As we celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, UK actor, author and producer Ben Crystal relates what it's like to speak the work of a playwright who has contributed so many new words and phrases to the English language.
I'm a lucky man, but I can’t count the number of times I have been smiled at with toleration rather than agreement, after I’ve suggested Shakespeare's plays are manuals on how to perform, not books to be read. I’ve said it so many times surely everyone must have heard this by now, but still people look at me as if I’ve suggested we teach our younglings how to slaughter fluffy cats with wooden spoons.
I experienced similar reactions in America in 2011. As artist-in-residence at the University of Nevada, I was happy to speak anywhere that asked, and as a result I popped into a school about once a week for three months, getting a bead on the education system out there, in schools of all levels and standings.
There though, the students loved him - the problem was they didn't feel as if they had permission, or ownership over his works, unless they spoke in a pseudo-British accent.
This was not new news to me - I've met with similar issues in Europe, and again across India, having been taken there by the British Council in 2010. Most students away from these UK shores adore Shakespeare.
In his homeland, unless you catch them young, a dislike gets deep under the skin and stays engrained, enduring wind and weather.
My actor friends will offer vital parts of their anatomy to be on stage in front of an audience, to perform his works. It’s a wonderful experience, to rehearse, to memorise, to perform, to speak these words and switch out of the world. We spend hours puzzling over a meaning of a line, fascinated to discover a word such as assassination was invented by Shakespeare for a play about murder.