Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday: Now All the World Is His Stage

Jonathan Bate, Telegraph (London), April 20, 2014

The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth was marked by a set of Royal Mail stamps, a gala performance by the recently established Royal Shakespeare Company, a new biography by A L Rowse and a rollicking Anthony Burgess novel about his love life. Fifty years on, this seems like a modest commemoration. It was the Beatles and Disney’s Mary Poppins that were making the cultural running in 1964.

This week, by contrast, it is a racing certainty that every major news outlet in the world will have something to say about the Bard of Avon’s 450th birthday, which falls on Wednesday. And this is only prologue to the wall-to-wall programme of celebrations, productions, exhibitions and documentaries being planned for 2016, the quatercentenary of his death. Shakespeare has become a global icon, not merely a local heritage product whose presumed birthday conveniently coincides with St George’s Day.

At the time of his death, he was a much admired dramatist. But Francis Beaumont, who passed away a few weeks before him, was equally admired, on the basis of far fewer plays. The centenary of Shakespeare’s birth fell soon after the theatres reopened with the Restoration of the monarchy, following the period when the Puritans had closed them down for the duration of the Civil War. His plays formed a staple part of the repertoire, but those of Beaumont and John Fletcher were performed more frequently. Shakespeare only pulled ahead of the pack in the Georgian era. It was around his 200th anniversary, under the auspices of the great actor David Garrick, that he took on his status as National Poet and exemplar of artistic genius. He has never fallen out of fashion, but in the past 25 years or so his reputation has become truly stratospheric. In Britain and around the world you can see more Shakespeare than ever before. It may indeed be that his reputation has reached its high-water mark and can only recede.

At the time of the 400th anniversary, which fell in the interim between the closure of the Old Vic and the opening of the new National Theatre, there was only the RSC and regional rep. Now there is the Globe, a plethora of West End productions–Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet and Martin Freeman as Richard III hard on the heels of Jude Law as Henry V and David Tennant as Richard II–and an extraordinary wealth of smaller-scale Shakespeare by Propeller, Cheek by Jowl, The Tobacco Factory, Filter and dozens of other innovative touring companies. In North America, at least two dozen cities have a summer Shakespeare festival. Modern cinema has produced everything from a Samurai Macbeth to several Bollywood Romeo and Juliets.

The success of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V in 1989 heralded a revival of Shakespeare on screen following a period in the doldrums. But an even more important turning point was the triumph of Shakespeare in Love at both the box office and the Oscars. Tom Stoppard’s brilliant screenplay drew such strong parallels between the Elizabethan theatre and modern Hollywood that the film contrived to turn Shakespeare into a celebrity. It made him our contemporary at precisely the moment when culture was taken over by a rage for the now, a cult of the new.

Our age of novelty and celebrity, of 24/7 entertainment news and ever-renewing digital information, leaves little time for the measured appreciation of Shakespeare’s more demanding contemporaries such as Ben Jonson and John Donne, let alone the epic poetry of other classic authors such as Edmund Spenser and John Milton, who were once as admired as the man from Stratford. It is only Shakespeare whose language and characters have taken on a life of their own, enabling his work constantly to accommodate itself to the new. There is a quotation for every occasion, a character parallel for every figure in public life.

Shakespeare–along with Jane Austen–is becoming the token representative of a cultural past that is otherwise forgotten. The danger is that if we lose the ability to place him in the context of his age, we may cease to understand him. Students struggle with aspects of his language because they no longer share that knowledge of the Bible and classical antiquity which Shakespeare expected of his audiences. When Hamlet says that he is not like Hercules or when Shylock calls Portia “a Daniel come to judgment,” most Elizabethans would have understood the allusion. Soon we will all need a footnote.

On the other hand, the passion for Shakespeare has become a way of opening up his world and keeping it alive. Over the past couple of years, I have had the good fortune of being consultant curator for the British Museum’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad exhibition “Shakespeare Staging the World”, of writing the script for Simon Callow’s one-man show Being Shakespeare, and of presenting a global online course exploring the collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. In each case, I’ve been amazed by the enthusiasm, the inquiring spirit and the knowledge of thousands of people, from teenagers to octogenarians.

How knowledgeable should we expect our schoolchildren to be about Shakespeare?

