Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Am I alone in thinking that William Shakespeare is over-rated? Am I the only one who thinks that most, if not all, of Shakespeare's plays are rubbish?
Sure he wrote some plays at a time when there was probably a serious lack of decent playwrights but to be honest, the things he wrote are not really relevant to our current time.
In fact, when I was at school I distinctly recall reading a Shakespeare play in a book that was 15% introduction, 30% play and 55% explanation of what the hell was going on.
Here is a clip from Blackadder that illustrates my feelings on Mr Shakespeare:
You see, I always had a huge problem with his plays. His tragedies were funny and his comedies weren’t. His plays were written in a form of English that was perfectly acceptable in 1592 but make no sense to an audience of school children in 1975 (when I first encountered him) or later.
English teachers told me that these classic works were leviathans of the literary world that would stand the test of time and that reading and understanding these magnificent works were essential in order to progress in life.
At school I didn’t have the courage to face my teachers and say:
“But they are SHIT!”
Instead I was forced to endure these dreadful and irrelevant plays that bored me to tears. We were forced to sit there and analyse every bloody phrase, every sentence and every nonsensical paragraph in the most stringent manner.
A typical question was “What was Shakespeare trying to say?” and the answer should have been “I don’t bloody well know. I don’t understand it. It is written in a language that has developed into something new over four centuries. It isn’t funny. It is meaningless and it doesn’t make sense. And it is totally and utterly irrelevant. It should stay in the 16th century where it bloody well belongs.”
Shakespeare is as dull as dishwater. If I were to read a play now I would fall asleep before the end of the first act.
One of the plays we had to endure was Twelfth Night, supposedly a comedy. I don’t think anybody laughed. Here is the opening speech:
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.
What a load of baloney. I’m sure that when it first played at the Globe theatre, the people who went to see it were mesmerised by Duke Orsino’s splendid delivery. But a twelve year old kid from Walsall? No bloody chance.
We were supposedly speaking learning to speak and write English but Shakespeare’s language is so dated that it makes little sense.
Who says “thou” and “receiveth” and “o’er” and ‘thy” and “soe’er”?
Nobody – apart maybe from a pseudo-intellectual who has his Shakespeare mixed up with his philosophers.
Having suffered Twelfth Night at school we were then expected to write essays that analysed it, essay like:
“Discuss the aspects of love in Twelfth Night”.
I wish I had of written:
“I can’t. I don’t understand it because it is irrelevant. And if this is a comedy then I am a monkey’s uncle. I didn’t laugh once. I’m sure the audience in 1592 rolled in the aisles but I think it is totally and utterly unfunny. If you had asked me to write an essay saying “Twelfth Night is not funny. Discuss.” I might have stood a chance.”
In the end, I wrote several pages of horseshit and scraped a pass.
These days it seems that every actor in the world wants to star in a Shakespeare play. Every single actor falls over themselves to walk on stage roaring to a crowd of people, saying bizarre things like “Hey Nonny Nonny”. The crowd nod in appreciation but probably haven’t a clue what it going on. It would appear that playing the lead in a play like Hamlet seems to be the pinnacle of achievement for an actor, particularly if it is in Stratford-upon-Avon.
I would dearly love to stand up and shout “For goodness sake – speak ENGLISH!”
I would love to continue to barrack pseudo-intellectuals in this post, those who appreciate this nonsense in order to be recognised as culture vultures, but there are people who are genuinely moved by Shakespeare.
I had a discussion once with a woman who told me that she cried when she read Henry V’s rousing speech to his soldiers just before the battle of Agincourt. Here is Kenneth Branagh, a fine actor, giving his all:
I must admit that it is an awe inspiring piece of acting and Kenneth Branagh delivers it with gusto. Without necessarily understanding what he is saying, I can get the gist. If we are going to witness this in a modern film, why not simply modernise it? Instead of:
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
why not say something like:
And from today until the end of time on this day, the feast of St Crispin, everybody will remember how you, my brothers, my band of brave warriors, shed your blood with me. And you are my brothers, make no mistake. And those men, asleep in England, will curse themselves for not being here on this momentous occasion; may they hang their heads in shame that they did not fight with us in this glorious battle on St Crispin’s day.
Okay – so I’m not Shakespeare and certainly could not write a modern day equivalent, but I am absolutely sure that a decent writer could capture the passion of that inspiring speech and leave the audience captivated, instead of thinking, “Well, he sounded brilliant but what the heck was he talking about?”
I’d like to finish with a reference to Macbeth. Now, bizarrely, this play is known as The Scottish Play rather than Macbeth because, apparently the play is cursed. The fact that it features witches and witchcraft may contribute to this but I suspect that it is an absolute load of nonsense. It has been used to real comedic effect in one of my favourite comedy shows: Blackadder the Third:
Personally I am not superstitious at all and if I were to star in Macbeth I would gladly say “Macbeth” repeatedly all the time just to irritate any pillocks who thought that mentioning the name would bring bad luck.
I would also try to sneak in a “Hey Nonny Nonny” and at the end I would ask the audience whether they understood a single word I had said.
If you like Shakespeare, dear reader, I would be happy to hear from you; perhaps you can explain why I should change my mind about his works.
In the meantime, enjoy a quote from the great man that some of you may think rather apt when reading this post:
The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.