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Should Shakespeare Shuffle Off?

November 26, 2014

Jemima Lewis, a journalist on the Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/william-shakespeare/11214992/Shakespeare-is-too-obscure-for-the-stage-methinks.html

thinks so. On stage, anyway. Too hard to understand and anyone laughing at the jokes is pretentious as nobody REALLY “gets” them any more, and they were not funny in the first place.

So, basically, a gravedigger waving a skull and declaiming “alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well” isn’t hilarious – particularly if the grave digger inserts a cigarette in the skull’s mouth first. Well, to be fair, the journalist was a woman, and that’s “schoolboy” humour I’d say… rather proving that funny is in the mind of the beholder, except that which school girl wouldn’t find the idea of a bloke trying to attract her by wearing yellow stockings hilarious? And doesn’t everyone laugh at word-mangling ramblers like Dogberry?

And all is Shakespeare. I’ve written at length in this blog about the WWET (World’s Worst English Teacher) who appears related to that journalist’s one, for doing the same thing – reading “round the class” out of the script. No feeling, no context. Nothing.

As I’ve also said, I had already seen Bill the Quill’s output done on stage – so WWET could (and now, hopefully does) rot somewhere like the Wackford Squeers Home for Underachieving Educational Folk. So WWET had no effect on me whatsoever. I ignored the idiot and “did my own thing” very successfully, as it turned out, in the exams – and now of course earn a living from my writing.

Of course WWET and that ilk cause the damage that make an otherwise sensible journalist publish such ideas. It’s just because the most vital thing of all is missed. As I’ve already mentioned… “context.”

Most of us grew up watching American films and television programmes. Sorry, American movies and TV shows. An educated (and, frankly, hormonal teenage few in search of a bit of pre-internet titillation) ventured further in to “World Cinema,” i.e. “those films you have to read as well as look at.”

Even the most well-travelled don’t truly understand every nuance of another country’s arts output… but from the “context” of the story, environment and speech-patterns, we figure it out and understand perfectly well.

And Shakespeare is no different. We can tell our “patches” from our “drabs” by the costumes they wear, scenery around them and the tone of voice used – provided the director is inventive enough. Is it any more baffling than a reference to “pop fly” or “flic” in a modern film made overseas? I think not.

Had I the money or a time-machine, I’d have made certain every teenager in the country was able to see the 2012 Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Not as starrily cast as the 2013 Smith / Walliams / Grandage version, but so simple and inventive, anyone (and I took a ‘first timer’ myself) not only “understood,” but laughed uproariously. The “Chav Dream” as it was known, played by everyday builders and a population that wouldn’t look out of place in “Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” (as the production indeed ended) was entertainment, pure, simple and as easy to understand as a John Lewis Penguin.

For sure, ban bad Shakespeare interpreters, but keep the Bard off the stage? Not since Cromwell, my dear.

 

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