During the Government’s recent overhaul of GCSEs, I was asked to join a consultative group advising on the English Literature syllabus. It quickly became clear that the minister wanted to prescribe two Shakespeare plays for every 16-year-old in the land. I argued, to the contrary, that there should be one Shakespeare play and one play by anybody except Shakespeare. It cannot be in Shakespeare’s interest for teenagers to associate him with compulsion, for his plays and his alone to have the dreaded status of set books.

That said, recent years have witnessed great progress in the way in which Shakespeare is taught. Back in 1964, the tendency was to parse the text on the page and pay little attention to the theatrical life of the plays. There was a degree of mutual suspicion between academic critics and theatre professionals.

All this has changed. Much of the best modern scholarship has focused on the practicalities of performance in the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, while the history of Shakespeare on stage and screen has become a thriving sub-discipline in its own right. The education departments of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Globe are getting into schools and persuading teachers to get pupils on their feet, speaking the lines aloud and fitting the word to the action.

The crucial next step will be the adaptation of Shakespeare to the digitised classroom of the future. By the time the 500th anniversary is celebrated in 2064, textbooks will have been replaced by some version of the tablet computer. There are already exciting initiatives in the creation of Shakespeare apps for the iPad, most notably a project led by Sir Ian McKellen and the director Richard Loncraine, in which the plays can be simultaneously read and seen, with all sorts of contextual and explanatory information reachable at a click.

In a verse preface to the First Folio of the complete plays, his friend and rival Ben Jonson predicted that there would come a time when Shakespeare would be held in as high regard as the great writers of antiquity. “Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show,” he wrote, “To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe.” Shakespeare’s Britain stood on the threshold of the modern world. Britain’s Shakespeare was a creation of the 18th and 19th centuries, an era when the nation and thus the national poet moved on the world stage. There is, wrote Maurice Morgann, one of his 18th-century admirers, “nothing perishable about him … the Apalachian mountains, the banks of the Ohio, and the plains of Sciota , shall resound with his accents … when even the memory of the language in which he has written shall be no more.”

Now it is not just “all scenes of Europe” but almost all countries in the world that pay homage to William Shakespeare. His works are our most enduring cultural export.

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  • If only Joe Sobran was still alive…

    It says here that:

    During the Government’s recent overhaul of GCSEs, I was asked to join a consultative group advising on the English Literature syllabus. It quickly became clear that the minister wanted to prescribe two Shakespeare plays for every 16-year-old in the land. I argued, to the contrary, that there should be one Shakespeare play and one play by anybody except Shakespeare.

    So by the time a Briton turns 17, under this proposal, he or she will have read only two Shakespeares, or one Shakespeare and one contemporary.

    Hell, between the start of 7th grade and graduating from high school, I had read seven Shakespeare plays on assignment and one of Ben Jonson’s, that being Every Man In His Humour.

    • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

      Remarkable! Private or public school?

      • Public, both middle and high school. Graduated in 1995, giving you an idea of the time frame. The era of having to walk 20 miles one way to school through a foot of snow.

        For the record, the English Lit class where we had two Shakespeares and one Ben Jonson also dropped Milton’s Paradise Lost in our laps.

        • kikz2

          i remb that being shown on a reel/reel in our cafeteria…. 🙂

      • kikz2

        read them all in h.s….. private of course.

    • David Ashton

      You can bet that either Othello or The Merchant of Venice will be proposed as the “one play” in many schools, and given the usual PC spin.

    • Grantland

      In the last week, with the interruption of my Internet service (and my disgust with vol. 2 of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall – vol. 1 was great) .. I read The Merchant of Venice (superb, my favourite), Hamlet (inconsistent) Henry V (disappointing), 12’th Night (brilliant, hilarious) The Rape of Lucrece (nice verse, little action), The Taming of the Shrew (how does a suitor fake being a music teacher to his suitee), Romeo and Juliette (everyone dies, lovely imagery), Julius Caesar (not his best), King John (good story, again little actual fighting), halfway through Measure for Measure (prurient, promising).

      At school, Macbeth and Twelfth Night – gotta re-read the former.

      Pure coincidence, if such a thing exists.

      • Shakespeare was getting down to the hard rock bottom of human nature. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every work of his done in that spirit, which is virtually all of his works, is everyone’s cup of tea.

  • I’ve actually been to the home of Shakespeare’s birth at Stratford-upon-Avon. It was a beautiful town. Doubtless now it is full of Pakistanis.

