What’s past is prologue…

Antonio: She that is Queen of Tunis; she that dwells
Ten leagues beyond man’s life; she that from Naples
Can have no note, unless the sun were post—
The Man i’ th’ Moon’s too slow—till new-born chins
Be rough and razorable; she that from whom
We all were sea-swallow’d, though some cast again
(And by that destiny) to perform an act
Whereof what’s past is prologue; what to come,
In yours and my discharge.

It seems fitting to write this post today – simultaneously the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival 2012 and the bard’s 448th birthday.

Above is my favourite quote and it comes form The Tempest Act 2, scene 1. In the context of the play, the quote pertains to the murder that Antonio and Sebastian are about to commit (the act) and the justification of this ‘act’  as fate. Everything that has come before has lead up to this opportunity to create their own destiny. It has also been understood to mean that everything up until this point has merely been building up to the important part of the story (or theatrical Act), which will now begin.

The multiple interpretations of these few lines are the reason that I think Shakespeare is as important to today’s literary community as ever, and, in my opinion, why his works have continued to be so popular the world over. Obviously it is not just these lines, but the spectrum of possible interpretations of every play he ever wrote. The many different cinematic and televised productions of plays such as Othello, A Midsummer Nights Dream, Macbeth, Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew (to name but a few) seek to prove this theory.

During my time studying English at university I was lucky enough to have the chance to explore an aspect of Shakespearian adaptation in the form of my dissertation, and chose to examine the impact of breaking the fourth wall in cinematic adaptations of the plays. This was both the most interesting piece of work I undertook in my 4 years at Keele and the one I am most proud of. The thing I enjoyed most about it was getting to watch so many different interpretations of the same subject matter. From the teen-based dramas of Padua High School students in 10 Things I Hate About You to the racial tension of London’s Metropolitan Police in the 2001 Geoffrey Sax version of Othello, to Olivier’s famous portrayal of Hamlet gone mad – each adaptation maintains it’s own interpretation of the original script, managing to convey the meaning of the story in completely different approaches. Some even argue that Disney’s The Lion King is the Hamlet story wrapped up in singing warthogs.

This allows for some of the greatest stories ever written to be related to pretty much everyone, no matter what age, in a way that is interesting and relevant to their own lives – which can only be a good thing. It means that even those who would probably never pick up a Shakespearian play in their lives, have the opportunity to be entertained by his engaging and impressive story-writing. And, in turn, may make some of those people want to find out more.

It’s not just film either – theatrical productions of Shakespeare are just as varied. Including The Reduced Shakespeare Company who are great at making the plays accessible to all. I have seen them several times, and every time, it makes me want to go and pick up another book that I haven’t yet read (They don’t just do Shakespeare either!) I challenge anyone to see their show and not be in stitches by the end of it.

For those of you who would prefer a good book to the TV or a cinema trip; the plays also allow for reader interpretation. As explored above, a large amount of Shakespeare is open to analysis. I guarantee that anyone who has read any Shakespeare has a favourite quote and it will be because they have found a line or two which they are able to really identify with because of their own interpretation of its meaning.

I prefer to interpret ‘what’s past is prologue..’ to mean that everything that has happened up to this point is unimportant, and the chances I take now are the important ones which will affect my future. I am planning to have this tattoo’d on myself at some point – I find the words so effective that I want to carry them on me at all times as a reminder. If you google image search ‘Shakespeare tattoos’ you will find about 401,000 of people who feel as strongly as me about  their favourite Shakespeare quote – the one that they have identified with and interpreted into their own lives.

The hype that World Shakespeare Festival has already generated up to and including its launch day has been phenomenal, with celebrities such as Tim Minchin getting involved, and just goes to show how strongly people feel about Shakespeare’s work even today, almost 400 years after his death, and how readily people are still willing to join the discussion of his works.

Schools do not always approach teaching Shakespeare in the most engaging way for kids, with most arguing that it’s boring and irrelevant to them. This is why I feel this festival is so important, as it is already getting people talking about a playwright who should never be overlooked – and will hopefully perpetuate an interest for generations to come. Even though Shakespeare’s life is in the past, it’s what we make of his work now which will influence his continued success in the present and the future – what’s past is prologue; what to come, In yours and my discharge.

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