Skip to main content
Shakespeare Unlimited podcast

Patrick Page on King Lear and Shakespeare's Villains

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 205

You might recognize Patrick Page from films like Spirited, or shows like The Gilded Age, or from his Broadway roles as Hades in Hadestown for which he was nominated for a Tony. But Page is also an accomplished Shakespearean, with a long relationship with Washington, DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, where he’s played Prospero, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Iago, and now King Lear. Page talks with Barbara Bogaev about getting inside Lear’s head and his long fascination with Shakespeare’s villains.

King Lear, starring Page and directed by Simon Godwin, is onstage at Shakespeare Theatre Company through April 16.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published March 14, 2023. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. We had technical help from Ellen Rolfes in Washington, D.C. and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

Previous: Artificial Intelligence Goes to English Class

Next: Marion Turner on The Wife of Bath: A Biography



WITMORE: From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger Director.

You might recognize Patrick Page from films like Spirited, or shows like The Gilded Age, or from his Broadway roles as Hades in Hadestown for which he was nominated for a Tony.

[CLIP from the Broadway musical Hadestown. Patrick Page is Hades]

HADES: [singing] Why do we build the wall, my children? My children? Why do we build the wall?

But Page is also an accomplished Shakespearean. He’s played many of the major roles on stages around the country. He also has a long-standing relationship with the Shakespeare Theatre Company here in Washington, DC, where he’s played Prospero, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and Iago, for which he won the Helen Hayes Award.

[CLIP from Othello. Patrick Page is Iago.]

The Moor already changes with my poison;
Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons,
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But with a little act upon the blood
Burn like the mines of sulfur.
Not poppy nor mandragora
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.

During COVID-19 lockdown, Page performed a streaming one-man show, All the Devils Are Here, in which he traces the development of Shakespeare’s villain characters throughout the plays.

And now, Page is playing King Lear in a modern-dress production directed by Simon Godwin. Peter Marks, theater critic for the Washington Post called it, “One of the best versions of the tragedy I’ve ever seen. Maybe even the best.”

Here’s Patrick Page, in conversation with Barbara Bogaev.


BARBARA BOGAEV: It’s so great to talk with you, Patrick. I’m thinking that since most of our listeners won’t have seen this new Lear, maybe we should give them something to visualize while we’re talking. And I understand you have a great set and a big entrance at the top of the play. Maybe you could describe it for us: Lear’s airplane hangar.

PATRICK PAGE: Yes. Well, Simon’s idea was that the family and the immediate circle of Lear’s advisors would meet in an airplane hangar. Which made a lot of sense to me because I thought this division of the kingdom, his chief advisors—Gloucester and Kent—seemed to still be in the dark as to what exactly the nature of it is at the very top of the play.

The very first lines of the play are, “I thought the King more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.” And the other say, “Yeah, I thought so too… But now in this division of the kingdom, it appears not which of the dukes he values most.”—“I don’t really know what’s going on, for sure.” When Lear comes in, he says, “I’ll tell you my darker purpose.” Meaning, I think, “That which I’ve kept completely secret from everyone.”

The fact that it would be in a remote place, a secret place, made a lot of sense to me. It made sense geopolitically, that if you were going to do something as radical as dividing a nation into three parts, you would want to keep it absolutely top secret from whatever potential adversaries you might have until the very moment that it happened.

So, Lear arrives in his jet, and the cargo doors open, and Lear enters from there.

BOGAEV: It’s very Succession.

PAGE: Yeah. Well, Succession is really King Lear, isn’t it?

BOGAEV: That’s right. And this is the second time you’ve played Lear. So I’m imagining this was a very different concept, right? The first was in college when you were just 22. How… so were you acting old and decrepit at 22?

PAGE: I had a stroke of good luck, which was that I had broken my back the December before I played Lear in the spring. I was wearing a brace and I had to move very, very carefully. So, the age acting was sort of done for me.

Although I’ve always been someone who was interested in the mask of the character. I knew that the college department wouldn’t have the resources to age me in the way that I wanted.  So, I had worked at the Utah Shakespeare Festival the summer before, and I enlisted the hair and makeup designer from there to design a wig.

