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English actress Judi Dench during a dress rehearsal for “Hamlet”, making her London debut as Ophelia in 1957.

Bob Haswell/Getty Images


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Bob Haswell/Getty Images

English actress Judi Dench during a dress rehearsal for “Hamlet”, making her London debut as Ophelia in 1957.

Bob Haswell/Getty Images

1. Judi Dench built her career around the work of Shakespeare.

Dench has shone in several Shakespeare roles, from Juliet, the cursed lover, to the tragic Lady Macbeth, including the comic Titania in A Midsummer Night’s dream. Now 89, she says the roles and lines have stuck with her.

“It’s the only thing I remember. I don’t remember where I put my shirt yesterday or a pair of shoes. I don’t remember what happens tomorrow, and I don’t remember what happened last week Sonnets and Shakespeare I remember… Something to do with the fact that his way of writing is like the beat of your heart“.

She reflects on all her roles in the new book Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent. It recounts a series of conversations over four years between Dench and his friend, the actor and director Brendan O’Hea.

2. Writing this novel helped them both during the COVID lockdowns.

O’Hea said he considered another title for the book – Herding Eels – because it was very difficult to convince Dench to talk about his craft. But working together during the pandemic really helped, because they were able to focus and go through all the rooms.

“I should say, ‘Well, look. There’s Butterkists in the other room, or there’s a glass of champagne waiting for you. Let’s just do five minutes.’ I know your game, she said. So, yes, it took a lot of coaxing. She’s very, very slippery… But we finally got there.

Dench also suffers from deteriorating eyesight, which limits his ability to take on new roles..

“I never realized that I needed to know exactly where a speech was on a page and in relation to other speeches,” Dench said. “Well, of course I can’t do that. I can be taught a role, but I have to actually know where it fits. And that’s impossible now.”

For Dench, writing this book was a salvation in a particularly difficult time. “So it not only saved our lives during COVID, but also mine during this time where I can’t say yes to a part because I don’t see it… There are benefits to be had, however, if you look for them. »

3. Dench and O’Hea believe that Shakespeare is still relevant today.

O’Hea emphasizes how deeply Shakespeare’s work is rooted in the English language. “You know, we didn’t know the word ‘assassination’ until Shakespeare invented it. And there are a whole host of other words and expressions that Shakespeare invented.”

And for Dench, no one has written as much about the human experience as Shakespeare. “All human feelings – about love, about envy, about idolatry, about sadness, about death, about the afterlife – there is no one who wrote like that and who still remains with us in our, as I say, daily expressions.

Part of the beauty of Dench is that there is no right way to do Shakespeare.

“Someone who is in love for the first time, they may not have been in love in the same way as Juliet. But nevertheless, they understand the emotion. And Shakespeare managed to distill that.”

For sponsor-free episodes of Consider This, subscribe to Consider This+ via Apple Podcasts or at plus.npr.org. Send us an email at considerthis@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Elena Burnett and Erika Ryan. It was edited by Courtney Dorning. Our executive producer is Sami Yenigun.

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