With all eyes on London this summer, Ambassador Luke Barton explores why it is so important to remember to celebrate the British cultural wonder that is William Shakespeare.
It cannot have escaped anyone’s attention that with the Olympics coming up, the BBC has chosen to focus its celebration of British culture largely on the works of Shakespeare.
Culturally, Britain can boast some of the most profound and celebrated literature in the world. Indeed, outside the realm of the theatre, British writers have inspired the imagination with some of the greatest known works. Naturally, the BBC decided to display and interrogate the workings of our ‘greatest playwright.’ It is important then to consider why he is our greatest playwright. What makes Shakespeare a pleasure for actors and audiences alike? And what more needs to be done to make his works more accessible to audiences that feel his plays are awkward, dense and difficult to be drawn in to?
Shakespeare’s gift is undeniably his ability to capture the raw emotion of the human spirit. It seems almost easy when writing it in such simplistic terms. But the accuracy and truth with which this modest man from Stratford managed to display infinitely complex emotional human states in his writing offers actors some of the most exciting and challenging roles in theatrical literature. Unfathomable loss, immense jealousy, inspiring love, resounding fears, the tragedy of power, all are deconstructed by Shakespeare. He does so with a richness of language that has had such a profound influence upon our English language. New and wonderful words that Shakespeare himself conjured afresh.
I reject this increasing suggestion of Shakespeare becoming seen as ‘high’ culture, only really aimed at an educated few. Naturally with greater understanding of the language and the man himself, one can appreciate his plays complexities more. Yet Shakespeare has persisted in his ability to speak to all. The Globe to Globe Festival at the Globe Theatre this summer was testimony to how even when watching a Shakespeare play in a foreign language, audiences can be absorbed into the depth of a play's emotional quality and the experience of a struggle. For children, the magical worlds the Bard creates can be a highly joyous introduction to the theatre that only gets better as you age and begin to relate to more of the situations and characters. If Shakespeare is ‘high’ culture, it can only be seen through its ability to touch the hearts of all who find a character or a line that reaches out to them and almost seems to be written just for them. Alexandra Galbraith once told in a lecture how in 1998, after watching the RSC production of The Winter’s Tale, Prince Charles, at his greatest unpopularity in the country in the wake of Princess Diana’s death reflected on how one line really caught his attention:
"I must be patient till the heaven’s look with an aspect more favourably."
As well as a celebration of Shakespeare’s genius, the BBC Hollow Crown season is a rare chance to once more bring people to the world of Shakespeare’s best writing and allow those that may not do so normally, find their personal connection with Shakespeare. This doesn’t mean staging one of his plays in the modern day to make it more accepted, though this can work. By staging some of his greatest works with the best in British acting talent, their skills can draw the very best out of the characters and language for all to enjoy.
I hope many people get into the BBC’s Shakespeare season, and maybe even decide to go to their local theatres and keep the Bard’s work alive. It’s just a shame that England didn’t make it further in the European Championships, then we could have had that delightful pre-match video of Brian Blessed performing "Once more unto the breach dear friends..."
Do you agree or disagree with Luke's views? Or would you like to ask him about the points he has made? Leave a comment below or on his Stage Door here.