Sheltering with Shakespeare

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.


The Series

New episodes will be released weekly.  Continue 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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Click here to download the accompanying Shakespeare texts for select videos.


  1. Introduction to Sheltering with Shakespeare (3:53)

Mr. Matthews explains the series, including the variety of topics and the approaches he will take, as well as suggestions on how to view each segment.

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  1. Common Sense Approach (6:10)

Mr. Matthews summarizes his approach to Shakespearean texts as focusing primarily on the “meaning” of the text, in all its specificity. The actor should strive first and foremost to “make sense.”  That’s what Shakespeare wants him to do, in order for the poetic and rhetorical effects he has built into the text to work properly.  It’s an interplay really, a harmony, between the playwright’s work and the actor’s work.

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  1. The Mystery of Acting (7:06)

Mr. Matthews mines Hamlet’s speeches about acting to try to figure out what Shakespeare thought acting was. The investigation yields a surprising result.

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  1. O for a Muse of Fire & Inventing Shakespeare (2 videos, 7:42)

After reciting the Chorus’ opening speech in Henry V, Mr. Matthews analyzes that speech to discover what different roles the playwright, the actors, the theatre itself, and the audience all play in any Shakespearean performance.

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  1. Special Providence (3:59)

Mr. Matthews examines a crucial scene towards the end of Hamlet, clarifying the meaning of two of the lead character’s most quoted lines.

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  1. Interplay (5:36)

Mr. Matthews tries to sort out and clarify the relationship between form and meaning in Shakespeare’s verse, and in doing so, he finds literary history and  C. S. Lewis are very helpful guides, as are a couple of metaphors.

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  1. Sonnet 104 (10:10)

Here’s one you should definitely have your book open for as Mr. Matthews recites and analyzes “To me, fair friend, you never can be old,” using his theory of interplay between form and meaning.

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  1. Specific Density (9:37)

Borrowing a term from physics, Mr.  Matthews examines just how Shakespeare achieves such density in his verse by “unpacking” three of his favorite lines.

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  1. Beatrice and Benedick (8:13)

Both Beatrice and Benedick are apparently “fooled” into loving one another after overhearing conversations specifically untended to trap them.  Each reacts to the eavesdropping with a soliloquy.  But their responses are much more complicated and interesting than we might initially suppose.

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  1. Introduction to Rhetoric (6:13)

Some people say if you don’t understand rhetoric, you won’t be able to understand Shakespeare. That’s not really true, but what is true is that Shakespeare definitely used rhetoric to help you understand and enjoy his verse and his characterizations. And the actor can certainly use it to shape his speech. In this episode, Mr. Matthews breaks down exactly what rhetoric meant for the Renaissance writer.

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  1. The Prosodic Line (6:53)

Prosody is the name for all the techniques a poet uses to write his poetry. It is closely allied to rhetoric and overlaps with it in a number of areas. But it definitely goes beyond rhetoric in one area: the area of verse, meaning language written “in lines.” Mr. Matthews precisely analyzes how lines of poetry—and Shakespearean lines in particular—may be constituted.

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  1. One Touch of Nature (7:56)

Mr. Matthews takes one oft-quoted line from Troilus and Cressida and demonstrates that it does not mean what many people think it means.  In fact, it means pretty much the opposite.  Warning: etymology ahead.

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  1. Art (6:02)

Because of the way language changes over time, we often misunderstand even common words in Shakespeare.  Mr. Matthews takes the word “art” and shows that what Shakespeare meant by it is something quite different from what we usually mean by it. And much more interesting.

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  1. The Art of Empathy (8:57)
The word ‘Empathy’ is one whose meaning has changed over time, and although Shakespeare never used it, he did examine just how important “fellow-feeling” is, and whether man has it naturally or must learn it.
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  1. Sonnet 130 (5:31)

“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” is the famous first line of Sonnet 130, a wonderfully funny anti-sonnet.  But the last line is almost universally misunderstood.  Mr. Matthews tells you what it really means.  Warning: grammar ahead.

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  1. Champion and Challenger (6:46)

Champion and challenger are two words that have completely swapped meanings since Shakespeare used them in his plays. Mr. Matthews shows you how it happened and how to untangle the resulting confusion.

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  1. Rhythm And Meter (7:44)

As a prime example of the kind of “interplay” Shakespeare used in writing his verse, the relationship between rhythm and meter is a complex one. Mr. Matthews offers one way of looking at it, with rhythm being “natural” and grounded in meaning, and meter being “artificial” and grounded in form.  The first of two connected segments.

