A Shakespearean Anniversary


Procession of characters from Shakespeare’s plays, unknown artist (courtesy of Wikimedia)

The 23rd April will mark four hundred years since the death of William Shakespeare. I’ve been toying with the idea of a related post this month to mark the occasion but wasn’t sure how to approach it until I saw Juliet’s post at Girl, Reading (which I highly recommend you check out). She kindly gave me permission to pinch her idea and I’m very grateful, especially because none of my own ideas where half as well put together! Thank you Juliet.

In recent years I’ve rediscovered my love of Shakespeare, a love that shone briefly in my teenage years but was all too quickly extinguished by As You Like It at A’Level. The rediscovery is almost entirely down to seeing my first Royal Shakespeare Company live screening in my local cinema back in 2014. It was a revelation. Since then I’ve seen more performances (in theatres or in my own living room) than I would care to shake a stick at. I’m a girl obsessed.

Juliet set herself some probing questions in her original post. Here are my responses to those same questions:

Favourite Shakespeare play: Hamlet. It has everything you could possibly want: grief, despair, betrayal, revenge, the ghost of a dead father, some of the most quotable lines in all of literature…. and it’s still surprisingly funny at times. Seeing Hamlet for the first time was proof to me, if it was needed, of the great man’s genius.

Favourite character: Richard II. I don’t know why everyone’s so surprised when you say you like this play. It’s great and I love Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard. He’s a young king who’s been manipulated and flattered all his young life into believing in his own divine importance. It’s made him vain, cruel and thoroughly unlikeable and yet for some reason my heart always breaks for him (and for Bolingbroke) at the end. Honorary mention also goes to Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. I love those guys.

Favourite film adaptation: I realise now that although I’ve seen quite a few theatre productions I’ve not seen many film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Like Juliet, though, I’m ridiculously fond of 10 Things I Hate About You, a modern High School retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. When it comes to theatre productions, one of my current favourites is the 2011 production of Much Ado About Nothing starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate. It’s hilarious but sadly not available on DVD so I downloaded it from here.

Favourite factual Shakespeare book: The last Shakespeare related book I really enjoyed was Germaine Greer’s Shakespeare’s Wife, a study of Ann Hathaway. Ann’s life is a bit of a mystery to historians as very few reliable records relating to her life survive but I think Greer does a really convincing job of showing what Ann’s life was like and how women in the sixteenth century lived.

Shakespeare in fiction: I’ve had Howard Jacobson’s book, Shylock is my Name, lined up on my library reserve list for a few weeks now but I appear to be at the back end of a very long queue. I don’t think it’s an updated retelling of The Merchant of Venice exactly but I was intrigued to hear that the character was being given a new voice.

Favourite Shakespeare quote: Oh my, this is very hard. The first line to pop into my head was from Richard II when Richard, full of regret and knowing the end is near, says:

            I wasted time and now doth time waste me

I know that feeling all too well. Pretty much everything Richard says in the final third of the play is my favourite.

But then I remembered the furious eloquence of Shylock’s tirade to the court in The Merchant of Venice. It’s one of my favourite scenes, I always get goosebumps, but it’s uncomfortable to watch at times:

            Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,

            dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with

            the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject

            to the same diseases, healed by the same means,

            warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer

            as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?

            If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,

            do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

In the end, though, I think if you want words to live your life by, then it’s best left to Polonius in Hamlet who gives some pretty sage advice to his son:

            This above all: to thine own self be true

Thanks again to Juliet for allowing me to steal her idea!

8 thoughts on “A Shakespearean Anniversary

  1. Really interesting to hear your thoughts 🙂 I’m now a bit annoyed with myself for forgetting about that wonderful quote from The Merchant of Venice though! I might see if I can turn this into a blog tag, would be fun to get other people involved too 🙂


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