Review: “The Bed” at the Cork Midsummer Festival

Guest post by Emer Murphy

As the most celebrated playwright ever to put ink to paper, it remains astonishing that so little is known about William Shakespeare’s personal life. However, in an imaginative and intriguing one-act play, as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, Ger FitzGibbon, former head of Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC, delves into the sparse facts of Shakespeare’s private life, a life in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The Bed, a one-woman play co-directed by FitzGibbon and Jack Healy, gives the stage to Shakespeare’s widow, Anne Hathaway, as she reflects on the life of her late husband, and reacts to the contents of his will in the aftermath of his death.

Shakespeare Will and Testament

Shakespeare’s will (1616)

Starring Paula McGlinchey (who has featured in previous Shakespeare productions as well as in BBC’s Line of Duty), the play is set in April 1616, and takes place in the bedchamber Shakespeare once shared with his wife. This setting helps to separate the private man from the celebrated playwright who wrote for the London theatres and the court. The play serves as a platform for the wife and the life Shakespeare left at home in the country and it is Hathaway’s subjectivity which maintains the focus. Performed in Cork’s Unitarian Church, the unique, limited capacity space offers a more intimate scene for Hathaway’s reminiscing as the audience forms an L-shape in close proximity to the stage, allowing us to intrude on the private thoughts of the protagonist, thereby creating a bond between the subject and the audience and placing us firmly on Hathaway’s side.


Oak bed c.1650-1700 – image copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Having bequeathed most of his belongings to his eldest daughter Susanna, Shakespeare leaves Hathaway with his “second best bed”, an object which dominates the stage. The playing space itself takes on the shape of a large-four poster bed as single wooden shafts stand at the four corners, anchoring a cloth canopy above the stage, effectively mirroring a bed. The action of the play, therefore, whether intended or not, takes place on a bed, firmly confining it to the private sphere between a husband and wife. Within this domestic space, Hathaway frequently addresses her dead spouse and remembers their more intimate moments together, along with the challenges their marriage faced.

Issues of widowhood and the social alterations and ambiguities that accompany it are addressed in the play, raising concerns about the reality of a widow’s legal rights. McGlinchey’s powerful performance combines light and dark, despair and humour, and sees both laughter and tears as she commands the stage, displaying a range of emotions as she tries to adjust to the reality of her husband’s death and her changed situation, where “widows [are] shoved off into corners”. Now relegated to a lesser room in the house, she is left eating cold mutton and barley with no spoon!

She portrays moments of deep, silent contemplation along with occasions of loud, emotional outbursts as she recounts the death of their son, Hamnet, along with an array of both turbulent and blissful episodes in their marriage. Challenges such as his mother’s belief that Anne had “snared her innocent [son]” shadowed their union. Other personal insights into their relationship make Shakespeare all the more human for the audience as Anne recalls how it infuriated her when he would write down her words when she was “trying to have a fight with [him]” after his long periodical absences from home.

Shakespeare's_family_circle - German engraving 19th c

Shakespeare’s family circle – engraving by unknown German engraver, c.1890

Despite their differences, however, their marriage was not completely clouded in darkness and pain, as she remembers fondly their more affectionate moments picking blackberries, and “playing and making lewd verses”. Her discovery that he kept her apple-wood whistle brings a shadowy smile to her lips and softens her resolve as she realises that he brought mementos of her to London, adding to the dynamic of her grief. Her tenderness, however, is short-lived and replaced with a knowing scoff as she acknowledges how it has “dried out from lack of use”. Such contrasting emotions heighten the already poignant atmosphere as other such personal memories pour out as she remembers the intricacies of their marriage.

The raw emotional scenes of the play are complimented by Irene Buckley’s original music scores, which alter the atmosphere dramatically. The music heralds a shift in mood for Hathaway, seeing her transported to a distant memory from the past. At one point in the production, soft, tranquil music begins to echo as her eyes glisten with oncoming tears while she recalls the summer they married. The music cuts unexpectedly and anger replaces grief as she shouts “get out of my head”; she is a woman in mourning and McGlinchey’s performance depicts this in a moving manner.

Twelfth Night Folio

Twelfth Night – Folio

One of the more notable features of the play, however, is the repeated references to some of Shakespeare’s most famed work. Hathaway accounts for aspects of their lives that inspired the plot of plays, including Twelfth Night. The appropriation of this comedy serves to make Shakespeare’s grief for his dead son all the more real as he determines to provide a happy ending for his family who “all teared up” when the twins are reunited. Hathaway details how the play held a special significance for their daughter, Judith, who was driven to near madness after her twin’s death. Noting that many of her husband’s plays were characterised by loss and confusion, Anne provides a glimpse into the personal motivation that influenced him. The Merchant of Venice is echoed loudly in the play with the discovery of a chest that Shakespeare left under the bed, containing an assortment of treasures and keepsakes, amongst which hides a lost play. Naturally, Hamlet also earns a reference when a mask recalling Yorick’s skull is found. Numerous other plays are woven into the plot and quoted from throughout, including Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It and King Lear, reminding us of the renowned playwright who has inspired Anne’s tears and anger.