    • Steven Barr

      I live nearby and went to the theatre there a month ago. Still nice and white thankfully.

      • sbuffalonative

        Glad to hear.

    • dd121

      I was in the British Library a couple of weeks ago to see their publicly displayed rare book collection. They have a First Folio Shakespeare’s works. I’d rather have that than the Gutenberg bible.

      • The rarest thing I ever owned was the first prototype G-43 rifle, by Walther. Unlike the production models, the receiver and bolt-carrier were machined, rather than investment-cast. Look on the bright side: you have a nice truck, and unlike mine, yours actually runs.

        • dd121

          Got to admit that rifle sounds pretty special. I guess it’s not possible to possess anything; it’s just in our possession while we’re on earth.

        • Grantland

          I want an EM2 replica built with an AK-47 action in 6.5mm Grendel. Can you help?

          • I can’t have anything to do with firearms anymore.

          • Grantland

            No thinking, talking, considering? I was expecting you to tell me that X was impossible, because Y could never work with Z – idle chatter. No biggie.

      • Brian

        My university has a first edition of Newton’s Principia Mathematica. I got to peruse that once. For a budding engineer, it was quite a treat, and even with only two years of half-hearted Latin, I gained an appreciation of Newton’s effort and staggering mind.

        Of course he stole most of his ideas from the African spacecraft pilots and thus reduced them to mud huts and Iron Age living, but still…

        • dd121

          Funny you should mention that. I too have a first edition of Principia. It’s one of my treasures. I have two volumes but I think it was published in three volumes. With the third volume missing it’s not worth much.

    • DudeWheresMyCountry?

      I’ve been too when I lived in London. I can’t even think about how Stratford must be now. I was there in the early 90s and then the only thing that seemed out of place then was the McDonald’s. Magical for any WS fan.

    • Geo1metric

      I visited there in the early ’80’s while living/working in Italy. Wonderful experience.

    • Singingbird1

      Your comment made me laugh. I thought it was funny.

  • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

    Ambrose Video has all 37 of the great BBC productions of the plays in 70s &80s. I see the price has gone up about $5 since last year (to $39 per play) when I bought a bunch — probably because of the 450th anniversary.
    But there are 5-play gift boxes of tragedies, histories, comedies — available for about $100 each ($90 on Amazon) last year when I bought several.
    These, a Complete Shakespeare edition, a good Shakespeare lexicon (I use Alexander Schmidt’s 2-volume set) and Sparknotes 101 Shakespeare (an excellent resource) is all anyone needs.

  • So CAL Snowman

    So what is everyone’s favorite work by Shakespeare?

    My personal favorite is Macbeth.

    “Yet I do fear thy nature; it is too full o’ the milk of human kindness, To catch the nearest way”

    Reminds me of our White pathological altruism.

    • Julius Caesar.

      Pure testosterone-filled political intrigue, the acquisition of, centralization of and the fight over power in a growing empire.

      And none of that lovey dovey crap.

      I guess it’s why I like House of Cards on Netflix.

    • Jesse James

      I have always loved “Henry V” : Agincourt, the famous “St Crispin’s Day” speech, “once more into the breach” at Harfleur, the death of good old Falstaff.

      “We few, we happy few.” reminds me of our little group here as does,

      “That he which hath no stomach to this fight,

      Let him depart; his passport shall be made,

      And crowns for convoy put into his purse;

      We would not die in that man’s company

      That fears his fellowship to die with us.”

      • sbuffalonative

        Richard II:

        “This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,

        This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

        This other Eden, demi-paradise,

        This fortress built by Nature for herself

        Against infection and the hand of war,

        This happy breed of men, this little world,

        This precious stone set in the silver sea,

        Which serves it in the office of a wall

        Or as a moat defensive to a house,

        Against the envy of less happier lands,

        This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

        This speech gives me goose bumps and I think of it whenever I read a piece about the new ‘multicultural’ England and what is being lost.

        It stirs my soul and I’m not even British.

        • Jesse James

          It makes me really sad thinking of how treasonous British libs and globalists allowed, nay facilitated the invasion by Third World immigrants and the genocidal race replacement of their native people.

          • Peter Connor

            For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground…

        • David Ashton

          Thanks for this. It saves me from quoting it. It is so pleasant to see “hands and minds across the sea” over this shared Anglo heritage.

        • saxonsun

          Gives me the chills every time.

      • Grantland

        Yes, but not a word about the longbows.

