The works of William Shakespeare have lost their appeal . . . Sometimes I do hear such an opinion, mostly from students. Last year BBC News Online carried out a survey which showed that most of their site’s visitors didn’t agree.
However, there is nothing strange in the fact that our students don’t like Shakespeare. It seems that the problem mentioned in the following statement is common for the whole world: ‘I had Shakespeare “rammed down my throat” at school’, says L. Keen from the UK. And continues, ‘Now when I go to see the plays in production those are my favourites as I have a better understanding of them. As the world population increases it simply means that more people will “discover” Shakespeare’.
Richard Ridge from the UK points out that ‘the phonetics of Elizabethan speech were markedly different to ours’. ‘Shakespeare probably could not have written his plays with such linguistic invention today, and modern audiences are certainly left rather bereft when it comes to appreciating that language, hence Shakespeare’s reputation as a difficult author,’ he thinks.
Several people expressed irritation that there are now too many Shakespeare in films. For example, John Wright from the USA says: ‘I really doubt that audiences are becoming bored with Shakespeare. Rather, I imagine they are becoming bored with the productions and acting styles. The videos of many English productions that find their way across to this side of the pond are evidence of poor, pompous, and pretentious acting coupled with tacky production values’.
Englishmen do not leave such a statement about their production without an answer. Here are the words of Andy from the UK: ‘Shakespeare is as relevant today as he ever was. His work is not meant for exam papers, but to be spoken aloud on a stage. The plays should be discussed, and their relevance to modern life highlighted, not reduced to a simple, dull question on a paper. Secondly, keep the Americans – especially intellectual lightweights like DiCaprio – away from him, they lack the intellectual depth and understanding to do justice to his work.’
Mrs. S. Ahmed from the UK, who also thinks that ‘people are put off Shakespeare by starting to study his plays too young’, finds his genius putting all other English writers in the shade. ‘His wonderful range of characters, his amazing variety of subjects, and above all the infinite richness of his poetry, will always be unique and unsurpassed.’
However, I don’t like the idea that someone will always be unsurpassed. I liked much more the deliberate words by Jennifer Burgess from the UK, referring only to the past: ‘So many attempts are made to “do it differently”, which is fine in some respects, but his plays are contained in the words and you don’t need a set or fantastic lighting, just good acting and a director interested in telling the story!’
An interesting fact is that while Englishmen are delighted with Shakespeare’s genius, Americans try to find a way to use his plays in practical ways. For example, Shanne Cano from Los Angeles suggests: ‘How about using the plays to teach children about emotions: jealousy, dullness, hate, stupidity, love, filial caring, tenderness – all the things we deal with from generation to generation. In essence, these things have not changed since early man.’
As for the main question of this discussion, I have always thought that Shakespeare doesn’t belong to any particular time. His plays are eternal because everybody in all times can understand them differently. However, I couldn’t find exact words to express my idea, that’s why I was happy to find the following thoughts by Richard Ridge from the UK: ‘If Shakespeare does have any hope of survival left, then it surely lies with his sheer mutability. A general and a pacifist can go and see Richard the Third and both could come away equally convinced that Shakespeare had validated their views. Of course, any author will excite wildly differing reactions; but Shakespeare’s plays are especially resistant to definite interpretation. Is Macbeth evil? Is Cleopatra immoral? Is Petruchio a monster or an ideal husband? With the exception of a play like Timon of Athens, people will always find something new in Shakespeare. To misquote Ben Jonson: if Shakespeare is for all time, it is perhaps because he was never of any one particular time.’
Compiled by Yusup, 3rd year MSU student