Shakespeare the Poet

Venue: Online – £10/$12 for this online talk

The link giving you access to this lecture will be sent out after your booking has been received. You will have the choice of a YouTube video or a downloadable audio podcast.                                                    

Shakespeare the Poet - World Poets series

This still relatively recently discovered portrait of William Shakespeare - its very existence first announced to the world in March 2009 - is believed to be the only one painted in his lifetime. Our imagination’s batteries are uniquely re-charged as we finally look into his face for the first time and feel compelled to ask ourselves afresh so many things about him. Here's one: to what extent did the author of the Sonnets feel he was writing poems in his plays as though momentarily staging a poetry recital of set pieces to hold an audience’s breath in mid-drama? Shakespeare left plenty of answers. Yes, they are there to be uncovered the moment one begins to explore the Sonnets, the longer poems ‘Venus and Adonis’ and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, ‘The Passionate Pilgrim’ and ‘Verses in Love’s Martyr’. But like steeplechase clues, they can also be come upon time and again, and often in spectacular fashion, along the pathways of his theatre, at key moments in the lyrical plays, the tragedies and the late Romances, and sometimes for whole plays on end. “Richard II is a chunk of poetry about a god who wants to be a person", Fiona Shaw declared once on the Andrew Marr Show. When Postumus says to Imogen, “Hang there like fruit, my soul, /till the tree die” in Act Five Scene five of Cymbeline, the audience is in the presence of one of the best line-breaks in poetry.

Yet when we go to see a Shakespeare play, the unfolding narrative, the constant impact of the action, and the naturalness of the verse as speech so take our minds off what Shakespeare is doing with it poetically, that much of the sheer craft of it simply sails over our heads.

In this lecture, first commissioned by the Bridport Literary Festival, Graham hooks that craft down out of the sky and hold it up to the audience. It will tell us, with an abundance of compelling examples from the Works, what distinguishes Shakespeare the poet from Shakespeare the dramatist, how the sonnets work, what relation there is between the longer poems and the plays, and where in particular the plays, in a stop-you-in-your-tracks way, become poetry.


"Have you recorded this lecture yet? Because if not, you definitely should".
Member of the audience, Brewhouse Theatre, Taunton
in the Q&A session at the end of Shakespeare The Poet Night live in Taunton, 6th October 2020
“I wanted to pass on a Thumbs Up from two friends of mine for your Shakespeare Sonnets & Arias! Much appreciated by me too. Evening of 19th December on reading Johnson's travel-ban & contemplating my evaporating Christmas with family, I decided on the most worthwhile thing I could do in the circumstances. Which was to enrol, there & then, for Shakespeare The Poet.
“I had imagined my enrolment processed by algorithms instead of by you in person late in the evening - for which huge appreciation. Thank you again. Thank you for keeping us all sane. In these times when unfolding events in the US seem to have an almost Shakespearean sweep! King Lear rewritten? Reply not needed. At least not yet! Your response can be more talks, for which I shall happily enrol. I should like to listen again now".
Richard Gaskell, London (2021)
Online version
"Thank you for risking the journey and the unknowns. And thank you for a superb evening, one of the very best. You helped me, among many things, to relax into the Sonnets and swim in the one I am reading and let the poet and his words take me to wherever. In so doing you shifted something within me: it used to be apprehension, nervousness, uncertainty, and 'will I get what I am supposed to get?' Now I shall invite the words and the magician to talk to me and then join in; and the fun will begin".
Jeremy Harvey, Taunton
in the Q&A session at the end of Shakespeare The Poet Night live in Taunton, 6th October 2020​
"I enjoyed your talk, even though you covered such a wide range that I had to struggle to keep up, but it was well worth it. I don’t remember doing any Shakespeare at school, perhaps I did and I’ve forgotten although I did mainly sciences and so was considered totally uncultured! Since then I’ve spent a lot of time going to the theatre. Years and years of the National Theatre and the RSC, so a lot of Shakespeare and I’ve always thought that through not having studied it and analysed it at school I was able to enjoy it, unlike many of my friends who wouldn’t dream of going to a Shakespeare play. So lots of room for improvement and I felt myself whisked through new ideas and concepts last night."
Diane, Taunton
after Shakespeare The Poet Night live in Taunton, 6th October 2020

Shakespeare The Poet is the tenth in the 2020 series of ten lectures specially recorded by Graham during the lockdown for release online to bookers.  Recordings of all ten are now available.

See Events Currently Scheduled for full information on each recording, available as either a YouTube video or a downloadable audio podcast, and how to book.  

Tickets £10/$12

for this onine talk The recording is available from 13 December 2020

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Top picture: Unknown artist, The Cobbe Portrait of William Shakespeare, painting, claimed to be a portrait of William Shakespeare done while he was still alive. Possibly photographed by Oli Scarff. Collection: National Trust, Hatchlands Park, near Guildford, Surrey.

Lower picture: John Faed (1819-1902), Posthumus and Imogen (c.1865)

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