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Shakespeare in our lives (continued from Happy Birthday)

I suppose it is because I live in New Zealand, but we certainly weren't surrounded by Shakespeare when I was young.  We studied plays at school, at least from Year 11 upwards, maybe before that.  I only really recall Hamlet and The Tempest - because we had a brilliant teacher for those.

Certainly there was no general chat about Shakespeare in any media that I knew of - we had no television in our house before 1965, but I don't think there was any Shakespeare on it anyway - there was Bonanza and news.  Peyton Place.  Nothing cultural.  Radio was music requests shows in our house (which wasn't a completely uncultured one - my grandmother had been a teacher), and Dexter Dutton and Doctor Paul.  

And books were the Bible and those little romances that came with the English Woman's Weekly and Anne of Green Gables series and Sue Barton series and What Katy Did.  There was no Shakespeare in our house or anyone's I knew.

I am far more surrounded by these masterpieces now than I ever was - they ARE now on the television at times, or in movies; I hear them discussed on messageboards, or at the library (which I didn't have access to as a child or teenager), or at book club (not SS admittedly but others), or with friends.  And the radio and the Listener discusses productions and has full stories and plays read.  

There is no comparison here.  

But I've learnt one thing - if you want to stimulate discussion, make the mildest comment about a classic writer!  

Cheers, Caro.

Hardly a mild comment, Caro...  :0)

Shakespeare has been part of my life since I was a schoolboy and saw my first professional production at age 14/15.  In England we're fortunate that we have the Royal Shakespeare Company and other groups who perform the plays year in and year out.  I've managed to see all 37 plays, some many times over, in my lifetime. I've acted in several of the plays and taught them. I know characters like Hamlet, Bottom, Rosalind, Falstaff,  Malvolio, Juliet in some ways better than my friends. I can't imagine my life without Shakespeare in it.

Hardly surprising, Mike, given your involvement in theatre!

I would guess the typical English person of my generation has seen one or two of the plays, and studied them at school. If they're into literature or drama, they have probably seen a few productions in adulthood, and perhaps the odd film. I suspect only a small percentage are well acquainted with more than a couple of them.

My acquaintance with Shakespeare plays runs thus:-

Macbeth - studied at school, saw Polanski's film
Henry IV Part 1 - studied at school, saw production
Troilus & Cressida - saw production at Stratford
Henry V - saw Olivier's and Brannagh's films
The Tempest - saw open air production at Lewes Castle. Also Jarman's idiosyncratic film
Othello - saw the Parker/Fishburne film
Twelfth Night - saw a small production in Brighton
Romeo & Juliet - studied on adult writing course. Seen Lurhmann's film.
Much Ado About Nothing - saw the Brannagh film, saw a production at The Globe
The Merchant of Venice - saw the Radford/Pacino film
Hamlet - heard audio (from radio production)
King Lear - heard audio (from radio production)

And I think that's it. Maybe that sounds like quite a few, but I've never seen/read Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, Merry Wives of Windsor, Love's Labour's Lost, Richard III, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Two Gentlemen of Verona and many other well-known ones.

That's about the level of my acquaintance, Mike:

The Tempest - studied for GCSE, seen on stage twice, once at the Globe, seen Jarman's eccentric film (which I love)
The Comedy of Errors - seen at Stratford
Much Ado About Nothing - seen twice, both in open-air productions
A Midsummer Night's Dream - seen once, school production with my little brother in drag (he was in the play)
The Merchant of Venice - saw a bit of on TV once (Henry Goodman/David Bamber)
As You Like It - seen once, open-air
Twelfth Night - seen once, my father cross-gartered (he was in the play)
Richard II - seen once
Troilus and Cressida - seen once
Romeo and Juliet - studied in year 9, seen Zeffirelli and Luhrmann films
Macbeth - studied in year 8, seen Polanski film and one stage production
Hamlet - seen Branagh film and two stage versions, one in Lithuanian
King Lear - seen Kozintsev film and listened to audio version
Othello - seen first half of Trevor Nunn production on film

A bit paltry compared to some of the experts around here, and I know practically nothing of the histories, but I am willing to learn and trust that it is not too late for me.

Gareth, I am intrigued by the stage version of Hamlet in Lithuanian! I have studied only Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra and The Winter's Tale, and saw The Winter's Tale in Newcastle in 1981 I believe. I also saw the Tennant version of Macbeth on TV.

Hello Mike and Gareth, might I recommend that you both join a drama group that's doing a Shakespeare play and audition for a part? Maybe just a small role to start with. Nothing like it for making you really think about the lines. The first part I ever played in Shakespeare was Sebastian in 'Twelfth Night', not a big part but a good one to start with, with a not-bad soliloquy. 'This is the air, that is the glorious sun...'Next season I played Puck (big sigh of nostalgia). My first group sometimes performed plays in the Tower Circus, Blackpool (a wonderfully ornate Victorian interior between the legs of the Tower - unaccountably missed out of Pevsner's Buildings of England through snobbery I think). Acting in the circus arena (in spite of a pervading odour of past elephants) did wonders for one's vocal projection.  It rather meant that subtlety went out of the window though.  I was never happy with my delivery of Lorenzo's beautiful lines in Act 5 of 'The Merchant...' 'In such a night / Stood Dido with a willow in her hand /  Upon the wild-sea banks and waft her love / To come again to Carthage...' But I loved playing that scene with Jessica in the garden, when the play seems to hold its breath between the trial scene and the comedy of the Rings.
I remember an occasion when we all entered in procession for the banquet scene in 'Macbeth' and Lady M. turned to the actor behind her and hissed (the front rows must have heard) 'If you stand on my train again I'll f..king slosh you.'  (Another big sigh).

