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Episode
162

The Genius of William Shakespeare

May 28, 2021
Arts & Culture
-
26
minutes
Shakespeare
Theatre
Great Britain
History of language
English writing
Life in the UK

He is the most famous playwright in history and has been translated into every major living language.

In this episode, you'll learn about this fantastic man's life, his works, and why he is still called "the world's greatest living playwright".

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the genius of William Shakespeare.

[00:00:30] I imagine that you will be familiar with the name, and you are probably familiar with at least some of his work.

[00:00:38] He is the most famous playwright of all time, in the English language certainly, and debatably, in any language. 

[00:00:46] His most famous works include Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and he was a prolific writer.

[00:00:57] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about his life, his work, his language, and his genius.

[00:01:05] Before we get right into this episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:20] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 160 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:40] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:01:51] So, if that is of interest, - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:01] OK then, William Shakespeare.

[00:02:05] On April 23rd, 2014 there was an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. 

[00:02:14] Its title was “Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright”.

[00:02:20] The exhibition was to celebrate the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, on April 23rd 1564. 

[00:02:31] So, one might think that the title of the exhibition was a little bit strange - Greatest living playwright.

[00:02:39] A playwright is someone who writes plays, and living means alive, not dead.

[00:02:45] But Shakespeare is certainly not living in the corporeal sense of the word, he isn’t physically alive.

[00:02:53] In fact, he died on his birthday at the not-so-old age of just 52.

[00:03:00] But there is something about Shakespeare that is certainly living, something timeless about the man and his work. 

[00:03:09] Indeed, there’s an episode in a book about Shakespeare by a man named James Shapiro where he recounts putting on a performance of Shakespeare in the famous Rikers prison in New York, in front of the inmates.

[00:03:25] He writes that the two questions he gets every time from the inmates are “how many plays did Shakespeare write?”, and the second one is “is he still alive?”.

[00:03:37] Now, the answer to the first question is at least 37, and the answer to the second is, of course, no, in the physical sense.

[00:03:46] But the fact that the question is even asked of whether he is still alive tells us how vibrant and universal the works of Shakespeare are. 

[00:03:58] Whether it’s a production of Hamlet, King Lear, or Much Ado About Nothing, the themes in these plays speak to all of us, no matter where we are from, when we are living, or anything about our situation.

[00:04:14] Other people have provided plenty of memorable quotations which capture Shakespeare’s great gifts and his universal appeal, but I will give just two.

[00:04:26] His fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, writing in the preface to the first published edition of Shakespeare’s plays, the First Folio, put it neatly: “He was not of an age, but for all time". He was not of an age, but for all time.

[00:04:45] And the English poet, William Auden, wrote that in Shakespeare “The words of a dead man/are modified in the guts of the living.”

[00:04:56] The guts means your stomach.

[00:04:59] So, to repeat, that’s “the words of a dead man/are modified in the guts of the living”

[00:05:07] Powerful stuff, right?

[00:05:09] In this episode we will explore some of these themes of universality, but first let’s start with a brief introduction to the man himself.

[00:05:20] It will be brief, partly because we do not know all that much about it and mainly because other things are much more interesting.

[00:05:30] We think he was born on April 23rd, 1564 and died, on or close to his birthday in April 1616, aged just 52. 

[00:05:42] He had a good, highly traditional, classically-based education at the grammar school in his place of birth, Stratford upon Avon, a town in the West Midlands, more or less in the middle of England, and just south of Birmingham. 

[00:05:57] He did not attend university, and married a 26-year-old woman when he was just 18 years old. 

[00:06:04] This was unusual on both counts – the age difference between him and his wife and his relative youth when he got married. 

[00:06:14] But, she was 3 months pregnant at the time, which probably helps explain things.

[00:06:20] He spent much of his life in London, where we think he was based from about 1592. 

[00:06:28] He was an actor, a playwright and a part owner of a theatre company. 

[00:06:34] His writing career was relatively brief but highly successful commercially; when it was over in 1611, he retired from his career as a playwright and theatre owner and returned to his birthplace, Stratford upon Avon. 

[00:06:51] During these final years he was a wealthy fellow, a rich man.

[00:06:57] He was, to use an understatement or to put it mildly, a highly productive writer, writing around 37 plays, mostly on his own, although he collaborated with another playwright on two or three. 

[00:07:12] He also wrote two long poems and a collection of 154 short poems called sonnets

[00:07:20] These contain some of his most famous lines, such as “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

[00:07:27] I need at this point to deal with the various theories about whether the person we know as William Shakespeare really was the person who wrote the plays. 

[00:07:38] This I will do swiftly through saying that there are numerous conspiracy theories which continue to sell books but which most serious scholars dismiss, they say they are not true. 

[00:07:51] These theories claim that Shakespeare’s plays were written by other people. 

[00:07:57] I don’t think that is true, and nor do most serious Shakespeare historians. 

[00:08:02] Even if it were true, what we know is that the plays and the poems were written by the same person; frankly it is not of great interest whether that person corresponds with the man with a pointy beard whose face you are no doubt familiar with. 

[00:08:20] That one person could produce so much brilliant work means we are dealing with a genius in the Leonardo Da Vinci or Mozart league; it doesn’t really matter whether his name was William Shakespeare.

[00:08:33] We are on more secure and productive grounds if we talk a little about Shakespeare’s influence on our language and culture. 

[00:08:43] He is the world’s best selling author – very possibly in any language, but certainly in English, with estimates of sales of his works ranging from 2 to 4 billion copies, and his works have been translated into every major living language. 

[00:09:01] I imagine you might have read some Shakespeare, or seen a play in your language.

[00:09:08] Something in excess of 64 million children study his works every year. 

