There has been much interest in the 450th birthday of Shakespeare this week.
I adore Shakespeare and his words, I always have. So I have been thinking about him a lot this past week, contemplating all the things I love about him and his writing, and philosophising about whether he is the greatest writer that ever lived.
The answer of course is Yes!!
I cannot remember when I was introduced to Shakespeare, I do know my Dad had talked fondly of him, and we had a complete works at home. I used to look at the writing and was in awe of it, not knowing or understanding much more than letters on the page.
I remember reading Macbeth for school, probably in Year 8 or 9. What a marvelous play to start with, and it remains my favourite to this day.
What's not to love: witches, marching trees (Tolkien had to have stolen this one I reckon!), Scottish accents, OCD, powerful women, and much much more. Lead on Macduff!!
(which for the uninitiated, does not actually exist!)
I also have this memory of Shakespeare from A Country Practice, with the younger characters studying Shakespeare and one of them calling him Wagger Dagger! This amused me to no end.
So what is it about a man, long gone, that makes him so beloved...to me, and to many others?
These stories, once you get your head around the language, are timeless. Love, hate, feelings, and situations. There is something for everyone. Once you realise this, he is less intimidating and more intimate.
As I have said many times writing about great things in the arts, much has been written and I am not going to attempt to do what has been done far better before me. So I shall just explain my experiences and loves.
Macbeth is my favourite and always will be, as explained above.
A Midsummer's Night Dream is my favourite comedy. It's mystical and cheeky, usually staged in the most glorious way. It's the play I have seen staged the most. How can you not love the impish Puck?
King Lear is my favourite serious play. I studied this for the HSC and it was the bane of my life at the time. So much within, so serious, so dark, so much to learn, but how can you begin to unravel what was within. A friend once told me about reading this with a love in the rain...I thought that was the most romantic thing I had ever heard!
Richard III - is my favourite history play, and a popular culture favourite, and the one I can talk about forever.
It's got those great lines, "Now is the winter of our discontent" and "My Kingdom for a horse".
The first time I stood on the stage at my beloved Civic Theatre here in Newcastle, I actually projected that, much to the embarrassment of my sister who was with me at the time. Even more ironic, as we were there for a rehearsal of a fashion parade, such brilliance (the words, certainly not my 'performance') amongst such vacuousness amused me to no end!
Richard III has been in Red Dwarf, Blackadder, Queen sung about it, Steinbeck borrowed from it, Being John Malkovich and The King's Speech used it. Seller's spoken word version of A Hard Day's Night was inspired by Olivier's Richard III.
And then there is Looking for Richard, Pacino's documentary, which explores the great play, including him wandering The Cloisters in New York reciting lines. Having spent much time meditating and dreaming at that very spot it was a moment of pure joy for me to observe.
And finally, the best ever death scene I have ever seen staged was Richard's death in Richard III, by Bell's Shakespeare Company of course. At the afore mentioned Civic Theatre, I had close up seats to the very spot with copious amounts of gushing 'blood' in a seamless display of possible magic, I was equally repulsed and utterly fascinated.
Of course, in the late 80s and early 90s, all things Shakespeare pointed to Kenneth Branagh, often with Emma Thompson. Ken and Em, oh how I loved them. They were indeed the most perfect Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing, another favourite. His Henry V is the best film version in my opinion, highly accessible. Othello and Hamlet also outstanding. If you think you don't like Shakespeare (the horror) go and see these films, I am certain your mind will change.
Of course, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Taming of the Shrew is another favourite, in fact all of Zeffirelli's films of Shakespeare are masterpieces.
Another play I adore is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Funny, fast paced, and a raging romp. Again, great to introduce newbies too, and also for fans to sit back and enjoy.
And the Sonnets, I don't have a favourite, they're all simply perfect! I keep a lovely leather bound second hand copy of them permanently by my bedside table. Along with The Romantic Poets and 100 Great Movie Moments! I find them comforting and soulful to read if I am having trouble sleeping.
And Shakespeare's words are just that, comforting and soulful, poetic and sexy. They never change, they are honest and unflinching. Tragic and heartwrenching, wise and funny, like honest friends that will never let you down.
And so finally to my favourite thing about William Shakespeare.
His phrases, those impeccable words, most of which he coined and made it into our everyday language without some of us ever knowing.
My favourite - above all - is the following:
This above all: To thine own self be true.
From Hamlet, it is Polonius's advice to his son, and it simply says everything anyone should know about me, and me about myself.