Monday, 2 May 2016

Not of an age, but for all time...

Hello folks!!

I'm so sorry there's been no posts recently, especially with such a lot of Shakespeare activity going on...but therein lies the reason. What a fabulous couple of weeks it has been for the playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon! Almost every time you put the radio or TV on there he was!

Needless to say it has therefore been pretty busy for GSC too. Our Will's Birthday Bash events all sold out which has been tremendous: from the talk on his will at Hatchlands in the presence of the Cobbe Portrait, to the Sonnet Walk Weekend and just last Saturday a wonderfully fresh and visceral staged reading of Cymbeline. In between all these we have also managed to squeeze in a special event for The County Club's St George's Day dinner and two award ceremonies! (and of course the day-to-day GSC business!)

The talk at Hatchlands, which was introduced by Alex Cobbe, was such a rare treat. To speak in the magnificent yet intimate Music Room at Hatchlands in the presence of the portrait and talk about Shakespeare's final years has been something I have long-hoped to achieve for GSC; so it was great to have been able to do this in this special year. Apologies though that I ran 20 mins over!!!

The Sonnet Walks once again sent people on a route that introduced them not only to new pieces from Shakespeare, but also new actors with GSC and new venues. The opportunity to perform in the otherwise private St Catherine's ruin was such a coup. Again it was fabulous to have such great support from local businesses, pubs and organisations, helping to make the two days possible.

There really has been so much talk of Shakespeare recently that I could pick up on so many different topics and discuss but, I suppose the one questions that was continually asked, was WHY? Why is this man and his works so popular still? Why is Shakespeare so important?

The Cobbe Portrait (by kind permission of The Cobbe Collection)
“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

…but the writer of these words certainly didn’t leave us with nothing: 38 plays, 154 sonnets, 3 narrative poems and 1700 new words.

"Words, words, words" says Hamlet...and it is these 31, 534 different words across his works that have made him so important. Thanks to Shakespeare we have lonely, majestic, amazement, frugal, zany and bump....and it's not just words...consider that without this man we would not have leapfrog, foregone conclusion, mind's eye, fancy free, laughing stock or break the ice - phrases we use everyday. Whether he coined them or not, their place in his works signify their first recorded use.

Shakespeare is the 2nd most quoted source in the OED with over 33,000 entries (just beaten by The Times with 36,000); when I put his name into Google I get 86.8 million results; 24 of the planet Uranus’ moons are named after his characters, and two of his works, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, have even been translated into Klingon.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon stated that their contribution from attractions and events adds £45m alone to the local Stratford tourist industry....fascinating when you consider that the Stratford Corporation back in 1602 banned playing, imposing a fine of 10 shillings, rising to £10 when re-enforced 10 years later!

Did you know that plantation slaves in America's Deep South would perform his plays; just as Wild West frontier towns hosted travelling tragedians. 64 million, that’s 50%, of the world’s children study him. Every 4 minutes a production of Macbeth is staged somewhere on Earth…the play that quote above comes from.

So why does he endure? Why is Shakespeare important? Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, is noted as saying ‘After God, Shakespeare created most’. An apt description for his plays touch on every conceivable human emotion and he puts into the mouths of kings and queens   the same fears and desires that afflict lovers, prostitutes, mothers and gardeners.

"What light is light is Julia be not seen?
What joy is joy if Julia be not by?"

...says Valentine of his love in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and who, as a young man or woman in the throes of love and passion, hasn't felt the same?

We cry, laugh, envy, fear and champion his creations because they are us – we have all been Romeo or Juliet, all asked ourselves what are doing with our lives like Hamlet does, all had to hide our feelings like Viola, all dreamed to be more than we are like Malvolio, and even to a greater or lesser degree dabbled in the same manipulations as Iago…and if we have not experienced these things we have certainly witnessed them in others.

The plays themes are universal, because at the end of the day Shakespeare’s works are not just about about kings or jesters, mistaken letters or shipwrecks, but rather they are about the human condition - to love, to hate, to grieve, to lust, to yearn, to regret, to dream - which has never changed.

By 1605, the height of his artistic output, he has already written 29 plays, had two poems very successfully published and in the last 5 years has completed a tour de force of drama: Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Othello, Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well. Just around the corner are still to come King Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra… His output at his time is incredible: 29 plays in 15 years....and although his output will dramatically lessen (by half) in the remaining 10 years of his life, he keeps writing and creating.

Ben Johnson, Shakespeare’s friend and rival, wrote in the frontispiece to the First Folio compiled in 1623 that his friend was ‘not of an age but for all time’...surely the most befitting answer to that elusive question, WHY?

BTW I have still been walking!

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