Kathryn Prince was just 13 when a line from The Smiths’ “Cemetery Gates” sent her scurrying to Shakespeare’s Complete Works. Finding the quote in Richard III, albeit slightly mangled by the British songsters, inspired her lifelong relationship with William Shakespeare and an obsession with contemporary reworkings of his words.
By the time she had finished Richard III and read through the remaining 38 plays, Prince was hooked. “I fell in love with Shakespeare. And I’ve been monogamous — I’ve stuck with him,” the University of Ottawa professor of theatre says, laughing. “It’s definitely the language. I liked the idea that the dialogue was hard to understand, but that if I thought about it, I could figure it out. It was like a puzzle, and that appealed to me.”
Prince is so besotted with Shakespeare that she has spent her career studying his “theatrical afterlife,” including how actors and directors interpret, perform and stage his plays. Studying and teaching at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and during a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of London, Prince watched great Shakespearean actors perform. From Jude Law to David Tennant, Patrick Stewart and Judi Dench, Prince soaked up performances and compared interpretations.
“It’s a beautiful thing to hear someone speak 400-year-old words as if they’ve just thought of them and to really believe them,” says Prince. “It’s a kind of magic.”
So entranced was she with Dench that Prince wrote a biography about the British star (“Dame Judi Dench” in Great Shakespeareans). She is also the author of Shakespeare in the Victorian Periodicals and the editor of History, Memory and Performance and Performing Early Modern Drama Today.
This summer, Prince has a fellowship at the Centre for the History of Emotions at the University of Western Australia. She will explore the way Shakespeare creates emotional responses to objects, such as Yorick’s skull in Hamlet. While in Australia, she will research her next project, Objects of Wonder, which will trace the circulation and significance of Shakespearean objects throughout the early modern world.
One day, Prince hopes to direct Measure for Measure. In the meantime, she is introducing her six-year-old son, Sam, to Shakespeare with the same enthusiasm she brings to her teaching. “Shakespeare’s language can be challenging and perplexing, but whatever else it is, it’s also beautiful,” she says of the playwright’s work.
The immortal playwright
In 2016, 400 years after Shakespeare’s death, the University of Ottawa will host a semester-long celebration to honour the most translated and performed playwright in the world and his influence on all aspects of our culture.
Performing Shakespeare’s plays with a Canadian slant “has provided us with a way of telling ourselves how we are different from the countries that we originated from — many of which have their own Shakespeare traditions even if they are far from the playwright’s native land,” says Kathryn Prince, co-organizer of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations, including the Shakespeare + Canada Symposium from April 21 to 23, 2016.
From plenary talks to insult-a-thons, a film festival, playwriting and sonnet contests, the Shakespeare 400 events will draw actors, creators, academics, authors and Shakespearean fans. The events will demonstrate why we still relate to Shakespeare’s characters, four centuries after he created them, says Prince.
by Laura Eggertson