As part of the Legatum Institute's 'Promise of Freedom' series, Dame Harriet Walter, one of Britain's leading actors, discussed the interpretation of female roles and what it tells us about social progress and prosperity.
‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ Alan Jay Lerner’s lyric as semi-sung by Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady (1964) may be designed to reveal masculine myopia, but it is also a question that has all too often been asked un-ironically by male producers, directors and playwrights. Women first appeared on stage as actors in the theatres of restoration London in the 1660s but as Dame Harriet Walter showed in a lecture at the Legatum Institute, it was only in the late twentieth century that womankind really came into her own in the history of drama.
Dame Harriet reached deep into theatrical history while exploring the role of female sensibility (as interpreted by male actors) in ancient Greek tragedy and the Shakespearian canon. And since the transformation in the status of women has been the greatest single social change in the history of the west in the last two generations that revolution of attitudes has worked its way through in television, film and stage. This is perhaps one of the most exciting demonstrations of the way in which human progress permeates its way through the many different aspects of a society that is open to enterprise, innovation and exploration.
The discussion was hosted by Legatum Institute Senior Adviser, Hywel Williams.
About the Speaker
Dame Harriet Walter is one of Britain's leading and most versatile actors with a career that embraces film, television and radio as well as the theatre- both in the West End and internationally. She has worked many times throughout her career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and is an associate artist of the RSC. Dame Harriet's films include Sense and Sensibility (1995), Onegin ( 1999), Bright Young Things ( 2003) and Atonement (2007), and she has interpreted some of the very greatest theatrical roles, such as Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, Schiller's Mary Stuart and Webster's Duchess of Malfi. Her interest in how to interpret and renew the Shakespearean canon is reflected in her book Macbeth (2002) and her performance as Brutus in Phyllida Lloyd's all-female production of Julius Caesar at the Donmar Theatre has been one of the theatrical highlights of 2013.
About the Promise of Freedom Series
The Promise of Freedom is a series of lectures and events exploring the vital role liberty has played in British and American cultural and social thought. The Promise of Freedom marks the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen. The series also features events with Grey Gowrie, poet, former Cabinet Minister and company Chairman, Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, Dame Harriet Walter, British actress, and Lieutenant-General Simon Mayall, Senior Advisor Middle East, Ministry of Defence.
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