This post was written by post-graduate students on the ‘Shakespeare and Creativity’ course at The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham:
‘When it comes to Shakespeare, there will always be more questions than answers.
Was Shakespeare a product of his age or ‘for all time’, as Ben Jonson claimed? Is it appropriate to treat Shakespeare as separate from all other writers? Who does Shakespeare’s work belong to? And ultimately, what kind of Shakespeare do we want?
Those are some of the questions we’re exploring through our project, Shakespeare Unbard, culminating in an interactive performance in Front-of-House areas of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, from 6pm on December 13th. Devised by MA Shakespeare and Creativity students from the Shakespeare Institute (University of Birmingham), it explores the various ways that people and societies over time have celebrated Shakespeare.
We started by looking at the potential of celebration to build communities, enhance lives, unify different sectors of society, and engage with Shakespeare’s texts. But as we did so, we realised that the very nature of celebration can also raise unsettling questions about what it is to venerate an artist – particularly an artist who dramatised such a range of human experience. And to find out what still spoke to people about Shakespeare, we decided to offer you the chance to speak to him – virtually, at least.
Do you have your own question to pose to the author of the most famous query in the English language? Then what are you waiting for? Ask Shakespeare anything!
Send it post-haste in a tweet to @ShakesUnbard, or use the hashtag #dearshakespeare. Questions from the campaign will feature directly in the performance, so this is your chance to have your voice heard in the RST building! Serious, scholarly, funny, biographical, historical, historical-personal, textual, textual-musical – all the world’s your page! To kick things off, we’ve asked a few of our own, which you can find in a handy trailer by clicking here.
In our performance on December 13th we will offer the audience a range of perspectives on the positive and negative sides of Shakespeare in society, challenging our accepted understanding of the writer’s work. The audience will meet familiar characters in unfamiliar settings, finding surprising moments of dialogue and symmetry which illustrate the complex afterlife of Shakespearean roles. They will go on an unexpected journey, discovering, both in our performance and the accompanying exhibition, the historical tradition of civic Shakespeare celebration dating back to a Jubilee organised in Stratford by the actor David Garrick in 1769.
We have incorporated musical allusions to Garrick’s Jubilee Ode which gesture towards Shakespeare as a figure of uncomplicated veneration, but other elements taken from the same occasion indicate the dangerous powers that Shakespeare was thought to unleash.
And although the tradition of civic pageantry which we reference suggests a parochial, village-green Shakespeare, creating a sense of harmonious inclusivity across ‘this sceptred isle’, we will ask if by celebrating a monolithic idea of Shakespeare, we limit his meanings in potentially troubling ways.
Instead of condemning the darkness and suffering that are often present in Shakespeare, we examine how these contribute to his capacity to unify, edify, and move us in the deepest parts of our humanity. And rather than writing off eighteenth and nineteenth century Bardolatry as merely sanitised and sentimental, we will try to express the transcendent beauty and moral resonance of Shakespeare in a manner fitting to the modern world.
Shakespeare Unbard features original music, responding to historical traditions, recent RSC productions, and modern popular forms. Souvenirs and hand-outs link our work to the historical tradition of participation in Shakespeare.
But our focus will always return to the place of Shakespeare in the modern world, asking searching questions which, while never single-mindedly endorsing his brilliance, demonstrate the continuing importance of engaging with Shakespeare in our lives today.
With special moments for the children, all ages are welcome and encouraged to come to this free and funny piece of theatre.
So, get involved and tweet YOUR questions to @ShakesUnbard, #dearshakespeare, or like ‘Shakespeare Unbard’ on Facebook – then join us for the performance on 13th December, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, from 6pm. We all know Hamlet’s question – what’s yours?’
Written by post-graduate students on the ‘Shakespeare and Creativity’ course at The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham: