Thursday, 26 April 2012

To be or not to be

This week includes William Shakespeare's birthday - 23rd April- and we thought we should give the bard a mention after so much publicity for Charles Dickens.
You may have noticed that Shakespeare is being featured in many ways by the BBC as part of the promotion of our cultural heritage as the Olympics draw closer. Have you watched or listened to any of the programmes?
Did you study Shakespeare at school? Have you tried any since? Does the presence of someone like Lenny Henry or David Tennant in the cast encourage you to watch one of his plays?
If reading the original plays seems off-putting, there are many other ways of trying Shakespeare - abridged versions of the story, visual and audio productions and even graphic novels.


Bex-Read said...

Recently I was looking at a collection of Shakespeare's plays and I was amazed to realise how many of them I had studied at school. I remember that it was always easier to understand them if we saw the play performed.
The collection I was looking at were shortened versions of the stories for children. They were good interpretations of the tales which would be a good introduction for anyone to read.
No doubt you too studied Shakespeare at school - did it put you of him for life or are you still interested in the tales he told?

Caroline said...

I really value that we were made to study Shakespeare's plays in such detail at school. In my recreational reading, I had tended to finish one book and dive straight into the next, but studying Shakespeare, as well as other set texts, made me see how rewarding it is to really dig in and get to know a play or a book, that there's so much more there than you see on that first reading when all you want to do is find out what happens. However, if you went back and asked my 15 year old self, you might get another response!

When I go to see Shakespeare, I tend to favour seeing the plays I already know well, as it means I can relax and not worry about trying to work out what's happening and just enjoy the language and the story unfolding. But I do try and venture into new territory as well, albeit by swotting up and reading the play first so that I'm not sitting there scratching my head! It's amazing how, after a while, your ear accustomises to the rhythm of the language, and you don't really notice that the characters are speaking in a way which is so unfamiliar to us today.

The two plays I studied for A Level, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, remain favourites, and I try to go and see them when I notice a production is on. I was lucky to get a ticket to see Catherine Tate and David Tennant in Much Ado last year, which was brilliant!

Anonymous said...

You asked if I was put off by studying him at school? Definitely not!! But lots of people are - sadly as they miss out on having a constant "guidebook to the human race" as someone once described his work. It's there - all the way through English literature - whether a source for titles for novelists or a passing reference, and that shows how universal the plays and characters are. My top ones - King Lear - Hamlet and Much Ado ... (but then I really like The Taming of the Shrew too).

Bex-Read said...

I'm glad to hear that neither of you were put off Shakespeare, he contributed so much to our language and his many characters show how human nature hasn't changed.
It's interesting that you both mention Hamlet and Much Ado. Hamlet wasn't on any of the syllabuses that I did, which is surprising as it is so well known. I have seen it performed since.
Much Ado had also escaped me but I saw a performance of that at a local amateur theatre a while ago and it was tremendous fun. I can imagine that Catherine Tate and David Tennant would have made it even more so.
I'd love to see a performance of The Taming of the Shrew. To find out what it was all about I read it myself recently.
Any other favourites or Shakespeare plays you want to catch up with?

Lisa said...

I studied Romeo and Juliet for my O level and The Tempest for my A level. I much preferred The Tempest and went to The Barbican to see it performed by The Royal Shakespeare Company, which was fantastic and you are right it really did help me understand the play better.
I think I read Romeo and Juliet at the wrong age, when writing my essay during the exam (full of teenage angst and arrogance) I said something along the lines that Romeo and Juliet were daft to kill themselves over something as trivial as love. Fortunately the examiners didn't mind (or more likely didn't care) about my 16 year old opinion and I passed. Other than that I've only seen a few films of Shakespeare's plays but I do always enjoy them and it's always interesting to see how many of his lines have become part of our everyday language.

Sharon said...

I'm surprised, too, by how many I've studied at school, college and university - King Lear, Macbeth, Measure for Measure, The Tempest, Henry IV parts one and two and Hamlet.

Twelfth Night was my first experience of Shakespeare, though, and it's still my favourite. I've seen it so many times in the theatre.

I was very lucky to have an English teacher who realised the importance of seeing and hearing Shakespeare performed live. At school, she brought in LPs for us to listen to (showing my age now) which was much more relaxing than listening to lots of embarrassed teenagers trying to read the text aloud! She also took every opportunity to take us to the theatre - as well as seeing Shakespeare plays, other highlights which are still really vivid in my mind include The Glass Menagerie (with James Aubrey) and Charley's Aunt (with Nicky Hensen). Good English Lit. teachers can have such a positive impact.

Bex-Read said...

Yes - Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest I did do at school. I enjoyed The Tempest, even without seeing a production of it.
We did Romeo and Juliet quite early in our school career and those of us who went on to A-level English were unexpectedly enlightened by our teacher - who explained that it is not as sweet and innocent as we were allowed to believe. Shakespeare is well known for being a man of the people and he did not hesitate to include a bawdy side to his works, even Romeo and Juliet.

Caroline said...

Hi Jill,

I'm glad you liked Much Ado when you saw it, I think it's one that everyone can enjoy.

I saw a production of A Winter's Tale at the Old Vic about 3 years ago, and really enjoyed that - like Much Ado, it manages to combine comedy with real sadness and depth of emotion. Also, did anyone see the film of Coriolanus with Ralph Fiennes? It was amazing, brilliant performances and a gripping plot.

The Phantom... said...

You’re right about English teachers leaving us with indelible memories and – if we were lucky – a love of books and words. My best teacher (Mr Lewin) loved Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton (so, as Meatloaf would have said “two out of three `aint bad”).

Mr Lewin also taught us an immortal lesson in life: “you’re not here to enjoy yourselves, in any way, shape, or form”.
Happy days!

Bex-Read said...

Hi Sharon and Caroline - Twelfth Night and A Winter's Tale - they've both escaped me - what can you tell me about them without giving away the end?
And Phantom - I'm tempted to ask -which two out of the three? Who got the thumbs down from you?

The Phantom said...


Bex-Read said...

Somehow I thought it would be poor old Milton - although Chaucer is a tricky one to tackle if you do it in Middle English. My English teacher's favourite part of The Knight's Tale was 'Up to the ancle foghte they in hir blood'. She didn't actually mention why...

Caroline said...

I don't remember all the details of The Winter's Tale, but it's got a suspicious husband, a banished wife, a baby sent away and raised by a shephard, romance and a wildly unlikely but happy ending - typical Shakespeare in other words!