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Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent

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I'm one of the millions of fans of Judi Dench, but I think that I'm not quite a fan enough of Shakespeare to enjoy this book as much as others have done. The interviews discuss the plays and characters in depth, and there are a lot of funny moments. Judi is clearly brilliant and witty. I just didn't know enough Shakespeare to really enjoy every bit of it.

I would make sure you don't miss this part of the blurb: "she guides us through Shakespeare's plays with incisive clarity, revealing the secrets of her rehearsal process and inviting us to share in her triumphs, disasters, and backstage shenanigans."

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC #sponsored

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On Shakespeare Today

Dame Judi Dench is one of the best Shakespearean actresses of the late 20th Century. She may be the best. She made her professional debut in 1957, and still performs today.

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent, by Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea, provides a remarkable overview of her Shakespearean career. With O’Hea providing the sounding board, Dench provides a lively reminiscence of her life.

The book started out as O’Hea collecting an oral history of Dench’s acting career for the Shakespeare’s Globe archives. He wanted her impressions of the Shakespeare plays in which she appeared. They realized the recordings had appeal beyond Shakespeare or theater scholars.

The result is a lively, frequently hilarious, and always entertaining discussion of Shakespeare by two outstanding thespians. Chapters alternate between those centering Shakespeare plays in which Dench performed followed by one discussing different aspects of Dench’s Shakespearean career. Dench’s non-Shakespearean career are discussed only in context to her Shakespearean work.

Dench takes readers inside her career, discussing every aspect of it, her successes, failures, and odd happenings. She also reveals life behind the stages, discussing the personalities she has interacted with and the shenanigans that occur. She presents what goes into making a play, the company, the rehearsal process, dressing room etiquette, how different theaters affect a performance.

The heart of the book is the chapters about the plays. Dench explores Shakespeare’s purpose in each play. She discusses her performances in each play and how her interpretation of the character changed as she gained experience. She also discusses how playing different characters – such as Ophelia or Gertrude in Hamlet – changed her perception of the play. The book is illustrated with Dench’s marginalia, drawings doodled in her scripts.

She also puts each play in historical context, defending Shakespeare from Woke attacks and censorship. She is not a historical purist who demands Shakespeare must always be performed in Elizabethan costume and Elizabethan staging. She shows how modern updates can enhance the play, but wants changes appropriate to Shakespeare’s values.

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent is a gem. It offers insight into both Shakespeare’s work and Dench’s career. She explains why Shakespeare remains relevant today and her continuing love for his work. For both Shakespeare and Dench fans, this is a book that must be read. For those only peripherally acquainted with the two, read the book. It might turn you into a fan.

“Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent,” by Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea, St. Martin’s Press, April 2024,‎ 400 pages, $32.00 (Hardcover), $15.99 (E-book), $26.99 (Audiobook)

This review was written by Mark Lardas, who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is

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Judi Dench is one of my all-time favorite actors, so I was really excited to pick up this book from her. This was an interesting format; it's written as a conversation between Dench and O'Hea, as he asks her questions about the many different Shakespeare roles she's taken on over the years. It was fascinating to read about her process as an actor (especially the character work she does), and how her feelings about the work have changed as she's aged. There were some parts that felt a little dry to me, but that's probably because I wasn't familiar with every single play that's dissected. I wish there had been a bit more about Dench's Hollywood connections, but this should be a must-read for anyone who loves Shakespeare or anyone who is interested in classical acting. Dench's witty sense of humor and feistiness really came out on the page, so it was a delight to feel like I was sitting down for tea, picking her brain.

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Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent is a wonderfully witty and well written memoir by Dame Judi Dench (with Brendan O'Hea) about her astounding richly lived life in the theatre. Released 23rd April 2024 by Macmillan on their St. Martin's Press imprint, it's 400 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout.

Ms. Dench is a titan of theatre. Instantly recognizable around the world, wonderfully witty, prodigiously talented, versatile, and so intelligent. This is a delightful book showcasing her experiences and talents and the collaborator has made the right choice in recording her reminiscences without generally getting in the way and "improving" things.

The stories are written around her Shakespearean theatre work: Macbeth, Midsummer, Twelfth Night, Merchant, Hamlet, Coriolanus, As You Like it, Measure for Measure, Much Ado, Lear, Comedy of Errors, Richard II, Antony & Cleopatra, Cymbeline, All's Well, Henry V, Merry Wives, Richard III, Winter's Tale, Romeo & Juliet, and a vast number of niche musings and pithy observations which fall outside strict categories/plays.

Wonderful *wonderful* human being and a delightful read. The text is enhanced throughout by simple pen and ink sketches by the author herself.

Five strong stars. Definite must-have for public library acquisitions folks, theatre lovers, Shakespeare lovers, TV/movie aficionados, etc.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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This book is delightful for anyone wanting insight into Shakespeare, the stage acting process, the history and life of Dench, and simply anyone that enjoys cultural history/memoirs.

