The Aged P

…just toasting and ruminating….

19 January
Comments Off on Yes, I Also Have Been Sorely Tempted To Punch Will Shakespeare On The Nose…

Yes, I Also Have Been Sorely Tempted To Punch Will Shakespeare On The Nose…

As a former schoolboy (a long time ago) and a teacher (now retired) and an amateur actor (still mumbling) I must confess enjoying a moment of guilty pleasure when I watch that Blackadder clip…

It came to mind when I learned a day or so back that I had just landed myself a part in our amateur theatre group’s Shakespeare spring production of “The Winter’s Tale”….not a particularly big role but, as Private Eye might say, it’s small but perfectly formed…..

I love being involved with a play, be it on or back stage. For a few weeks you are part of a joint endeavour with a group of people for one common purpose. You share all the ups and the downs, the crises and the celebrations, the laughter and the tears. Forget those familiar dividing lines of social intercourse age, sex or experience. You are pitched together like a close family battling the world. Then the set is struck and you go your separate ways. Once or twice the bonds made during a run might hold long after the scripts are filed. But more usually, once the play is done, the connections dissolve and disappear down memory lane.

The Bard, however, raises different issues for he is the broccoli of drama. We are told how good he is for us yet so many leave him on the side of the plate. Amateur groups feel he has to be performed even though quite a few tickets will be left unsold.
Shakespeare is often the amdram equivalent of a loss leader.

But he shouldn’t be. The characters are fascinating. The language is powerful and vivid. The themes are universal. He is part of every school’s curriculum.

We all have studied Shakespeare – and there’s the rub.

He is studied because he is a Good Thing. In school we have all analysed and dissected Billy S like a specimen on a laboratory bench. We have discussed characters, motives, meanings and symbolism, turned over metaphors and deconstructed references and laid bare every bone, muscle and sinew. His words are revered like a biblical text, a scientific hypothesis or a philosophical treatise. There is a vast Shakespeare industry employing thousands of actors, academics and gushing media scribblers and talking heads.

The guy’s works are being adulated to death – so here’s a thought.

Let’s turn off the tap for five years. Embargo the puff pieces. Deep freeze the academics in a cryogenics unit. Remove Stratford’s name from all road signs and sat navs. Ban Billy S from being mentioned in the school classroom. Perform the plays with zero hype. Hang anyone who dares to say “the bard”

Shift his library classification from the doom laden “Literature” to cheap and cheerful “Entertainment” – because that was how he was regarded by the noisy, bawdy riotous townsfolk who watched his plays in Elizabethan and Jacobean London.

As a schoolboy in 1950s England any chance of appreciating Shakespeare was ground out of my consciousness by hour after hour of mind numbing analysis until the very mention of the name would cause my eyes to glaze over and my brain to slip into neutral.

Then one evening in 1955 I went with my bus driver dad for our weekly cinema visit. He had misread the bill and was expecting to see a gangster movie. By the time we realised it was Laurence Olivier’s film of Richard III our tickets had already been purchased so we went in, expecting to be bored to tears.

How wrong we were. It was magical.

At the end, as the final credits rolled the audience in that packed cinema in a working class suburb of South London sat motionless and silent for a few brief moments. Then as we walked out into the night there was a massive buzz as we all began to talk of what we had seen and my dad looked at me and said “That wasn’t the Shakespeare that was hammered into me at school. That film must be the real Shakespeare….what have I been missing all these years?”

So, unlike Blackadder, it’s not the real Will Shakespeare I want to punch on the nose – it’s the polystyrene cultural idol created by the termites of the Shakespeare industry that I would like to target with my custard pie.

Mind you sometimes I do find Colin Firth a tad irritating……

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