Things I Thought About Before I Watched ‘Shakespeare Lives!’

Shakespeare FireworksThis year, the world is going Shakespeare-mad. Or, at least, that’s what British tourism companies and theatre troupes the world over are hoping as we mark four hundred years since the Bard shuffled off this mortal coil, and about four hundred and fifteen years since he wrote the phrase “shuffled off this moral coil”. Last Saturday, the 23rd of April, was the official date, which by all accounts was met with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for football matches or the final episode of The Great British Bake-Off.

In Stratford-upon-Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Company held a two-hour event to celebrate the work of Britain’s best-known playwright. As I settled in to watch a show which featured British theatre royalty (and, indeed, some actual royalty too), I began thinking about the way that Shakespeare has settled into our collective understanding of literature, culture, and art. Continue reading

How to Pick a Classic; Or, Canons and Anti-Canons

contemporary classicsThis month The Classics Club asked us to consider which books, published since the year 2000, we think will become classics in the future.

I’m going to try and be a little bit provocative here (or maybe just plain annoying, take your pick), and say that I honestly don’t know which books will become classics fifty or one hundred years from now. And I’ll go even further and say that it’s probably pointless to try and speculate today what people in the future will value, enjoy, and celebrate. Because let’s face it – it’s impossible to tell. If you’d told our straight-laced Victorian forbears (or, well, your straight-laced Victorian forbears, if you happen to be English) that in one hundred and thirty years everybody would be reading a book about kinky sex (50 Shades of Grey), or that one of ‘the’ modernist novels is about a self-obsessed Hungarian-Jewish-Irishman who masturbates in public and thinks about food a lot (Ulysses), they probably would have quivered from their toes all the way to their big black hats.

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