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Read and Write – Super Shakespeare

For today’s Read and Write I want to think about Shakespeare and why he is so important to me.

I can’t really remember when I first became aware of William Shakespeare and his contributions he made to the literature and culture of our country. I suppose there must have been a time when I had no idea he had lived and written but that seems unreal to me. As far as I’m concerned Shakespeare has been the backbone of my literary journey from an early age.

Like many people who were educated in England my first encounter with Shakespeare’s work was A Midsummer Night Dream. I suppose the gentle story line and all those cheeky fairies is what makes it the first of his plays that most of us comes across. I can’t remember if I read it, had it read to me or acted in it but I remember loving the names of all the fairies – Moth, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mustardseed. I saw an RSC production in the 1970s which blew me away. I saw Oberon as a powerful force, not the ‘King of the Fairies’ with all the girly undertones that has; I saw Titania as a manipulative, jealous woman; I saw Puck as a schemer rather than a cute fairy. Even the fairies were a bit Goth!

The first play I remember studying was Romeo and Juliet. I’m well acquainted with it as I’ve taught it at GCSE numerous times. The gentle love story with the violent undertones is really captivating for a teenage girl and I fell in love with the romance of it. When I saw Baz Luhrmann’s film I was stunned by the visuals of course but also with the darkness in the play which he exploited, especially in the scenes with Romeo, Tybalt and Mercutio.

Sometimes teaching a text can ‘kill’ it as a piece of literature. For a while I felt that way about Macbeth. I had taught it so often and struggled to see the poetry in it (most of my students did too!). A performance of the play with Sean Bean as Macbeth soon reminded me how powerful a discourse on power, ambition and how people can be corrupted by both. Always nice to gaze at Mr Bean for a few hours too!

My son is very interested in language and it’s development so I have to mention the contribution Shakespeare made to our language. So many words and phrases that we use everyday were first used in the plays of Shakespeare.  For example – assassination from Macbeth; cold-bloodied from King John; green-eyed jealousy from A Merchant of Venice; puking from As You Like It.

So there you are, a potted history of my love affair with The Bard – roll on August when I’m off to see Much Ado About Nothing.

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