My first tryst with several years ago was an enforced one. The Merchant of Venice was a prescribed book in class 9 when I was at school. I had read the wonderful Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare and considered myself an authority on the stories. I did not think it necessary to read the antiquated language or trudge through several seemingly abstruse paragraphs to get to the main point. To spend a whole year to decipher a play when I had understood the story in a few pages seemed to be a sheer waste of time. Yet, somewhere along the way, I was drawn into the world of the Merchants of Venice, their portly argosies, the signors and rich burghers and the news on the Rialto. The language yielded its riches slowly, the characters became well drawn , more rounded and the impassioned speeches of Shylock and Portia stirred up a flurry of unexamined questions. Since then, I read several other plays, saw a couple of theatrical performances and watched young Leonardo Di Caprio in a modern Romeo and Juliet film. Shakespeare has been around.
Shakespeare has shaped the writing and storytelling in the English language like no other writer has. He liberally borrowed , bent and brought new words into the English language from addiction, bump ,critic to worthless and zany. The phrases that he coined roll off our tongues as overused adages- All that glitters is not gold( Merchant of Venice), Jealousy is a green eyes monster ( Othello) and the perennial ' All is well that ends well.' He has influenced several writers and been quoted by many of them. One of my favourite authors P.G Wodehouse had the odd Shakespearan phrase popping up in whacky situations like the 'milk of human kindness' sloshing inside someone or references to Banquo and Macbeth explained to Bertie by the estimable Jeeves who knew his Shakespeare. The plays have been translated into most languages including several regional Indian bhashas. They have lent themselves to film adaptations including the Vishal Bharadwaj's Maqbool ( Macbeth) and Omkara ( Othello) . The tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare cover every possible theme and idea-love, greed, jealousy, racism, friendship, mistaken identities, murder, mutiny, politics, feminism and revenge. Like any other celebrity, he has been the subject of speculation and controversy. There have been several conspiracy theories afloat on the 'real' authorship of the plays including a recent claim by a professor in Sicily that
Skakespeare was actually Italian. Despite everything, Shakespeare's appeal is universal, the stories transcend language and nationalities. However more than 400 years after Shakespeares's birth, I can't help wondering if anyone will read his works in the days to come. " Who is Shakespeare?" asked my daughter when she heard me mentioning that I was going to write something about him. "He is only the greatest writer in the English language. He wrote some amazing plays and.." I started to explain but she had already started on a new level of Angry Birds on the ipad. Today no one wants to spell any word longer than four letters . The average attention span in front of a television channel is about 4 seconds before flicking on the remote to move to another. It is perfectly acceptable to massacre the rules of grammar and syntax b4 u cn say why dis kolaveri di . When you can tell a whole story in 140 characters, reading 14 sentences can be a chore. Who will have the desire or patience to delve into the viscous text of a Shakespearan play to dredge up the treasures that lie within?
Shakespeare's works have proved to be sturdy, unshakeable through the centuries, moving with the times, lending themselves to newer forms. I hope they don't get relegated to a few die hard literature students or musty libraries. Who knows, we might yet have a different form of Shakespeare that will appeal to the GeNext, a form that will induce them to approach an original play with a sense of anticipation, of beginning a quest to understand and appreciate a good story, well told.
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Nirupama Subramanian's second novel 'Intermission on the Shakespearean themes of illicit love and divided loyalties will be out shortly.