Beware… The Green-Eyed Monster

imagesIt can have escaped very few people’s notice that 2016 is the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and celebrations of various sorts are popping up all over the place. (Question:  At what point does it become acceptable to stop mourning someone’s death and start celebrating it instead?  Is there a rule of thumb, I wonder? And why do we celebrate Shakespeare’s death only once a century but that of Guy Fawkes every year? Funny things, we humans.)

It will also have escaped the notice of very few of my blogging friends that much of my life is spent engaging with Shakespearian study in one form or another.  You won’t be surprised, therefore, to hear that I am seriously excited about all the events that are going on locally, and as I live only an hour’s drive away from Stratford that is likely to be a fair few.  I suppose, then, that I really have no right to feel aggrieved that some of the celebrations I would most like to join in with are not going to be within either my geographical or financial reach.  Well, let me tell you, rights or not, I do, and one particular set of events, which caught my attention in the weekend papers, I really regret missing.

At the Barbican in London the RSC are screening a season of films of the company’s past productions.  These are not the more recent shows which have been relayed through cinemas worldwide over the past couple of years, but rather performances, some of which go back as far as the fifties, that for one reason or another were captured on film and in some cases given only a single television airing.  I would be fascinated to view any of these, but there is one in particular that I would love to see again because it was the film of this production that was responsible for starting me off on the long road that has led to more than fifty years of  Shakespearian studies.

Talk about an act of serendipity.  It was a Thursday evening, my mother was out and I noticed in the Radio Times that there was a showing scheduled of As You Like It.  Why did I want to see it?  I have no idea, other than perhaps the fact that it was theatre and I had been a theatre addict since I was two.  But theatre in our house meant pantomimes, musicals and the occasional light comedy.  It definitely didn’t mean Shakespeare.  Well, I had always been able to wrap my father round my finger (I doubt I would have got away with it had Mom been in!) and, of course, there wasn’t the choice of viewing available then, so we watched it.

I know now that what I saw that night was a recording of the newly-formed RSC’s production of the play from 1961, with Vanessa Redgrave giving a performance as Rosalind that many critics claimed as definitive.  (Certainly, I had to wait until Pippa Nixon’s interpretation for the same company in 2013 for one that came anywhere near it.)  You can read Michael Billington’s memories of the production here.  At the time I knew nothing of the play, the company or the actors, I simply knew that from the moment the broadcast began I was hooked.  And the high point of the whole evening came when, as Rosalind/Ganymede, began to berate Phoebe for her treatment of Silvius, I realised, before it happened, that the shepherdess was going to fall helplessly in love with a woman she thought was a man.  That’s when the light bulb went on, when the fireworks began to soar, whatever metaphors you want to use.  That was the moment when I knew that all those centuries earlier Shakespeare had looked down through the ages, seen a young girl being brought up in one of Birmingham’s red light districts and had decided to write his plays just for her.  The bus to Stratford stopped at the bottom of our road.  Within days I was making a journey that was to be the start of the rest of my life.

You hear people talk about having their life changed in an instant.  Well, I am one of those people.  If I hadn’t sat down to watch that specific production on that long ago Thursday evening, I have no idea who I would be now, but I suspect it would be someone very different.  Perhaps it’s better that I don’t see the performance again but just keep it in my memory as a gift from the gods for which I will be eternally grateful.

16 thoughts on “Beware… The Green-Eyed Monster

  1. I suspect that many people don’t know much about Guy Fawkes but it’s the fireworks and bonfires and everything that goes with that, that they like. Shakespeare, in contrast, for a lot of people is just a playwright they may have read in school but never really understood (or liked) and there aren’t any feasts or celebrations for his life etc that I know of that the general public can take part in. Having said that all the live productions of his plays that I have seen had packed audiences who thoroughly enjoyed them! I’m sorry that I’m now so far from Stratford to see any of this year’s celebrations. I expect there will be TV productions and local events too. Our local theatre will be screening the RSC’s Hamlet in June.

    On the whole I think it’s a good thing that you keep the performance you first saw as a precious memory!

    1. We have the Birthday celebrations every year in Stratford, of course, but then we all celebrate birthdays. It’s the idea of celebrating someone’s death that I find so interesting.

  2. Be careful you don’t overdose on all the Shakespeare events! Maybe there is some way you could get to London for one or two of the RSC films? Pick the ones you want to see most, if you can 🙂

  3. I think if I was going to overdose I would have done it years ago, Stefanie. But I will definitely get The Bears working on those train timetables!

  4. What a wonderful story! I didn’t have a lightning-strike moment like that, but I always feel lucky that my mum introduced us to a few filmed productions / movie adaptations of Shakespeare when we were smallish. What I remember in particular is that we complained about not understanding what they were saying, and she said, “Yes you do. The actors are telling you, if you listen,” and we did, and they were. It was a lucky thing to be told young, because it’s always made me feel like I had ownership over Shakespeare; he never felt like an externally imposed obligation, when we studied him in school.

    1. This is why I think everyone should meet Shakespeare on the stage before they are ever asked to study him (or even just read him) on the page, Jenny. Once the verse is moving it just swings you along and you understand what is happening without even thinking about it.

  5. I was lucky enough to see a number of productions at Stratford when I was a child because both my parents worked there for a number of summers. So I fell in love with Shakespeare aged about eleven and have never fallen out again. I will miss most of the celebrations, being in France, so am very envious of you being just down the road!

    1. That’s a shame Harriet. Your family are part of the theatre’s history and you ought to be there. Having said that, there is far more going on in London than there is in Stratford. Perhaps you might get to some of those events?

  6. This is such a tremendous story and gave me such a beautiful image of this young girl rushing off the bus stop to follow her passion. I was thinking that today with all the tv channels, on demand streaming, catch up services plus dvd and games, you might not have even noticed the program was on amidst all the noise. Or if you did, would probably have ignored it. All these choices are actually not good news in many respects are they (we often miss gems simply because they are buried amidst smaller channels). As for the RSC season I saw the full page advert at the weekend and immediately went off to the website to find all the show times only to be bitterly disappointed this is not going to be broadcast to cinemas across the country. I can’t get time off work to trundle up to London to see them at the Barbican. What a missed opportunity ……

    1. Just occasionally we get someone from the theatre in the Institute, Karen, and if that happens I’m going to have a word about how parochial the company has been where the celebrations are concerned. I agree with you about there being too much choice these days, but the very fact that there are so many different platforms that allow dissemination means that they ought to have been able to be more ambitious in their reach.

    1. It would be facile to say that he repays study, Grad, but it’s true. Shakespeare is one of those writers you can only appreciate more if helped by a good teacher.

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