Shakespeare died 400 years ago this week. His writings, and tendentious fantasies about his life, are being celebrated, especially in Stratford-Upon-Avon. ‘Celebrated’ here means in most cases ‘Made accessible’, and ‘Made accessible’ means in all cases trivialized.
Shakespeare was a Poet and Playwright. You do not alter so much as a punctuation mark in a poet’ work. Plays are to be performed: people who have been bored sick at school when made to read Shakespeare’s plays (I was one such) very often change their minds completely and enthusiastically once they have seen an actual and at least competent performance of one of his plays (The RSC often really screws up I’m afraid, especially in its Stratford productions. Amateur or school productions are often better).
But isn’t the language ‘difficult’? Well, yes, if you’re not used to it. And present mores seem to dictate that if something’s ‘difficult’ then it should be either abolished or simplified. God forbid that anyone should be asked to make the effort of reading, with someone who already knows and understands Shakespeare’s writings, say, one act of a play, or two or three of the sonnets. It might take as long as a couple of hours, but I guarantee — I’ve tried it with several not-very-well-educated young people — that the result would be an ability to understand at sight or hearing most of what Shakespeare wrote.
But you don’t think it’s worth the effort, do you?