Tuesday, 27 August 2013


Before I begin, I'd like to apologise for the terrible pun that is the title of this entry. I am ashamed of myself.

Anyway, this blog entry is about what puts people off seeing Shakespeare plays. Anyone who knows me knows about my love of Shakespeare. Ever since I saw a production of Julius Caesar at the Royal Exchange in Manchester in 1993 I've been hooked. I love the excitement and passion in his words, I love the depth of the characters and the richness of the worlds he creates. So when people say they don't like Shakespeare, or have never been to a play for whatever reason, it baffles me. Especially as some of the reasons are grounded in fears about not understanding it, or that it's too 'highbrow'.

I asked this question on Twitter 'What, if anything, puts you off seeing a Shakespeare play'. What I'd like to do here is a quick examination of the two main reasons and my responses to them.

'Being made to study it at school put me off'

I totally understand this. At school I had to study Lord of the Flies and I ended my GCSE years hating that book because of the seemingly endless picking over of minutiae. It must be even worse when studying plays, which were never meant to be studied. All I can say on this is the experience of seeing a play live beats reading it a thousandfold. Seems obvious, but seeing a play helps the language come to life. I've done a lot of work in schools for 1623 Theatre Company, helping break down the barriers between the text and the understanding of it and you can almost hear the penny drop with kids who've previously taken one look at a soliloquy and ran for the hills.

Maybe Shakespeare should be taken off the English Syllabus and replaced by sessions in which companies are invited in to perform Shakespeare (or any other drama come to think of it). Something should be done, as thousands of people are turned off from this amazing body of work before they even reach adulthood.

'It's too highbrow/difficult to understand'

Shakespeare's plays were the popular entertainment of his time. Yes he wrote for royalty and gentry, but also for the common man. A common way to make plays enjoyable for all is to put jokes about sex in them. Yeah, Shakespeare loved a nob gag. Even Hamlet, the pinnacle of English Literature (it is. No arguments) has jokes about cunnilingus in. They aren't even that sophisticated or hard to spot. The plays are amazingly well written, with fully rounded characters and an endless supply of
universal truths. Doesn't mean they are highbrow, just means they are quality.

The fear of the language being too hard to understand is a common one, but again it can be overcome easily by watching the plays! If a production is well acted and well staged, there shouldn't be too many problems in figuring out what's happening. And besides, the plays were wrote *in English!* Yes, some words have changed meanings over the past 400 years, or disappeared altogether, but the majority of Shakespeare's language survived today, mainly because he invented (or at least put into popular use) several words, phrases and idioms we use today. 


Not a complete examination of course. And there are many other reasons people are scared of Shakespeare, but hopefully, maybe, this might help with people exploring a 'Brave new world'.

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