Sir Nick Hytner on Shakespeare

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NHytner in rehearsal credit Ivan Kyncl-1

It all started about eighteen months ago. The University of Notre Dame in London wanted very much to feel it was doing all it could to honour Stanley Wells  C.B.E. as the pre-eminent Shakespeare scholar.

So, Notre Dame’s London director, Greg Kucich, and Shakespeare scholar Boika Sokolva invited The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, to support the Annual London Shakespeare Lecture to be given in honour of Stanley. The event is generously supported by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Notre Dame.

In order to get the project off to a flying start, Stanley himself gave the first, founding lecture last year. His talk was called Eight Decades with Shakespeare and included some of the highs and lows over (more or less) eighty years spent teaching Shakespeare, writing about Shakespeare, and encouraging Shakespeare to happen on stage, in print, and especially here in Stratford-upon-Avon at The Shakespeare Centre, The Shakespeare Institute, and The Royal Shakespeare Company.

The room at Notre Dame’s Suffolk Street headquarters was packed.  A screen in front of us showed us a gathering of students at Notre Dame’s main campus in South Bend, Indiana, who, together with their professor, Shakespeare expert Peter Holland, were able to listen to the lecture live and contribute to the question period afterwards.

This year’s speaker is Sir Nicholas Hytner,  Artistic Director of the National Theatre. His Shakespeare productions include Measure for Measure, The Tempest and King Lear for the RSC, and  The Winter’s Tale, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, Much Ado About Nothing, and Timon of Athens for the National. At the moment his mind and outlook are no doubt full of Othello which will be opening in a few months at the National with Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear as Iago. But Sir Nicholas’s talk is entitled after Hamlet: “Stand and Unfold Yourself!”How to Do Shakespeare. I shall be interested to see how his ‘how to do’ compares to Adrian Noble’s (who has an excellent book which goes by a similar title) and, of course, John Barton’s Playing Shakespeare.

I’ve just asked Stanley how he feels about having another lecture named after him (there are the Oxford Wells Shakespeare lectures, too) and he said, ‘I’m thrilled and delighted that my friends in America and London have chosen to honour me in this way, and I’m greatly looking forward to the occasion. I’ll be able to sit back and enjoy it this year!’

Alas, the attendance at the lecture – to take place on the evening Tuesday 5 March – is limited to invitation only, but it is being filmed.

So, watch this space, and if bloggingshakespeare can make  it available in some way, then we will!

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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

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