Sheltering with Shakespeare

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Join veteran Shakespearean actor and teacher Dakin Matthews—most recently lauded for his performance as John of Gaunt in the Public Theater’s radio presentation of Richard II—for a wide-ranging exploration of how to read, interpret, and demystify the Bard.

Sheltering with Shakespeare, conceived and performed by Dakin Matthews is a free series of thirty brilliant, accessible episodes, each five to ten minutes long, about Shakespeare. Some episodes focus on Matthews’ “common sense” approach to performing Shakespeare; others are about a play, a scene, a sonnet, a character, a phrase, or even a word. Each video will send the viewer off on an unpredictable journey into the heart, mind, and art of Shakespeare. They are for professional and amateur alike. 

The Host

Dakin Matthews headshot

DAKIN MATTHEWS is an actor, dramaturge, teacher, and Shakespeare scholar.

He has been a leading stage actor (in over 250 professional plays) on Broadway, and with The Mark Taper Forum, The Ahmanson Theatre, Roundabout Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, Los Angeles Theatre Center, The Acting Company, American Conservatory Theatre, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, PCPA in Santa Maria, South Coast Rep, The Shakespeare Theatre D.C., the Antaeus Theatre Company, PICT, and various other professional theatres.

His professional Shakespearean acting credits include: Macbeth, Bottom (four times), Falstaff (five times), King John, Richard III, Launce, King Lear (twice), First Gravedigger, Brutus (twice), Oberon, Malvolio, Capulet, Leonato, Antigonus (twice), Shylock, Dogberry (twice), Fluellen, Gremio, Thersites, Menenius, Baptista (three times), Buckingham, Don Pedro, Lafew, Friar Lawrence, Caesar, Casca (twice), Cornwall, Glendower, and many others.  He has directed The Winter’s Tale (three times), Julius Caesar (twice), Henry IV, Henry V, Coriolanus, and The Tempest. He won a Drama Desk Award for his Broadway adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. And he was the Artistic Director of the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival.

He has dramaturged Shakespeare for the country’s leading directors, including Jack O’Brien, Dan Sullivan, Darko Tresnjak, Michael Sexton, and John Rando, and has coached numerous actors in Shakespearean roles, including Denzel Washington, Neil Patrick Harris, and Camryn Manheim.

He is a member of both the Motion Picture and the Television Academies.  He has appeared in over thirty feature films, TV movies, and miniseries, and made over three hundred appearances in episodic television, performing as a regular or recurring character in ten different series.

He is an Emeritus Professor of English at California State University East Bay. He has also taught at Juilliard, ACT in San Francisco, USD/Globe MFA Program, the Actors Center in NY, the Antaeus Company, and CalArts.  His text, SHAKESPEARE SPOKEN HERE, has been adopted at San Francisco State, Cal State Hayward, U.C. Irvine, University of San Diego, and the American Conservatory Theatre.  He has given workshops in Shakespearean verse-speaking around the world.


Series Two

New episodes are released weekly.  See below for episode descriptions, release dates, and links to watch. Once released, episodes will be available to watch for one week.

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Are there hard and fast rules for speaking Shakespeare? Did Shakespeare always follow the “rules” when he wrote? Mr. Matthews thinks the answer to both is a firm NO. Trying to tie Shakespeare down to certain rules, either in writing or speaking, effectively misses the whole point of what makes Shakespeare’s poetry so powerful and his verse so speakable. (5:22)

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Shakespeare’s “ambiguity” is much praised and much cherished by many modern teachers of Shakespeare, for the freedom and richness of interpretation it allows. Mr. Mathews thinks such praise and cherishing is more dangerous than helpful, by clarifying what “interpretation” meant for Shakespeare. (6:39)

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The first of a three-part series analyzing how Shakespeare and his contemporaries thought the human psyche worked. In this first part, Mr. Matthews examines the soul-body connection, and how the Christian doctrine of Original Sin affected their understanding that connection. This psychology underlies much of Shakespeare’s characterization. (9:47)

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The second of a three-part series on Renaissance Psychology. In this part, Mr. Matthews examines two further approaches to psychology: one that concentrated on the “humours”—bodily fluids that affected all human behavior; and “faculty psychology,” one that particularly examined the structure and workings of mental activity and its connection to sensation. Elements of both these versions find their way into Shakespeare’s plays quite often. (11:21)

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The last of a three part series on Renaissance Psychology. In this part, Mr. Matthews explores how human action is sometimes best described neither by free will or by an inherited damaged nature, but by habit. Repetitive action is a dominant force in human behavior; good habits (virtues) and bad habits (vices) play an important role in how humans behave. Hamlet, the play and the person, is obsessed with this particular psychology. (8:18)

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How did Shakespeare and his contemporaries imagine that the universe was created and constructed in their more or less pre-scientific era? Their vision of the stars and planets, while lacking in accuracy, provided a wonderful set of metaphors that poets like Shakespeare could mine in his poetry. (8:39)

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7. SONNET 110

In an extra long session, Mr. Matthews explores the difficult Sonnet 110, where Shakespeare simultaneously apologizes for and excuses his wandering eye. (19:49)

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Why do we call unrhymed iambic pentameter “blank verse?” What exactly might “blank” mean? Mr. Matthews offers some intriguing answers to that particular question and re-confirms his view of Shakespeare’s verse as a unique hybrid formed by the interplay of natural speech and artificial meter, of meaning and form. (8:24)

