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Who Owns Shakespeare?

Below are brief transcripts from the debate, along with photographs of the evening. Video will be available shortly on this website.

PATERSON JOSEPH: "Shakespeare for me was the catalyst for opening me up as a person. It was that powerful in my life. So when people talk about - when actors talk the cliche ‘Oh Shakespeare’s great, we all love Shakespeare’, I’m talking about it from a perspective of somebody whose life was changed, whose personality, whose character even, was changed by Shakespeare, whose intellectual breadth was changed by Shakespeare. No longer was I this kid in Willesden Green, I’d been opened up to the world of Othello, the world of Berowne, the world of countless characters from all over the European world, as it were, the world of Africa if we include Othello. And this has kept with me all of my life."

Who Owns Shakespeare full panel

L to R: Paterson Joseph, Jatinder Verma, Professor Tony Howard, Aleta Chappelle, Michael Buffong, Amad Jackson, Nicholas Bailey

PATERSON JOSEPH: "Shakespeare is relevant because his stories are universal. And it’s the story that’s universal, it’s not necessarily the language, it’s not necessarily the setting, it’s the story. Because what we do as performers is tell the human story in whatever way that we tell it. Whether it’s set in Moscow and it’s The Three Sisters, whether it’s set in New York and it’s American Buffalo, whatever the thing is, it’s about the human story, that’s what makes it relevant to us. I don’t think we need to dumb down Shakespeare, but I don’t think we need to put it in an ivory tower either, because Shakespeare is a living playwright."

MICHAEL BUFFONG: The NT Studio at the time were getting a group of young, black actors [and actresses] to do a workshop version of Macbeth [directed by Peter Gill, which was performed in 1987]. And we spent three years learning about Shakespeare, about the idiom and about the story. And I think that’s when I really fell in love with Shakespeare. The notion of who it belongs to never crossed my mind.

Alby James and Aleta Chappelle

Alby James and Aleta Chappelle

PATERSON JOSEPH: "I resisted Othello for years. And the reason I resisted Othello was because I thought Othello was the better part. He gets all the great speeches, it’s the biggest part in Shakespeare; for an actor it’s a dream, he’s funny, he gets to talk to the audience, he’s like a stand-up and then he’s the evil guy. Who doesn’t want to play that as an actor? My problem with Othello was always: why would he believe this guy? He loves this woman, why would he suddenly believe this guy? So when Braham Murray at the Royal Exchange in Manchester asked me to do it in 2002, I said no, I don’t want to do it, I can't see how that would work. I’ve always seen Iago nodding and winking at the audience. Othello looks like a fool. I said I’d only do it - trying to challenge him - if you got an actor who I could believe was a soldier. They’re two soldiers [Iago and Othello], having worked with soldiers on various things I’ve done over the years, I know that they can beat each other up in the barracks, but when they’re on the field, they are brothers, they will take a bullet for each other. It’s a love that nothing else can describe, in no other world do two men love each other that deeply, right? Now if that person who’s taken a bullet for me at Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds Christian and heathen as Iago says, would then say to me, You know your wife?…then he could believe. Because this man who risked his life for me would never lie to me. That begins the scene."