So. I owe the inspiration for this post – wanting to do something to celebrate the birthday – to ohforamuseofire, who herself got the questions from Folger Shakespeare Library project. I wonder how, if at all, my answers might change over the next few years, as the PonyTail Shakespeare project progresses …
What does Shakespeare mean to you?
I like to crow about how English isn’t my first language, having been born abroad. Despite repeatedly telling students it’s not the case, if I could claim proficiency in any other language I might choose ‘Shakespearean’. It is a language – and a worldview – that I believe I fundamentally understand. So Shakespeare means a deep cultural connection, something which speaks to my heart as well as my mind, and I see this more in the extremes of emotion he presents – even, yes, in the jokes, despite the Comedies not being my favourites.
Which words and lines from Shakespeare do you love the most and why?
Hmmmm. A big difference between speeches, lines and words. Favourite speeches include Richard III’s opening soliloquy and Marc Antony’s ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ wonderfully skilful address at his Caesar’s funeral. As an English teacher, the power of words in each of these speeches is genuinely awe-inspiring. Forced to pick a single line, I’d go with ‘I wasted time, and now doth time waste me’ from Richard II. It reminds me to try and get something done! At word level, when I talk about language change over time, my favourite example is ‘punk’, and it’s connotations of a prostitute in Measure For Measure.
Share your favourite Shakespeare quote.
Apart from the RII quotation above, I’d go for Prince Hal’s devastating reveal in HIV I:
I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness:
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
Tell us about your favourite play and why it is your favourite.
It’s not as simple as that. As Shakespeare does, genuinely, address all kinds of human issues and emotions far more eloquently than we can, plays have more or less resonance depending on what’s going on in your life, who you are, at any given point in time. Whilst I always empathise with Richard III, linking it to Frankenstein in terms of Nature vs. Nurture, Henry IV part I seems to have everything, apart from romance, although Hotspur and Kate seem close and enjoyably flirtatious with each other. I also feel I owe Richard II a debt, having slept through most of a production at Stratford, starring Jeremy Irons, when I was 17.
Which Shakespeare character speaks to you and why?
Richard III, inasmuch as he is not ‘shaped for sportive tricks’, and must find his way in a society increasingly obsessed with appearance 🙂 But, actually, I am Hotspur from HIV I. “I will ease my heart, Albeit I make a hazard of my head.’ I wear my heart on my sleeve – too much, usually.
What is the most memorable production of Shakespeare that you’ve seen?
I’ve seen quite a few outdoor productions, having been involved – as production photographer – with the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival for a few years. Lots were special, because there was something more intimate about the setting, and about knowing the cast. But the most memorable one, perhaps, was Romeo and Juliet (not a favourite, incidentally) at University, where I was involved backstage, again as the photographer. This time, I was involved from auditions through to final performances, as well as doing all the photography for the programme. One of the amazing things about the final shows was the way in which the mood in the audience satisfyingly fell off a cliff with the death of Mercutio. That, to me, suggested that they’d got the interpretation spot on.
When did you first see or read Shakespeare?
My parents were keen to take us to the theatre when we were young. I’m not even 100% certain that they enjoyed it themselves – they’re far more interested in musicals. Nevertheless, it turned out that my introduction to Shakespeare will have been A Midsummer Night’s Dream, open air, I’m guessing some time between 1977 and 1983. I dare say I didn’t get much from it in terms of the language, but the spectacle and the occasion will have done a lot, I think, to demystify Shakespeare for me and encourage my curiosity. So that’s one of the ‘soft’ gifts I massively owe my parents for …