Understanding the Bard


Some interesting news for Shakespeare lovers – the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC has expanded its digital collection, meaning images of original texts will be available to search and view. From next month, the library will release a series of apps that will broaden access to thousands of original books and manuscripts from Shakespearean England.

1623 Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare

This news comes within a few days of a story concerning writer Julian Fellowes, who claimed that in order to understand the writings of Shakespeare there is a requirement to have a “very expensive education,” like his own. This came after criticism of his screen adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, in which he has adapted the text and added extra scenes.

Now I don’t think Shakespeare is easy. Far from it. But I do think Fellowes has over exaggerated how difficult it is. I remember reading King Lear at school and going through the notes at the bottom of each page – this wasn’t just to help me understand, but it also helped my appreciation of the text. I was then inspired to read Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing, and these remain three of my favourite plays to this day. I would consider myself a fairly educated person, though my schooling wasn’t “very expensive” and my university education wasn’t at Oxbridge. I just know what I like, and what i don’t, as do most people. I think that what Fellowes is trying to claim is that he hasn’t “dumbed down” the text, though it certainly looks that way.

King Lear with my annotations made about 14 years ago

“To see Shakespeare in the original, in its absolutely unchanged form, we need nothing more than a performance space and a company of actors who are able to share his stories in a way that engages their audience. It would be very worrying if anyone read [Fellowes’s comments] and felt excluded from Shakespeare’s original language because of their level of education.”

Fiona Banks, head of learning at Globe Education



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