By Christian Moore
In the run up to the Olympics, the prevailing public mood has been one of pessimism and doubt that little old London can actually pull off such a momentous global event. But with the celebration of culture and the arts that accompanies the games, Shakespeare has the chance to rescue our ailing national pride. 400 years after his death, can the bard still do us justice in the international arena?
2012 has been anticipated as the year the eyes of the world turn on Britain as we celebrate two international institutions – the Olympic Games and the British monarchy. The turn of London to host the games coincides with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, an event which will reach out beyond Britain’s borders as Olympians travel across in the opposite direction. With so much national heritage bouncing around this summer, it seems appropriate that Shakespeare is to be the main focus of the Cultural Olympiad. But with organisers keen to showcase Britain’s cutting edge, some have questioned the writer’s suitability for the role of cultural ambassador. It is clear that the events held in his honour must reflect the values of modern Britain.
Shakespeare’s relevance to modern life has seen its ups and downs, but has been gaining momentum in recent years. The relatively new trend of modernising his plays has made them more relatable – this is thanks largely to the eternal themes of love and loss, jealousy, power and rebellion which form the heart of the corpus. While modern day adaptations run the risk of aging ungracefully, the practise of emphasising the aspects of Shakespeare that will most appeal to a modern audience is essential to ensuring his continued appeal. This is the ethos driving the homage to Shakespeare at the RSC and all over the country this summer.
The comprehensive series of productions being staged under the World Shakespeare Festival umbrella hope to capture the mood of the nation by demonstrating the power of Shakespeare across all cultural backgrounds. Theatres across the country will host companies from all over the globe, performing the plays in their native languages. This promises to be a hugely unconventional and entertaining celebration of Shakespeare.
More importantly though, this approach represents a challenge to the way Shakespeare is perceived both globally and at home. As new generations of children sift through the often daunting forest of plays and poems, there is a danger for his works to be viewed as stuffy, old school, even impenetrable at times (Blackadder’s vengeful punch springs to mind). But the efforts of such a diverse group of people to take fresh approaches to a monolith of British cultural heritage can only serve to make the bard more accessible, and ultimately boost his cultural clout.