    • Sangraal

      ‘White Guilt’ reminds me of Lady Macbeth washing the imaginary blood off her hands – ‘Out, damned spot!’. No matter how much they scrub, the race-hustlers will always find more ‘spots’.
      Although, there is a big difference in that Lady Macbeth was genuinely guilty.

      • Grantland

        I remember it as real blood – like the fellow in “death at a funeral” desperately washing his feces-flecked hands as the (running) water just gets darker and darker.. hahaha

    • jane johnson

      Same play; different line….”Out, damned spot”. When I first heard this line, as a child, I thought that “Spot” was a dog. Loved it ever since.

    • Lewis33

      Richard III

      Being cursed by his own mother, “Bloody thou art, Bloody will be thy end!”

      • Peter Connor

        Yes, “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sonne of York.”

    • sbuffalonative

      ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’.

      Inventive, original, touching (the relationship between Bottom and Titania), and I always laugh out loud.

      ‘Hamlet’ is second. One of the most complex plays ever written. Every character (and there are many) is clearly distinct. I like the character Polonius. Whenever he’s asked his opinion, he couches everything he says in mousy, vague diplomatic terms and everyone hears what they want to hear.

      And he has one of my favorite lines: ‘To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’

      • Jesse James

        I always loved Midsummer’s Night because my grandmother was a community theater director and when I was young she did a really terrific production of the play in a local Florida park. All my aunts and my uncle had parts in the play, it was really magical.

        • sbuffalonative

          I’m chucking thinking about Hermia’s confused reaction when both Demetrius and Lysander pledge their love.

          Hysterically funny scene.

          And the scene with Bottom having the head of an Ass and Titania telling him how handsome he is.

          It’s doubly cleaver in that Bottom isn’t even aware he looks like a donkey; he’s only confused by why the beautiful Titania would find him attractive without even knowing what he now looks like.

          Amazingly original and yes, magical.

          • Oldcorporal

            Bottom equals Ass. Pretty clever of Shakespeare. But then, he was a literary genius. But everybody knows that, don’t they?

          • Grantland

            Dozens or several of top-rate, respectively, artists, musicians, poets, novelists, philosophers, engineers, scientists, mathematicians..

            Only one Shakespeare. After 400 years.

          • Grantland

            Newton? Nah, not to the same extent.

      • Oldcorporal

        “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is also my favorite Shakespeare play. I first saw it in the 1935 version with James Cagney, Olivia DeHavilland, et al, and just fell in love with it. Had never really understood the Shakespeare plays I saw before then; but this one opened my eyes.

        • Grantland

          You have to read it before you see it, otherwise it’s Greek. Anyone who tells you different is either a poseur or a time-traveller.

    • Laura Dilworth

      merchant of venice

    • skara_brae

      Excellent question but I fear my answer would change daily. Macbeth is brilliant (My father was born literally a stone’s throw from the Blasted Heath) but at this very moment the sonnets would be my vote.

    • Viv J

      My favorites, in order:

      1. King Lear
      2. Julius Caesar
      3. Richard III. Or Macbeth

      Fortunately, my two oldest kids go to a private high school where they read 1-2 Shakespearean plays each school year. I’ve been told that the public school near our house puts a heavy emphasis on reading works by “diverse” authors, which means that they don’t read much of anything good. My neighbor’s boy brought home an assignment in which they were to analyze some stupid hip hop lyrics.

    • DudeWheresMyCountry?

      Henry IV p1, you can read it 20 times and still see new folds.

  • When the White race is beaten down into servitude to the non-whites will anyone care about Shakespeare or anything else of high literary value. The “poetry of the ghetto” such as by Kanye West, Jay Z, Rhianna, et. al. is now elbowing Will out of the curriculum, even in college. The darkest hours of the West continue to darken.

    • model1911

      True, sad but true. Most blacks think Shakespeare is what their Zulu ancestors did at Islawanda and Rourk’s Drift.

      • Oldcorporal

        Good one! Also the topic of an excellent movie, “Zulu,” from 1963 (I think).

  • dd121

    I always liked Henry V. Anyone who kills a generation of French nobles can’t be all bad.

    Most people have little idea how much Shakespeare has shaped modern English. Educated people will always appreciate his genius. No, rap artists don’t fit that category.

    Some people talk about great athletes as “once in a generation”. With Shakespeare it’s been 500 years an nobody’s come close. Maybe it’s once in a 1000 years comparing his contributions.

