Julian Fellowes (who wrote one of my favourite films ‘Gosford Park’) is in hot water over comments he made about understanding the language of Shakespeare. He’s filmed a version of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ where he’s changed the language, but for the people at Shakespeare’s Globe this is apparently insulting because ‘”Shakespeare’s for everybody. We can all understand him.”‘ Fellows has basically said he wanted to make it accessible to everyone, no matter their level of education or if they feel they’re not able to understand the language because they weren’t “trained to”.
I thoroughly disagree with the Globe that you don’t need to make anything accessible and if that’s truly what they believe then they’re misguided, not Julian Fellowes. Many people do find Shakespeare inaccessible and the Globe should support every effort to make Shakespeare accessible, or to show people it isn’t boring nonsense (though admittedly, I do think ‘Romeo & Juliet’ is one of the most boring plays I’ve ever had the misfortune to read or see performed.)
I don’t like Shakespeare and part of it is the language which I find hard to follow and at times completely impenetrable. This has led to my decision to avoid any further degree study of Shakespeare because I don’t feel I can write suitable levels of analysis because I just don’t understand most of what I’m reading. You could easily argue that it’s because I’ve not seen it performed, which is true I’ve only seen productions of ‘Macbeth’, ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Othello’ (‘Othello’ was at the National Theatre so it was a good production) – but I have the same lack of comprehension with Thomas Middleton, Christopher Marlowe and Aphra Behn but I don’t struggle with Molière or Samuel Beckett (neither of which I’ve ever studied, just seen performed) who are apparently hard to understand.
If it was entirely true that “we can all understand” Shakespeare, why are there hundreds of books available which will help you understand the plays? Last time I was in a bookshop there were many side by side translations of Shakespeare, Shakespeare for Children and similar all available, as well as hundreds of guides.
So, Globe Theatre: