The British Council has launched a global programme to bring Shakespeare into the 21st Century, but is Shakespeare Lives in 2016 achieving its goal?
The Shakespeare Lives in 2016 campaign aims to bring the Bard into the 21st century, but I’m not sure it’s working, or that it will be fully appreciated. We are all taught that Shakespeare is a big part of English literary history, but often in the classroom experience we miss valuable lessons, and teach some to hate iambic pentameter. It is impossible to deny the Bard’s place in literary culture, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s time to give the overworked classics a rest, just for a decade or so. In the meantime, can we study some of Shakespeare’s other works, please?
‘I can’t help but wonder if it’s time to give the overworked classics a rest, just for a decade or so’
All of this is not meant as an insult to the Shakespeare Lives in 2016 project; the short films are amazing to watch if you love Shakespeare. My issue is not that these re-imaginings of Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar and King Lear are without merit. Each piece is beautiful, well crafted and wise. The issues of missing mothers, race and age are carefully considered and sensitively acted out. The challenge for me is that the base plays are only those studied at GCSE, and that excludes so much available work. Some people I know roll their eyes at the mere mention of ‘Sonnet 130’ or Macbeth, but equally I’ve seen their eyes wide in wonder watching a lesser known play staged at the Swan Theatre in Stratford. I’ve yet to see The Two Noble Kinsmen anywhere but at the RSC, and trying to explain the storyline of Titus Andronicus to my friends only creates confusion.
‘Shakespeare Lives in 2016 could do so much more, and open new doors, but it didn’t; it took King Lear to a care home and Hamlet to a pub’
We spend so much time studying Shakespeare and yet we often miss so much of what it has to offer. Before starting an English degree no one had pointed out to me that the first 126 of Shakespeare’s sonnets are to a young man, and only the last 28 to a woman. Only through outside reading did I discover my favourite play, and trips to the RSC have taught me more than any lecture on a Shakespeare play. Shakespeare Lives in 2016 could do so much more, and open new doors, but it didn’t; it took King Lear to a care home and Hamlet to a pub. After 400 years there are still new interpretations and meanings in Shakespeare’s work to be found, just maybe not in the same 10 plays we all know inside out.
(Image courtesy of Pink News)