Unless you’ve been living under a rock this weekend, you’ll be well aware that yesterday marked the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. (It was also quite possibly his birthday, though there is no official confirmation of this.) The son of a Warwickshire glover, his move to London in the late 16th century began a career that has been revered by millions; for such a body of work to stand the test of time quite so well is staggering. It is also thanks to Shakespeare that some very well-known phrases came into the English language.
Between his sonnets and his plays, Shakespeare undeniably had the gift of bringing beautiful words to life.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, there are some passages that simply take your breath away.
So, as the day of celebration drew to a close, a tweet from recently knighted choreographer Matthew Bourne caused something of a stir:
Now, we can’t all like the same things – indeed, the world would be a very boring & uncreative place if we didn’t have our differences. But given the variety of genres that Shakespeare managed to cover through the course of his career, there really is something for everyone there. Comedy, tragedy, action, romance, history…
Once people started picking up on this tweet, it transpired that Bourne enjoys the stories but doesn’t understand the language. It’s in English, isn’t it? And uneducated peasants formed the majority of the audience at public performances of his work… True, if you are simply reading the plays not every meaning is immediately clear – especially in the more florid passages – but it’s nothing a little concentration & thought can’t fix. And, as the plays were written to be performed, once you see the words brought to life everything becomes clear. It’s not like there aren’t any productions showing in a range of venues, or a lack of DVDs of films or recorded performances. So, as far as I’m concerned, there is no excuse to not understand.
It is slightly troubling that such an influential figure in the arts a) felt that this was an appropriate moment to “be honest”, and b) is happy to propagate the myth that Shakespeare is inaccessible. He also seems to have forgotten that he choreographed As You Like It for the RSC in 1989…
But this isn’t just about Sir Matthew. Shakespeare’s work is beautiful, and well worth the effort. The themes covered in his plays remain relevant today – and, besides that, they are just brilliant stories. Whether you enjoy them all or not (I’m certainly not saying I love all of his plays equally), I’m happy to assert that something Shakespeare wrote will suit your interests. His name & his work have survived across the centuries for a reason!
“The rest is silence…”