2016 is a special year not just for cultured Brits, but for theatre lovers all around the world. This year the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death is being celebrated with numerous events in Stratford-Upon-Avon, London and across the UK, but the party isn't limited to British shores. Several events organised and supported by the British Council as part of #shakespearelives are happening here in Paris as well as across the world. The first of such events in Paris took place on Monday 21st March. The Bard and his legacy took centre stage, as three eminent scholars discussed how Shakespeare's plays had influenced their working practices over the years. Sarah Bolwell, moderator at the conference, shares her impressions of the event.
Why, you must needs be strangers. Would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;
And this your mountanish inhumanity.
Sir Thomas More, Act II: Scene 4
So speaks the character Sir Thomas More in the Elizabethan tragedy of the same name. The play is better-known today for being the only surviving manuscript believed to be written in Shakespeare's hand than for its political and moral fortitude. However, as this monologue from the plays title role attests, the resonance and relevance of the Bard's words extends far beyond the time when they were first penned.
2016 is a special year not just for cultured Brits, but for theatre lovers all around the world. This year the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death is being celebrated with numerous events in Stratford-Upon-Avon, London and across the UK, but the party isn't limited to British shores. Several events organised and supported by the British Council as part of #shakespearelives are happening here in Paris as well as across the world. The first of such events in Paris took place on Monday 21st March. The Bard and his legacy took centre stage, as three eminent scholars discussed how Shakespeare's plays had influenced their working practices over the years.
Why "A Brave New World"?
The title of the conference 'Brave New World' was taken from Miranda's last lines in The Tempest. Her view of the real, live, new people she meets is vastly different to the vilified views in Thomas More. Full of optimism about humanity, Miranda's words are undoubtedly influenced by a lifetime of island isolation. The Tempest proved a useful framework for the evening's discussion in terms of the notion of the island.
The first of three speakers, Dr. Deana Rankin discussed the ways in which Irish politics can be seen as an expression of island mentality. A researcher and lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, Deana spoke about the cross-cultural communication which occurs not just in the Tempest, but across Shakespeare's oeuvre.
The discussion moved to the fast-approaching Brexit referendum and how the mere fact of being a land mass surrounded by water does not make the UK an island. Through neighbourly interactions and belonging to international bodies, the UK is part of a community that allows us to stay connected. In relation to the question of Brexit, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk tweeted back in February: “To be or not to be together that is the question”. Undoubtedly, Shakespeare's iconic words lend a certain gravitas to the statement, but what Deana showed was that the power of Shakespeare's words far extends their somewhat clichéd existence in modern parlence.
Professor Wes Williams, lecturer and fellow at the University of Oxford presented images and case-studies from Shakespeare performance workshops he's done with local Oxford students. He highlighted how, whilst Oxford is infinitely synonymous with some of the best teaching and students in the world, the state schools in the city are amongst some of the worst-achieving in the country. In many ways Oxford University therefore can be seen as an island. Detached, yet still connected to the world around it. Through his youth projects over the last 10 years Professor Williams has been bringing Shakespeare to new generations and consequently throwing into question, the island as a utopia.
Finally Dr. Preti Taneja read from her forthcoming novel 'We That Are Young' – a contemporary re-telling of King Lear set in modern-day India. Through her work and research she highlights the ways in which we can see other culture's embracing of Shakespeare as a post-colonial comment, particularly in countries such as India. But as Preti's research has shown, after time, these alternative interpretations become mixed-in with local cultures, allowing performers and theatre companies all over the world to take ownership of the plays.
The event taught us that many cultures all over the world have embraced the plays of William Shakespeare. The power of his words within these plays is certainly not confined to British classrooms. This #shakespearelives discussion in some ways suggested that we should be more embracing of his words in order to help us revaluate what is meant by 'stranger' in our increasingly globalised society. Ian McKellen's portrayal of Thomas More in the 1977 adaptation was particularly poignant against the backdrop of the Irish conflict. Perhaps the very same words, nearly 40 years on, can help affect some change. So that the spirit of Shakespeare is not only remembered, but allowed to truly live.