Theatre Thoughts: Shakespeare Live and Dead

The other night I sat with my boyfriend and a glass of wine to watch the RSCLive, in honour of Shakespeare's Birthday/Deathday.

This was definitely one of the highlights of the evening!

I think I've written before about how my other half doesn't "get" Shakespeare, so he was watching out of love for me, and knowledge that to suggest watching anything else would have been an exercise in futility.

My partner is an intelligent, smart, accomplished man. He is very skilled at what he does, and he has a creative streak a mile wide. So I confess to feeling baffled about his inability to grasp Shakespeare. Surely, I argue, even if you don't understand each and every word, you understand the meaning? The sentiment? Isn't it, I continue, a little like dance? You don't need to know the technical terms for each movement to understand the emotion and the story behind it.

Nope. He rejoins. He says that while he understands approximately one word in ten, it's the other words around it that then throw off his concentration. That by seizing on the one or two words he recognises or understands, the actual context becomes unintelligible. Or that, by the time he's understood the opening line of a soliloquy, it's finished.

This speech was one of my highlights. It shows the power of Shakespeare; it could have been written today. It's so appropriate to what is happening in the world right now. Does this show Shakespeare's genius, or humanities inability to learn from the mistakes of the past?

Unfortunately, this is something I've come across time and time again in people from all walks of life. Even training at college my fellow students often struggled with Shakespearean language, having to have the nuances explained clearly. 

I think I was lucky in that my GCSE English teacher (and then on into A-Level) was a Shakespeare nut and developed in his students a love of the Bard. And I realise that not everyone will have this experience, especially with the changes to Drama education, that Shakespeare will become something dry and dusty, to be studied and examined rather than enjoyed - I don't think each and every word needs to be understood; surely the passion, the poetry and the humour are clear without having to obtain an academic qualification before watching? I saw Macbeth when I was in year eight or nine, and no, I didn't understand every line, but I understood the feeling and the emotion, got swept up in the drama and excitement, and that helped nurture my love of Shakespeare.

If students don't love Shakespeare, they will become teachers who teach it out of duty rather than passion, and without the joy of seeing this live (and by 'live' I mean actually live, not just through television, as glorious as this show was!) I fear that we may be at a real risk of consigning Shakespeare to academia and those lucky enough to have the chance to learn to love him.
P.S. Update:: The other half is very much enjoying the comedy 'Upstart Crow' - the fact that I occasionally have to explain the jokes to him makes me feel alternately super-smart and superior, and like those awful audience members at Shakespeare productions who do *that* laugh at obscure jokes to show how intelligent they are. It's a real struggle.


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