I loved every minute I spent reading this book. I cannot wait to recommend it to everyone I know! The insight, the humor, and the brilliance of Judi Dench is evident on each page. The brilliance of Brendan O'Hea to use the interview process and prompts to get Dench to evaluate and discuss her past is perfection.

Thank you NetGalley and publisher for the eARC of this work in exchange for my honest review!

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Full disclosure, prior to reading this book, I was not a huge Shakespeare fan but I absolutely LOVED Judi Dench. Brilliant actress and an amazing woman. She and Brendan O’Hea have now converted me to the league of Shakespeare lovers. What a fun read. Made me love her even more.

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Judi Dench has spent most of her professional life performing Shakespeare. Her husband was also a Shakespearean actor, so they referred to the Bard as "the man who pays the rent" - thus the title. Pretty clever. This was a funny, insightful book. I really enjoyed the format, which was an interview style where one of Judi's friends asks the questions and she gives her memories of specific productions; as well as her interpretations of characters motivations and thoughts; and her ideas about acting, the theater, and Shakespeare in general.
Dame Judi is in her late eighties and has earned the right to be honest. If she thinks a question is ridiculous or stupid, she doesn't hesitate to say so! I love that the editors left those comments in the text.
I happen to be a Shakespeare fan and a Judi Dench fan, so this was a very good read for me.

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I love Judi Dench, and I love Shakespeare, but I wasn't sure how this book would work. It was so much fun! Dame Dench talks about her experiences doing the roles and what she thinks about the characters.
I have loved Shakespeare since high school because I realized how emotional and real the characters are, and I wrote a paper on how inappropriate he was. But that's what makes it so compelling, and why I took my daughter to the Globe theater in London so she could experience it live.
This book adds so many layers to the characters, and I hope I have time to revisit it. Judi Dench is so smart and her opinions are so interesting. Anyone who thinks they don't like Shakespeare should try it live, with a summary beforehand to make it easier to follow. Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this

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What was supposed to just be an interview, has been transformed in Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent, the story about Judi Dench and her Shakespearean career.

For the very first time, Dench opens up about every Shakespearean role she has played throughout her seven-decade career. In a series of intimate conversations with actor & director Brendan O'Hea, she guides the reader through. Shakespeare's plays with incisive clarity. This includes her personal interpretations of some of Shakespeare's most famous scenes with honesty and hilarity. Dench shares stories that haven’t been heard until now. Ultimately, this is Dench’s love letter to Shakespeare.

There were only two photos, one from the past and one from the present day. I would have loved to see more pictures of her in her roles and costumes. This would have made the book more interesting. But there are line sketches that provide visual stimulation. These drawings are done by Dench herself.

The best parts of the book are when her 0 humor and her honesty come out. My favorite quote? “The Merchant of fucking Venice….I used to dread going to the theatre every night.” On a side note, apparently, they took out the curse words for the audiobook; poor Stella Newing. I also enjoyed hearing about the behind-the-scenes hijinks and what it was like working with the other actors. But I have to be honest: I was very bored through most of it. I’m not a big Shakespeare fan so them breaking down each character and play was not my cup of tea. There are a lot of play quotes and discussions about them. Not enough of the fun anecdotes to keep me interested.

Honestly, this should have just been an interview. I would have loved to watch or listen to it in Dench’s voice (maybe the audiobook version is the way to go—wait no curse words! I just need a recording!). This will only truly appeal to true Shakespeare fans.

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This book was a nice change from the genres I usually read, and it was also different from the other memoirs I’ve read. It was interesting to hear Judi’s thoughts and memories about her long career. While reading this book though, I realized people who enjoy Shakespeare and acting probably will enjoy this more than I did. Alas, it was my first time learning many of the plots and characters, so some of the plays were fun to read but others felt like a slog to get through. I think I would also have liked this book more in an audio format as it’s a very conversational book and reading it on paper just doesn’t feel the same.

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I took my time with this one! It is too delicious not to. . . .I spent my mornings listening and re-reading (I both read and listened - to have Judi Dench's voice and that sweet giggle start my day was a joy and delight!).

The interview process between Judi and Brendan O'Hea (a director and actor also) covers a wide range of acting and Shakespeare work topics:

[Work of W Shakespeare
**Topic - Judi's Take On It]

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Twelfth Night
The Merchant of Venice
**Fireside Ramblings
As You Like it
Measure for Measure
**Rose Theatre
Much Ado About Nothing
King Lear
The Comedy of Errors
Richard II
Antony and Cleopatra
All’s Well That Ends Well
**Shakespeare’s Language
Henry V
The Merry Wives of Windsor
Richard III
**Changing Times
The Winter’s Tale
**Future of Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet

Mind you, these are not analyses or summaries of the above listed plays. They are the subjects of Dame Dench's reminiscences of her years of experience on and off stage / film working with notables and not-so-notables - all part of her life and days working within William Shakespeare's oeuvre and worldview. IF there were more than 5 stars, I'd be granting ALL The Stars for the pleasure this read gave me in both its formats. The audio also provides a rousing amusement in the form of outtakes from the interviews.

