Shakespeare Unlimited @ 450
Shakespeare Unlimited @ 450. Thousands shall assemble at Stratford-Upon-Avon, United Kingdom, the birthplace of William Shakespeare to celebrate his...
Thousands shall assemble at Stratford-Upon-Avon, United Kingdom, the birthplace of William Shakespeare to celebrate his 450th birth anniversary over the weekend on April 26 and 27
Imagine an invigorating industry that is 450 years old and is still going great guns! Add the fact that the industry in this long span of time introduced every society that came in touch with it, to the gloss of star dust. Join the substantive data of thousands of Doctorates, M.A and M.Phils, and the post doctoral research in the countries world over which were based on this industry -well the name of the industry in the arts and humanities sector is M/s Shakespeare Unlimited. The bard of Avon is an institution, an industry and a religion that has inspired and continues to influence trends, ideologies, art and artforms, literature and drama across the world.
Shakespeare who spearheaded the English Renaissance lived between 1564 (birth date not known, this is the year of Baptism of the Shakespeare) and 1616, is a contemporary of Indian medieval writers Sant Kabir (1440-1518) Sant Tulasi Das (1532-1623), Sant Tukaram (1577-1650) and Pingali Surana, Telugu Poet of 15-16th Century. While these poets have lead the Bhakti movement against the then prevalent Brahminical order of ritual dominance, and Pingali Surana came up with the best of the medieval period imagination, in his fictional verse, a Prabandha “Kalapoornodayam”, during the same period, Shakespeare came out with his thirty plus number of plays, poetry and firmly founded the literary English in those days when French and Italian were considered to be literary languages.
Though his plays were well acclaimed during his lifetime, and he also acted in most of plays, none of them were published during his lifetime. Taking the Sonnet form, from Italian literature, the 14 line sonnets that Shakespeare wrote became the ubiquitous English Sonnets, and till date, only the Shakespearean Sonnets came to represent this genre strongly. The 154 sonnets and a long poem, saw the light of the day in 1609, published well during his life time. The first 17 sonnets are called as ‘Procreation Sonnets” addressed to a young man urging him to marry and beget children, bulk of the rest up to the 126th one continue to be addressed to the Fair Youth, and of the remaining, some to a “Dark Lady” and some more to a “rival poet”. Critical analysis by the scholars has established that the themes of the sonnets of Shakespeare have dealt with nature of love, sexual passion, procreation, death and time in a profound meditation. When these sonnets faced criticism, it is William Wordsworth (1770-1850) a major English Romantic poet, that came to the defense of the bard saying “Scorn not the sonnet, critic, you have frowned, mindless of its just honors, with this key, Shakespeare unlocked his heart”. Wordsworth had to say this because out of entire Shakespeare oeuvre only the Sonnets were of non-fictional nature, and hence leave us a clue or two about the bard’s life.
At the time of his birth and at the time when Shakespeare started writing in 1593, England was under the rule of the Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled the country up to 1603. Then the bard was 39 years old. The next ruler was King James I, during whose reign in 1616, Shakespeare passed away. Though there is no record of the playwright meeting the royal rulers, the royal patronage to the theatre was very much evident, and Shakespeare too acted on the stage in a troupe called “The Lord Chamberlains’ Men” which later on came to be known as “The Kings ’Men”. During his London years, he excelled as an actor, a writer, and part-owner of a playing company. ‘Globe Theatre on the bank of Thames was the venue where much of theatre activity took place in those days.
All the trends of literature, movements and ideologies have had their fair share of Shakespeare moments, in the last four and half centuries. Another contribution of Shakespeare is that of imbibing the English language with a vast number of phrases and expressions, which have expanded from the original realm of plays and poetry and have entered the day to day life. That’s why the saying has come to stay - If you know English, you have a bit of Shakespeare in you. Social dialogic traditions, media, literature, and particularly common folks have amalgamated into their daily life, and commented, responded, ridiculed, cheered and jeered using the Shakespearean phrases. This remains the major relevance for his phrases in certain contexts in his fictional plays, have donned real life characters and used by the English speaking people of the world, in different nations. Since English gained global prominence due to various reasons, over a period of time, this remarkable credit attributed to the bard, cannot be easily rivaled by any other writer. Claimed to be the most quoted author after the various writers of biblical works, many of his quotations and neologisms have passed into everyday usage -“all that glitters isn’t gold”, “brevity is the soul of the wit”, “clothes make the man”, “dog will have his day”, “fair play”, “fraility, thy name is woman”, “method in his madness”, “primrose path”, “wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve”, “the milk of human kindness”, the list goes on and on. English as a language stands benefited, for the full blooded treatment given by the bard. Warren King made an observation: “In all of his works, the plays, the sonnets and the narrative poems, Shakespeare used 17,677 words, of those 1,700 were first used by him. He created these words by, changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.” Critics observe further that Shakespeare's effect on vocabulary is rather astounding when considering how much language has changed since his lifetime.
Shakespeare’s works have endeared all generations of readers, in changing times and ages, as performances, celluloid versions, mono-actions, children’s abridged versions, comic books, dance forms like ballets in the west, and in the USA where the dance troop, since several decades are using the techniques of Mendelssohn’s incidental music to perform ‘A midsummer Night’s dream’, ‘As you like it’, and ‘The tempest’.
In many plays the characters of Shakespeare like to shake a leg and tend to move a pace, fast forward. Romeo and Juliet meet at a dance; Oberon and Titania reconcile with a dance; we’re told how enchantingly Cleopatra once hopped 40 paces down the street; in the final scene of “As You Like It,” Duke Senior addresses the four young couples: “Brides and bridegrooms, dance your happiness away.” In Shakespeare’s plays, dance and movement often recur. (There even are touching moments when characters exclude themselves from dancing. Jaques in “As You Like It” declines to join in: “I am for other than for dancing measures.” In “Romeo and Juliet,” Lord Capulet says to a cousin: “You and I are past our dancing days.”).
The earliest dramatisations of Shakespeare by Indians were of enacted scenes in schools and colleges. According to one such source, 1822 is the year of first such known performance, at Hindu College, Calcutta. It initiated a tradition which had continues to this day, of the performance in English by Indians as part of the English language learning exercise. Shakespeare’s play are reinterpreted in different art forms like Kathakali, Kodiyattam,in Kerala, translated into many Indian languages at least a century ago, and in Bengal as per the record available at New York Public Library, the ‘Othello’ production was as early as 1871-72. (The cover of the programme, the play bill for the 1871 performance of Othello in Calcutta (courtesy) the Hiram stead Collection , New York Public library for the performing Arts). As writer Jagaddhatri pointed out, coming home to Telugu cinema, our early movies “Gunasundari Katha’s story line is based on ‘King Lear’ and another movie albeit a famous one that too, “Gundamma Katha” is a thinly veiled adaptation of the ‘Taming of the Shrew’.
It is Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s contemporary, had paid a tribute in which he termed the bard as a fair swan and a celestial abode, not just an abode, but a constellation as a spatial residence.
But, stay, I see thee in the hemisphere
Advanced, and made a constellation there!
Shine forth, thou Star of Poets, and with rage
Or influence, chide or cheer the drooping stage
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourned like night
And despairs day, but for thy volume’s light
Technology is also now celebrating Shakespeare, through a “live streaming theatre” his plays are being telecast to hundreds of theatres, in real time of original performance, which has become entirely possible due to synchronising the time slots, and theatres located in different countries divided by continental expanses. Will this 450th birthday of the playwright bring back good days to the theatre world wide? Let us hope so. Meanwhile let’s join the Bonhomie and celebrate Shakespeare.