Shakespeare, or Something Like It

Guest blogger, Sarah Leeves, writes…

Learning a foreign language is quite an achievement. To be honest, I could never get my head around French, let alone why the chair was feminine and the floor was masculine, or whatever. This is how some people, including my Dad, feel about Shakespeare.

“It’s just a load of arty nonsense,” says Dad. “Why not say exactly what you mean? To the point. It’s just too posh.”

So a few plays, written for “the common people” by a “common” man and performed to the masses as a primitive form of TV is too posh…go figure! But that is the problem, people think Shakespeare is too posh and the language is foreign.

Now don’t get me wrong, Othello isn’t an easy read. I’ve stumbled over “I kiss’d thee ere I killed thee, no way but this; / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss” (V, ii) countless times; first off, there are too many “e”s for me to cope with. But I enjoy reading it – a play written hundreds of years ago that STILL has relevance today – not that we all settle arguments with rapiers nowadays, but that segregation and prejudice are still problems. STILL. And apparently society has progressed…?

For GCSE, I directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a Bollywood backdrop and a brilliant modern soundtrack. The performance was choreographed with familiar dance routines and the costumes were plush and Eastern. I got an A (thank you). The school and the audience loved it. Why? Because it was relevant and relatable (SPOILER: in actual fact, I didn’t change any of the language or the scenarios, I just changed the costume and the scenery). Audiences love familiarity and when something is alien to them, the language for example, they quickly panic, switch off and go back to Eastenders. With my piece, the audience loved the costumes and the recognizable music so they were immediately hooked. That meant the script worked its magic and enchanted without them even noticing. Fab.

What I’m trying to say, granted in a round-about way, is that Shakespeare is for everyone; it’s clever, relevant and accessible. Once you break down the language “barrier”, it’s plain sailing. It’s only a barrier if you let it be so, like deciding not to go to the gym because it’s raining (put a coat on and just do it). The same can be said for Shakespeare, minus the coat: make a cup of tea, sit down and actually READ IT. Slowly. Maybe I should take my own advice and give French another go…

So to conclude, Shakespeare is as much for today as it was many years ago. If Gnomeo and Juliet has taught me anything other than gardens are magical places, it’s that people secretly love Shakespeare – they just won’t admit it.

Sarah Leeves

Digital Globe

This week, The Economist‘s A.C. writes about the digital reinvention of Shakespeare, and opens by describing this year’s staging of 37 plays in 37 different languages at Shakespeare’s Globe. Today we are delighted to publish a guest post by the Globe’s Ruth Frendo and Jordan Landes, who write…

Digital technology intersects Shakespeare studies in many different ways. The digitization of the Bodleian’s First Folio is a brilliant example of how digital media can enhance access to Shakespeare.

The Library and Archive at Shakespeare’s Globe are pursuing another route: the digital capture of performances. Capturing the ephemeral, preserving it and making it available for current and future audiences, has always challenged performance archives. At the Globe, where performance and research combine to explore Shakespeare’s texts in a unique and exciting way, capture and preservation are crucial.

Performances at the Globe have been recorded since the very first productions in 1997. Technology has transformed since then, and we recently installed a capture system which records at a far higher quality than previously used. Capturing more data provides the recordings with more visible data, and facilitates their preservation.

Our next step will be to upgrade our cameras and cabling to produce and transmit high definition television signals. New cameras will give us greater control of light and focus settings, providing higher tolerance of changing environmental conditions – an important consideration for recording in an outdoor theatre during a typical British summer!

Today’s information professionals are pioneers in the untamed landscape of digital preservation, a terrain whose boundaries and pitfalls shift with each new technological development. The prospect is as exhilarating as it is daunting. The more digital resources that libraries and archives can provide for researchers, the more useful we will remain.

Ruth Frendo, Archivist and Jordan Landes, former Librarian
Shakespeare’s Globe