Thursday, 7 April 2016

Writing - Shakespeare's First Folio discovered

William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616) died 400 years ago on the 23rd April. He has had a considerable influence on many aspects of life and education in this and other countries.

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I, like most children born in the baby boomer years, were subject to learning about the man and his works, usually restricted to his plays. My experience was of Julius Caesar and MacBeth with us reading and studying the plays and being taken to the theatre in Sunderland to see a modern day version of the play. By modern we are talking about teddy boys with flick knives and so on. Brings new meaning to 'beware the ides of March' when the gang are wearing leather studded jackets, beetle crushers and Brylcreemed hair styles. 

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Once I was teaching my involvement with the bard lessened until I began working with younger children when once again discussions arose about teaching Shakespeare. It was included in the school curriculum which had one beneficial effect for writers. A need was generated to make his writings accessible to children up to the age of 11 years. This in its turn generated a plethora of books, videos and even comics broadcasting the plays. In my own school we taught, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth which the children loved. The use of cartoons with reference materials alongside, that were well produced, saved the teachers a deal of stress and extra work.
In all honesty, for those adults who were less familiar with these works it was a case of learning alongside the class, making the discussions more relevant to all.

So why all of the fuss?

It seems that, after so many years of the great man's demise, a copy of the First Folio, the most sort after book in the world, has been discovered on a Scottish Isle.

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This copy of the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, published in 1623, was found at Mount Stuart House on the Isle of Bute.
Academics who authenticated the book called it a rare and significant find.
About 230 copies of the First Folio are known to exist. A copy owned by Oxford University sold for £3.5m in 2003.
Emma Smith, professor of Shakespeare studies at Oxford University, said her first reaction on being told the stately home was claiming to have an original First Folio was: "Like hell they have."
But when she inspected the three-volume book she found it was authentic.


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The cartoon suggests that the works were written by other authors, it could be quite flattering for my books to be claimed by the late Ian Fleming or John le Carre, but there is no longer a serious case for believing this. However, when he wrote his historical plays it was from how he saw the history and interpreted the research. So his plays aren't intended to be 'true' but have been written to entertain.
However, when he wrote Henry VI part 1 it was almost reportage in that similar events were actually occurring in France at the time. In the play during a battle involving Lord John Talbot and Joan of Arc the English laid siege to Rouen. Similarly, in 1589 Elizabeth I sent troops to France to oppose the Catholic League and support the Huguenot king Henry IV. During the winter of 1591 - 92 the English besieged Rouen which was ultimately a disaster. The three plays were very successful as they were effectively reporting what was a current affair.

There have been some interesting takes on the meanings behind Shakespeare's other plays. Here is a synopsis of possible scenarios.

Richard II
Was this a thinly veiled swipe at the ageing Queen Elizabeth I?

The Merchant of Venice
Interesting that the focus of this play seems to be broadly anti-semetic. The Jewish moneylender wanting his 'pound of flesh' from Antonio and the subsequent death of the Queen's physician Lopez who was a Jew converted to Protestanism who was executed for supposedly trying to poison the monarch.

I could go on but must leave some studying for any readers who are interested out there. The point being that even though Shakespeare wasn't a writer who proclaimed to include his own views in his writings, there is an inevitability that those of us who write, do so from where they are at!


God Bless