Brush up your Shakespeare


If you imagine that Shakespeare should be delivered in an accent resembling that of the Queen’s, watch on. It seems if you’d sat in the Globe Theatre in the 16th century, you would have heard something that more closely resembled Pirates of the Caribbean than The King’s Speech.

Loving it.














The English class system: Why people don’t want Shakespeare to be a grammar school boy.

'I'm first to bowl, then, am I?' Image: Pixabay

‘I’m first to bowl, then, am I?’
Image: Pixabay

What class do you think you belong in? I’ve never been sure about myself.

My parents came from shopkeepers and manual workers. When I was a kid we ate broken biscuits and chocolate mishaps – mangled, rejected foodstuffs sold off cheap because they lacked the required perfection – because they were cheaper than the ‘real thing’. The biscuits came in plastic bags inside a plain brown cardboard box, all the flavours jumbled together, so Bourbons, Custard Creams ‒ everything ‒ tasted of Ginger Nuts. All of them were oddly shaped and powdery and there were woefully few chocolate digestives. It was sugar, though, so I wasn’t complaining.

Does our lack of funds make me working class?

Today I work in a shop, as I did when I had my first job at the age of fourteen. (Behind the Deli counter in a Fine Fare supermarket, if your asking. I wore a tabard, though I don’t remember a hairnet, and I used to weigh out bacon and haslet and corned beef and hide in the walk-in fridge to steal slivers of pate because I went there straight from school and didn’t finish until 8pm – way past my tea time. And I went home every night smelling of mince. Mmmmmm.)

Now, I may work in a shop, but I have a good degree. My husband has a good degree and a post grad qualification and works in the media. When I met him I was working in an off licence and he was working in a video shop. So, are we middle class or working class made good and does anyone give a monkey’s anymore?

Well, in a way, I think people still do and as evidence of this I give you Mr William Shakespeare.

What? You exclaim. How can the Bard of Stratford demonstrate the English preoccupation with class? Well, if you’d hush up a mo, I’ll tell you.

We all know the story. William Shakespeare, son of a glover. Not the highest ranking job, but what they might have termed a little later and before current class stratifications were invented, one of the ‘Middling Sort’. Not gentry but not a peasant – a respectable craftsman.

Young Will probably went to Stratford grammar school where he would have studied Latin authors such as Cicero, Ovid and Seneca. He vanished from the records for a few years before resurfacing as an actor and playwright in the 1580s, going on to write some of the best regarded literary works the world has ever seen.

But …

There are some people who don’t think a grammar school boy would be capable of writing great works, believing instead that only a nobleman – better educated, widely travelled, mixing with the finest scholars in the land – would be capable of such wonders.

Earls of Oxford, Derby, Salisbury, Stirling, Essex, Pembroke and Southampton have all been suggested as potential alternatives to Midlands Bill over the last two hundred years, along with various Barons, Countesses and even a couple of queens (Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth the I). Mind you, Cervantes – author of Don Quixote – has also been mooted, suggesting  that not all of these names are sensible or remotely credible.

Why this need to ascribe literary greatness to high social standing?

The link between money and literary talent is clear – Lord Byron, Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf, Percy Shelley, Victor Hugo, Robert Browning, Charles Baudelaire are just a handful of writers who began their lives financially secure, not having to work whilst writing.

But money is not a prerequisite to intelligence or talent – it just means the writer can dedicate more time to their craft without having to dig tunnels so they can afford to buy bread and keep a hovel over their heads.

Imagine how many great authors, poets, artists, sculptors have been lost to the world because they happened to have been born into the wrong social stratum, lacking the opportunity to flourish.

Working class writers do and can exist – D. H. Lawrence, Alan Sillitoe, Irvine Welsh, Pat Barker and so on, and though most would and could not be compared to Shakespeare, it does show that given the chance anyone from any background can show talent.

I wonder why, then, some are so loathe to allow the grammar school educated, glove maker’s boy the spotlight.

I must have missed out a million working class literary heroes – can you give me more names to add to my list?

Post inspired by a thread on Calm Groove. Many thanks for the conversation 🙂

Can blog, can write, can act a little


In Monday’s post, I shared with you my childhood love of the theatre.

There’s a bit of me that still loves it. If I’m ever at the seaside or at a ‘Fun Day’* at our local park and there’s a Punch and Judy booth, you’ll see me gravitate towards it.

For those of you unaware of what Punch and Judy is, imagine a brightly coloured square tent, just tall and wide enough to hold one man – maybe two – like a little mobile theatre. A square hole in one wall of the tent acts as the stage and on the stage appear puppets.

Apart from the wildly unattractive, hook-nosed Punch (who’s usually dressed in red and yellow with a pointed hat – like a court jester), there’s his equally unattractive wife Judy, their baby, a policeman, a crocodile and strings of sausages Honestly, I’m not making it up – this madness is my heritage.

Most of the characters have shrill, insane voices that drill holes in your brain because the puppeteer has a reedy piece of metal in his mouth called a swazzle. They say you’re not a proper Punch and Judy man until you’ve swallowed several swazzles. And I say, you can’t say ‘swallowed several swazzles’ if you’ve been drinking.

The storylines mainly consist of domestic abuse, infanticide, assaulting police officers, being eaten by crocodiles… It’s subversive, very dark and has passed as fit entertainment for the under tens since its first recorded performance in the UK in 1662.

Anyway, even though the voices give me a headache and the nice liberal in me loathes the laughs derived from unbridled male-on-female violence (this guy ain’t no role model, people) I will always watch a little of a performance as I pass by. Part of me loves the tradition, the history of it – and what are we Brits without tradition – but a bit of me is drawn to the theatricality of it, the idea that the puppeteer is like a strolling player of old, carrying his stage on his back – or more likely these days in the back of his Ford Transit.

And then there’s conventional theatre. I’m lucky in that I live in a biggish city with some excellent theatres. At any one time, I could choose between Shrek the musical or Warhorse, performances of Handel’s Water Music, a challenging modern piece about female genital mutilation or an 18th century Restoration comedy in one of the country’s oldest surviving theatres … by candlelight.

And as I said in Monday’s post, I really do see the parallels between actors and writers.

Both disciplines must thoroughly know their characters, how they would speak, what they would say, how they’d react to a given situation or stimulus.

We have to channel other people who might be very different from us, have different life experiences with different tales to tell.

We have to give ourselves over to the process of living as someone else and hearing their voices in our heads.

Now, if all of this sounds frightening close to mental illness, then maybe it is.

But take comfort from the fact that authors are solitary beasts by nature, usually hidden away in their Writing Caves, barely seeing the light of day from one season to the next, communicating only through email or text. They are rarely allowed out of their Caves, and if they must, if some evil agent or publisher forces them blinking into the blinding brightness of the day to promote something at a signing or a book fair, they are usually outnumbered and can be easily overpowered as their limbs have been wasted through sitting at a desk all day.

Now, actors … I’d be much more worried about them if I were you.

*Beware of anything sold to you as ‘fun’ – it will be cheap, cheesy low-grade entertainment, often with a high humiliation factor (such as stag nights, hen dos, and anything that involves the removal of clothing). If ‘fun’ is prefaced with the word ‘harmless’, it will be neither harmless nor fun. Fun is for the under tens and possibly for those over seventy who behave like under tens.