Monday, August 20, 2007

Brush Up Your Shakespeare............ ran a song in Cole Porter's irreverent but highly entertaining musical, “Kiss Me Kate,” which revolved around a stock theatre group's performance of the Bard's “Taming of the Shrew.” I suspect that Will would have enjoyed it himself, which is more than can be said for one of the more stupid ideas concerning his works that has just been announced.
A cartoon version of his plays, along with the words altered to make them understandable to the mentally challenged youth of a texting world, is about to arrive at a book store near you.
According to the publisher, this is to make Shakespeare's work “more understandable and acceptable” to the young. What it does is to make it totally irrelevant. The whole point of his work lies in the use of words and resonant phrases, many of which have entered into the language, often unrecognised by their user.
No one would claim that the plays are an easy read. They weren't meant to be. They are plays and to read them enjoyably requires a degree of concentration and an imaginative flair that few, brought up on television and computer games, now possess.
The audiences who delighted in his work were hardly sophisticated but it seems they were a good deal more erudite than modern youth, who need to have matters simplified for them, reduced to the lowest common denominator and thereby robbed of all that is valuable in his work.
The one thing Shakespeare had in common with them was a certain laxity in the matter of spelling. He rarely seemed to know how to manage his own name but this was hardly a detriment to the spoken word in his plays.
And therein lies the rub. If you want to enjoy and understand his work, go and see a play.
But no doubt Shakespeare, as depicted in these cartoon books along with words of no more than two syllables, will soon become a subject for a GCSE pass, along with knitting, basket weaving and, my pet hate, media studies i.e. watching television.
Bill Bryson has just published a book on Shakespeare. I haven't read it yet but I suspect that it will be as sensible and intelligent as his usually are.


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