The 65 minute production effectively portrayed the multi-faceted journey of grief and the range of emotions that accompany it.

Guest post by Emer Murphy, postgraduate student on the MA Texts and Contexts: Medieval to Renaissance at University College Cork.

Theatre: As You Like It at the Gaiety School of Acting

From the Gaiety School of Acting website:

They didn’t see it coming. Somehow, nobody’s favourite despot has taken power, and our cast of lust-struck lovers need to get the hell out of dodge! Thankfully, the Forest of Arden proves to be the perfect getaway in Shakespeare’s comedy of desire, disguise, and deliverance. Friends and lovers meet, part, and reunite in this pastoral haven, where we learn that nothing matters but love – gut wrenching, dizzying, ecstatic, blinding love.

Directed by the critically acclaimed director Aoife Spillane-Hinks, William Shakespeare’s As You Like It beautifully captures the universal theme of love that transcends gender, class, and circumstance.

Come celebrate #Shakespeare400 with us, from 28th to the 30th of June, at 8pm in the Black Box Theatre at the Gaiety School of Acting. The show will run for approximately 90 minutes. Call 016799277 to book your ticket or book here now. Follow #AsYouLikeItPTC for updates!

Theatre: Hamlet, Mill Productions, 5–28 October

Venue: Mill Theatre, Dundrum, County Dublin
Date: 5–28 October
Show time: 10am Mon–Fri, Tuesdays at 1.30pm, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7.30pm
Admission:  €20/€18
SCHOOL GROUP BOOKINGS: €15 per student
From the website:

Mill Productions present Shakespeare’s HAMLET

After our highly successful run of KING LEAR last October we are very happy to announce our next Shakespearian production of HAMLET.

This traditional production, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, remains faithful to the original text and will find resonances with Leaving Certificate students. Give us a call today to book your preferred date as we have quite a few dates fully booked already.

Wednesday 5th October to Friday 28th October
from 10th October: Monday to Friday at 10am
Afternoon performances every Tuesday at 1.30pm


• Call us on 01-2969340 or email

• €15 per student

• 1 Teacher per 20 students goes free

• 20% deposit required to secure booking

• Full payment due 2 weeks before performance date



Report on conference at Elsinore

Dr Ema Vyroubalová, Assistant Professor of Early Modern Literature at Trinity College Dublin, was one of the organisers of “Shakespeare: the Next 400 Years” held at Kronberg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark on the 400th anniversary of his death. Here, Kaitlyn Culliton and Shauna O’Brien give a report on the conference, which is of special interest for its focus on Shakespeare’s contemporary relevance in a global context.

Guest post by Shauna O’Brien and Kaitlyn Culliton (PhD candidates, Trinity College Dublin)

ema kaitlyn alexa shauna

Dr Alexa Huang, Kaitlyn Culliton, Dr Ema Vyroubalovà, Shauna O’Brien

Shakespeare the Next 400 Years, the 2016 conference, commemorated the life and works of William Shakespeare while anticipating the future of his legacy. Academics, artists, theater practitioners, and historians gathered on April 22-24 at the Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark. Known for generations as “Hamlet’s castle,” the site has become a focal point around which Shakespearians from all discourses have met. The organizing committee of Dr Yilin Chen, Dr Ema Vyroubalova, Prof Ryuta Minami, and Dr Yukari Yoshihara under the direction of Teeside University’s Ronan Paterson gathered presenters with a variety of interesting and engaging perspectives.

The conference included such renowned keynote speakers as Alexa Huang, Richard Burt, and Judith Buchanan. From Huang’s discussion on Global Shakespeare and citational theatricality, to Burt’s analysis of Orson Welles’ versions of Othello, to Buchanan’s insights into the archival future of Shakespeare, the keynotes provided a perfect foundation to launch the wide array of perspectives that filled the weekend programme.

Beginning with seminars focused on the impressive setting of the conference itself, the topics moved from Shakespeare’s place in history to his anticipated virtuality; a stimulating compendium, the talks were inclusive of Japanese animation, classroom participation, reproductions and globalization that moved toward an understanding of Shakespeare’s relevance in a contemporary context. Throughout the weekend, audiences could participate in tryptic panel discussions throughout the castle rooms. The seminars were punctuated by twenty-minute lunchtime Shakespeare productions and concluded each day with films, some of which were previously unreleased.