I spent some enormous amount of money. I can’t remember what it was, but for me it was enormous. To get this very good, actually, sort of bald paint wig that that aged me remarkably and worked pretty well.

BOGAEV: Oh, that’s interesting. So, you’re really interested, even that young, in the mask. Is it because the look grounds you in the character and then you have that confidence to go on with the rest? Or, what is it about the mask?

PAGE: Yeah, that’s a good insight, Barbara. The actor has to convince himself first before he can possibly convince an audience. If there’s a shred of doubt when you look in the mirror as to whether you believe you’re that person, then that you’ll carry that doubt onto the stage.

It’s an aspect of craft that I think is really important. That was at the very foundation of acting the Greek actors. They fashioned their own masks. And so the creation of the physical aspect of the character, the visual aspect of the character—the face of the character, the hair, the body, the clothes of the character—has always been a really important part of the work for me.

BOGAEV: Well, we’re right into my first early question really, always is how people prepare. When I ask actors this, they often say something like that, that there’s one thing that grounds them in the character. It might not necessarily be something visual. Sometimes it is something in a costume item. Sometimes it’s something musical. I’m always surprised how differently people approach a role.

So how do you do it? Where do you start? Just from, you know, the beginning—the very beginning.

PAGE: It’s an aspect—I wouldn’t say for me there’s any one aspect. If there is an essential aspect, of course, for me it’s finding what Stanislavski called the “superobjective of the character.” That thing that is driving the character forward. The thing that’s in the mind that the character is moving toward, that the character wants to achieve in the full body and arc of the play, is pursuing in each scene, indeed, in each moment of the play in one way or another. That’s really the main thing.

But then there are, as you say, there are so many various aspects. Music is certainly part of it for me. That unlocks one area of the brain. You know, if you hear a piece of music that you listened to at your prom in high school, you’ll suddenly be back at that prom or in the backseat of the car at the prom in a vivid way. Smell does that in another area of the brain. And then images as well.

I have to—over the period of time that I’m working on a character—I have to sort of, find a way to convince myself that I’m this man. One of the things that Simon did, for example, in terms of process was—we’re talking about Simon Godwin, who [is] the artistic director of the theater and the director of King Lear—was asked us to bring in images, which is a part of my process that I always do.

BOGAEV: Oh, you mean like a mood board?

PAGE: Well, I suppose like a mood board, yeah. What I normally do… if you would, for example, to go to my Pinterest page, you would find in Pinterest a series of albums. And you would find my, sort of, collages for various characters that I’ve done.

BOGAEV: So, what was your collage for Lear?

PAGE: Well, it’s all sorts of influences. It’s usually important for me to find some kind of model for the character in a Shakespeare play because the play can be somewhat remote. I don’t really know what it is to be a king at this period of time.

So, men that might inspire me, for example, in this, of whom I might have images, and did have images in this case… I took a lot of inspiration, for example, from Muhammad Ali. I took inspiration from Rupert Murdoch, from Donald Trump, from Vladimir Putin. In each of these people, I’m finding—I’m just stealing little bits of their biography, maybe a little bit of behavior. I loved, for me, the fact that Muhammad Ali’s sense of humor. I needed to find a man who I believed was actually a great man, who was morally great. I thought, I don’t find that, for example, in Putin. I don’t find that in Trump, who gives me some characteristics of the narcissism of King Lear. But I deeply find it in Muhammad Ali, that there was a great moral spirit who frequently would go against the grain of what other people wanted to do, and therefore was irritating and troublesome to them. And, who later had to deal with an illness in the way that Lear has to deal with an illness.

And for me, that was all very useful. But what was most useful with Ali was his sense of humor. Finding the humor of Lear, for me, has been, in a way, the most revelatory part of this particular rehearsal process.

BOGAEV: Can you give me an example of how you use that insight in a specific scene?

