‘Most students away from these UK shores adore Shakespeare.
In his homeland, unless you catch them young, a dislike gets deep under the skin and stays engrained, enduring wind and weather.’ Ben Crystal [a]
Welcome to my world …
Claiming some kind of unanswerable ownership of Shakespeare based on his nationality is the last thing on my mind, akin to the idiocy of him being some kind of class signifier (or adopting the Turkish hero, St George, as England’s patron). There’s a frustrating, illogical irony to these bigoted attitudes which I have blogged before about. And, bear in mind, I was not born in England.
Still, I’ve lived most of my life in the UK. And I’ve had a gut feeling for years that Shakespeare is more popular abroad, especially in the US. That’s partly influenced by where the views on this blog tend to come from – given that a significant part of the UK views will be my own small group of students, it’s still outweighed by US views.
Frankly, I’m very jealous of the countries that appear to actually enjoy the bard.
This summer, I decided to run a very unscientific poll of /r/shakespeare during August, to discover how international the subreddit is. It’s where I get most of my Shakespeare chat fix: remember that my Dearest Partner of Greatness isn’t a fan; nor are my family or most of my friends; at school you can count on one hand the number of people – staff and students – who would opt to have a conversation about Shakespeare. I travel a lot on public transport, not having wanted or needed a car for several years, and I’m the kind of annoying person who asks people what they are reading. I can’t help that – the written word is my life. But I have never come across anyone reading Shakespeare in public.
So here’s what came out of a simple request, under the inevitable heading, ‘What country, friends, is this?‘ …
If you drill a little closer, thirty-two of the US states are represented in that figure of sixty, and for those who are interested in the UK figure of nine, it can be broken down as follows:
- England: 5
- Northern Ireland: nil
- Scotland: 2
- Wales: 2
California and Virginia boasted more members than England.
Again, this isn’t scientific. It’s a tiny sample: 100 out of 16,000 Redditors who are group members (and the regulars are far fewer in number). But discrepancies in national population sizes don’t explain it. Judging by the appalled reaction of people I know and students too, when I tell them I am on Reddit, perhaps the platform is more popular in some countries than others. Next stop, perhaps, is to conduct a similar poll on Twitter?
But paint it however you want, it does feel like we as a nation have a bizarre disdain, verging on contempt, for the guy almost universally regarded as the greatest writer ever. A writer, moreover, who very conveniently writes in our mother tongue, and about our history – who, according to The British Council – has been translated into over 100 languages, including Klingon, for God’s sake. A writer whose attributable contributions to our everyday argot are unmatched, according to the OED.
Again, don’t mistake this for some kind of jingoistic, nationalistic post. Especially not in these troubled times when Britain is dying on its feet. Regular readers will know my ambivalent attitude to being British.
Shakespeare is NOT the answer to our national convulsions (although Brexiters might benefit from a play or two) . But the closed mindset which rejects his works out of hand is a symptom of the disease that is ravaging us …
[a] Ben Crystal, The British Council, 11 February 2014 (link here)