[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There’s a copy of Romeo and Juliet somewhere in my old high school which is badly graffitied. If you turn to the back of the small book, there are countless quotes scratched across the final pages in black and blue ink. The largest reads:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“And when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Anyone who knew the girl that wrote it down aged fourteen would balk at the thought of this jaded, gloomy critic of ‘true love’ paying any attention to such schmaltz. And yet, sitting in the blue plastic chair at the back of her English class, that girl read those words and found some kind of joy.
I know you know this girl is me, I won’t patronise you. But when I look back on that moment I remember it with such clarity that it can’t possibly be just a memory. It feels like a scripted scene; the camera crawling closer towards the girl’s young face as the score swells and her life is altered beyond repair.
Except if this were a scene from a film, I would be looking at the love of my life, just as Juliet does in the play I was reading. I’d be swooning at the feet of some God-like creature with perfect hair and eyes that said “just you try, sweetheart.” I wouldn’t be halfway through the most influential play in human history (fight me, it’s true) and I wouldn’t be choking back tears in the middle of a classroom over a four hundred-year-old quote.
Shakespeare has always had this effect on me. My mum took to me to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Finlaystone Park when I was just five; despite not having the faintest idea what they were saying, I was enthralled by the fantasy of the scenes and enchanted by the rhythm of their speech. At thirteen, I played “Servant” in my local production of Twelfth Night. People still talk about my delivery of that one line, I promise (eat your heart out, Meryl). At fifteen I played Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, the most endearingly bland character ever written (sorry, Shakey) who really does turn out to be the beating heart of the story.
Then, at the age of seventeen, I saw Emma Rice’s production of Twelfth Night at the Globe in London. Never before had I seen such extravagance, glamour or joy thrown into any play, let alone one by the Bard. A large, bedazzled drag queen watched on as the crew of the USS Unity opened the show with We Are Family, dressed in full 70s garb; a tiny Malvolio descended into insanity on very shaky bunk beds; Maria pranced around in a skimpy maid’s uniform and Toby and Andrew took more shots in two hours than there are books in our shop.
Rice was pulled apart by critics and Shakespeare purists alike for this production, but it was the first time I have seen one of the Bard’s plays truly capture how I felt when I read that quote in English class. The joy, the love, the fascination and the bliss of being a part of the work of a man whose influence continues to be monumental four centuries after his death is unrivalled, and to see that delight on stage was an incredible experience.
People love to moan about Shakespeare, they say his work is boring and impossible to read, that it has no place today. We celebrate Shakespeare Week this week, yet it does feel as though you’re only aware of it if you want to be. In my opinion, Shakespeare couldn’t be more relevant for us today, and this is a week we should all embrace. His work changes lives – it changed mine – and if one child in one class anywhere in the world gets to feel the way I did when I read Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare will live on for a little bit longer. For the son of probably-illiterate parents who spent most of his life as a stableboy and might have died on his birthday, that’s not a bad legacy to leave.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”7464″ alignment=”center”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text]