PAGE: Oh, it’s everywhere. It’s absolutely everywhere. But I, for example, the first one I would tell you is, I think that Lear has absolutely no intention of crawling towards death. So, when you get to that line and you say, “What the hell is that about?” You know, “I’m going to give my power to my three daughters,” and then he says, “While we unburdened crawl towards death.”

Well, this is not a man who at any other time, gives the impression he has any willingness to crawl towards death. It’s just not him. So, what is it? Well, it has to be a joke, that’s what I think. And I think a lot of times, Lear’s humor is

as Trump’s is, for example, at someone else’s expense, it’s not really generous humor most of the time. It’s usually at someone else’s expense.

Lines like, “Are you our daughter?” When she says, you know, she comes in and says, “I need you to quiet down your men.” And the first thing he says is, “Who are you? Are you our daughter?” And then he says, “I need somebody to tell me who I am.” And that itself is risible to him at that moment. He feels absolutely certain of who he is at that moment. He’s not having any existential doubts that he will admit to anyone at that moment.

BOGAEV: Oh, he’s just messing with people’s heads.

PAGE: He’s messing with people’s heads. He’s saying, “And the reason I need somebody to tell me who I am is because by the marks of sovereignty, knowledge, and reason, I had been false persuaded that I had daughters. But you’re not acting like one. So, what’s your name, fair Gentlewoman?”

So, once again, the humor’s at her expense. In terms of Trump, who I think is quite an extraordinary character, he doesn’t laugh, never laughed. But what he did do, was he would make jokes at other people’s expenses. That seemed to me to be very Lear-like.

One of the things that Michael Milligan—who plays The Fool—and I discovered in the Fool relationship was that Lear liked to fool around. Not because Fool made him laugh, but because Fool made him funnier.

BOGAEV: Okay. This is great. Tell me, what did you steal from Putin?

PAGE: Well, Putin, right now, he is performing a kind of masculinity that is probably no longer coursing through his veins. The kind of shirtless swimming, the bear hunting. For lack of a better word, posturing.

BOGAEV: Macho. Shirtless on a horse. Yeah, the warrior.

PAGE: Yeah, the macho performance. As one gets older, that becomes a little more difficult to present.

There’ve also been many reports—whether they’re true or not, I don’t know—but that he is under a doctor’s care, secretly under a doctor’s care. That’s very useful for me. The idea that Lear would’ve been secretly under a doctor’s care for quite some time, and that no one, absolutely no one, can know about it.

Because I have to justify why this man, who comes in in the second scene from hunting and is trying to present himself in a very vigorous manner, is nevertheless saying, “I no longer have the energy to carry on with my responsibilities in the government.”

It makes sense to me that a doctor may have said something to the effect of, you know, “You’re suffering from nervous exhaustion.” Some kind of misdiagnosis, I imagine, like a dementia. And the dementia that I chose to work with is Lewy body dementia, because it ticks off every single box for the symptoms that Lear presents during the course of the evening.

BOGAEV: This is interesting because I keep on hearing echoes of other actors who have played Lear and how they’ve dealt with this issue of Lear’s dementia. For instance, Anthony Sher went and interviewed a neurologist about it. And he said, “Well, you could get pneumonia while he’s traveling in the wilderness, and you’d have a temporary dementia. That might explain it.”

So, was this an issue, first of all, for you to… how do you deal with Lear’s intermittent confusion, and is that the answer you came up with?

PAGE: Yeah. That is one of the things I have to deal with, is how it comes and goes. How it presents. How precisely it presents. What are the exact symptoms that seem to be out of character for him?

There are a lot of people in the play who say, “This behavior that you’re demonstrating right now is out of character for you.” The people who we trust most in the play, i.e. Fool, Kent, Gloucester, Edgar; are all people who report that Lear was in fact a great man, was a titanic king.

Kent says, for example, “Where is that patience which you’ve so often spoken of and so often demonstrated?” Goneril says, “The behavior you’re demonstrating lately.” And the terror—the actions that the girls take come from their terror. The way that Cordelia was treated or the way that Kent was treated in the first scene, they could be treated as well. That the behavior is completely unpredictable. It seems to be triggered by nothing. And it comes and goes.

