As the whole world most likely knows, today is Shakespeare's birthday and the Bard is being celebrated on the Internet and on TV. I've long been a fan of his poetry and plays. As well as the usual required reading at high school, I studied a few more of his plays as part of my literature degree and I have a beautiful book of his sonnets which was a gift from a friend many years ago. My family also bought me a beautiful huge volume containing all of his works.
A few of my favourite dramas are A Midsummer Nights Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Othello and Much Ado About Nothing, but I would sit and watch any of his plays. I must admit I wasn't so keen on a stage production of King Lear I saw a couple of years ago - not because of the acting but because it was so gory and depressing!
One of my favourite memories was watching an outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Rougemont Gardens outside Exeter one evening. We'd been on holiday to Exmouth with the two teenage children and it was too good an opportunity to miss. A very enjoyable production, partly transported to Edwardian times (when the gardens were first opened). Amongst the films I have on DVD, I love the sumptuous production of Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thomson as Benedick and Beatrice - the music and scenery are an added bonus. Another great was Rufus Sewall and Shirley Henderson in the fabulous BBC Shakespeare Re-told episode of Taming of the Shrew. It doesn't surprise me that this episode was written by the amazing Sally Wainwright.
I've always admired Portia's speech in The Merchant of Venice when she dresses as a young male lawyer and pleads with Shylock for mercy. In my first novel, Dangerous Deceit, which is set in the Regency of 1813, Portia is the inspiration for my character, Lydia, when she dresses as a boy for her dangerous journey to Brighton with her friend. In my other Regency, Midwinter Masquerade, sonnet 56 is significant for heroine Lenora, when she finds a sprig of rosemary (for remembrance) within the pages of the book Edward has left for her to find.
Many authors have been inspired by Shakespeare's plays and some have reworked them into a novel. One I greatly enjoyed is by fellow Crooked Cat author Sue Barnard. The Ghostly Father takes the priest from Romeo and Juliet as the main character and through his eyes, we see a version of the famous story that ends in a different way. Using the actual Italian locations and period of the play, Sue has woven a wonderful story around the Shakespeare version. In film too, Romeo and Juliet was given a fabulous update by Baz Lurhmann which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes - no doubt to appeal to a younger audience, although the original text was maintained. You might remember this photo I took of Juliet beside her balcony in Verona.
I'm sure everyone has memories of reading or watching Shakespeare and I'd love to hear some of them! Look out for the BBC tribute this evening and over the weekend.