This week our creative producer Fiona Lindsay compares Shakespeare to some very familiar people ...
Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing © Johan Persson/Arenapal
If Mozart were alive today he’d be like Prince or Pete Doherty: a prodigious talent hard-wired to an unconventional temperament. Did I just write that? What a preposterous thing to assume. Why does Mozart have to be like anyone but himself to appear cool and relevant?
The same goes for that bald (and now very old) bard of Avon, our national playwright William Shakespeare. I’m not sure of the stats but I bet if there was a poll that ranked the top most-referenced people in history then my favorite man in tights would be up there. His life and art is discussed, studied, debated and performed the world over and if all the world’s a stage then Mr. W.S. is plum centre. Which of course is great if, like me, you’ve a passion for it, shaped a career around it and hope to infect others with your enthusiasm. Now, where were we?
If Shakespeare were alive today he’d be like Baz Lurhmann or Quentin Tarantino: a prodigious talent hard-wired to an unconventional temperament. Did I just write that? What a preposterous thing to assume. Why does Shakespeare have to be like anyone but himself to appear cool and relevant?
The If Shakespeare Were Alive Today opener is commonly used to reduce the near-400 years since his demise and to make him and his work feel edgy and contemporary. What about this as a radical thought, however: the work of 450 year-old William Shakespeare is edgy and contemporary and he doesn’t require being morphed into a stand-up comedian, a writer of soap opera, a controversial filmmaker or some such to reach out and resonate with us all in 2015.
The lightest of scratches at the surface of his plays reveals a grasp of structural conflicts shared by all societies over all ages: religious against secular, country against city, birth against education, strong leadership against the people’s voice, and the code of masculine honour against the energies of erotic desire. Shakespeare brilliantly dramatises perennial conflicts, the competing demands of the living and dead, the old and young, men and women, self and society, integrity and role-play, insiders and outsiders. No other body of writing in history has been peopled with characters and situations of such variety and such breath and depth.
I’ll jump off my soap-box now. You get the point.
If Shakespeare were alive today it would be a miracle because I’ve seen his grave in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. If perchance to dream he was, though, let’s hope he’d be doing just as he did back in the days before thoughts were squeezed into 140 characters and birdsong lost its tune. Cry ‘God for Harry’ and long- form thinking.
William Shakespeare is dead. Long live William Shakespeare. And if all the world’s a stage then let’s play.