Why Judi Dench Included Her Drawings in New Book About Shakespeare as She Continues to Lose Her Eyesight (Exclusive)

The actress tells of her career as a Shakespearian actor in a new book written with Brendan O'Hea

<p>Nick Knight /; St. Martin

Nick Knight /; St. Martin's Press

Judi Dench and her drawing of Shakespeare

Dame Judi Dench is an actress, author and artist, though the world almost didn’t see that last one of the performer’s talents.

Dench’s new book, Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent, is cowritten with actor Brendan O’Hea and based on a series of conversations the two had over four years that revisited the celebrated actress's many roles in the Bard’s work. It also features sketches of Shakespearian characters that nearly didn’t appear in the book.

“They were just things that I have just done while another scene is going on, and I'm listening,” Dench, 89, tells PEOPLE for a story in this week's issue. “I might just draw something.”

<p>St. Martin's Press</p> One of Dench's drawings

St. Martin's Press

One of Dench's drawings

According to O’Hea, Dench was in an art group, when someone suggested that her drawings could be a way to inspire others, especially as the actress began to lose her eyesight. Dench was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (ADM) in 2012. According the National Eye Institute, the progressive disease, which is a leading cause of sight loss for older adults, can blur central vision.

Related: Judi Dench Says 'It's Become Impossible' to Act amid Eyesight Loss: 'I Have a Photographic Memory'

"You find a way of just getting about and getting over the things that you find very difficult," Dench said during a conversation for the Vision Foundation in 2021. "I've had to find another way of learning lines and things, which is having great friends of mine repeat them to me over and over and over again. So I have to learn through repetition, and I just hope that people won't notice too much if all the lines are completely hopeless!"

Dench tells PEOPLE that the idea of people being inspired by her drawings would “be very, very good.”

<p>Nick Knight /</p> Judi Dench

Nick Knight /

Judi Dench

Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays The Rent delves deep into Dench’s Shakespearian career. The actress has appeared in over 40 of the Bard’s plays while performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and told PEOPLE for this week’s issue that his work remains a lifelong passion for her.

"I hadn't realized, until we came to talk about it, how many plays I'd done and parts I'd done," Dench said “I can't remember what I did yesterday, but I can remember A Midsummer Night's Dream, or a Twelfth Night or a few sonnets. That I can remember."

Related: Listen to Judi Dench's New Book: 'Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays the Rent' (Exclusive)

Dench also shares some of her favorite anecdotes from her Shakespearian endeavors, including spending time in the playwright’s England hometown.

<p>St. Martin's Press</p> One of Dench's drawings

St. Martin's Press

One of Dench's drawings

The actress also discussed her acting career on screen, including her role as “M” in the James Bond franchise, and working with costar Pierce Brosnan.

"I would go in, and I would do the day's filming [for Bond], perhaps, but then I wasn't part of [the rest]," she said. "So it's a very, very, very different feeling."

Related: Judi Dench Was Once Told by Director She Had 'Wrong Face' for Movies: 'You'll Never Make a Film'

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Shakespeare: The Man Who Pays The Rent
will be available on April 23 from St. Martin’s Press, wherever books are sold.

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