Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Who Likes Shakespeare?

In Shakespeare's quatercentenary year (and I must say I don't think much of the commemorative stamps) it's sad to learn that 34 percent of his countrymen and women say they dislike his work, and only 59 percent say they like it. This being a survey result, it must of course be taken with a pinch or two of salt, but what was most depressing was the finding that, in terms of liking, understanding and appreciating Shakespeare, this country came 11th out of 15 countries surveyed, way behind, for example, India, Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and even China.
 America came ahead of the UK in liking Shakespeare, but only by a few percentage points - which I found rather surprising, especially after listening to an interesting Radio 4 programme this morning, Shakespeare in Obama's America. Robert McCrum reported from Washington DC on how Shakespeare's plays are used in political discourse, and talked to the likes of Alec Baldwin (does he have a like?) and Stephen Sondheim about the place of Shakespeare in American culture.
 There seemed to be a consensus that if Shakespeare were alive today he would be writing scripts in Hollywood. This chimes with the frequently-heard assertion that, in his home country, he would be writing scripts for EastEnders. Would he? My view of Shakespeare is that he was the most prodigiously gifted poet ever born - but he had the misfortune to be born at a time when it was impossible to make a living as a poet, and only the theatre offered the chance to make money from verse. So perforce he became a dramatist - and, because he was so supremely gifted, became the greatest playwright ever born.


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