Sally Flint

What kind of Shakespeare Lover are you?

What kind of Shakespeare Lover are you?

Everyone who knows me is aware that I am a lover of all things Shakespeare related. In the last few months I’ve been lucky enough to see a few Shakespeare productions. This has been a real bonus of my having spent time in the UK. Swooning at Shakespeare’s sonnets, and having had a huge crush on Hamlet since I was about 16 (when it started Hamlet wasn’t too young for me to have a crush on, but I guess he is now. Gosh that’s sad!) I can’t get enough of the old bard. Such is my desire to share the ‘Shakespeare love’ I have actually recently written a guest post for Nosweatshakespeare.com suggesting strategies to students and teachers about how to approach Shakespeare, so that it is both accessible and enjoyable.

Infectious comedy … Bottom (Jocelyn Jee Esien) embraces Titania (Victoria Elliott) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Shakespeare’s Comedy Plays

In actual fact the real magic of Shakespeare is that he has something for everyone. For example it takes a lot to beat a great rom-com. Earlier in the year I was fortunate enough to enjoy just that, when, with my friend Jen, I went to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe in London. I’ve seen and taught this particular play so often that I really wasn’t expecting it to offer too much new, but it was simply brilliant with wonderful, outlandish visuals and the magnificent Hackney Colliery band opening the action.  I, like many others, enjoy a laugh so this excellent use of costume and set along with all the nonsense, farce, innuendo and fun that you’d expect from a rom-com made for a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
 
If you meet the following criteria I think you would be a lover of Shakespeare’s comedies.

  • You find toilet humour ridiculously amusing.
  • You love watching Miranda Hart break the fourth wall.
  • You are a mischief-maker and enjoy outrageous gossip.
  • You laughed until you cried at the famous clip where Del Boy fell through the bar without Trigger noticing in Fools and Horses?
  •  You love a happy ending.
  • You watch Love Actually every Christmas and search for something new in it every single time you watch it.
  • You love a smutty joke, an ample bosom, yet are insightful and quick to spot weakness in yourself and others.
  • You are actually very smart, and rather like Touchstone in As You Like it who intelligently declares, “The more pity, that fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly” you are known for making profound statements.
  • Custard pie humour appeals to you.
  • You like a pantomime at Christmas and find the Dame amusing`.
Image of King John from the RSC Stratford - are history plays your thing?

Shakespeare’s History Plays

I guess because I have been a Secondary English teacher for so many years and because Shakespeare has been my bread and butter, it is easy for me to know what particular type of Shakespeare lover I am! History plays are, perhaps with the exception of Henry IV Part 1 (which is arguably a comedy anyway) my least favourite genre. Not so my old Saint Mick of Thana. As a historian these plays are right up his street, so it came as no surprise to learn that he had booked us a surprise a visit to Stratford, over New Year, for us to watch King John.
 
 If you know the plot of King John you’ll understand why it is so seldom produced. The storyline is only really of interest if you give two hoots about who owned what land during the reign of the Plantagenet’s. Despite this the production we saw was very clever and there was plenty to enjoy. This production was the first I’ve seen when a woman (Rosie Sheehy) played the male protagonist role. This provided lots to think about in terms of modern gender actor choices. In actual fact the whole play was an unexpected and insightful exploration of the family dynamic and how a complex mother and son relationship might have affected King John. So whilst the plot is a bit tedious the themes explored were exactly the type of thing I find fascinating. This means that, along with a lovely visit to Ann Hathaway’s cottage (admittedly mainly to restock on a brand of Shakespeare mug which I particularly like) on New Year’s Day we had a lovely trip.  
 
If you meet the following criteria I think you would qualify as a Lover of Shakespeare’s History plays.

