kenny hodgart

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Shakespeare for dummies

This article appeared in The Herald

It is a well-known fact that Romeo and Juliet is the play Shakespeare wrote for the benefit of dullards and girls who hope to sound intelligent by quoting from it.

That may not seem enough to justify the teaching of it to every child in the English-speaking world for the past 400 years (give or take) but it must be allowed that it has served its purpose relatively well.

Until now, that is. The Royal Shakespeare Company this week started a new production of the play in “real time”, which, it emerges, means there is no need for the bard’s text, a stage or actors. Instead, a group of young people will send one another messages on Twitter for five weeks, “improvising around a story grid”.

It is all very well wondering how young women will ever convince anyone that they are sophisticated if they are encouraged to acquaint themselves with Shakespeare via story grids on Twitter, but this is now the direction of travel. The main thing is “access”, which should explain why Channel 4’s “investment arm” has backed the project, doubtless with the stipulation that there must be a dozen Tweets daily about climate change, Israeli malevolence and other topics of concern in the Verona of antiquity.

“The aim is to make it immediate, convincing and involving,” one newspaper reported; for which read “Shakespeare must be made easy for stupid and/or lazy people”.

It must be assumed that Tales from Shakespeare, the digest written in 1807 by Charles Lamb and his matricidal sister Mary “to a simple level that children could comprehend”, is no longer in print.

“Care has been taken to select such words as might least interrupt the effect of the beautiful English tongue in which Shakespeare wrote,” insisted the Lambs in their preface. But the world has moved on from these antiquated notions.

The singer-songwriter-composer Rufus Wainwright – who has just had an opera he wrote performed in London – was recently asked by someone from the Independent whether that art form deserved its elitist reputation. “I think we could all be a bit more elitist,” he replied. Take note, RSC.