And for example, after the scene at Dover in which Lear seems to be in a fully hallucinatory state, he is seeing things that aren’t there. Just as he is in the hovel scene during the storm, he is seeing things that aren’t there. Well, hallucination is something that doesn’t happen in very many dementias at all. It happens in Lewy body dementia. Lewy body dementia also comes and goes. You’ll have days where you demonstrate no symptoms whatsoever and days that are really rough. It has a sundowning aspect where, it can get worse as the sun goes down at night. And when Lear wakes up in the hospital and is completely clear of any symptoms of dementia at all, one of the first things he says is, “Ah, it’s fair daylight.”

That’s the kind of detail that I’ve found in Shakespeare, doing these plays over time, is that, once you light on what I think is the correct diagnosis, it just goes down point after point, after point, after point. I don’t think Shakespeare was a clinician, but I think he was an incredible observer. I think he observed this particular kind of illness and then just chronicled it.

I imagine that before the play began, [Lear] had had a year or so of these symptoms which tend to start at nighttime. A person acting out their dreams, a person not being able to distinguish between the dream life and the waking life. I imagine because he’s no longer married, that nobody saw this.

But in my imagination, the person who sleeps closest to me, right outside my chamber, is Fool. So that Fool would be the only person who would be aware of this in any way. And, of course, the first person I confess to having any doubts about my sanity to is Fool. And I said, “Let me not be mad. You keep me in temper. I would not be mad.”

BOGAEV: I recently realized how the pandemic has changed or informed how I think about Lear and these questions of identity or just what’s going on with him. Since the play also has this political context in that it’s exploring what happens when all the structures of government or civil society are disintegrating and failing when you lose your leader.

And we all, I guess, experienced that to a certain degree during COVID. And, you know, asked ourselves, who are we without our jobs and our workplaces and the security of a functional state? So… I don’t know, your identity shifts.

I wondered if any of these ideas or impressions came up in your rehearsal period among either in you or your cast.

PAGE: I think what is useful for me is to say, “Well, what are the questions of the play? What does Shakespeare seem to be wrestling with?” And, to me that is the Shakespearean characteristic or element.

When Hamlet’s scolding the players, warning the players in Hamlet about what to do and what not to do. And he’s saying, “Well, I don’t want the clowns to speak any more than they’re supposed to speak. I don’t want them to laugh themselves to get some bearing spectators to laugh.” He says, “Because some important question of the play will be missed.”

So, what are the questions of the play? What are those things that he’s interrogating? That to me is what Shakespeare is, is the interrogation of questions that are so complicated and so paradoxical that we don’t have an easy answer for them.

So, it seems to me you’re drilling down on identity. One of the ways to open myself up from the bubble that I live in is to look at the play and to see which words, or clusters of words, are repeated over and over and over and over again.

So, in this particular play, for example, the question of “how much?” There there’s a lot of back and forth about how much does somebody actually need. The great speech, “O, reason not the need.” What do we really need? “Our basest beggars are in the poorest thing superfluous. Allow not nature more the nature needs.”

There’s another one of those words. “Nature.” What is our nature? When you drill down into the core of your identity, what is your nature? Is your nature ultimately violent? Is your nature ultimately foolish? Or when you go down right to the bottom of it, do we find—the other great word in Lear, which is: “nothing.” Do we find, ultimately at the bottom of it, do we find nothing?

Of course, Lear is stripped of all identity first. The identity of king, governor, the man who runs things. The identity of being the father of Cordelia. “I have no such daughter. We have no such daughter.” Then the identity of father of Goneril, then the identity of father of Regan.

One by one, all of these roles that he plays are stripped. Then, of course, he meets—in the storm—he meets a man who has been stripped of everything: Poor Tom. And he says, “Look, you don’t even have clothes. Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art.” At that point, Lear tries to strip off his own clothes. He’s reaching for what’s under here. “What am I? Who am I? Who is it that can tell me who I am?” And that… I think that’s the Shakespearean question.

