In her glorious career Harriet Walter has played nearly all of Shakespeare’s heroines: Ophelia, Portia, Viola, Imogen, Lady Macbeth, Beatrice, Cleopatra. But where, she asks, does an actress go after playing Cleopatra’s death? Why didn’t Shakespeare write more – and more powerful – roles for women?
For Walter, the solution was to ignore centuries of tradition and start playing Shakespeare’s heroes: a conflicted Brutus in an all-female Julius Caesar, a Henry IV burdened by kingship, an undeceived Prospero – getting inside their skins, inside the unfamiliar stillness that accompanies male power.
But what, she asks, can an actress bring to these roles – and is there any fundamental difference in the way they should be played?
In her new book, Brutus and Other Heroines, Walter levels the playing field, casting a new eye on the choices she made in performing the classic roles: Ophelia (how to join the ‘interesting’ mad Ophelia with the ‘boring’ sane Ophelia), Viola (the most self-aware and least comedic character in the comedy), Lady Macbeth (‘nobody seems to know her’), Cleopatra (on the cusp of old age yet full of beans, nowhere described as beautiful and yet infinitely sexy, because she has Shakespeare’s words…)
Harriet Walter even writes an affectionate and probing letter to their author: ‘Dear Will (if I may), I hope you don’t mind but I have been playing men recently. I am only following your example. It seems as legitimate for women to play men as it was for boys to play women…’
Join us for a conversation between Harriet Walter and Shakespearean Katherine Rundell on daughters, mothers, wives, widows – and males.