    • David Ashton

      As the “schoolboy” said, “Shakespeare seems to be full of quotations” & idioms, metaphors and phrases taken for granted.

    • It has often been said that if you give a million monkeys a million typewriters and a million years, you’ll get Shakespeare.

      Well, if you give one Elizabethan-era Englishman a quill pen and fifty-two years, you’ll also get Shakespeare.

      • Sangraal

        If you let a million Africans into Britain, give them each a British education and a million years, they still won’t produce Shakespeare.

    • The Spaniard, Miguel de Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote” was a brilliant contemporary of Shakespeare. In fact, they died in the same month: April 1616. Cervantes fought against the Ottomans at Lepanto in 1571, and survived being shot twice in the chest and once in the left arm during the battle.

      • dd121

        In my three weeks in Germany I went from castle to castle. Usually some obscure battle was fought there with little purpose. Europeans have been killing other Europeans for at least a couple of thousand years yet the map of Europe has changed little. Ah, the folly of humans.

        I really enjoyed Trier and the Roman city gate of Porta Nigra. In 200 AD if you went beyond the city where the Germans lived, you were truly in Injun Country!

      • Oldcorporal

        Depending on which calendar you’re using, they may have died on the very same day: April 23, 1616.

        • Brian

          Hmm, that’s about as weird as Adams and Jefferson, or Darwin and Lincoln.

      • Brian

        This is a photo I took from the town of Nafpaktos, overlooking the bay where the battle of Lepanto took place– the last naval battle with rowed ships, iirc…

        • stewball

          Beautiful picture. The

  • Alexandra1973

    I’ve heard that Shakespeare was actually one Edward de Vere.

    It’d be cool if he was. I had de Vere ancestors.

    • David Ashton

      There is a theory that Bacon wrote not only much of the Shakespeare material (including Ham-let!) but also Don Quixote, leaving clues to that effect in this outstanding work attributed to the otherwise fairly tame Cervantes. (See M C Scott above.)

      • kikz2

        sorry, didn’t see your post….

    • kikz2

      or Francis Bacon is another possibility i’ve heard broached…..

      • David Ashton

        Whoever the actual author(s) these plays are masterpieces in so many ways. Just one example: the insight into mental illness in “King Lear”.

        • Oldcorporal

          There’s no “whoever” about it. The Bard of Avon was the author. Does anyone now really think that his friends who published the First Folio, and Ben Jonson who wrote a dedication to it, would not have known if Shakespeare were a fraud? This “Oxfordian” rubbish all grew out of class snobbery. Upper-class, well-educated Englishmen of the 18th and 19th centuries just couldn’t bear the thought that a glovemaker’s son who had never been to “university,” wrote the world’s greatest literature.

          • David Ashton

            Personally I have not had the time or sufficient interest to consider the evidence from various writers with an open mind. There is more to it than mere “class snobbery”. Quite clearly the content of the plays exhibit an well-educated intelligence and wide human experience, but you are quite probably right about the authorship.

          • Martel

            The animosity between the English classes always surprises me, it does not exist in the Netherlands to any significant degree. If this was the case already in the 19th century, it may tell us why Marx believed communism would first be established in England. Fortunately he was wrong, as he was with most of his predictions.

        • Geo1metric

          My vote is the Earl of Oxford. Joe Sobran’s ALIAS SHAKESPEARE convinced me. Good read.

          • David Ashton

            There is quite a competition in this field, and few people can “read ’em all”. Several writers have argued that Shakespeare was a Catholic recusant in background, but my “impression” from the plays is that he was something of an early agnostic humanist, familiar with RC customs but also much else. There is something so “modern” about Shylock’s defense, for instance.

          • Geo1metric

            Well, the Shylocks of the world never change, n’est pas?

            Sobran clinched it for me when Shakespeare describes the detailed architecture, both exterior and interior, of some of Italy’s wealthy. These descriptions were not gleaned from casual “bar” conversations, as they would have to have been done by the un-traveled William, but they were by the extensively traveled Earl of Oxford, who also had entre to the domiciles of the wealthy.

            Nevertheless, the genius of Shakespeare, like the finest wines, can be savored all the days of our lives.

          • David Ashton

            I must resist the temptation to go into this and content myself with the chapter “Hand of Glory” in Ivor Brown’s “Shakespeare” (1949) to which your comment has just sent me.