“Who’s under there?” The first line of Hamlet. “Who’s there?” He’s looking, looking, looking, searching, searching, searching. “What is my nature? What’s under here? How much do we need? Do I need a hundred nights? Do I need 50 nights? Do I need 25 nights?” Well, if you really look at it, you don’t need anything.

All the way to the end where he’s got those five terrible “nevers” in a row. “Never, never, never, never, never.” There’s nothing, nothing. Never. To be able to see that finally, not as a nihilistic worldview, but rather as something that opens you to experiencing what’s actually here, experiencing the moment itself.

BOGAEV: Yeah, that’s… we could talk about Lear forever with you. But your play, All the Devils Are Here, is so wonderful. And your demons are so wonderful that I’d like to talk about them and their humor. For anyone who hasn’t seen All the Devils Are Here, Patrick Page plays most or all of Shakespeare’s villains in it. It’s a one-man show.

You give this incredibly entertaining history lesson on early modern theater in that play. You fill us in on the origin of the word “villain” as a person of low birth. And that the bad guy when Shakespeare was growing up, you say, was the Vice in the morality plays.

That’s interesting. Tell us more about the Vice, and what Shakespeare might have seen in those village productions of his youth.

PAGE: Yeah, of course. When Shakespeare was a boy, the actors would come through the town. And his father was, at the time, the high bailiff of the town. So, John Shakespeare would’ve been responsible for organizing the playing space and the viewing area and so on.

And so, in my imagination, Shakespeare has a front-row seat when this play comes through town. They were morality plays. They were quite simplistic in terms of good guys, bad guys.

And the bad guy in this case was a character called the Vice who would literally embody a vice or a series of vices. The vice could be gluttony, the vice could be avarice, the vice could be, lust.

[CLIP from Enough Is as Good as a Feast, by William Wager. Patrick Page is the Vice.]

VICE: Oh, of this world. I rule the whole state. Yay. Faith. I govern all laws, rights and orders. I at my ease, raise war, strife and debate. And again, I make peace in all coasts and all borders. Now yet much more marvel than that. The whole, you see this little pretty hand. This is an arm of steel for it overthrow a flat, the strongest walls and towers in the whole land.

PAGE: And the wonderful thing about the Vice character and the reason it would’ve appealed especially to an eight or nine year old boy is, the Vice was the character that most interacted with the audience. The Vice would try to enlist them. The Vice would make them laugh.

Shakespeare, it seems to me, became very enamored of this character. And the character then appears sort of in his early plays in the form of, most notably, as Richard of Gloucester in Henry VI, Part 3, and then in the title part of Richard III.

[CLIP from Henry VI, Part 3. Patrick Page is Richard of Gloucester.]

I have no brother, I am like no brother;
And this word “love,” which graybeards call divine,
Be resident in men like one another
And not in me. I am myself alone.
Love forswore me in my mother’s womb,
And, for I should not deal in her soft laws,
She did corrupt frail Nature with some bribe
To shrink mine arm up like a withered shrub;
To make an envious mountain on my back,
Where sits Deformity to mock my body;
To shape my legs of an unequal size;
To disproportion me in every part,
Like to a chaos, or an unlicked bear-whelp,
That carries no impression like the dam.
And am I then a man to be beloved?
O monstrous fault to harbor such a thought!

PAGE: And he develops then the character from there. He takes the character of the Vice, who had been just a kind of embodied sin, and turns him into a human being with this extraordinary opening soliloquy, “Now is the winter of our discontent.”

Imagine opening a play where the title character comes on and just begins to enlist you to his point of view, where he says—he first, he tells you why he does the things he does.

Now, that was the first thing I think that was revolutionary, is to even ask why. Because, up to that time, the Elizabethans essentially believed in something—which I talk about in the play—and they had a whole art and science of physiognomy, which was, you could tell a bad person by looking at them.

There were great many, you know, really awful prejudices associated with this: that people with dark skin were inclined to be bad, that Jews were inclined to be wicked, and so on.

Shakespeare, being the great questioner that he is, grows up marinated in this culture, but then begins to ask, “Well, is it true? Is it true?” And he begins to write from that person’s point of view. Even with Richard—who still is very much linked to the Vice character—even with Richard, he starts to give him reasons for what he does.

