Today marks the 400th year since Britain’s most successful playwright William Shakespeare passed away. And to celebrate I thought I would add my two cents to celebrate his work and the influence his work has had on various forms of entertainment!
My first exposure to Shakespeare was through school. I’m not entirely sure if this is accurate but, from what I can remember, the ones I studied in school were A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet. The first two are two of my favourites. Romeo & Juliet is okay for me but the Baz Luhrmann film ruined it for me, but that’s for another time. (Hashtag stupid ending)… anyway…
I have seen four different productions of Shakespeare plays on stage in London. First was A Midsummer Night’s Dream followed by Coriolanus starring Tom Hiddleston, Richard III starring Martin Freeman and Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. All have been on the West End. I have been to the Globe theatre before, but when I went there it was to see a play called Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. But because Shakespeare is such a well respected playwright, there will always be more inventive and creative ways to stage his plays. I’ll get to reading his work in a minute, but sometimes an easier way to understand a play is to see them how they were meant to be, in the flesh. Upcoming productions elsewhere in London include Romeo & Juliet starring Lily James and Richard Madden at the Garrick Theatre and the Almeida Theatre have announced they are staging two Shakespeare plays, Richard III starring Ralph Fiennes and Hamlet starring Andrew Scott. I really hope I can get a ticket to both of these, it’ll be brilliant to see different interpretations. There will also be an all female production of Henry V at the Regent’s Park Theatre, which I am super excited for and will need to book a ticket soon! There will always be productions at theatres like The Globe and there will always be productions in and around the UK that are worth keeping an eye out for.
Adapting Shakespeare plays for screen can’t be easy, considering some of Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed for up to 5 hours long. One series I really like is The Hollow Crown, produced by the BBC. The first series aired in 2012 and consisted of Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V. With an incredible cast of actors, these plays are stunningly directed and really bring life back into Shakespeare. A second series is due to air May 2016 consisting of the plays Henry VI parts 1 & 2 and Richard III which I can’t wait to see. The BBC have also produced a TV movie version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Russell T. Davies (aka the guy who brought back Doctor Who) that is due to air sometime in the next year. I also really love Joss Whedon’s movie adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. It’s shot in black & white and was filmed over two weeks in Joss’ house while he was taking a break from working on the Avengers movie. It’s a really quirky type film and I really liked it. I watched it on Netflix a while back but I’m not entirely sure if it’s still available on there!
Of course with books you can always start with Shakespeare’s back catalogue. Other than the ones I read for school I’ve also read Richard III, Coriolanus, The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It. My favourites to read though are the annotated editions like the Arden Shakespeare, Oxford World Classics or, my favourite, the Royal Shakespeare Company editions. The annotated editions give insight and analysis into what Shakespeare was trying to say, if the language is too difficult. Some editions also have interviews with Shakespearean scholars and actors about the plays to give their insights and analysis too!
If you want work inspired by Shakespeare there is the Hogarth Shakespeare series published by Hogarth. Acclaimed authors take one of Shakespeare’s plays and put their own spin on it. The first one to be published was The Gap Of Time by Jeanette Winterson (which I reviewed here!) and the latest to be published was Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobsen, inspired by The Merchant Of Venice. There are two more due to be published this year with one from Anne Tyler and another from Margaret Atwood and with many more to be published over the next couple of years from authors like Gillian Flynn, Tracey Chevalier and Jo Nesbo.
I have also just finished Shakespeare by Bill Bryson, a biography on Shakespeare. It was a very interesting read. It didn’t just focus on Shakespeare, it also gave focus to the time period and what life was like before Shakespeare was born. It was interesting to see how much evidence has been lost since Shakespeare’s time and to see what theories scholars conjured up.
If you’re looking for something more fun to read that’s Shakespeare inspired then I would suggest looking at Shakespeare’s Star Wars series by Ian Doescher. I’ve yet to read these (as I haven’t seen proper Star Wars… oops!) but I see these books all the time in Forbidden Planet. If you like Star Wars I guess this is a new way to interpret them!
Thank you for reading this lengthy post about Shakespeare.
Happy birthday to the Bard!