Shakespeare’s Lockdown Birthday A retrospective by Thomas Forsythe
Online - 24 April 2020
As the sun warms a hot spring day, we can escape the shackles of pestilence, at least culturally and within in our own mind, to enjoy this most English of days, St George’s Day. Of course in the English mind 23rd April, apart from being our patron saint’s day is also the day we celebrate our supernal of poets and playwrights, William Shakespeare, who was born (Happy Birthday, William!) 456 years ago today. Well, we know he was christened three days later, but in 1564 baptism was an urgent matter, for in that year an outbreak of the plague killed a quarter of Stratford-upon-Avon’s population. Now we are able to sympathise at first hand with those times as the plague seems all too real. Pestilence of one sort or another was to dog England throughout all of Shakespeare’s life, right up to the year he died, 404 years ago in 1616, co-incidentally also on 23rd April.
So Shakespeare knew the frustrations of lockdown. But what did he do? A widespread contagion in 1592-93 closed London’s theatres, which could have been disastrous to an already famous playwright. However, he had a quite lucrative side-line in love poetry and his most famous, apart from early sonnets, written during this time was the long poem Venus and Adonis. During the first two decades of the seventeen century, all London theatres, including the Globe, were closed in total for 78 months. One year of lockdown in 1606 produced some of the later poems and the texts of King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra and Macbeth. So, lockdown can have beneficial effects!
In my own lockdown, and noting that Shakespeare’ longest lockdown period was 25 months, I have taken a look at Mark Aspen Reviews, wondering how many over the same period of time have mentioned Shakespeare. I was staggered to discover that 52 reviews have mentioned Shakespeare! Of these, fourteen are directly or indirectly by Shakespeare. “Indirectly” includes two operas and three adaptations.
A year ago, Benedick’s “giddy thing” Much Ado about Nothing at The Rose, set in a five-star hotel in Scilly, brilliantly involved both the Mafiosi and a mad cow; whereas Richmond Shakespeare Society set the same play to the background of the suffragette movement in its open-air production last summer. Shakespeare is nothing if not versatile.
The Winter’s Tale green-eyed monster has come a-roaring out of his den three times. Teddington Theatre Club’s January 2019 Regency setting with Neelaksh Sadhoo’s “genuinely tormented” Leontes, contrasted with Helikon Theatre Company’s adaptation. Presented at the OSO in Barnes in March last year, this presciently foreshadowed events twelve months on, with Hermione’s adultery trial taking place by video conference. Zooming (as it were) back to another adaptation in August 2018, the Youth Music Theatre UK’s “West End worthy” version at The Rose Theatre moved from conflict to “heart-warming magic” as the statue returned to life. For the full review: https://markaspen.com/2020/04/23/shakes-lockdown/
Hold What Distance His Wisdom Can Provide