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Duchess of York

Played by Judi Dench.

Fact title Fact data
Historical figure

Judi on playing Shakespeare's Cecily

How did you get involved in The Hollow Crown?

Everybody she loves has been killed; her husband, her children. She knows who’s done it and is a kind of Miss Marple!
Judi Dench on her character

The scripts were sent to me while I was busy with Esio Trot. I thought it was interesting but put it to one side because I was busy. Then I went to Hay-on-Wye to do an interview with Richard Eyre and he asked me if I remembered any lines from the Shakespeare plays I've done. He wanted me to perform some scenes but I told him that there are a couple of moments when I need a line feeding first.

During rehearsals Benedict Cumberbatch walked into the room and said he would do them. So, at the event, Richard surprised the audience and introduced him on stage with me, to tumultuous applause. During the Q&A afterwards, Benedict Cumberbatch suddenly asked if I would be in the production of Richard III that he was going to do. I was completely floored. I thought about it and said yes and that was it. It’s all thanks to Benedict.

It’s thrilling and lovely to play the Duchess of York, which is where I come from. I remembered seeing the plays at Stratford with Peggy Ashcroft, Brewster Mason and Donald Sinden. I remembered the Henry VI plays terribly well but I've never done this one before.

Tell us about the character you play in The Hollow Crown?

I play this old bag, Cecily the Duchess of York. Everybody she loves has been killed; her husband, her children. She knows who’s done it and is a kind of Miss Marple! [She knows who’s doing it and she lets him have it]. If anyone says, “I’m in a terribly bad way,” she says,“You may be in a bad way, just wait until you hear what’s happened to me!” That’s the Duchess of York in Richard III.

What do you think Shakespeare offers in terms of female parts?

He writes some wonderful female parts in Richard III. There’s Mad Margaret, Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily and Lady Anne. Richard not only kills Lady Anne’s husband but he also gets her to marry him. There are wonderful parts for women in it and they are very much a comment on the play.