Hurray and Huzzah for Dame Judi Dench's latest book Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent !

*A sincere thank you to Judi Dench, Brendan O'Hea, St. Martin's Press, Macmillan Audio, and NetGalley for an ARC to read and independently review.*

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This is a memoir written by Brendan O'Hea from hours and hours of notes and tape recordings of interviews with Judi Dench. It's what you would expect in such a book but because Ms Dench is so very special and because she's known Mr. O'Hea for a long time the reader is drawn to visualize them sitting together over snacks talking about playing Shakespeare.

Now I'm a fan of Shakespeare (not a scholar, just a fan) and so this book is full of interesting stuff. Don't give it to someone who doesn't like Shakespeare, regardless of how much they might like Judi Dench.

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This was a wonderful memoir by Dame Judi Dench. You can hear the conversations she had with her co-author Brendan O’Hea. This was a wonderful look into her 70 years of acting experience. I’m hoping this will be available in audiobook so that I can hear this in her own voice.

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Her seven decade career, Dench has played most of Shakespeare’s major female roles on stage. Her first professional role was Ophelia straight out of drama school. The book if full of bawdy anecdotes including mistaken identities. This is an entertaining memoir. Shakespeare will never be the same for me.

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Gosh what an interesting book. As someone who read a LOT of Shakespeare (everything once and some many times over) for school but saw very few live performances, this was almost magical. The authors go DEEP into every character Dench has played, and the insights about character motivation, production choices, and audience response was like adding a rich layer onto an already well-loved recipe. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be recommending it to English Lit lovers and theater folks. (I also think it would do well on the syllabus for a Shakespeare survey course.)

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Thanks to Judi Dench and Brandon O'Hea for this truly illuminating and highly original memoir of life in the theater. Dame Dench has a prodigious memory, can recall in many cases the Shakespearean roles she has embodied over the past seven decades. But more than that, her deep understanding of and reverence for Shakespeare, his poetry, his insights, his contributions to the English language, are all inspiring. She discusses the characters' motivations and inner lives, incorporating them into flesh and blood women and not just dusty facsimiles. It gave me a better understanding of Shakespeare and an appreciation of his work. Even to the rhythm of iambic pentameter and even how some works deliberately would shift between text and poetry to establish a character. Also how every emotion in human experience is delineated and timeless. Loved this even more than I thought I would.

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Courtesy of St.Martin's Press and Netgalley, I received the ARC of Shakespeare, The Man Who Pays the Rent by Judi Dench as she is interviewed by Brendon O'Hea. While commenting on everything Shakespeare, from historical aspects to his use of verse, prose, and rhyme, staging and how to prepare for a role, Judi Dench has the most impressive recall! Backstage events, co stars, directors...she includes witty insights and interpretations from her impressive career. Highly recommend this entertaining memoir!

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What a wonderful look at several of Shakespeare’s plays as seen through the lens of Dame Judi Dench’s 70-year career playing his characters.

This book was a pure delight to read! I have not read much Shakespeare, but I enjoy all of the Shakespeare adjacent content, adaptations, and reimagings. My favorite play is Twelfth Night and I relished hearing Judi’s description and insight into playing Viola and later Maria.

I was given a free review eARC of this book by the publisher, but after about 20% of the way through the ebook, I realized I wanted to listen to it instead. So, even though I was given a free ebook, I paid for the audiobook when it was released just so I could listen to dialogue; it was magical.

I highly recommend you give this book a read and listen!

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This book feels like sitting down for the most wonderful chat with Dame Judi Dench about the plethora of Shakespearean roles she has played over her 70+ year career. The book itself is really a series of intimate conversations with actor and director Brendan O’Hea, but they have been captured in such a way that it feels like you’re there, conversing with them - or at least a fly on the wall in the room!

And Judi Dench has so much to share!! Wild stories from her days performing on stage and on set, and beautiful, deep insights into so many Shakespearean plays. I’m not a die-hard Shakespeare fan, but this book has piqued my interest and made me want to pick up my Word Cloud Classics volume of Shakespearean tragedies and dive in.

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Anyone who loves the acting style of Dame Judi Dench will love this interesting new book! Brendan O'Hea started the project by recording Judi Dench regarding her roles in Shakespeare plays. The result is an interesting view of 39 Shakespeare plays through the eyes of the actor, with personal reflections on how Shakespeare is still relevant in today's world and her personal approach to each role she played.

NOTE: While reading this book, I couldn't help but think that I would enjoy the AUDIOBOOK version so much more, because you could actually HEAR Dame Judi's thoughts and inflections as she shares her wonderful stories. The book was good, but I would advise the audiobook for much more depth and enjoyment.

Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the Advance Reader Copy of this book! #NetGalley

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