Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Shakespeare has always been a bit of a bother. Since schoolmasters, and now we must hastily include schoolmistresses to keep out of trouble, found that, with the abolition of corporal punishment, even greater pain could be inflicted by forcing their pupils to read Shakespeare, he's been on slippery ground.
It has resulted in keeping the membership of the 'Friends of the Bard' club within manageable numbers but has produced an upsurge in the rival organisation, the 'Bored by the Bard Club.'
Yet the most illiterate quote him almost daily in their conversation, a trend that has even extended into furthest reaches of the Thames estuary, that well known fountain head of modern English. Many cannot even spell his name but this should hardly be held against them as he was a bit uncertain himself.
Those of us who have grown to appreciate him have always puzzled at where he gained his knowledge from. And especially his almost encyclopaedic knowledge of Venice.
To the best of our knowledge, Ryanair weren't flying there at the time so it's something of a mystery but his descriptions are so vivid that it's hard to believe that they were gleaned from third party sources.
In a new book, Shaul Bassi, a lecturer at Venice University, and the writer Alberto Toso Fei say Shakespeare's insights have such a “local feel” that he must have gained them at first hand.
Possible, but where he fitted such a trip into his busy schedule is another puzzle and it will probably reignite the old arguments as to whether or not he actually wrote the plays.
Unfortunately, in spite of a number of learned biographies on the subject, nobody really knows much about Will and his life.
Nor do many know his plays, which is a pity.
I was fortunate inasmuch as my first exposure was by being taken to the Stratford on Avon theatre to see Julius Caesar, not by having to read him.
And I always thought that about twenty percent of the audience watching Cole Porter's wonderful musical, 'Kiss Me Kate,' were completely baffled by the plot through not knowing their Shakespeare.
But I am sure that Shakespeare himself would have approved of the songs, such as 'I've Come to Wive it Wealthily in Padua.'
After all, that's probably where he landed on Ryanair's flight to Venice.


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