All Shook Up

The author of 'Clockwork Orange', Anthony Burgess, famously described Shakespeare on live TV as
'something of a bore'. And the author of 'Tropic of Cancer', Henry Miller, wrote in a letter to his friend Lawrence Durrell that Shakespeare 'was just the kind of flatulent genius you could expect the English to produce'. I was 15 when I was first obliged to read Shakespeare (for English O level). I was astonished to find that to understand the text, I needed to read oodles of footnotes, given that much of the vocabulary was obsolete and not a few of the word games, excruciatingly abstruse. This was frustrating and at times downright exasperating. His 16th century jokes fell flat on me, and the serious parts of the text struck me as being little more than that: serious. Later, for English A level, I had to plough through most of the complete works and found myself in the unsettling situation of being fully aware that I was reading works of undoubted genius, without liking them very much. There were exceptions, of course, plays with whose main characters I – and many others - could identify ('Hamlet', 'Othello') or which conjured up an imaginary world attractive enough to bask in ('Love's Labour's Lost', 'The Winter's Tale'...). But all in all, I was not William Shakespeare's biggest devotee, almost certainly because, as an English school student, I wasn't allowed to decide for myself whether I wanted to read him or not. On the 23rd of this month, Catalonia's Book Day (aka Sant Jordi's Day) will mark the 400th anniversary of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes. Like many English people, I read 'Don Quixote' voluntarily and enjoyed it more than very much, but people here, on the whole, have ambiguous feelings towards it that are similar to those I (and many English people) have with regard to Shakespeare's plays and poems. In a nutshell, it's hard to savour something that had once been shoved down your throat. And never mind throats: throughout 2016 we're going to have Shakespeare and Cervantes up what Americans have long taken to calling the wazoo. It could be painful. It could even be like going back to school.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, abril de 2016


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