William Shakespeare, voted the “man of the millennium” in the year 2000 (even though he died in 1614), is known as the world’s greatest dramatist. His plays are studied by young and old, from school curriculum to academics and his work holds a unique fascination. What is it that makes him so popular and still relevant to today’s students and audiences? And how does one approach his work if you are studying or performing his plays? Not easy questions to answer but as an actor who has performed in many of his plays, a teacher who has taught his work in a classroom environment and a director who has adapted and directed some of his most popular plays, I would like to give my personal approach to Shakespeare for ISTA and Scene.
I first came across Shakespeare, like so many other people in the United Kingdom, in a classroom at school. I was 16 years old and studying Shakespeare for an English Literature course. The play we were studying was Macbeth and, despite my teacher enthusing about various lines that he thought were “brilliant”, I could barely understand what was going on, let alone what was being said. The class was taken along with other schools to a matinee of a film of the play, directed by Roman Polanski and this seemed to make the play easier to follow. Here lies a valuable lesson in any approach to Shakespeare – his plays were written to be performed. Macbeth is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays and certainly one of his most popular. It’s also the play I have seen more than any other and, with adaptations on stage and screen, I must have seen the play over a dozen times.