Apologies. I’m neglecting my PonyTail Shakespeare read-through, but suddenly writing more frequently, and hopefully more pithily (but I somehow doubt that), at the moment. Let’s see how long it lasts …
I’ve already recommended Duane’s blog – the longest-running Shakespeare blog I know of – to you. Tonight – and I had something work-related to do – I stopped by whilst having dinner, and promptly got distracted. Which is what the best blogs do, right?
The internet being a brilliant example of intertextuality, Duane’s most recent post is itself a response to something he read on Reddit. And here I am, responding in turn.
The premise is ‘What do you think of when you hear the word Shakespeare?‘
I’ve already sent a knee-jerk response, saying that I get the same level of recognition as if someone has spoken a close friend‘s name. But I wanted to expand on that here, and perhaps on the nature of friendship.
Being friends with someone is NOT, as you might get from Two Gentlemen, about forgiving a guy who tries to steal your girl, indeed (to some) offering her up. It’s about shared time and experiences, both high and low. It’s about events, snapshots from your life: who you were with; where you were; who you were at the time. It’s about the moments when you have found advice, solace or indeed just a sense of understanding and empathy from the plays.
In this sense, writers and their texts rarely let you down (once you have read them once – don’t talk to me about Love’s Labour’s Lost). The better you know the texts, too, the easier it is to know who and where to turn to if you need someone. And as I have already said elsewhere, I treat Shakespeare very much as if he is still alive, and speaking to me about life … MY life … in the 21st century.
So, I’m going to offer a quick ‘word-album’ of random good times I’ve shared with my bestie, Shakespeare (the low points can stay between us, as between all true friends, right?):
Richard II: falling asleep when I should have been watching Jeremy Irons nail this role, nearly 30 years ago;
Julius Caesar: the first play I shot as production photographer for the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival;
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: not just it being the first play I ever saw – about 40 years ago – but a memorable student performance of Pyramus and Thisbe the year before last, which left me in tears, being so authentically awful;
Romeo and Juliet: teaching it to a wonderful class a good 6 years ago, who labelled Zeffirelli‘s Romeo ‘pervy monkey boy’ and produced an unforgettable recreation of one of the key scenes in the style of the film, Mean Girls …
1 Henry IV: crying silently (thankfully on my own) whilst watching Simon Russell Beale play Falstaff in The Hollow Crown, sensing the aching vulnerability that his bombast couldn’t quite disguise;
Othello: literally, and involuntarily, saying out loud: ‘You can’t do that!‘ on my first reading of the play, at Uni, when I came across one of Iago’s dirty tricks;
Richard III: giggling uncontrollably, watching Ron Cook play Richard in the BBC version, to the enduring bemusement of the Year 9 class I was teaching at the time;
The Winter’s Tale: failing to remember that this was the play that features the line, ‘Exit, pursued by a bear‘ in a job interview;
Twelfth Night: STILL remembering the first half-dozen lines from when I studied the play for ‘O’ level in 1985 – thank you, ‘closed-book exams’. That plus the moment when Ben Kingsley turned my spine to water by breaking the fourth wall at the very end of the film version: ‘and we’ll strive to please YOU every day’ [my emphasis]
Actually, I can’t wait to see what memories Shakespeare and I make together in the next year …