Following on from my little rant last week, this blog is dedicated to ‘Joe’ who so rightly pointed out that Shakespeare has a lot to answer for in the war between Literature and Theatre. To pinch a phrase from the main man himself, Ol’ Shakey, like me, is ‘making the beast with two backs’ (copping off basically) with both of them.
Too bloody clever for his own good, Willy-Boy has been the darling of the literature and theatre world from year dot, or so it would seem. His poetry, rhetoric and imagery has been a blessing and bane for many a student of English. Likewise, his iambic pentameter, characterisation and unusual stage directions (‘Exit pursued by a Bear’ springs to mind) has captured the imagination and frustrated the hell out of actor/director/audience et al.
Consider my last blog and take into account Joe’s comment. Now, isn’t it funny (peculiar not ‘haha’) that on my new bookcase, the object most representational of my crisis, there is no Shakespeare. I did have a shelf in mind for dedication but in the end, there was just no room at the inn. All my poetry and plays have been pushed out by fiction. Shakes is under my bed gathering dust with the rest of them. I must have denied in my subconscious the Borderland of the Bard.
What is it about this guy that we have made him our obsession? He’s a compulsory element on our syllabus from secondary school upwards and if you’re going to audition for Drama school, I don’t know of anywhere where at least one of your two monologues doesn’t have to be Shakespeare. Shakespeare is synonymous with ‘seal of approval’.
Now, I’m partial to his Comedies and his Tragedies are the coveted knees of bees but his Histories (I’m writing this as a whisper…) I find are just a little bit boring. The reason for this, I reckon, is because I’ve never seen one performed and in reading Shakespeare from a literary perspective, it’s typical of me to bypass the historical aspects and latch on to the romantic. Similarly, I saw a fantastically awful Hamlet before I read the text and I am certain that this is why I’m determined to dislike the play so much. I’m hopeful that the National Theatre will change my mind in December but, knowing my stubbornness, this is unlikely.
Not all written plays are so valuable without the performance it was intended for and not all plays translate to the stage as well as they read. In Shakespeare, both text and performance are inextricable, which makes his work a goldmine for both bookish and artsy types. His work presents a vast field of meaning and continues to re-invent and be re-invented through the act of reading and its translation into performance. Joe, I am reassured, Shakespeare wanted his cake and eat it too. And for another of my wise reader’s: he’s as much the tea to my toast as the beauty to my beast.