



Gabriel Egan


CFP Flyer:   pdf  CFP Reforming Shakespeare Flyer


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