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.

Series 3 centers around one main theme — female speech in Shakespeare. Through 21 short episodes, Matthews will focus on two of the most challenging plays in the canon, Shakespeare’s two “problem comedies:” All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure.


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 Three

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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This brief introduction to Series Three lays out the ground rules. There will be a single topic—female speech. And the series will focus on two of the most challenging plays in the canon, Shakespeare’s two “problem comedies:” All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure. (3:46)

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Just how much do female characters speak in Shakespeare’s plays? Or more specifically, how often do they speak in monologues and soliloquies, which are Shakespeare’s usual places to find what his characters are actually thinking and feeling? You might be surprised. (6:06)

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An Overview of the Comedies. If you read through all the comedies looking for female monologue and soliloquies, you find some interesting things. Of course, most of the comedies have strong female characters, so you are likely to find such longer speeches in them, but the actual distribution and nature of such speeches might surprise you, particularly with regard to the problem comedies. Look at just the first scene in All’s Well, for example. (9:22)

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Helena and the Countess. Both Helena and the Countess, her guardian, have meaty speeches early on in All’s Well. What they reveal to us in both women is a complex inner life. In Helena, specifically, we find a troubled one marked by sharp swings between doubt and self-confidence born of the conflict between her own desires and how she internalizes what society expects of her.  (11:21)

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Helena at Court. With the Countess’ help and an introduction by a supportive old courtier, Helena finds herself in the presence of the ailing French King. How she speaks at first, carefully and self-effacingly, stands in marked contrast to how she speaks when later challenged–boldly, passionately, inspirationally. And Shakespeare modulates his verse form into unexpected rhyme to capture that transformation (7:04)

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Helena in Triumph and Disaster. Having cured the King, Helena reaches the highest point of her success, and earns the right to choose herself a husband. At first, her speech is marked by self-confidence, but upon Bertram’s refusal to accept the marriage, she falls into near silence, begging only to be spared further humiliation. But the king overrides her reticence and forces the wedding. Thereafter, almost everything she says reveals only absolute obedience and submission to her new husband’s will, coupled with a single stammering request for affection. And once she is home, and abandoned by him, her humiliation turns to deep guilt, which she expresses in both a moving soliloquy, and in a letter announcing her intention, in pure sonnet form, to seek forgiveness through a pilgrimage. (10:22)

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Helena the Pilgrim. Surprisingly, from this point, other female characters seem to take over the major soliloquies and monologues; Helena speaks only three short, entirely plot-oriented speeches. What is even more surprising is that she no longer reveals the turmoil of a conflicted inner life. All the Hamlet-like self-doubt seems to evaporate. Fate presents her with an opportunity, and she grabs it, apparently without a second thought. She has set her cap for her estranged husband, and that is that, even while the other women make vigorous speeches about how untrustworthy all men are. (9:49)

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Helena and the Bed Trick. For Helena now, it is all business. Indeed her speeches are packed with images of money, money that will ease the consciences of the two women she suborns to smooth her path into Bertram’s bed. And along with the financial rewards, she provides moral justification as well, arguing with an almost Jesuitical precision. This is a new Helena, speaking as we have never heard her speak before. And we hear more clearly, from her and from others, about the moral complexity of human life and human activity. (7:33)

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Helena Triumphant. Helena speaks remarkably little at the latter end of the play, though she does behave as something of a script writer, composing dialogue for Diana to say, dialogue that is riddling and bold and confrontational. The result is that the ending seems too neat by half, and altogether too theatrical, but not dramatically satisfying. And here we see the central theatrical conceit of the play: Shakespeare has taken something like an old fable and plunked down a real, three-dimensional woman into the middle of it. And that raises questions. And perhaps we can also see now that the title and the ending may well both be ironic. (6:45)

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A little palate cleanser. An explanation of one of Shakespeare’s best known and least understood speeches, the opening of Twelfth Night. (7:20)

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Another palate cleanser. Another famously misunderstood line from Shakespeare, and another unraveling of what it really means. (5:56)

