This Week’s Book Review - Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

On Shakespeare Today

Reviewed by Mark Lardas
May 5, 2024

“Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent,” by Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea, St. Martin’s Press, April 2024,‎ 400 pages, $32.00 (Hardcover), $15.99 (E-book), $26.99 (Audiobook)

Dame Judi Dench is one of the best Shakespearean actresses of the late 20th Century. She may be the best. She made her professional debut in 1957, and still performs today.

“Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent,” by Judi Dench and Brendan O’Hea, provides a remarkable overview of her Shakespearean career. With O’Hea providing the sounding board, Dench provides a lively reminiscence of her life.

The book started out as O’Hea collecting an oral history of Dench’s acting career for the Shakespeare’s Globe archives. He wanted her impressions of the Shakespeare plays in which she appeared. They realized the recordings had appeal beyond Shakespeare or theater scholars.

The result is a lively, frequently hilarious, and always entertaining discussion of Shakespeare by two outstanding thespians. Chapters alternate between those centering Shakespeare plays in which Dench performed followed by one discussing different aspects of Dench’s Shakespearean career. Dench’s non-Shakespearean career are discussed only in context to her Shakespearean work.

Dench takes readers inside her career, discussing every aspect of it, her successes, failures, and odd happenings. She also reveals life behind the stages, discussing the personalities she has interacted with and the shenanigans that occur. She presents what goes into making a play, the company, the rehearsal process, dressing room etiquette, how different theaters affect a performance.

The heart of the book is the chapters about the plays. Dench explores Shakespeare’s purpose in each play. She discusses her performances in each play and how her interpretation of the character changed as she gained experience. She also discusses how playing different characters – such as Ophelia and Gertrude in Hamlet – changed her perception of the play. The book is illustrated with Dench’s marginalia, drawings doodled in her scripts.

She also puts each play in historical context, defending Shakespeare from Woke attacks and censorship. She is not a historical purist who demands Shakespeare must always be performed in Elizabethan costume and Elizabethan staging. She shows how modern updates can enhance the play, but wants changes appropriate to Shakespeare’s values.

“Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent” is a gem. It offers insight into both Shakespeare’s work and Dench’s career. She explains why Shakespeare remains relevant today and her continuing love for his work. For both Shakespeare and Dench fans, this is a book that must be read. For those only peripherally acquainted with the two, read the book. It might turn you into a fan.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is


A gem indeed!


Thank you for this one especially, Seawriter!

Have you seen Judi Dench as Miss Mattie in the screen adaptation of Cranford? Two things, actually: Cranford and Return to Cranford. Bringing out the character is certainly her skill. It made such an impression on me, for example, watching her holding and walking around with that little girl, hour on hour, talking to her in beautiful language, quiet language, loving and confidential.


I have not. I am not much of a moviegoer.

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