RECENTLY I HAVE NOTICED SEVERAL TRAILERS ON THE TELEVISION for a series of programmes entitled Shakespeare Unlocked. This raised two questions in my mind:
• Why does Shakespeare need to be unlocked?
• Why do I, personally, have such a love for the writings of Shakespeare?
To take the questions in the order that they are posited, I suspect that the answer to the first lies in two of the most common comments that I hear when people are discussing his plays, which go as follows:
• They can’t possibly have any relevance or interest for me; they’re written in such old-fashioned language that they obviously only applied to the times when he was alive.
• He writes all his words in funny orders instead of just coming straight out with it and saying what he means.
Whether I agree with either or both of these statements is not the point at issue here. I hear them expressed often enough to know that they are true and relevant to a significant number of people, and they form a barrier to the desire to listen to what he has to say: therefore his writings do need to be unlocked for a large number of people.
One potential answer to the first question, then, lies in my answer to the second, which is not:
‘Because I am a middle-aged (being kind) literary fuddy-duddy.’
The descriptive part of that sentence may well have a foundation in truth but the first word makes the sentence as a whole, as an answer to the question posed. That is not how I come to have such a deep-rooted love of the Bard’s works.
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When I was a lad of about eight or nine years old, around about the time that Tyrannosaurus Rex became extinct, newsagents’ shelves were stocked with large numbers of adventure comics for boys, which no longer seem anywhere as near so prolific. Among these was one called The Ranger. It was a weekly publication that offered complete short stories and serials in comic strip format. I remember buying it every week and reading it from cover to cover, but I can only remember one story from it in detail. The title of that story was Macbeth. As a cartoon strip it was presented in a format that boys of my age were familiar with, and some of the language was paraphrased to maintain a narrative flow whilst key speeches retained the original voice. Reading Shakespeare in that way, without the title being changed – as in the Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story scenario – not only brought the play to life for me but also led me straight back to the original with a clear understanding of what was going on, which I could then apply to the other plays and interpret them similarly as I read.
Boys Own style adventure comics may be a thing of the past but Shakespeare’s plays don’t need to be. With each new generation there is a treasure trove of literary brilliance readily available and waiting to be rediscovered, just needing an appropriate outlet and a communicator smart enough to see it. Sadly, programmes on Radio 4 and the more esoteric TV channels, however well-intentioned, are more likely to cater for the interests of those already in love with the Bard than those who have yet to discover his talents. Any smart communicators out there?
– David A. Troman