Saturday, 23 April 2016

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

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.



Teresa Ashby said...

I remember going to the cinema to see Macbeth with my English class and one of the girls got very upset and cried out, "But he's (Jon Finch) too beautiful to die!" :-) xx

Anonymous said...

Rosemary, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on and memories of The Bard! (Great minds think alike, eh?). I sooo agree with you about King Lear. I went to see it in Manchester with two friends as a 'special treat' some years ago but I found it over-long, pretty boring in parts and yes, terribly depressing. I vowed I'd NEVER see it again and I haven't. It's the only Shakespearean play that makes me feel that way! Hamlet's on at the RSC at the moment and I'm hoping to get to that. It's had rave reviews...!

Julia Thorley said...

I once saw a version of Romeo and Juliet set in the space. All the characters wore sparkly suits and many key scenes were played with the actors hanging by their feet from a trapeze!

Carolb said...

When I was in my early 20's my summer holiday for many years was a week up at Stratford-upon-Avon and the theatre. Alan Howard as Richard III; a wonderful Macbeth, and many others.

I also used to go to The Old Vic- saw Derek Jacobi perform Hamlet there (my favourite). A few at The Aldwych too, including a performance of Romeo and Juliet that had unfortunate sound effects from outside the theatre. As one of the young lovers was speaking over the body of the other, an ambulance with siren blaring was heard in the background. :)

Anonymous said...

Hello, Rosemary. I didn't appreciate Shakespear until later in life. We went to Coventry theatre from school and saw Macbeth and it was too depressing as were the other plays. Then a few years ago, I found the whole works on a car boot for 50p and thought, it's time I got into this. The first story, The Merchant of Venice as so good to read and I've read others, and now I understand his way with words. Fabulous, and seeing as I live in Warwickshire, I need to make the effort:))

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Enjoying all the comments about Shakespeare - thanks, everyone!

I have to agree about Jon Finch, Teresa - bet that caused a stir!

Thanks for reassuring me someone else feels the same about Lear, Helen! I envy you the Hamlet as I still haven't seen a whole production of that yet.

Now that must have been a very unusual Romeo and Juliet, Julia!

You've been very lucky to see so many, Carol. That siren must have well and truly ruined the scene!

I don't think you'll be alone in coming to appreciate Shakespeare later, Susan - sometimes school ruins it for people. I'm impressed you started reading the plays!

Sue Barnard said...

Great post, Rosemary. I did King Lear for A-Level, and I've never felt the need to see it performed - for the same reason as you. But it did inspire me, decades later, to write this:

Three daughters: two wicked, one bold;
foolish father hands over his gold.
Some other mad guy
gets one in the eye,
and all, not just Tom, end up cold.

Thank you for your kind words about The Ghostly Father. It was great fun to write, and I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :-)

Joanna said...

What a lovely post, Rosemary. My favourites of his plays are The Merchant of Venice and Coriolanus, which I studied for A Level. Our teacher was especially enthusiastic about this play and took us to see two productions to bring it alive. I enjoyed discussing the characters in lessons even more than I enjoyed watching the productions, and also loved collecting all the best quotes for the exams. There were so many I had a field day listing and learning them all. I really loved Henry IV as well. If I had time, I would read them all again. xxx

Anita Chapman said...

I studied King Lear for English 'A' Level, and also A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice earlier on at school. King Lear is miserable, but for some reason it stayed with me, partly because I had to read it over and over again, and learn quotes to use in exams! I can still recall scenes from King Lear now so vividly, and I can imagine that watching it on stage would be a bit much. Learning Shakespeare at school has given my writing lots of inspiration, and one of these days I'll sit down and read his plays again!

Maggie May said...

Yesterday we met as usual for our writing group. This was followed by a session talking about Shakespeare and reading a few of his famous pieces. Although I knew them all (well the first lines at least), his plays still leave me cold. I think my introduction to Shakespeare at school was made to be so boring that I gave up. I have the complete works on my book shelf and the other day I tried to read one of his plays. I still can't do it and feel I'm missing out because everyone raves about him. Maybe it just that I am not theatrical as I don't like musicals or operas either. Give me a good drama any day.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Love your little verse, Sue - very appropriate!

You've whetted my appetite for Coriolanus, Joanna, as that's one play I've never seen or read!

I think Shakespeare is very inspirational, Anita - poor you having to study King Lear at school!

That's interesting, Maggie, and I expect a lot of people were put off his plays at school. It's also more difficult to read plays and I always prefer watching the drama unfold. Maybe it's a matter of you finding the write play and production to watch one day!