03 October 2006

Dear William Shakespeare (2)

I spent today running a workshop on Much Ado About Nothing. It would make you turn in your grave.

The afternoon was spent running exercises designed to show how performing in the Elizabethan playhouse affects one's reading of the text. Perhaps a bit ambitious for a year nine group, but I try not to patronise. No danger of that with this group. "This is fine", I say to one group. "But where are your audience? You need to be aware of your audience." "Here and here" says the self-appointed spokesperson, indicating pews. "You're not in a church", I say, brandishing a picture of the Rose, "you're on this stage." "We're not", she says. "That's the whole point of the exercise", I say. Then she brandishes her trump: "I've seen the film. They're in rows."

This has all given rise to much quoting of C.S. Lewis's Professor Kirk. What do they teach them in these schools? If only there were a way of showing people, in a blinding flash of light, your genius. I always took it for granted, until I learned to see it for myself (appreciation that hasn't come with every "great" writer). The thing about Shakespeare, as Mark Twain said of you, is that he really is very good, despite all the people who say he's very good. But with every passing year we move further from you and further from our youth understanding you with anything near ease. The language is changing every day, changing faster every day, changing away from your language. Soon you'll be as distant as Chaucer, then as Petrarch. You are not for all time, but for an age.

At the end of the workshop we had a Q+A. After some really perceptive questions that allowed me to think perhaps I'd got through, one girl said: "who wrote the play?"

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