Revelling in Shakespeare’s Rebel

On Monday night Academie Duello was part of a momentous event, the launch of CC Humphreys newest book Shakespeare’s Rebel in a coproduction between ourselves and Bard on the Beach — one of Canada’s most celebrated Shakespeare festivals.

I have to say that this was one of the most exciting and fantastic events of which I and the school have been a part.

Everything started off with an opening from Christopher Gaze, the Artistic Director and Founder of Bard on the Beach.

chris gaze and crowd

CC Humphreys then took to the stage and regaled us with the story of how the idea for his novel came to him — “Shakespeare and swords for god’s sake! Shakespeare and swords!”

CC’s novel tells the story of John Lawley, a soldier, a fighter, a drunkard, the fight choreographer for William Shakespeare, and a right hand to mad Robbie Deveraux the Earle of Essex.

One of the main goals of the night was to educate the audience about the political role that Shakespeare’s plays performed in Elizabethan England, particularly the ideas communicated in the sword fights. Now much swordplay in plays and movies is entertainment, distraction, or at best part of conveying a dramatic message. In Shakespeare they conveyed a political commentary as well.

The first choreographed fight of the night was Hal vs Hotspur from Henry IV. This fight started with a brilliant fight up the back steps of bard and a leaping roll on the main stage by Academie Duello’s David McCormick across from Edward Foy.

Following his fight, David caught his breath and then brought us into the world of a Fight Choreographer and described his goals and the process in bringing a fight to the stage.

I then took to the stage to introduce the world of sword masters and sword study in renaissance England. Academie Duello senior students Walker Lunsford, Matheus Olmedo, Roland Cooper, Clinton Fernandes, Greg Yoshida, and Erik Hayden demonstrated swordplay with the Longsword, Sword and Buckler, Spear, and Rapier and Dagger. After we had educated our audience on some of the intricacies of the weapons and disciplines that surrounded them we performed an in earnest prize playing with Roland Cooper and Clinton Fernandes and challengers.

Roland performed brilliantly with Longsword and Spear, even leading to some very exciting close play and a few near throws. Superb performance Roland, everyone was inspired!

Clinton then took the field with sword and buckler and rapier & dagger, demonstrating some beautiful deceptive play with the sidesword and some gorgeous rapier and dagger action, in particular a few surprising parries with the dagger that allowed him to catch his opponent completely off guard with his riposte.

Special mention to Walker Lunsford for doing a spectacular girata in his opening challenge to Clinton. Though its hard to single anyone out as all truly had moments of glory.

I was inspired with how much the crowd was with us and how many people reported to me that the most exciting part of the night was the fights in earnest. Well done guys!

Following the prize fights CC read from his book a section involving a street fight involving John Lawley, William Shakespeare, and Western Martial Arts hero George Silver against a group of drunken Butcher Boys. I think the real highlight for CC, to the chagrin of Christopher Gaze, was reciting the section where the crowd of onlookers takes up the cry “Bollocks to the Bard!” and CC encouraged our Bard on the Beach crowd to shout it together in that moment and to remember to do it at upcoming Bard on the Beach shows if they saw a part they didn’t like!

Nick Harrison, the fight choreographer from Bard on the Beach then stepped up to the mic and read from his doctoral paper on the intricacies of interpreting historical fight direction from plays such as Shakespeare and the process that one such as he can and must follow to honour the story and create a compelling and unclichéd fight.

Kayla Bigras and Camden Filtness, students of Nick’s, then took the stage to perform the Hamlet and Laertes fight from the play. These two did a brilliant job, and it was quite a joy to see a woman as competent as Kayla in the role of Hamlet. These two fought a very clever and brisk interpretation of the fight at rapier and dagger and their intensity of character, particularly Cam’s well wrought Laertes really honoured the scene.

After we had come down from this performance, Christopher Gaze brought us back to 1601 with a reading from Rebel that depicted the opening night of Hamlet at the Globe. Mr Gaze has a riveting voice and the audience was rapt as we imagined this pivotal moment in history.

This final reading lead us into the climax fight of the night where CC and myself played John Lawley and Robert Deveraux, respectively, and fought off a horde of spaniards on the streets of Cadiz in a series of scenes direct from the book. This fight went spectacularly well and I must thank Greg Yoshida, Jennifer Landels, Aurelia Sedlmair, Yan Emond, Callen Poulin, Phil Persad, and Matheus Olmedo (who had a crowning performance as CC’s giant adversary in the final fight). You all did a splendid job and I got so many complements on this fight and the performances within it.

After all this Christopher Gaze concluded the night and invited all the fighters to the stage. We took a bow, saluted, and then stepped down into the audience and out into the evening.


What a tremendous night.

Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
Read more from Devon Boorman.