My love affair with Shakespeare has been going strong for as long as I can remember. To be fair, after all, I did grow up with two actors as parents, my upbringing as bohemian as it could be for the 70s and 80s in conservative and isolated Malta.
Rehearsals till 3 am in my household as I was growing up were run of the mill, my parents even having a natural stage in the house as the previous owner, a British actor, had actually built the top floor living room and kitchen as a stage and audience pit, with one area three steps above the other and framed just like a proscenium! My mother played Lady Macbeth directed by my father in the now traditional Maltese MADC summer Shakespearean performance at San Anton Gardens while pregnant with my (younger) brother and I, a mere lass of three, walked the scenes in As You Like It in the same gardens some years earlier.
As a teenager my love for Shakespeare simply grew as I discovered him at school. At the age of 12 Romeo and Juliet was on the school syllabus, a perfect romantic tale for a young schoolgirl. I learnt the whole thing off by heart, yes, the WHOLE play! And this love was only solidified when our school took us to see a performance of the play by The Young Vic at the Manoel Theatre. My young, impressionable heart fell head over heels with the blonde actor playing Romeo (though in reality, my favourite character in the play is the whip smart Mercutio) and my parents tell me that that same night, in my sleep, they could hear me uttering the famous words “Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou? Deny thy father and refuse thy name or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love and I’ll no longer be a Capulet”!
Truth be told, while certainly majestic and epic, I now find R&J a bit too sappy for my tastes. I certainly thoroughly enjoyed studying Antony & Cleopatra for my ‘A’ levels, all those sexual innuendos speak right to a 16 year-old’s mind. And I have a soft-spot for Twelfth Night (all that double-crossing!) and Merchant of Venice, both of which have strong women at their core. However, to date, I think the best interpretation of a Shakespearean play I’ve ever seen is Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film version of Richard III starring the fabulous Ian McKellen. It’s reworking in a 1930s reality is perfect and the way the lead character constantly breaks the fourth wall is nothing short of genius and perfectly adapted to the mediatic reality it portrays. [On a scary note, revisiting this film I think will be eerily actual now that Trump seems to have secured the Republican nomination…]
But back to the man of the hour – isn’t William perfect? He touched upon every possible human emotion, every human experience, and rendered it beautiful and poetic. Some say he’s written it all. He’s even invented many turns of phrase that we use today, such as “for goodness’ sake” and “break the ice”. His language is such a gift to the world, and to someone like me, enamoured as I am with language, a goldmine to delve into time and time again.
Just the other day a friend asked for our favourite Shakespearean quote, nigh impossible I thought as his words began racing through my head. But then the buzz of one grew louder and more insistent as the others began to recede into the background. And there it was that I settled on one of his most renowned passages, taken from As You Like It. Indeed, I think in these words Shakespeare has truly managed to encapsulate the hardest of things, the human condition, in its beauty, its agony and its ecstasy. Here it is, majestically interpreted by Zawe Ashton for The Guardian’s superb series, Shakespeare Solos:
And here are some of the other interpretations from this series that I found particularly compelling, though I’d encourage you to see them all: