Sunday, 24 April 2016

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare. You know that completely extraordinary poet and playwright? Who is ever so slightly famous? Well yesterday marked the 400th anniversary of his death.    

As a literature graduate I have an awful lot of love/time for Shakespeare. I say that like I need an excuse to love him. As if! But in actual fact, I know there are plenty of students and graduates who aren't quite as enamoured as I am.

When I was a teenager I didn't really get him. And even as a first year student I hated studying Hamlet (still not a huge fan to be honest) but from there my love grew a little. It was the comedies that captured me and I love every single one them. In the summer of 2013 I went to The Globe to see my favourite, The Tempest, three times. And A Midsummer Night's Dream twice.

The thing about Shakespeare is that really you have to see it performed. And not only that, you have to see it performed well. The RSC is obviously the top choice (if you can manage to get one of those extremely sought after tickets to any of their performances), but any professional group would do. The thing which trained actors can often succeed at, where amateurs sometimes fail is they make him sound natural and completely normal.

Because that is ultimately what he is. Yes the language is dated and littered with little phrases such a thee and thou and whence which we don't use any more. But he is an English human being not an alien.

What actors have all managed in the performances that I have witnessed, is they have given his words meaning. They are not just words on a page any more, they have been given life. And when you start paying attention, you realise that Shakespeare is not so alien.

Last night I was watching the various fabulous performances in the Shakespeare Live programme and trying to work out what it was about Shakespeare that made him so great. Why has he been translated into every language on the globe? Why has his work been adapted into everything from film and ballet to songs and raps? Why is he very much still a huge part of our lives, 4 centuries after he died?

The answer is quite simple. Human beings haven't changed that much. And Shakespeare wrote about the simple, core emotions and events that were at the forefront of culture at the time: love, grief, murders, wars, history, kings, queens, mistaken identities, basic silliness...all things which are very much part of our lives now too. He looked around him and vividly depicted basic emotions and every day life. It was done so well and so honestly, that of course we can still relate. Because like I say, we haven't changed that much.  

You could easily turn around to me and say that you hated Shakespeare in school and definitely don't find him funny. Ok, I believe you. But go and find a production of Twelfth Night on YouTube or somewhere. Skip to the bit where Malvolio has turned up in Olivia's bedroom, showing off his legs that are clothed in ugly bright yellow stockings (thinking that she would find them attractive) and then wonders why she doesn't fall instantly in love with him before proceeding to chase her around the room. I challenge you not to find that HILARIOUS.

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1 comment:

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