10,000 words about Shakespeare

[There are over 700 words in this piece, and links to 10,000 words elsewhere.]

So, how to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death? At Shakespeare’s Globe this weekend there are filmed excerpts of all the plays: “The Complete Walk: 37 Plays, 37 Films, 37 Screens, A free, celebratory journey through Shakespeare’s plays”. That’s what the flyer in front of me says. We can’t get there today but I’ll try and get there tomorrow with my son for an hour or two. My wife and daughter will be busy with a children’s party and an Arsenal football match.

Our children currently have little enthusiasm for the Bard. A year ago I took them to see a local production of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” directed by Sir Trevor Nunn. The experience has deterred my 9 year old daughter from going to any more of his plays for a while. In 2013 (when she was 6 and our son was 8) we planned our return journey from our summer holiday in Ireland with a trip to Stratford-on-Avon. I hadn’t been back there since 2006. We stayed overnight in Royal Leamington Spa (an ill-advised decision, for so many reasons) then headed to Stratford for lunch and tea. There was a free outdoor performance of “Comedy of Errors” in a park. I would happily have sat through the whole play. There was room for the children to run around and enjoy the fitful sunshine but after a brief summer shower they’d had enough and we headed back to London. We’d seen about 20 minutes of the play.

Earlier this week I finally made it to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the indoor, candle-lit theatre next to Shakespeare’s Globe, on Bankside. It staged the four late plays throughout the winter and the season ended last night. The last two weeks were sold out (and the first two weeks of performances at the Globe itself have also sold out) but I managed to get a return for “Cymbeline”. It was magical. It was also, for me, a play of two halves: the first half was as uncomfortable as I have ever been at a theatre, but the second half was fine. The narrow benches where you sit can accommodate the more slender figure but the two women to my right were (how can I put this?) much larger than that, and even though the chap to my left squeezed up as much as he could, he and I were squashed throughout Acts 1 to 3. There is, simply, not enough leg-room in those £38 seats. (Maybe the £62 seats give you room to stretch out.) My neighbour didn’t return after the interval so during Acts 4 and 5 I was able to indulge in a little man-spread, as I believe it’s called, taking up two spaces instead of one.

Also, earlier this week, I watched a DVD of Maxine Peake as Hamlet, filmed at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. It’s the first time I have ever seen a woman take on the role. She plays it as a man, but there are gender alterations elsewhere. Polonius is played by a woman (as Polonia) which made all the later references to his / her death rather confusing for me. I have been familiar with the text of “Hamlet” for over 35 years now and a simple change of pronoun can make it sound surprisingly unfamiliar.

The other thing I did, leading up to this weekend’s anniversary, was to complete a draft I started last December, over 9,000 words detailing how and why I set out to watch all 37 plays in under nine months in 2003/4, stage productions if possible, otherwise film or TV adaptations. If I had been Blogging back then the story would have built up week by week and it would have been very different, probably full of speculation and uncertainty. I have gone back and recounted the whole story in the knowledge of what happened next. If you have 30 minutes to spare you can read it here. (This is also the piece I alluded to last week, in “Don’t tell me what you’re going to do”.)

Back in February I wrote this piece about reading every Shakespeare play. It’s over 700 words. Combined with the 700 words in this piece, and that Shakespeare 2003/4 post, these are the first 10,000 words about my relationship with his work. They probably won’t be the last.


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