Wednesday, 8 October 2014

My First Shakespeare


Shop at Shakespeare's Globe, South Bank, London
William Shakespeare’s work, 450 years after his birth, generates a significant amount of income for the nation, yes, even in times of recession – ticket sales and hotel bookings in and around the Globe Theatre in London and at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon have not fallen in recent years. And as of today there are 1,151 films that carry his name in the writing credits on imdb; there’s no sign that this figure will stop rising; Shakespeare is by far and away the most prolific screenwriter in movie history, an industry that didn’t even exist when he was alive.
Other artists have been inspired to choreograph ballets, compose operas and create musicals; inspired to paint pictures, craft sculptures, write spin-off stories; less literary companies have manufactured posters, pens, fridge magnets, mugs, t-shirts, soft toys and other merchandise, great and small. The UK tourist board has calculated that the county of Warwickshire owes over half a billion pounds a year to the tourism generated as a result of Shakespeare being born in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon (Stratford-upon-Avon itself attracts around £335 million.)

When was I first entranced?

On the bookshelf in the front room through my childhood in Wakefield there was:
A set of encyclopedias
A family Holy Bible
Butler’s Lives of the Saints

And the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (complete with Fuseli plates.) I would pore over these tomes. I would read sections to pass the time and also for fun (only three TV channels and pre-digital age of course.) 

Fuseli plate of a scene from Midsummer Night's Dream

Tale of Two Teachers

But at school a teacher almost ruined King Lear by reading it bombastically from beginning to end striding about the classroom, oblivious to whether or not his class was listening. Shakespeare by fruity verbal sledgehammer – the worst kind of teaching! Luckily York Notes gave me the confidence to pass the exam (and another teacher, Ken Payne, happily gave me an excellent introduction to Hamlet with plenty of activities and tasks and provoked a sense that the play was thrilling, heartbreaking and relevant to a Wakefield teenager.)
 The Comedy of Errors, King Lear and Hamlet

Dromio of Ephesus

But it was at university in a production by David Phelan of The Comedy of Errors that the penny fully and finally dropped. And boy did it drop! I don’t know whether it was the “hair by Vidal Sassoon” (me and the other student playing Dromio of Syracuse were given curly perms) or the 1920's flapper music or the laughter generated by the audience – none of the ephemeral wonderments that are in the First Folio. But something about performing the play that year at that time of my life kindled a spark that has continued flaring. In retirement I will not be able to help myself delving further and deeper into the texts and context of this remarkable writer. Happy times!
That most "English" of Shakespeare's plays with Falstaff in merry mode