<%-- Page Title--%> Straight Talk <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 156 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 28, 2004

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- 5% Text Table--%>

To Be Or Not To Be

Nadia Kabir Barb

When my husband mentioned that we had been invited to see the latest production of Hamlet and asked me if I wanted to go, the answer was always going to be "yes". You see Shakespeare and I have a longstanding relationship. Since the age of eight when my mother bought me Charles and Mary Lambs children's adaptation of Shakespeare's plays, I was captivated. Having started off on the stories, I quickly moved onto his original plays and fell in love with his versatile style, humour and of course his unforgettable characters such as Romeo (Romeo and Juliet), Viola (Twelfth Night) and even Shylock (The Merchant of Venice). Playwright Ben Jonson wrote about Shakespeare, "He was not of age but for all time" and how true he was. How many writers can claim to have stood the test of time and passed with such flying colours?

Even today, four hundred years after his demise, Shakespeare's plays are studied in schools, performed across the world and have been translated into most languages. They have been adapted into films, operas, ballets and even musicals. One of the most simple explanations of this phenomenon could be that his plays represent recognisable people in situations that all of us experience at one time or another in our lives - love, marriage, death, mourning, guilt, the need to make difficult choices, separation, reunion and reconciliation among them and therefore make it accessible to people. Little did he know that his fame would reach the distant shores that he so often depicted in his work and continue far beyond.

Was there no end to this man's talent? During the great plague in London in 1665, playhouses or theatres were closed down. Shakespeare's theatre had also been put out of business so during this period, he concentrated on composing his sonnets all of 154 of them. One of his most famous being, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day". So Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets but wait there is more. Did you realise that every time you speak the English language you are probably using words coined by Shakespeare. For example if you were to use words such as amazement, assassination, barefaced, circumstantial, courtship, cold-blooded, downstairs, employer, epileptic, excitement, exposure, fashionable, fair-play, homely, impartial, lament, majestic, puke, reclusive, sacrificial, silliness, useful, vulnerable, zany, you would be using words invented by the Bard. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, he invented around 3000 words! In fact his vocabulary was thought to consist of 30,000 words. To put this into context, it is thought that the vocabulary of the average person consists of 5,000 to 6,000 words. I am starting to give myself an inferiority complex.

You can probably tell that I am totally enamoured of Shakespeare and am in awe of his considerable talent. If you are still not convinced and feel that I am overstating the case then stop and think for a minute that at this very moment you might actually be quoting Shakespeare. If you are thinking that "It's Greek to me" then you are quoting Shakespeare or if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, or if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool's paradise - why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare.*

I could go on and on but that would probably be unfair to you. Well at least I can tell myself that I have converted one person at least into a Shakespeare fan and that would be my daughter. In fact it is almost like watching history repeat itself when I see her devouring each of his plays and who did she choose as her project subject. Yes Shakespeare.

At this point you may be trying to bid me good riddance and send me packing, think I am a laughing stock, or a blinking idiot*…see you are still quoting…

*(Bernard Levin. From The Story of English. Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil. Viking: 1986).




(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star