Boyer Lectures turn to Shakespeare’s lessons on life and leadership

By Melissa Coade

Monday September 6, 2021

Shakespeare expert John Bell will deliver the ABC’s Boyer Lectures, an examine the relevance of the bard’s life and work to 21st century issues. 
John Bell, centre. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Acclaimed theatre director and Shakespeare expert John Bell will deliver the ABC’s Boyer Lectures, an examine the relevance of the bard’s life and work to 21st century issues. 

From 7-28 November the ABC’s Radio National will broadcast Bell’s lecture series entitled ‘Shakespeare: Soul of the Age’. The lectures will address issues including political self-interest, gender inequality and the growing need for good governance.

“I want to encourage more engagement with Shakespeare, who continues to have a profound effect on the ways we think, speak and see the world, even when we don’t realise it,” Bell said, citing examples of how the modern-day chaotic presidency of former US president Donald Trump were depicted in the perils of poor leadership and political populism. 

“In Hamlet, Shakespeare says that the purpose of theatre is to hold ‘the mirror up to nature’. In the same way, I want to use his plays to reflect and comment on the world around us – the age and body of our time.”

Shakespeare has played a defining and significant role in Bell’s career as a performer and director. In 1990, he founded the landmark Bell Shakespeare Company and directed or acted in classic works as Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV, Henry V, Julius Caesar, Antony And Cleopatra, Macbeth and the title role in Richard III, for which he won a Helpmann Award in 2002.

Bell has also authored two books about the Bard, On Shakespeare’ (2011) and ‘Some achieve greatness’ (2021) which explores Shakespeare’s lessons on leadership and character. The first of his four lectures will be a personal reflection on what the Bard might teach people today about how to live a ‘good life’.

Another theme that Bell will address are the stories of strong, smart and compassionate women that Shakespeare has been able to elevate.

ABC chair Ita Buttrose said Bell’s insights about Shakespeare’s ‘extraordinary pertinence’ to the people of today was a welcome addition to the discussion and debate of the Boyer Lectures. 

“At such an unsettling time for so many, we could all do with a bit of beauty and sage advice about the challenges we face,” Buttrose said.

The annual Boyer Lectures first commences in 1959 where a prominent Australian is selected to speak about major social, cultural, scientific or political issues. 

Bell said it was his life’s mission to make Shakespeare ‘more available and upfront in people’s consciousness’.

“Great art is always relevant. He remains meaningful and pertinent to many of the challenges we face. Your life will be much richer if you partake in Shakespeare,” he said.


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