Shakespeare and the Young Writer

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But Macbeth is my favourite — a preference I apparently share with Jo Nesbo, who recently announced that his new noir crime novel would be based on the Scottish play.

Its sinister magic is also the inspiration behind my historical novel Dark Aemilia. In Jacobean times, the occult was accepted as part of everyday life, and witchcraft was both feared and sought out as a useful resource. I tried to channel some of this, and recreate the psychology of a fearful, superstitious age.


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Captain Ahab is "a grand, ungodly, god-like man … above the common" whose pursuit of the great white whale is a fable about obsession and over-reaching. Just as Macbeth and Lear subvert the natural order of things, Ahab takes on Nature in his determination to kill his prey — and his hubristic quest is doomed from the start.

Detective Alan Grant, confined to bed after an accident, begins to take in interest in the much-maligned king after studying his portrait.

Although clearly Richard III was a real person, the false picture we have of him was originally created by Shakespeare, Tey argues. He created a pantomime villain and child murderer in order to curry favour with his Tudor patron, Elizabeth I. I discovered Maugham when I was about He was out of fashion then, and is completely below the radar now. But this is a fascinating novel about literary snobbery. Like Macbeth, Ripley wants what someone else has got.

Friends and Rivals: Shakespeare and the Competition | Hold That Thought

And just as Macbeth murders Duncan, Ripley bumps off golden boy Dickie Greenleaf, seeking to take his place. Then the body count rises as Ripley attempts to secure his position. The young William Shakespeare and his even younger brother Edmund arrived in London , probably with the intention of becoming actors, having seen travelling players in Stratford, and deciding to try their luck in a London theatre.

Very soon someone — perhaps a writer or a theatre manager — saw something interesting in something that the young Will had said or done and invited him to join a team that was working on a new history series. And so Shakespeare was taken into the group.

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They were impressed with Will and the first text of the series, now known as Henry VI Part 2 , was completed. Twenty percent of it is now known to have been written by Shakespeare. How would that large team of writers have produced that text? They would have had a basic outline of the story told by the historian, Holinshed, and they would have developed it into a text that contained the elements they knew would interest and inspire an audience.

They knew that it had to have rounded characters that the audience could identify with, that there had to be conflict and tension, action, violence, sex and all the things that audiences demanded, and still demand. And the dialogue had to be convincing. And so they would have begun to throw ideas around, to get into groups and create scenes through improvisation, someone writing down the things that worked. There was no notion of playwriters being artists or men of letters.

And there were tight deadlines.

Episode 539. Encouraging Young Writers

The only consideration was the ratings — bringing in the audience. The play scripts were not regarded as literature and once they had been performed they could be thrown away. They had to be good, though, or they would not attract audiences. Writing a play was a skill, and if a writer developed it to a high level there was a good, if highly pressurised, career in it for him. While working on the Henry plays young Will was making new friends among the writing community, and learning from them. He had been bitten by the bug and playwriting had become his passion.

He was also making money.

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Before the Henry plays were ready for the stage he was, with the help of his friends, already working on a sequel, which became the successful Richard III. At the same time, he had caught the eye of the experienced writer, George Peele , and the two began working on a very violent play — Titus Andronicus. In his subsequent plays he used violence more sparingly and more pointedly.

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