Shakespeare the Next 400 Years took an interdisciplinary turn on the final day, placing the different approaches of scholars alongside those of directors. One of these directors, Mahmood Karimi-Hakak, provided an engaging anecdotal account of the challenges facing theatre practitioners in Iran. In the midst of the weekend’s reflection and celebration, Karimi-Hakak drew attention to the present, reminding audiences of the problematic position that Shakespeare occupies in certain global contexts.  

In spite of the intensity of scholarly debate, delegates indulged in moments of celebration. To mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the attendees connected online with fellow Shakespearians from universities across the world to toast the works of the bard. Paterson’s introduction and closing remarks stressed the significance of the historic moment and the opportunities that this convergence of Shakespearians from different disciplines could facilitate in the future.  

Theatre: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Kildare and Cork

Proving to be a seasonal hit, Shakespeare’s early comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be staged in both Kildare and Cork this month.

In Kildare, Dream will be performed by the Moat Club, an award-winning amateur drama group that began in 1954, in the Moat Theatre, Naas. Directed by Gerard O’Shea, the production runs from Tuesday 14th June until Saturday 18th June. For booking and further details see the Moat Theatre website.

MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM_Moat Club Naas 2016 - publicity photo on Twitter

The Moat Club’s Midsummer Night’s Dream – promotional photo on Twitter


While in Cork, Bare Cheek Theatre Company and the Granary Theatre will present the romantic comedy as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival. Suitably, the production opens on Midsummer’s Day (21st June) and will be performed by a cast of Cork’s most promising teen actors. This Dream focuses on the world of magic, the supernatural, fantasy, passion and enchantment in an extraordinary ultra-modern production. The production is set in a mythical post-apocalyptic city and an enchanted forest, where a handsome fairy king, a misguided parent, star-crossed lovers, a weaver who’s transformed into a half-donkey, wood sprites, and elves collide.

Performance run: Tuesday 21st June at 5pm and 8pm,  Wednesday 22nd June at 5pm and 8pm, and Thursday 23rd June at 5pm. Booking is via the Cork Midsummer Festival website, by phone (021 421513) and in person at the Festival Box Office, Triskel Arts Centre, Tobin Street, Cork.

midsummer_nights_dream_Cork 2016

A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Granary Theatre, Cork 

Related events of interest

The Bed, a new one-act play about Shakespeare’s widow, will premiere as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival.

Fortune’s Fool will tour Ireland with Measure for Measure in July and August. The production comes to both Kildare and to Cork. For details and for the full tour schedule see the British Council ‘Shakespeare Lives’ webpage.

Theatre: “The Bed” – Cork Midsummer Festival

When Shakespeare died, 400 years ago, his will made detailed and extensive provision for his substantial property portfolio but included only one mention of his widow, to whom he left his “second best bed”. The Bed is a new one-act play by Ger FitzGibbon and will premiere as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival next week. Taking the known facts about their marriage, families and children, the play explores Shakespeare’s death from the point of view of his widow, Anne Hathaway – a tempestuous, sensuous, and passionate woman, baffled and furious at her husband’s will.

Shakespeare Will and Testament

William Shakespeare’s will (1616)

The production, co-directed by Jack Healy of Theatre Makers and Ger FitzGibbon, stars Paula McGlinchey and features original music by UCC composer Irene Buckley. McGlinchey has previously performed as Gremio in Fortune Fool’s Taming of the Shrew, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth and Portia in The Merchant Of Venice both with Cyclone Repertory Company, and Sebastian in The Tempest at St John’s Mill in Cork.

unitarian church Cork

The Unitarian Church, Cork

Dates/Times/Venue: 1pm and 4.30pm on June 17th, 18th, 19th and 24th, 25th, 26th in the Unitarian Church on Prince’s Street, Cork city. For this production the Unitarian Church has been transformed. Seating capacity is limited, so book early.

Booking is via the Cork Midsummer Festival website, by phone (021 421513) and in person at the Festival Box Office, Triskel Arts Centre, Tobin Street, Cork (opens 11th June, Monday to Saturday, 12-6pm / Sunday, 1-6pm.)

Ger FitzGibbon is a former Head of Drama & Theatre Studies in UCC, and recently directed Juno and the Paycock at the Everyman Theatre, Cork.

Related events of interest

Bare Cheek Theatre Company & the Granary Theatre will present A Midsummer Night’s Dream from 21st-23rd June as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival.

Fortune’s Fool will tour with Ireland with Measure for Measure in July and August. The production comes to Cork – to Fota Arboretum and to Doneraile – on 14th, 15th, and 17th July. For details and for the full tour schedule see the British Council ‘Shakespeare Lives’ webpage.



Concert: ‘Shakespeare 400’ New Dublin Voices


Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin 8

Sunday 12 June 2016, 7.30–9.30pm

Tickets €16/€12 available from and at the door

International award-winning chamber choir, New Dublin Voices, mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with beautiful settings of his work by composers such as Mäntyjärvi, Carpenter, Harris and Vaughan Williams.