On his birthday, Impact Arts asks a controversial question… Is Shakespeare even that big a deal?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve read and watched my fair share of Shakespeare, and I can’t say that I don’t enjoy it now and then but this worship of the man has gone on for too long; I truly believe Shakespeare is overrated.

Who hasn’t seen a version of Romeo and Juliet, or Macbeth, or Hamlet, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream? I have. I’ve seen far too many versions of each. And the problem is that each director wants to put their own stamp on these classic tales so much that it’s gone crazy; I’ve seen Romeo and Juliet performed in a warehouse (and believe me, it wasn’t as cool as it sounds, unless you’re on about the temperature which was freezing), I’ve seen Macbeth set in a bunker… twice – not even original takes on Shakespeare are that original any more.

”This was a well-known fact to Shakespeare’s original audience, who would have been very aware of Arthur Brooke’s The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, yet is a fact that appears to have been swept under the carpet”

Maybe Shakespeare’s plays are appropriate for any time with themes that can cross the centuries but he’s not alone in that, there are many other playwrights whose works address exactly the same themes, and it’s not even like Shakespeare’s plays are that original anyway. Apart from a small number of his works Shakespeare didn’t actually come up with the plots of his plays, taking his storylines from other sources like the Italian writer Giovanni Boccacio’s works and the Holinshed Chronicles’ history of Britain. This was a well-known fact to Shakespeare’s original audience, who would have been very aware of Arthur Brooke’s The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, yet is a fact that appears to have been swept under the carpet by history in favour of perceiving Shakespeare to be a creative genius of divine insight!

”Take children to see something engaging and heart-breaking like Arthur Miller’s works, or funny and witty like Oscar Wilde!”

Because of this worship the education system insists on dragging along young kids to performances of Twelfth Night and Othello over more modern performances that would not only grab the children’s attention better and give them a greater appreciation of theatre, but would also be generally more understandable. The words are so archaic and dense in Shakespeare, especially in some of his less palatable plays like Cymbeline and Pericles, that it can’t help but deter kids from wanting to go to the theatre. Take children to see something engaging and heart-breaking like Arthur Miller’s works, or funny and witty like Oscar Wilde! Take them to see something visually stunning like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and they’ll be begging to return to the theatre! Just please don’t bore them with ten-minute-long soliloquys in three hour plays (and they are this long, I went to see a version of Macbeth that lasted for two and a half hours and didn’t even have an interval) bursting with words many adults struggle to properly comprehend.

”Why should Shakespeare take precedence over the dark wit of Christopher Marlowe, the comedy of Ben Jonson, or the twisted gruesomeness of John Webster?”

And even if we do want to keep the English Renaissance at the forefront of our theatrical programmes why not diversify it; why should Shakespeare take precedence over the dark wit of Christopher Marlowe, the comedy of Ben Jonson, or the twisted gruesomeness of John Webster? All of these playwrights, in my mind, deserve a place as equal to Shakespeare – he has ruled for too long!

”Shakespeare is just a man, not a god”

This Shakespeare worship must stop! Shakespeare is just a man, not a god, he is just one member of a longstanding literary tradition added to by many different playwrights. The difference is that for some reason Shakespeare has been held up on a pedestal above all others, running the risk of putting people off theatre, especially youngsters.

Daniel McVey

Image Credit: Joe Campbell via Flickr 

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