Dench was on the show to discuss her new memoir about the Bard, Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays The Rent. Asked about the title, she explained: “Michael [her late husband Michael Williams] and I were both in Shakespeare plays for four years when we first met so he literally was paying our rent.”
Norton then asked “how much Shakespeare” was “constantly in” her head, to which she replied: “Well, as much as it is all of us, of course.
“We don’t realise, Graham. We quote Shakespeare all the time, perhaps without knowing it.”
The host was then teasingly challenged by Whitehall to quote a passage from Shakespeare. Norton shockingly replied: “How all occasions do inform against me,” Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act 4, Scene 4, drawing gasps and cheers from the audience.
Norton followed up by asking whether Dench would read some Shakespeare for the audience. The star proceeded to read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 from memory in dramatic fashion.
When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
“That is spellbinding,” Norton told the actor as the audience cheered enthusiastically.
Over the years, Dench has appeared in numerous Shakespeare plays, starring as Ophelia in Hamlet, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth.
She collaborated on the new book with fellow actor Brendon O’Hea. She said of O’Hea on Norton: “I didn’t think there would be a book at the end of the glorious conversations we had. He was wonderful and sparked lots of memories.”
The Graham Norton Show airs on BBC One on Fridays at 10:35 pm. Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays The Rent is out now.