            Sobran was a good egg.

          • Geo1metric

            Thank you; I just purchased a copy of Brown’s book on Amazon. Will read it with great interest.

          • David Ashton

            I have just read that Prince Charles has been arguing with his father about the authorship, and takes the “traditional” view (as he does with much else, I am mostly pleased to see).

          • Geo1metric

            I am all for “tradition”, but have always been attracted to a good controversy as well.

          • David Ashton

            Ditto.

          • Martel

            Supporting tradition is inviting controversy in this era.

          • Geo1metric

            That’s so true! Lucky for me that I enjoy a good fight. Controversy keeps me on my toes, and gives me the satisfaction of knowing that I am fighting on the side of the better angels.

          • Martel

            Prince Charles has great taste and on such cultural issues takes the right side, surprisingly, I hope William and Henry follow in his footsteps when it comes to this matter.

          • David Ashton

            The Patriot King, I hope.
            Charles Arthur George.

          • Martel

            I’m not sure about Charles as a patriot, he is a decent man, and surely understands English/British culture, but I’m not sure if he either has the metal or the wit to understand how this culture is endangered. In terms of metal I hope for William, he and his brother are risk takers.

            PS: your reply to me on the local France was deleted before I could read it. They seem to delete all comments after a few days each time.

          • David Ashton

            We’ll see.

          • David Ashton

            “I have long predicted (and in a way hoped for) a clash between Charles and the Government when he eventually comes to the throne….in most matters he is far closer to the nation’s heart and soul than the political class. And he has just as much of a moral claim to speak for us…. It’s the party machines, not us, who actually choose MPs in safe seats, and then boss them around. And it’s money from rather fishy billionaires that pays for their campaigns, and they expect their reward. Whereas the heir to the throne is nobody’s creature, and hasn’t sold himself to the highest bidder.” – Peter Hitchens, “The Mail on Sunday”, April 27, 2014.

          • Martel

            Hitchens often provides accurate analyses,I hope he is right with this one. Our former Queen, Beatrix, sold herself for favourable press, as prior to her political transformation , Dutch media were extremely hostile towards her. She spend the rest of her years cleverly using her image to combat ”intolerance”.

          • David Ashton

            “I don’t always do what I am told” & “I do not relish becoming king of a divided nation” & “Roots and identity matter, and need restoration if possible” & “[Political] short-termism will prove the death of this country” (Prince Charles). He has to become the King of subjects that are not only white or English-speaking, and has encouraged creative enterprise among black as well as white youth, but apart from his quirky interest in Sufism, his values rest squarely with the (hitherto) majority nation in the Kingdom.

            Read Bernard Shaw’s “Apple Cart” & Clemence Dane’s “The Saviors” & pray for a miracle!

          • Martel

            Great quotes.

  • IstvanIN

    I’ll no doubt sound like a boob for even suggesting this but I always thought it would be nice to have Shakespeare translated into contemporary English. To be able to read Shakespeare without needing a dictionary. The stories are timeless.

    PS: Contemporary ENGLISH, not ebonics or spanglish.

    • As it is, modern texts and printings of Shakespeare have a footnote either translating it or putting it into context seemingly with every other line. The problem with full-on translation would take the art out of the literature.

      • IstvanIN

        I realize that it would lose some of the flavor but it would be nice to read through, as I would a modern novel, without the difficulty in comprehension. Not something I would recommend for college, or even advanced high school students, but perhaps nice for those of us long past school.

        • David Ashton

          Don’t bother with Lamb’s Tales – this version is boring, tepid and in its own way old-fashioned.

    • Einsatzgrenadier

      Shakespeare isn’t that difficult to read or understand, as long as there are footnotes explaining the archaisms. If you really want a challenge, try reading Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in the original middle English.

      • I have a copy of that here.

      • skara_brae

        Or the Norse sagas.

        • Or “Beowulf”. One of my friends during my last county jail stint was fluent in Old English. I thought he was speaking Danish or Frisian at first.

    • David Ashton

      A L Rowse did do this, fairly well. I also remember a TV play with Julius Caesar updated into modern English without plot corruption that was useful in schools. But the poetry and character of the text can be injured by this process, and should be used to lead on to the original text not arrest that interest.

    • saxonsun

      “No Fear Shakespeare” is what you want. The text is in the original and our version of English.

