The Write Factor’s Emily Cunningham takes issue with Benedict Cumberbatch – haven’t we done Shakespeare to death already?
I have a confession to make: I am not that keen on Shakespeare. I blame my parents. I grew up near Stratford-upon-Avon and was regularly dragged to the Royal Shakespeare Company as a child and expected to appreciate his plays. Henry the Wotsit, Part Thingummy etc. Yawn. The RSC did their best to jolly them up with modern-day productions but that phrase about sow’s purses springs to mind. I saw one production of Romeo and Juliet with a full-sized Ferrari on stage and the cast buzzing about on mopeds, and that momentarily sparked a flicker of interest, but once they opened their mouths: ‘Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene…’ and they have lost me. Call me crazy, but iambic pentameter just doesn’t do it for me. Everyone around me is doing that indulgent, theatre laughing at the weakest of Elizabethan jokes involving petards and arrases and I am glazed over. I have zoned out so much that if you held a microphone up to my brain, you would hear lift music. It feels like The Emperor’s New Clothes – no one is daring to say it’s boring. No one is admitting that the most interesting part of it is how much Mercutio spits when he says his lines.
“Smallpox was around in the 16th century too,
but we’re happy to lay that to rest.”
Studying it at school only confirmed what I knew already: that it is written in such impenetrable, archaic language that it is now unintelligible to anyone without a glossary of Elizabethan English. Baz Luhrmann managed to make a smash-hit film of those star-crossed lovers, but the dialogue was an afterthought to the beautiful cast and heart-stopping editing. Does this count? My English-teacher friend always shows the film to her students as part of their GCSE coursework and it is certainly more accessible than just staring at the text, but I don’t think it makes Shakespearean English any more relevant to us now. Give me West Side Story any day.
It’s true that Shakespeare has had a huge impact on modern literature – umpteen phrases, names, metaphors were first penned by his quill but this doesn’t mean we still have to put ourselves through dull-as-ditch-water original productions. Smallpox was around in the 16th century too but we’re happy to lay that to rest.
On Saturday, I saw the ballet version of good old R&J at the Bristol Hippodrome and realised they had cracked it. Visually stunning, great music and no dialogue at all.