My first encounter with Shakespeare was at secondary school. Then, as now, studying his works was a non-negotiable part of the English Literature curriculum. Like most stroppy teenagers I found it very hard to understand the plays, and even harder to understand why anyone in their right mind would ever want to read them. Faced with a few hundred pages of solid text written more than three centuries earlier, and in a near-incomprehensible style into the bargain, our collective response was “What on earth is the point of all this?” (That, at any rate, was the gist of our collective response…)
What we stroppy teenagers had totally failed to appreciate, at least at first, is that the plays are not meant to be read in the same way that one would read novels. They were written for performance. It’s only when the text is translated into speech and action (on stage, screen or radio) that it really comes alive – and nowhere is this more apparent than in works which consist entirely of dialogue.
In an attempt to keep us interested, our English teacher allocated the main parts in the play to members of the class, and the key scenes were acted out at the front of the classroom. Our efforts were hardly RSC standard, but they did serve as an early lesson in the basic principle of “show-don’t-tell”. After this, Shakespeare did begin to make some kind of sense.
The play which we studied for O-Level (the equivalent of modern-day GCSE) was Julius Caesar. As I struggled with the idiosyncracies of rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter, little did I realise that more than forty years later this very play would form the backdrop for what was to become my third novel.
The Unkindest Cut of All is a murder mystery set in a theatre, during an amateur dramatic society’s production of Julius Caesar. The novel’s title is adapted from a quotation from Mark Antony’s crowd-turning funeral speech after Caesar’s death. The play is staged during the week which contains the Ides of March – March 15th, the date on which, according to tradition, Caesar was murdered.Continue reading “BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH…”