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The Other Problem Comedy. Measure for Measure has some of the same concerns and All’s Well, and some of the same plot devices—like the bed trick–and is equally drenched in religious imagery and language. But it also has two diametrically opposed female protagonists, two strong women who could not be more unalike. And it has, not a possibly ironic title, but a cautionary one—derived from the Bible—which tells us exactly what we should not do—be strict judges of other people’s behavior. (5:36)

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Isabella. She has all the female monologues in the play, and the only female soliloquy. Before we meet her, we hear from her brother, who is condemned to death for fornication, that she is an expert speaker. But what we also find out about her is that she is about to be accepted as a novice nun in an order that traditionally practices strict silence. So completely unlike Helena, she ardently desires neither marriage nor sex. This should make for an interesting contrast in speech styles. (8:18)

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Isabella’s Speech. When we finally hear Isabella speak at any length, perhaps the most surprising thing is just how good she is at it. And the next surprising thing is how little her manner of speech resembles Helena’s. Everything we thought of as feminine in Helena’s speech seems absent from Isabella’s; and in their place are what were considered masculine traits: sharpness in debate, keen rationality, competitiveness. And we also begin to notice that she partners well with her opponent, and would-be seducer, the precise Angelo, both in their rhetorical and thinking skills and in their apparent distaste for sexual matters. (9:26)

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Isabella the Debater. As her first confrontation with Angelo continues, we find Isabella warming up to the debate, giving sharp answers and even going on the attack, being sarcastic, and even—somewhat prophetically—accusing him of being capable of committing the same crime as her brother, which we discover from an aside by the deputy, turns out to be true.  He is developing a sexual obsession for her! (8:19)

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Isabella under Siege. When Isabella returns for her second meeting with Angelo, the audience knows that the temperature in the room has risen, though she seems unaware of it. They resume their debate, but now Angelo uses the discussion to trap her by using her own arguments against her, while retaining his ability to deny any impropriety. He tries to get her to admit, through a series of hypotheticals, that fornication might be a forgivable sin, even an act of charity, thinking that by such means he might be able to get her to sleep with him in exchange for pardoning her brother. When she refuses to play along, he decides to make the hypothetical a bit more real. (12:59)

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Isabella the Prey. Angelo ramps up the stakes in his hypothetical argument and gets specific: would you commit a sin—a sexual sin—to save your brother’s life? Isabella grows suspicious and tries to evade the question by counter-attacking. But Angelo persists until finally he accuses her of not understanding the question at all, or deliberately refusing to understand it. So he promises to “speak more gross.” (11:27)

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Isabella the Victim. Angelo gives Isabella one last test-case—to get her to admit that it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing to lose her virginity to save her brother—but she vehemently refuses. So now he makes it plain and untheoretical: have sex with me and I’ll pardon your brother. She now threatens to expose him and he doubles down, apparently unafraid. What is she to do now? (10:28)

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Isabella’s Soliloquy. Left alone after Angelo’s ultimatum, Isabella speaks her only soliloquy in the play—lamenting the impossibility of her position and her insistence that she will not submit to Angelo’s demand. She knows she must now break the news to her brother, and at first he seems to take it well. (11:06)

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This episode is available through July 20.



Isabella’s outrage. When her brother suddenly relents and urges her to yield to Angelo’s sexual demands, Isabella lashes out at him with a ferocity that takes us by surprise and moves us to wonder at the complexity of her mental and emotional make-up. Then the Duke, disguised as a priest, intervenes with a plan to make all right, and she behaves in yet another rather inconsistent and surprising way. (10:11)

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This episode is available through July 20.



Isabella’s Ending. Isabella becomes pretty much a pawn in the endgame the Duke has planned. She must play a part in his play-within-a-play that ties up all the loose ends. But the Duke only gives her part of the script; the final three scenes she finds herself forced to improvise. And her final surprising speech is followed by two even greater surprises. (11:57)

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This episode is available through July 27.



Bonus episode: a surprise video to wrap up Series 3 and reflect on what we’ve uncovered in Measure for Measure. (8:32)

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This episode is available through July 27.


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.