Shakespeare’s sonnets are the most compelling source for an emotional and dramatic journey into the psychology of the man himself. Self-analytical, brutally honest, they allow us to go behind the scenes of this complex genius.
Shakespeare (Rupert Graves) is in his troubled middle years, emotionally bereft by his separation from Anne Hathaway (Anna Chancellor), and grieving after the death of his son Hamnet. Shakespeare takes a commission from the Countess of Pembroke (Zoe Wanamaker) to pen a sonnet sequence, celebrating an androgynous young patron, William Herbert, (Tom Sturridge) son of the Countess and soon to be Earl of Pembroke.
Behind the lyrical, beautifully crafted language, a brooding obsession with the “Lovely Boy” and Shakespeare’s extra-marital relationship with a “Dark Lady” (Indira Varma) is revealed. The sonnet sequence is his unique meditation on love, sex, mortality and the creative urge, which has tantalised scholars and casual readers alike.
First and foremost, this drama is located in the text of the sonnets: it’s a lively and irreverent study of the creative impulses and verbal tics of a glove-maker’s son from Warwickshire, frenetically putting feather to parchment. We see the subject and object of Will’s desire, reading between the lines of his beautifully crafted entreaties of love.
A Waste of Shame is partly a chamber-piece that captures the solitary nature of writing, but also conversely identifies the key figures in Shakespeare’s personal and professional life. It dramatises the burlesque world of players, whores and whoremongers, from which the Bard drew his inspiration. Bombast Burbage, Brothel Keeper George Wilkins and Brainiac Ben Jonson – all familiar faces in Southwark – are brought to life.
A Waste of Shame shares the sexual candour of Garcia’s book Love in the Time of Cholera, similarly pointing to larger patterns of social and political disorder: a seamy, violent, chaotic age where you get your kicks where you can find them. As our story of the affair unravels, so the tone of the piece shifts from light and bawdy to dark and tawdry. The closure of the theatres in 1603 scatters the vagrants, whores and drunks into the blind alleyways of Southwark, and we see Shakespeare’s stomping ground under siege from the plague.
The character of Shakespeare changes dramatically, too: he becomes tougher, more cynical, but his wit always lightens the darkness for us. A Waste of Shame makes him flesh and blood, a man with all the anxieties and ambitions of his audience today. He’s flawed, jaded, but ultimately a hero.
Shakespeare – Rupert Graves
William Herbert – Tom Sturridge
Lucie “the dark lady” - Indira Varma
Anne Hathaway – Anna Chancellor
Countess of Pembroke – Zoë Wanamaker
A Waste of Shame broadcasts on BBC Four on Tuesday 22 November 2005 9pm-10.30pm and again at 12.40am-2.10am that night. There will also another chance to see the programme on Sunday 27 November 2005 at 10pm-11.30pm