It seems to me that a lot of Western literature and certainly Western drama hinges on this one little word in that opening soliloquy, which is, “And therefore.” Therefore. Because I cannot prove a lover, I am determined to prove a villain. Nobody needed a “because” before. Shakespeare says, “There must be a ‘because.’ There must be a ‘therefore.’ There must be a reason why.”

He starts to ask those questions, and then he keeps asking them for a period of 21 years. In All the Devils Are Here, I go through chronologically and watch how that develops. In a way, you can—through that exploration—you can observe Shakespeare becoming the great humanist that we know him to be.

BOGAEV: Okay, well we got to talk about the biggie: Iago. Apparently Michael Kahn once asked you if Iago is a sociopath, and you said, “I don’t really know what a sociopath is.” Is that true? You spent a year researching sociopathy after that?

PAGE: Well, and much longer than a year since then. It became a fascination of mine because I, as an actor, I’d spent, you know, by that time, 20 or 30 years with the belief that I could stand inside the shoes of any character and advocate for them and really understand them.

So to run up against the basic problem, which is that the person lacked the two fundamental characteristics that I associated with being human, which were empathy and conscience, to start from there, was really problematic for me as an actor. I wrestled with it, wrestled with it, wrestled with it.

But when I came back to the text, Shakespeare certainly didn’t have the word “psychopath.” But Robert Hare, who made the first checklist for psychopathy, he put a little over 20 attributes that might appear in a psychopath, and Iago was checking off every single box. Some of the things in the text, which made no sense to me, suddenly made sensational sense. And it challenged some of my beliefs as an actor.

For example, psychopaths have very shallow affect. As actors, we like to have a lot of emotion on stage, you know? So, for someone to have a very shallow emotional capability was very interesting, technical problem.

But then you find it in the text.  For example, in the Iago’s first soliloquy, he says, “Thus, do I ever make my fool my purse. For I mine own gained knowledge should profane if I would time expand with such a snipe. But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor.” In other words, he says it as easily as he would say, “Could you pass the salt?” He doesn’t work himself up into some passion at that moment. He doesn’t “tear a passion to tatters,” to very rags.

BOGAEV: Oh, this is business as usual.

PAGE: Right. It’s just business as usual. He’s setting the record straight because what he’s just told the audience is, “Everything that you just saw, my behavior with Rodrigo was all bullshit. Don’t think for a minute that I was telling that guy the truth. I was just doing it for his money. But let me set the record straight. Part of what I told him was true. I hate the Moor.” Right? And it comes across very easily.

Now that was hard for me to get to. But it was right there in the text, in that single verse line. To me, that’s like Shakespeare observing the reality of things and sometimes a reality that we actors don’t like. Like, I would love to work myself up into some terrible thing there and reveal my deep, deep hatred toward the Moor at that moment. But it’s just not there.

BOGAEV: You have performed so many villains. Not just Shakespeare villains: Hades in Hadestown and the Green Goblin in Spider-Man. And, I have to ask you, when you carry villainy around like that for years and years—I know of course as an actor, you walk out of the theater and you’re Patrick Page again, but does it change you? Because you do say you, in All the Devils Are Here, that you were infected with nihilism for a year after you’ve played Iago.

PAGE: Well, Iago is very persuasive. I think nihilism is very persuasive. The evidence supports it pretty well. You have to look more deeply into your heart in order to find the evidence to the contrary.

So, yeah, I think Iago is very persuasive, which is why he’s able to destroy a fellow the way he is, because in the midst of all his lies he’s also telling the truth. And the truth is, “You have a monster inside you that you are unaware of and not in control of. And I will unleash that monster and I will show you your own monster.” Like, “I’m a monster and I know I’m a monster, and that’s my superpower: is I know what I am. You don’t know what you are. I’ll show you.”

BOGAEV: Well, and that’s very true. I mean, all of us have a monster inside of us, right? And not all of us admit it.

PAGE: And that really is, if there is a purpose to a show like All the Devils Are Here, I suppose that would be it. And that is the title, right? “Hell is empty. All the devils are here.”