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To answer the question “How should one read verse aloud?”—Mr. Matthews proposes that speakers use their natural voice and intonations, and not adopt a reverential, almost incantatory, tone and rhythm. Sense, not form, even in Shakespeare’s non-dramatic verse, should be the primary driving force. And there can be a lot of meaning contained in the natural intonations of the English language that unnecessarily “artificial” intonations will obscure and obstruct. (9:34)

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Scholars often identify some of Shakespeare’s mid-career plays as “problem plays.” The term was not invented to apply to Shakespeare’s plays, by the way, but for Ibsen’s. But when applied to Shakespeare, what does it mean? You might be surprised. (8:43)

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In a follow-up to the previous session, Mr. Matthews explores in what ways Hamlet might be considered a “problem play.” And along the way, he tries to discover what exactly might be the character Hamlet’s problem. T.S. Eliot famously tried to answer both questions, by the way. (8:07)

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There’s a brief moment towards the end of The Winter’s Tale, where a Servant enters with a surprising message. Mr. Matthews offers a detailed exploration of this short exchange between the servant and his masters to illustrate how dense and evocative even a few lines can be, especially when they not only further the plot, but enhance the themes of the play. (8:16)

WATCH NOW March 4, 2021.



Only once in Shakespeare does anyone say “You’re welcome” to a “Thanks”—Desdemona—and even then, she doesn’t mean by it what we mean by it. What do we mean by it? And what do “thank you” and its various responses mean in our own language and in others’ languages? A fascinating etymological trip through the linguistic world of gratitude. (5:59)

Available through March 4, 2021.



Most people know by now that when Juliet asks, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” she means ‘why’ and not ‘where.’ But what, exactly, does ‘therefore’ mean, and how did it come to mean that? You might be surprised at the why and the wherefore, and how much knowing the answer might help unlock certain Shakespearean speeches. (6:54)

Available through March 11, 2021



As an exercise, Mr. Matthews opens a copy of Hamlet to an unplanned page, and puts his finger on a random line. It happens to occur in a late scene where Claudius is plotting with Laertes to kill Hamlet, starting at Act Four, Scene Seven, line 81. Then he goes on a journey through a ten-line passage he had never analyzed before. Follow along. (10:13)

Available through March 11, 2021


16. SONNET 59

While watching Sir Patrick Stuart’s series of sonnet videos on YouTube, Mr. Matthews noted that Sir Patrick skipped Sonnet 59 because, as he said, he just didn’t get it. So let’s look closely at that sonnet and see if we can figure it out. It’s a tough but rewarding trip, and in the end it reveals something about what Shakespeare thought about the practice of poetry. (9:51)


Available through March 18, 2021



In this session focused on Rhetoric, Mr. Matthews examines the various ways speeches may be structured, and how the formal structure of speeches is both something Shakespeare studied and used his whole career, and something any reader or speaker of Shakespeare ought to know in order to understand the full meaning of a speech and then speak it persuasively. Shakespeare makes clear structural choices in all his characters’ speeches, and sometimes the characters reveal that they do, too, when they use rhetoric just as deliberately as their creator does. (7:00)

Release date: March 11, 2021



In a follow-up to the previous session, Mr. Matthews then takes a single, familiar, and fairly simple speech from Twelfth Night, to show how important it can be to recognize the specific structure of the speech in order to speak it persuasively. Of particular importance is recognizing the transitions between sub-divisions and the longer rhythms of the development of the ideas and emotions in the speech. (9:08)

Release date: March 11, 2021



One of the prosodic deviations from strict iambic meter that Shakespeare uses to great effect is the substitution of a two-beat foot (DUM-DUM) for an iamb (duh-DUM). Mr. Matthews examines a number of occurrences, including both those that still fit smoothly into the iambic “beat” and those that disrupt it. These deviations are neither errors nor flaws nor infelicities; they are intentional and have exactly the effect on both rhythm and meaning that Shakespeare intended. And often they are “amazing.” (7:24)

Release date: March 18, 2021



One hears a lot about “meta-theatricality” these days. What does it mean? And what does it mean when applied to Shakespeare? The word may be new, but the practice is definitely old. And Shakespeare seemed to have been particularly drawn to it in his late plays, when he was telling literally fabulous stories at the same time that he was exploring, in a sometimes explicit way through the use of meta-theatricality, how and why people tell and love fabulous stories. (6:50)

Release date: March 18, 2021


Sheltering with Shakespeare and TFANA’s other digital programming is made possible by the Theatre’s Recovery and Revival Fund, which was established to alleviate the economic impact of COVID-19 on the Theatre, support its digital programming, productions, arts in education programs in the New York City Public Schools, the artists who are at the center of all we do, and ensure the safety of all who enter Polonsky Shakespeare Center. To support the fund, please click the link below.


New gifts will be matched dollar for dollar by a $200,000 Challenge provided by several anonymous donors, and your gift will be fully tax deductible. For more information, please contact James Lynes, Director of Institutional Advancement, at or call (646) 553-3886.


Theatre for a New Audience’s 2020–21 Season is Dedicated to the Memory of Terrence McNally, American playwright, librettist, and screenwriter.  
Deloitte and Bloomberg Philanthropies are the 2020-2021 Season Sponsors.


Photo of Dakin Matthews by Blake Burcham.