  • You are obsessed with the political arena of today and have plenty of observations to make about Trump, Johnson and the like.
  • You are likely to enjoy music in the vein of Strauss or Bowie.
  • You love a good action film with plenty of fight scenes.
  • You’ve probably watched at least one or two of the Rocky films.
  • You know exactly who should win the Labour leadership contest and can explain in detail why.
  • You have a strong moral compass and are very alert to the scheming and plotting of others.
  • You make great speeches and are a wonderful orator.
  • You are likely to enjoy powerful music in the vein of Wagner or Guns and Roses
  • You enjoy going to stand-up comedy performances, but are unlikely to laugh out loud.
  • You are either an ardent royalist or an ardent republican, but you can never just be ‘not bothered’ to care.
  • You subscribe to an online newspaper and read it from a metaphorical cover to cover.
  • You spend your leisure time reading autobiographies of Winston Churchill and Tony Benn.
  • You can make decisions quickly and decisively and are probably in a leadership position in your chosen career path.
Image of Paapa Essiedu reflecting on the meaning of life with Yorick! I love the angst of Hamlet.

Shakespeare’s Tragedies

Taking a trip back to Stratford reminded me of watching Hamlet at the RSC with Mick and the girls back in 2016. It is such a special play to me that I really wanted them to love it too and it was BRILLIANT. Hamlet was played magnificently by Paapa Essiedu. He captured exactly Hamlet’s despair, which demonstrates itself repeatedly in an outpouring of angst and grief that is simply irresistible!  The character Hamlet is a mass of contradictory personality traits from hot-headedness to passive helplessness, to rage, to envy, to plain meanness, to utter desperation and despair. He is indeed a lost soul, but, oh how he expresses himself! It is impossible not to forgive his moodiness, and reflect why this is so.
 
If, like me, you fit the following criteria you are likely to be a lover of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

  • You fancy yourself as a good listener and are keen to take the counselling role.
  • You have a strong sense of justice.
  • You enjoy exploring gender identity and identify as a feminist.
  • Your music taste is likely to have a melancholic strain and include artists as diverse as Fleetwood Mac to Debussy. You probably also secretly like the Carpenters.
  • Your career path may have, back in the day have had the title vocation rather than career associated with it.
  • You are not likely to be overly competitive, but if you find yourself at a sporting event are likely to cheer for the underdog.
  • You enjoy reading fiction and poetry.
  • You have sleepless nights worrying whether you’ve made good decisions.
  • You occasionally act completely out of character.
  • You are never short of words but can’t always express yourself well to others.
  • You worry too much.
Richard III played by Sophie Russell

The Best Shakespeare Plays

Shakespeare’s tragedies are definitely my go to ‘comfort Shakespeare’, but I guess I will always be a universal lover of Shakespeare. Having had a bit of a Shakespeare Love Fest of late I’m feeling I want to see more and more productions. Last week, having not recently just survived but having actually enjoyed King John, I was enthusiastic about watching Richard III. This time we were back in the Globe, but at one of the side theatres. It was an intimate and extremely successful production, which Mick and I loved. This particular play, is of course so famous that much of the fun is simply waiting to see how the oft-quoted lines will be interpreted and delivered.
 
Richard, also, like King John was played by a woman, (Sophie Russell) which raised all kinds of gender questions, especially those surrounding gender expectations and violence. It has always been quite easy to argue the case for Richard III being both a tragedy and a history play, but this production was, at times simply hilarious. The presentation of violence and the exploration of what perhaps makes a psychopath or sociopath were actually presented as comedy. The cast were superb in their self-deprecating presentation of less believable parts of Shakespeare, such as the fashion for lengthy death speeches. In addition feminist outrage was displayed with humour and the numerous murders executed with side-slitting aplomb. It was quite simply brilliant.
 
The truth is that Shakespeare doesn’t date and rather like a good pair of jeans is never out of fashion. Sadly some people’s only experience of Shakespeare has been a very dry reading of text from the page of a cruddy old text in an out-dated English Literature lesson. This is a crying shame and those people are understandably likely to be resistant to revisiting his plays.

 Shakespeare is how I imagine smoking might be (though unlike smoking is very good for your health) … perhaps not fun to start with, but truly addictive. I wonder, what kind of Shakespeare lover you are? 

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