    • skara_brae

      I truly miss being able to see down-votes.

  • Brian

    It quickly became clear that the minister wanted to prescribe two
    Shakespeare plays for every 16-year-old in the land. I argued, to the
    contrary, that there should be one Shakespeare play and one play by
    anybody except Shakespeare.
    ===
    Pitiful. I had read all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets in my teens, and I’m just a southern hillbilly. It’s literature from a genius, not a root canal.

    • kikz2

      most can’t make the leap w/the old English, to comprehend plot…. sigh

    • David Ashton

      Well done, Sir!

      School texts in “England” still include “Ann Frank’s Diary”, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Handmaid’s Tale”. The “pupils” can manage them, with help.

      • Brian

        Thanks. My parents were avid churchgoers when I was wee, and let’s just say I was not so avid about the preacher’s style. During the sermons, I read the Bible on my own– no one could complain about that, eh? After a few passes through the the King James, I had some feel for the language of 1600. My Sunday School teacher was a retired English teacher who gave me a copy of the complete works of Billy S., and so I started in on that…it looked like a thick Bible itself with the cover lettering worn off, and over the course of a few years of Sunday mornings and evening services, I worked all through it. It’s amazing how much knowledge and how many clever turns of phrase you can scrape together just from the Bible and Shakespeare.

        • David Ashton

          I wish there were more like you today.

  • kikz2

    i favor the 90’s version of Midsummer Night’s w/the ensemble cast Kevin Kline/Michelle Phillips/Stanley Tucci, et al.

  • convairXF92

    Well, I think some of Shakespeare’s lines do fit the brothas quite accurately:

    How about black relationships:
    Take thou no scorn to wear the horn;
    It was a crest ere thou was born;
    Thy father’s father wore it,
    And thy father bore it:
    The horn, the horn, the lusty horn….
    (*As You Like It*, Act IV, Scene 2)

    And the life-strategy of black youth:
    Full of strange oaths…
    Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
    Seeking the bubble reputation
    Even in the cannon’s mouth.
    (*As You Like It*, Act II, Scene 7)

  • Another one of his fails was the mentality that people who were part of bourgeoise labor-workers associations would be big into this no-nationalism we-are-the-world baloney. When in reality they’re the first to ride to the sound of nationalist guns.

  • Martel

    He first predicted the fall of capitalism in Germany, disgruntled when there was little sign of this happening, he changed his position to England. He never was on the side of the workers, just puppets in the play he wrote.

  • Martel

    This may be the case, though less then 20% of the English are not ”native”. The rest belong to the same people who lived there during the end of the ice ages. Saxons, Normans, and others had little influence on the genetic make up of the modern English.

  • Truth Teller

    My favorite is Titus Andronicus, blood, gore, rape,infanticide and murders galore.!!!!!!

  • Truth Teller

    I’ve read the Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere theories Reading pro and con i believe the William Shakespeare was the author for 2 reasons
    (1) Didn’t go to university So what? What the anti Shakespearians never mention is that the universities were actually seminaries to study for the priesthood of the established church. To be admitted, students had to declare they intended to be priests or vicars or whatever they were called after the reformation. Of course after several years many “changed” their minds and went into secular life. Many of the priest dons did math, science, law, medicine etc, but those universities were seminaries. One does not have to attend university to become educated.

    (2) never went to Italy Where is the proof he never went to Italy? There were many years there was no record of his whereabouts. His family was catholic and his parents lost their property and most of their money due to confiscatory fines. The English catholics started sending their children abroad to study their religion at that time. The wealthy catholics would take an entourage of catholics who could not afford to go on their own. The young adult Shaekespeare could have gone on one of those trips.
    Geography was studied at the time. Italy was the major cultural innovator at the time and the rest of Europe was filled with books about Italy.
    That he could have gone to Italy as a young adult is only a theory. But it is as good a theory as “he never went to Italy because there is no record he went to Italy.”

    I agree that the anti Shakespearians were wanna be aristo but not aristo snobs. Shakespeare’s father owned a small glove factory. Horrors of horrors, he actually did useful work and trained apprentices in useful work instead of living off slave labor of farm laborers or inheritance from some royal bastard grandparent. Anti Shakespearians never mention that his Father was a Mayor, an Alderman and one of the richest men in town until
    his property was confiscated by the recusant fines.

    In the 1500’s, university was not the only place one could be educated.