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  1. The Shakespearean Beat (7:06)

In a follow-up to “Rhythm and Meter,” Mr. Matthews tries to explain exactly what poetic beat is, and whether it is present in all Shakespeare’s verse.  These are complex questions, with complex answers, but well worth asking and answering.

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  1. The Rain It Raineth Every Day (6:59)

Feste’s last song in Twelfth Night actually means something much more specific than it seems to at a casual hearing.  And it fits rather snugly with the overall theme of the play—the dizzying variations of human love.

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  1. Claudius (9:21)

Claudius’s first speech in Hamlet is a marvel of rhetoric, and the rhetoric in it is all Claudius’s, as he tries to strategize and justify his accession to the throne.

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  1. Sonnet 63 (10:35)

You’ll need to have your book open for this one, a word by word analysis of, frankly, not one of Shakespeare’s better sonnets, but worth analyzing–because sometimes in the lesser sonnets we can see the workmanship more clearly, and also get a glimpse of the raw materials that Shakespeare might re-work into one of his great sonnets.  It’s a bit like being in a craftsman’s workshop.

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  1. The Fallacy of the Line-End (10:02)

Here we approach one of the more contested areas of Shakespeare-speaking: the theory of the dominant line-end, and the subsequent belief that listeners should always be made aware that poetic speech is in lines. In other words, that they should hear the language as aural lines, just as they see it on the page as visual lines. Mr. Matthews disagrees.

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  1. Onomatopoeia (8:45)

Using words to imitate the actual sound of what they describe is as old as language itself. And for poets, it may be one of the more impressive schemes in their prosodic quiver. It’s called onomatopoeia, and Mr. Matthews uses a Chorus speech from Henry V to analyze it.

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  1. Sound Texturing (7:16)

Here’s another rhetorical scheme playing with the sounds of words—not, as onomatopoeia does, by imitating the sound of an experience, but the “feel” of it. Actually, we do this every day, letting our senses become “porous” to one another, as when we call a color ‘loud’ or a sound ‘grating.’ Mr. Matthews uses Clarence’s dream scene from  Richard III to show how brilliantly Shakespeare can “texture” the sounds of a speech to make you feel you are experiencing it yourself.

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  1. Regicide (7:19)

“To kill a king” is a common theme in Shakespeare’s histories and tragedies, but it can only be really understood when one knows what Shakespeare and his contemporaries actually believed about monarchy. And about dealing with a “bad” king.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH. Available through November 26.


  1. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (8:48)

Shakespeare thought a lot about sin, and knew a lot of theology.  This common phrase from Christian preaching has a much deeper meaning than we might suspect.  And the thought behind it can illuminate a number of Shakespearean scenes, and even whole plays. 

CLICK HERE TO WATCH. Available through November 26.


  1. Lear’s Love Test (8:12)

While the opening scene of King Lear is famous and crucial to the entire plot, it is—according to Mr. Matthews—almost universally misunderstood. Nothing is quite what it seems. And once you understand its true meaning, the whole play may be seen in a new light.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH. Available through December 2.


  1. Shakespeare on Suicide (8:28)

There are at least thirteen suicides in Shakespeare (and maybe a few more suggested ones), but they are not all the same. Understanding exactly what Shakespeare and his contemporaries thought about suicide can help us understand the differences between them, though it may bring us no closer to understanding the act itself.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH. Available through December 2.


  1. The Lady Doth Protest (6:03)

Here’s another of those famous lines that maybe today we misunderstand just a bit.   Or maybe fail to understand as deeply as we might.  The word ‘protest’ has in fact a different meaning for Shakespeare than it now does for us.  Looking closely at that difference might help us understand exactly what Gertrude is saying and exactly how cruel Hamlet’s response may be.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH. Available through December 8.


  1. Order and Degree (8:36)

Using Ulysses’ great speech on “degree” from Troilus and Cressida, Mr. Matthews helps us understand just exactly how some Elizabethans may have viewed the universe as a giant, interconnected, almost organic whole, each of whose parts affected every other part.  So when one part went wrong, the whole universe could be thrown out of kilter.  The theology and philosophy behind this view may be outmoded in our post-Enlightenment, more scientific world, but the feelings of dread may persist.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH. Available through December 8.



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.


Bloomberg Philanthropies is the 2019-2020 Season Sponsor.


Photo of Dakin Matthews by Blake Burcham.