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The Folger Spotlight
Louis Butelli as Feste in Twelfth Night. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Louis Butelli as Feste in Twelfth Night. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Hello once again from your friend Louis Butelli, most recently Feste in Folger Theatre’s Twelfth Night. We closed our show on June 9 after a great run: thanks to everybody who came out to see us.

I’m back at the Folger to participate in an exciting new project – immersive audio recordings of the full Folger Editions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Published by Simon & Schuster, and edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, the Folger Editions of Shakespeare are widely considered to be among the very best anywhere. In working as an actor on Shakespeare plays all over the country, I’ve found that one can always rely on there being a Folger Edition in the rehearsal room. Featuring excellent notes, essays, and illustrations, they are an invaluable resource for anyone working with Shakespeare, professionals and students alike.

Now, we’re going to go to work on creating dynamic, exciting audio recordings of the full, unabridged text of the Folger Editions of selected plays. Directed by Robert Richmond, some of Folger’s favorite actors will come together to rehearse and record: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Once the actors’ voices have been recorded, Robert and the Folger team will edit for flow, add sound effects and music, and deliver a bold, sweeping version that brings the text to vibrant life.

We’re also thrilled to announce that a smartphone app, with access to the recordings themselves and some other cool bells and whistles, will be launching very soon. It’s an exciting way to interact with Shakespeare’s plays in a variety of new ways, right on your phone, and will be a great new resource for actors, directors, teachers, and students alike. Check back here and at for updates on our progress.

othello-folger-editionWe’ve actually completed work on Othello, and the full recording is already available for purchase by clicking here. Back in November of 2011, the cast of Folger Theatre’s stage production of Othello went to Airshow Mastering to record the play. Click here to read my post about that experience.

Meanwhile, those who have read my posts in the past know that, when it comes to Shakespeare, I have a kind of soft spot for the clowns and fools. One of the roles I’ll be recording is Peter in Romeo & Juliet. I’ll close out this first entry about the recordings with some thoughts on him.

Appearing in only three scenes, in one of which he doesn’t speak, Peter is a personal servant to the Nurse, and is frequently cut from stage productions. Indeed, given the fact that he doesn’t have impact upon the plot, and given how little Shakespeare gives him to say in his script, one understands why Peter often faces the chopping block.


The beloved clown, Will Kempe.

The beloved clown, Will Kempe.

Peter is known to have been played originally by an actor named Will Kempe. The house clown for The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s production company), and most likely the original Dogberry, Falstaff, and others, Kempe was a popular comedian in his own right, and was probably an audience draw. Moreover, he was also known to have performed his famous “jigs” (highly improvisational song and dance routines) in the middle of Shakespeare’s plays as comic interlude during breaks in the action. For reasons unknown, Kempe left the company in 1599.

What I find fascinating about Kempe is the way he influenced Shakespeare’s text – not only with his presence, in terms of Romeo & Juliet, but with his absence, Henry V and Hamlet, for instance.

To explain: Shakespeare writes an odd stage direction in the 1599 Quarto version of Romeo & Juliet towards the end of Act IV, scene 5. This is a fairly climactic moment, following the Capulets’ discovery of their seemingly dead daughter Juliet on the morning of her wedding. The Nurse, Friar Lawrence, and County Paris, Juliet’s betrothed, are all in attendance. The scene is a huge lamentation, with the whole family shrieking and wailing, and off they go, with Lord Capulet giving an order to change the wedding celebration into a funeral.

Will Kempe, performing a stage jig.

Will Kempe, performing a stage jig.

Right on the heels of this, Shakespeare writes, “Enter Will Kempe.” While later editions correct the stage direction to “Enter Peter,” it is telling that in this very early edition, at this very moment, the author brings on his great clown – by name. What survives in the text is a fairly amusing scene between Peter and a group of musicians. By precedent, one might guess that, in performance, Kempe went off script and presented one of his “jigs,” as a “palate cleanser” before the rollercoaster ride of Act 5 began.

By 1600, Kempe had left the company. In Henry V, the much beloved character Falstaff never appears on stage and, in fact, Mistress Quickly has a touching speech reporting Falstaff’s death just offstage. In Hamlet, one might consider Hamlet’s speech offering “advice to the players:”

“And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.”

One spies a little ghost of Will Kempe in this “advice,” and one wonders if there isn’t a little clue as to why Kempe ultimately left the company.

In any event, for our recordings, I promise to stick directly to the script. I hope that you’ll follow along with our journey here in this space, that you’ll pick up a copy of our Othello, and that you’ll enjoy our new recordings as they become available.

Finally, a version of this post is up over at the Folger’s Education blog – it’s an excellent and informative site, and I encourage you to check it out!

OK. Until next time!


This is so exciting! I can’t wait to listen to Othello now, with others to follow.
BTW, I was delighted to see that you will be in Folger’s Richard III next season. What role will you be playing?

Dawn Forsythe — July 9, 2013

Reblogged this on Allison Lenhardt.

alenhardt — July 9, 2013

Hi, Dawn! Sorry for late reply – as of this moment, I’ll be playing “Hastings and others” in R3. Very excited to work on the play, especially considering discovery of bones, etc. Hope you enjoy “Othello,” and hope you enjoy these new recordings, too. Thanks, as always, for reading!

Louis Butelli — July 15, 2013

No, no, no… You should be King Richard! Well, I hope Mr. Richmond combines some roles again, ala Feste, so you have more to get your teeth into. And tell Mr. Richmond that your fans are demanding that you also be a murderer and Richmond.

It would be so neat if (director) Richmond could bring the grave discovery into the end of the show. If nothing else, fade out with (character) Richmond whistling Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…

My Othello CDs arrived! Looking forward to taking some quiet time to listen.

Dawn Forsythe — July 16, 2013

Haha! You’re very, very kind, Dawn.

I think you’re really going to be blown away by Drew Cortese as Richard: he is phenomenal, and I think it’s going to be an amazing and intense experience.

Meanwhile, whatever I end up doing in the show, I hope that the strength of the ensemble and the relationships (both new and old) will help to create work that is incisive, shocking, and, as weird a word choice as it might be, fun. Dark fun. That’s the joy of working at Folger, and the delight in approaching a play with Robert Richmond.

I hope you enjoy the “Othello” recording. So far, the new recordings are coming along smashingly. I’ll write more about what we’re getting up to very soon.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Louis Butelli — July 17, 2013

Wonderful collection on Shakespeare’s plays!I love Othello.That is still immortal with its depth!

Dean @ Unabridged Marriage certificate — December 15, 2016