At least that wasn't an ad lib to audience, Mike. A few years ago various members of my family (not me, alas) went to a production of Romeo and Juliet by a local company whose slightly loony director encouraged them to improvise. The upshot was Lady Capulet shouting at her husband "YOU F***ING D***HEAAAADDD!". I can imagine the audience having problems keeping straight faces.

My natural inclination is to shy away from attention, so I think an acting career, such as the one my father is pursuing in his time away from the headmaster's office, is unlikely. But next time he does some Shakespeare I'll give him a hand with his lines. And I do declaim poetry when there's nobody else there, which is better than nothing.

blackberrycottage, the Lithuanian Hamlet was a production I saw at the Theatre Royal in Bath maybe ten years ago. There was an enormous metal wheel suspended above the stage, but I don't remember much else about it other than the amusement of occasional typos in the surtitles (I don't remember what - 'Good-night, sweet quince?' No, that must be my imagination). My mother raved about it, but five hours of Shakespeare in English was a lot to take in my teens, let alone Lithuanian. Still, an experience, you might say.

That's a pretty impressive list, Gareth. Given that I have about 20 years on you, I feel I ought to do better!

Mike, I fear I would be a dreadful ham, and would be terrified of forgetting my lines! I used to do school plays at primary school (the acme was playing Moses in a musical), but at senior school I was always collared for the orchestra, so didn't tread the boards again. Much to the relief of audiences, I'm sure!  Laughing

What Shakespeare have I read/studied/seen?

Hamlet at school, also The Tempest, and I think Macbeth and King Lear.  I did English at university and must have done a number there but have no real memory of them.  Othello, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Julius Caesar.

Must have done Romeo and Juliet - never really liked it much.  Saw the Zefferelli version of it.  We studied Richard III quite thoroughly as a teaching tool at teachers' college and I have seen the film version set in the 1930s.  

We saw Much Ado about Nothing at the Globe with an all-woman cast.  Good and memorable, and a play I like for its banter.  

Recently I have read The Merchant of Venice, Anthony and Cleopatra, The Taming of the Shrew.  I watched rather vaguely The Maori Merchant of Venice which was very much praised but was in Maori so hard for me to follow.  And can't be quite Shakespeare - though perhaps that's like saying an English translation of War and Peace isn't really Tolstoy.  

I haven't read any other of the history plays, including the Henry ones.  Nor any of the obscurer ones like Coriolanus, Troilus and Cressida, Titus Andronicus.  Some of them are much more familiar to me that others - Othello and Macbeth for instance, as opposed to Julius Caesar or The Tempest though I know I have read both of those.  I have watched some of those modern versions of Shakespeare on television and they probably help with familiarity.  The school here always has The Ugly Shakespeare Company come annually, and I sometimes see those.  

Cheers, Caro.

Caro, I must have known you'd seen the all-woman Much Ado at the Globe, but I'd forgotten. I suppose it was probably the same production as the one I saw with Shelley and Verity (also of this board, though they're not around much these days) in June 2004, with Josie Lawrence as Benedick. I remember their Dogberry was particularly good.

Although I came from an ordinary non-academic family, Shakespeare was part of my childhood.  Both my parents left school at 14 with no qualifications but my mother had been Peas-Blossom in a school production of "Midsummer-Night's Dream" and my father had been third witch in "Macbeth" and they would quote lines from those plays to me.  We had a family edition of Shakespeare and I enjoyed looking up quotes in the volume.

I vaguely remember watching with my family TV productions of "As You Like It" and "Hamlet".  I definately remember watching the Peter Hall/John Barton's TV production of "The War of the Roses."  This was an adaptation of Henry VI, Parts I, II and III and Richard III.  This was what really turned me onto Shakespeare.  It was so violent and sexy.  I loved it - especially knowing that I would never be allowed to watch something like that if it hadn't been Shakespeare.  (It had the same impact that "I, Claudius"was to have a few years later.)

I started studying Shakespeare at school when I was about 13 and we did Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It (twice as I changed schools and had to do it again) Henry IV Part I and Henry V.  We then did Macbeth for O-level.  Also, I went with my mother to watch a school production of "The Winter's Tale."

By the time I was 16 I was familiar with almost a dozen Shakespeare plays.  This was from a non-academic lower middle-class/working class background. I went to grammar school but I wasn't a top student.  The point is that Shakespeare wasn't seen as elitist or middle-class or too difficult for the proles to understand.  I agree that it requires effort to grasp some of it but, for example, you don't take up a sport and expect to master it completely right away.  

It saddens me how Shakespeare almost has become marginalised.  I've heard English teachers say blithely:  "Oh, Shakespeare is far too difficult for our lot to understand.  They do Willy Russell instead."

Gareth, that's the production I saw as well at the Globe. We took my parents there for my mum's 65th birthday. As I recall, I had rather better weather than you, Shelley & Verity!

Sandra, I went to grammar school too, but we only studied 2 Shakespeares, one as a warm-up and one for O-level. We did study some other interesting drama though - Priestley, Pinter, Osborne etc.

I don't think high culture is necessarily linked only to academia. My grandparents left school at 14, but were lifelong lovers of classical music. Of course, in those days you could leave school at 14, and enter an apprenticeship with a view to a middle class white-collar occupation (accountancy in my grandfather's case).

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