Jung’s great observation about the shadow: The man who is unaware of his own shadow is the most dangerous man of all. The man who imagines himself to be virtuous is the most dangerous man. The man who’s aware of the monster inside of him—It’s so interesting, at the end of Othello that Othello is still holding onto this idea. You know, “Remember me as I am.” Iago is quite clear, you know, and that’s unfortunately persuasive. Was persuasive for me and kept me in a pretty dark place for a little while.

BOGAEV: Listening to you recite or Shakespeare, Iago—you haven’t played in years. You just have him in your head. It reminded me of something I’d read: that your father, when you couldn’t sleep as a little kid, would play you tapes of Olivier doing Shakespeare.

PAGE: Yeah, yeah. Olivier, Gielgud. I used to listen to Gielgud’s “Ages of Man” over and over and over again. We had an album of Olivier’s Richard III. They made an LP of—I imagine it was just scenes from it. And I would put it on, you know, and listen as I went to bed.

I think it was a good way to learn how to speak verse. The two of them together, you know, because Olivier was all consonants. He was percussive. He was like a snare drum. Whereas Gielgud was all vowels. He was like an oboe. If you sort of mix them together, I think was pretty good education.

BOGAEV: Were you that shy kid who just took the theater and knew you wanted to be an actor from the start?

PAGE: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, a big shy. Very, very large imaginative world, where I could, you know, make things happen on my own. Creating lots of stuff in my head and in my backyard with my brother Mike. You know.

BOGAEV: You wrote a play when you were six. Dr. Jekyll meets Frankenstein.

PAGE: You’ve done your research.

BOGAEV: I like that your brother had a non-speaking part.

PAGE: I always cast him as a supernumerary. So I played both Dr. Jekyll and Frankenstein.


PAGE: But I was always fascinated with monsters. I was fascinated with Count Dracula. I think it came from, you know—and this is at the heart of your question: well, what is it that fascinates us?

For me, I guess there is this intuition that I have this inside of me. That it’s a dark area that I’m afraid to look at. That somehow the exploration of that dark area might lead me toward something resembling the light.

You know, there’s some wonderful thing in the King Arthur myths when they’re looking for the Grail. That each of the knights, they line up at the edge of the forest and the knight has to go into the forest, at the point in the forest that appears darkest to him. That is the point where he has the most likelihood of finding the Grail.

And certainly Shakespeare seems to have leaned in that direction. That even a character like King Lear, you know, we’re looking at the darkness in him before he can come into something resembling the light.

BOGAEV: You’ve talked so openly and movingly about the depression that you’ve dealt with in your life for decades. And I don’t mean this as a silver lining question, because there is no silver lining to depression, but do you think that your experience with that darkness is your inroad to portraying these villains so convincingly?

PAGE: Well, yes. I mean, I think, whatever… everybody has a different area of brokenness. Mine happens to be in addiction and depression. Other people’s are in other areas of their life. They may have experienced terrible losses that I haven’t experienced.

But the great Leonard Cohen line, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” I think it’s in that crack. It’s in that brokenness that you find something of value, something that you have to offer.

But I guess for what the people we call villains. If I have an ability to play them, I guess it would be that I never think of them in those terms. I never… when you say things like Hades or… I just, it never occurred to me to think of him as a villain.

That was what was hard for me about Iago. Was that he did look like a villain to me, and I had to find a way to get behind him and to believe in him and to be from his point of view. I relish the opportunity to be given the human being to play who looks unredeemable and to show you how you might, under the same circumstances, have come to the place where you would exhibit the same behaviors.

BOGAEV: Oh, thank you so much for bringing us onto the stage with you, and thank you for this conversation. I really enjoyed.

PAGE: Thank you, Barbara.


WITMORE: You can see Patrick Page as King Lear at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. until April 16th, 2023. Tickets and more information at

This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez. We had technical help from Ellen Rolfes in Washington, D.C. and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare Unlimited, please subscribe on your podcast platform of choice, so you never miss an episode.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website,

Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.