BEING a snob, I’ve spent much of the lock down trying to think of intellectual activities which might offset all the mindless television I’m being forced to watch, not to mention all the afternoon naps I’m being forced to take.
Of course, it would be better if I turned my talents towards sewing morale-boosting facemasks or shouting upwards at lonely old people living in tower blocks, but I think that sort of thing is best left to people who generally do more good than harm.
So I decided to join with my partner Lynne, in reading aloud every line of what many agree is the greatest work of English literature, Hamlet. This isn’t easy because we’re doing it in the garden and our only copy of the text is included in a lavish complete Shakespeare edition 2,483 pages long and quite challenging to lift.
Our garden furniture limitations mean we can’t both rest the book on the same table and we have to pass it over every time a new speech begins, and since there are many short speeches in Hamlet (‘Alas, poor ghost!’ being one of my favourites), there is a lot of time spent rapidly passing the big book to and fro, as if the two of us were laying bricks.
Another problem is that I’ve never been any good at reading aloud, possibly because in childhood I mumbled and mispronounced words so that teachers wouldn’t select me to read to the rest of the class – although, come to think of it, I’ve kept mumbling and mispronouncing ever since, even when there are no teachers in sight.
Which you can’t really get away with when, out of misplaced vanity, you’ve insisted on reading the part of Hamlet just because you think you’d be rather good at the ‘To be, or not to be…’ speech.
I didn’t realise that Hamlet contained quite so many other speeches, nor that they all have to be declaimed fluently and with great confidence because you have to maintain the dramatic flow, even if you don’t immediately understand what’s happened to make all the characters so very upset and talkative.
For example, Hamlet says to an old school friend: ‘I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.’
If you worried too much about wind directions or the precise differences between hawks and handsaws, this would leave you floored; read fast and without footnotes and you the get drift, which I think has something to do with Hamlet’s reactive moodiness and elective lunacy, although things might become clearer when we get past Act 3.
Which might not happen soon because the weather’s just taken a turn and I don’t think we could recreate the full Shakespearian experience if we were forced to leave the garden and go back into full indoor lock down.
Shakespeare is ideally performed outdoors, firstly because, being the playwright of the world, he needs wide horizons and secondly because you can’t trust English weather. When rain and moody skies threaten to overcome our best dramatic endeavours, it’s wise, think Lynne and I, to get things over quickly and clearly, with less anguish and more plot development.
Or, as the original drama king, Macbeth, put it: ‘If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly’… like, before the end of the lock down would be nice.
Thank you once again Oliver for sharing your time with us, and to Lynne. Take care
Written by Oliver Cross, Caring Together Member