Stand Up For Shakespeare

By: Sarah Fahey, guest blogger

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare “It’s Greek to me,” you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise–why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then–to give the devil his due–if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a doornail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then–by Jove! O Lord! Tut, tut! For goodness’ sake! What the dickens! But me no buts–it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.

Bernard Levin

Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny that William Shakespeare is still widely regarded as the greatest ever writer in the English language and he is the only writer whose works are still studied by all young people in England and Wales. His works are performed to sell-out audiences in theatres throughout the world by some of today’s leading actors who consider it an honour to “tread the boards” for one of his plays.

So why is it that some regard his work as dated or only suitable for the upper echelons of society?

Perhaps some might think that the language of Shakespeare’s time does not transcend to today’s society and yet as Bernard Levin shows, so many phrases used in his time are still commonplace in today’s language.

Earlier this year marked the start of the 14th annual Shakespeare Festival in Leeds, England. The British Shakespeare company, second only in size and reputation to the Royal Shakespeare company, are currently touring the UK with a company of 16 professional Shakespearian actors with their productions of Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performing in open air venues across the country.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts” (Act II, Scene VII)

Open air theatre is deeply rooted in British culture.

For thousands of years, even as far back as Shakespeare’s time with the Admirals Men, acting companies have traveled across the country creating makeshift theatres in town centres; erecting pageant wagons or stages where they performed historical and classical dramas to the mass audiences they attracted. The British Shakespeare company take their inspiration from the spirit of these open air troupes and are motivated by their traditions and desire to take Shakespeare out of theatres and into various sites, making it more accessible and exciting for the modern audience.

Robert J. Williamson the artistic director for the British Shakespeare company was the brainchild behind the idea of a National Shakespeare Day in the UK held on April 23rd (Shakespeare’s birth and death day and also St. George’s Day – St. George being the patron saint of England).

This idea received cross-party support from politicians and wide spread news coverage throughout the UK. The idea was to send out Shakespeare packs to schools for children of all ages to give them an early and fun introduction to Shakespeare. So popular was the idea that it has now become government policy.

Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love

“As a huge fan of Burns Night celebrations myself, I think this is a really interesting idea and certainly well worth exploring. Shakespeare is one of England’s towering literary figures and anything that celebrates his life and work, and anything which helps stimulate wider interests in his writings, should be encouraged”

– Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary

However, not all school teachers know that much about Shakespeare or even enjoy it – how then are students supposed to gain an appreciation and love of Shakespeare? This was something that the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) had also considered.

In March 2008, the RSC launched “Stand Up for Shakespeare”.

This is a campaign designed to make the teaching and indeed learning of Shakespeare more accessible and enjoyable.

Their manifesto is simple:

  • Do It On Your Feet – encourage children to act out Shakespeare rather than just watch or read it.
  • See It Live – take children to see live performances.
  • Start it Early – encourage children from an early age.

The campaign received great support from many members of the public, teachers, actors and other celebrities. HRH The Prince of Wales also joined the campaign and sent the following letter of support to the RSC HRH the Prince of Wales:

“I am delighted to support the “Stand Up for Shakespeare” manifesto. Its three simple principles are absolutely right. The best way to get to know Shakespeare is to start young, to “do” him rather than just read him and to see a real…. more live production. I say this with some confidence because I was lucky enough to be introduced to Shakespeare that way myself. My first Shakespeare play was Twelfth Night at the Old Vic which I saw when I was seven or eight. It must have been more than three hours long, but I loved it all – the characters, the humour and the language. That evening kindled what has become a life-long affection for Shakespeare.”

For those that have “discovered” Shakespeare, the enjoyment they draw from his work is something that will continue with them throughout their lives. They connect to his language in ways that many others may never understand but hopefully through the work of the RSC and their campaign, many more will come to know and love the Bard.

“Can one desire too much of a good thing?” (As You Like It Act IV, Scene I)

For more information on the Stand Up for Shakespeare campaign, see the RSC website www.rsc.org.uk/standupforshakespeare/

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Sarah Fahey was born in London, England. She has a B.A. English, Philosophy and History from Open University in the UK. She enjoys traveling, reading, theatre, opera and all genres of music.

Copyright © 2009 SashaH. Muradali. All Rights Reserved.