To be or not to be…

This week I was fortunate enough to see the National Theatre Live performance of Hamlet. Filmed live at London’s Barbican Theatre. It gives those of us who cannot afford the trip to see world class productions.

My interest in Shakespeare is relatively recent. For a few years I have found myself increasingly drawn to these plays, mainly through my work in a school, but also through dramatizations on TV. But there is nothing like seeing them on the live stage.

My interest was rekindled several years ago when I saw Macbeth in Manchester. It was a real eye opener for me. For one thing, I felt able to follow the plot and dialogue better than I thought I would. I have been waiting for an opportunity to see another, but the cost has always held me back. But with the NT Live productions I can see these performances without leaving town. And for £10 a ticket, what’s not to like?

I was talking about this to a colleague at work this week. Shakespeare may be our country’s greatest playwright, but the language of his work is difficult and makes him inaccessible to many people. That is why modern adaptations are so important. But seeing these plays performed in the environment they were written for is almost magical.

His stories are timeless and the dialogue riddled with word and phrases that have become a part of our everyday language. I was particularly amazed at the number of phrases I heard during the performance of Hamlet that I knew and used myself without knowing where they came from. And that doesn’t include the two major speeches.

Looking back I am not surprised that it took me so long to see the magic of Shakespeare. My first experience was for my O-Level Literature at high school in the 1970s. We had to read “Julius Caesar”, not one of the most popular of the bard’s works and certainly not the most inspiring as far as I was concerned. The main problem with learning Shakespeare at that time was my teacher. Luckily I was already an avid reader, but even I found myself turned off by a man who had no flair for teaching. I don’t dispute his love of literature, but his lessons were so tedious and uninspiring that I often found myself falling asleep. It took me years to discover that both Shakespeare and Jane Austen were actually quite good writers.

Reading any pre-twentieth century literature has its challenges. The language changes the older thew work, and many of the references need explanation. I remember reading Twelfth Night several years ago. I struggled with language but managed to follow it, in much the same way I had with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. But in the end, plays are written to be performed live and following the written word on the page is never as good as a live performance.

I am looking forward to future opportunities during 2016 to catch some more live performances. In the meantime we have a family outing to see another NT Live performance during Christmas week – Jane Eyre.

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