23 April is widely recognised as the date of Shakespeare's birth. Although there is no accurate record, he was baptised 26 April 1564. His words and stories continue to inspire generation after generation and this impact can be felt worldwide.
On this special day, we wanted to share our first experiences of Shakespeare and what he means to us with you all.
"Shakespeare has been in my life for as long as I can remember. When I was young I lived in Italy and I clearly remember a family trip to Verona and my Mum trying to keep her three young children interested in all the sightseeing by telling us all about the Montagues and Capulets. Their ancient grudge was brought vividly to life through her storytelling and I seem to remember standing on a balcony and pretending to be Juliet and giving my rendering of 'O Romeo Romeo where for art thou Romeo?'. My first and last attempt at the part. But it was several years later when my Mum played Cleopatra and I sat up going through her lines with her that I was hooked. The barge she sat on like a burmished throne burned on the water, 'The poop was beaten gold' was the most exotic poem I'd ever heard. I dreamed I met an emperor, Antony, 'O for such another dream that I might be such another man', the saddest lament of love and almost more than my 14 year old self could bear. At 16 I was lucky enough to get to speak the words out myself when I was given the part of Rosalind and through rehearsing and performing learnt so much about love, sex, friendship, heartbreak, joy. I just loved listening to Celia's line 'O wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and yet again more wonderful so full of fun and mischief' and got so excited by the words 'it's not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue but it is not more unhandsome than seeing the Lord the prologue'. I was lost. Shakespeare's words and stories had my heart and still do."
"One of my first experiences of Shakespeare was playing a goth interpretation of Oberon at my high school. Yes, you read that correctly. We were performing A Midsummer Night's Dream, with the royalty being portrayed as the leaders of the school, the fairies as goths, and the players were a group of skaters...! A wonderful part of the whole experience was that Puck was played by my sister which meant we could spend many an evening running lines and trying out new and different ways of playing out the various scenes we shared (what's more, I shared this story with her recently and she was still able to recite two of her monologues by heart). My costume was leather trousers, a huge leather trench coat and a nose ring...! So many incredible memories, and lots of laughs as you would expect from this particular Shakespeare. But most importantly, it really showed me how timeless Shakespeare is; even after all these years. Using what can be very tricky language to navigate as a young person, you could still relate to the comedy, love and tragedy that he wrote about. A Midsummer Night's Dream It's still one of my favourite Shakespeares to this day..."
"Like many others, my first experience of Shakespeare's work was arguably his most famous tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Although I remember various plays being mentioned at school, it was the film by Baz Luhrman that really caught my imagination. I thought the Capulets looked so cool with their cars and guns! We then studied the play for the next term or so and I started to get to grips with the language - something that up until that point had always seemed quite daunting. My interest in Shakespeare has continued to grow since school and I enjoy going to Stratford-upon-Avon, the Rose, the Globe and various other locations with a Shakespeare connection."
"The first time I really began to engage with Shakespeare and his work was at secondary school. I vividly remember studying The Merchant of Venice and being very inspired by Portia and the ingenuity she employed to ensure that Antonio’s life was spared. I was hooked by his writing after this point and went eagerly to the school library to hire out his complete works, however this enthusiasm quickly dwindled because the book was printed on tissue thin paper, with double columns and tiny text. In 2010 Digital Theatre recorded and made available online the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Comedy of Errors in association with Told by an Idiot and directed by Paul Hunter. The play was specially created for schools and family audiences and was suitable for students aged seven and upwards. This resource is a wonderful and rich resource which engages the student in the text via theatre performance, I only wish that resources like this were more readily available when I was at school."
My grandfather’s full Penguin book collection of the complete works had always been promised to me. On my 10th birthday he took me to see King Lear to show me practically why he so cherished those printed words, and why one day I should do the same. On the journey home, as every English teacher worth their salt would do, he compared the production to the countless others he had seen and picked apart the performances. “The madness must come earlier you see Kate; Cordelia was overall too quiet, she must have more heart!” I experienced two new things. I saw my grandfather cry and I suddenly held an academic conversation with him. A conversation I understood he had had hundreds of times and had yet to be bored of - both of which revelationary to a 10 year old. His threading of emotional and intellectual capabilities that night is why, of course, my bookcase with that collection in will be passed on to my grandchildren and why Shakespeare's words have been passed on for 450 years.
"I think the first time I was really moved by Shakespeare was watching Baz Luhrman's excellent version of Romeo and Juliet. I had studied R&J before at about 11 years old, and although I had always been really intrigued by his use of language and rhythm, I'm not sure if I ever really understood it. This was the first time I had seen a modern interpretation of Shakespeare, and the first time I really knew the intensity and feeling behind the words he wrote. I think that's one of the most interesting things about Shakespeare, how timeless his stories are, how they can be placed in different frames and still be completely relevant. He's a fantastic storyteller, and it's always such a joy to watch a different version of one of his plays, portrayed in a new and unique way, allowing you to understand it, or see it differently. I was so blown away by the portrayal that I learnt the scene where Romeo and Juliet met off by heart; it's something I can still recite now."