[00:09:14] Over 400 films and TV productions of his plays have been made.

[00:09:19] Close to 150,000 books have been written about him. 

[00:09:23] There is indeed a whole industry of Shakespeare writing or writing about Shakespeare. 

[00:09:29] Some people go even further, and devote their entire lives to the study of the great man.

[00:09:36] There is even a word in English for people who are completely passionate Shakespeare fans: bardolator.

[00:09:44] The old English word for a poet or singer, bard, is used to describe him by some people – capitalised, of course: so, Shakespeare is referred to as “the Bard”. 

[00:09:56] So, a bardolator is someone who particularly adores Shakespeare, and bardology is the study of Shakespeare.

[00:10:04] These bardolators, these passionate Shakespeare fans, sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to pursue their love for the man.

[00:10:15] One amazing example of this is of an American man called Eugene Schieffelin, and involves a bird called a starling, which is a type of small songbird.

[00:10:28] Starlings didn’t exist in North America, but Schieffelin reportedly wanted to bring every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to North America.

[00:10:39] In 1890 he imported 60 birds and released them in New York’s Central Park, and then released another 40 a year later.

[00:10:49] These birds obviously enjoyed life in the US, and there are now over 200 million starlings in the country. 

[00:10:58] All because of one man’s passion for The Bard.

[00:11:03] Now, while not everyone needs to be a bardolator, or a devoted fan of Shakespeare, it is impossible to fail to appreciate his impact on the English language.

[00:11:15] We think that over 1,700 words were introduced to the English language by Shakespeare. 

[00:11:23] Some of these words you won’t find in common usage, but there are hundreds of them that you probably know already.

[00:11:30] Critic, Bedroom, Birthplace, Fashionable, Lonely, Traditional, the list goes on. 

[00:11:39] Now, you might be thinking, hang on, if he invented so many words, how did people understand what he was saying? 

[00:11:48] Wouldn’t it be a little strange to go to a play that you thought was in your own language, and find all of these new words?

[00:11:57] Well, perhaps, but Shakespeare’s talent was for joining different words, for adding prefixes and suffixes, and creating memorable images from these combined words, so that people would easily figure out what they meant.

[00:12:15] For example, he was a huge fan of adding “un” (UN) to the start of a word to create the negative, so he was the first recorded person to use words such as “unaware”, “uncomfortable”, and “undress”.

[00:12:33] And in terms of the expressions that he created, we have examples such as being a “tower of strength”, or describing the “dogs of war”. 

[00:12:44] These might have been expressions that were new to the language, but they are so vivid and powerful that they are immediately understandable.

[00:12:54] His own vocabulary was so vast it is thought to have been at least double the vocabulary of a normal person. 

[00:13:03] In total, he used around 20,000 words in his works, and of those 20,000, remarkably there are 7000 words which he uses only once.

[00:13:15] Now, this is not to put you off Shakespeare, but rather to stress quite how important he is for the English language, and to underline that he wasn’t just a writer of English, but a creator of English.

[00:13:30] In terms of the UK tourist industry and the country‘s “soft power”, Shakespeare is immensely important. 

[00:13:37] In a survey done by the British Council in 2016 [which was actually commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death”] he was described as “one of the UK‘s most successful ever cultural exports.”

[00:13:53] His ability to capture an idea in a memorable expression means that he has been woven into our everyday speech. 

[00:14:03] If you are interested in learning more about the full range of words and expressions first used by Shakespeare, there is an article on the Leonardo English blog all about it, and it covers everything from “in a fool’s paradise” to “foul play”.

[00:14:18] Now, let’s talk briefly about Shakespeare’s working life, as how and why he wrote is really important for an understanding of his work.

[00:14:29] Shakespeare wasn’t some solitary genius sitting in an isolated small room, on his own writing these masterpieces. 

[00:14:38] Quite the opposite.

[00:14:39] Shakespeare‘s writing life as a playwright was entirely based around the practical business of writing and putting on plays for his group of actors, and for his devoted audiences. 

[00:14:52] We think that his group or company of actors would have contained around 15 people. 

[00:15:00] Shakespeare did some acting himself so was entirely familiar with the work of an actor, and how theatres worked.

[00:15:09] When he wrote a new play, he would have had individual roles very much in mind for particular members of his actors’ company; for example, his chief actor, a man named Richard Burbage, was clearly the man for the main parts in his tragedies, playing Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear. 

[00:15:31] Early comic roles, such as Bottom, were written with a man called Will Kemp in mind - Kemp was clearly a gifted comic, he was a funny man.

[00:15:43] Here I need to mention one other crucial element of Shakespeare’s acting company: it was all male, there were no women. 

[00:15:52] Contemporary belief was that acting in theatres, which were sometimes wild places of entertainment, was not a suitable activity for a woman. 

[00:16:03] This was partly based on a religious objection to acting as something that was wrong or sinful because it involved deception or pretending to be someone that you are not. 

[00:16:16] It was also because of the beliefs in Elizabethan England around how a woman should behave. She should be at home, looking after children, not too opinionated, and playing a subservient role to her husband.

[00:16:33] So, women were discouraged from acting, and Shakespeare’s company, his group of actors, was all male.

[00:16:42] But, as you will know, there are plenty of female characters in Shakespeare plays, so how did that work?

[00:16:50] These female roles were played by young boys with unbroken voices; young men, typically under 16 years of age, who still had high voices.

[00:17:00] I will return to some of the consequences of this for modern productions, but, given the complexity of many of many of the female parts in Shakespeare, there must have been some incredibly talented boys playing these rich and varied female roles. 

[00:17:17] I should also add that Shakespeare’s plays were not only immensely popular but that his audiences were drawn from right across society, the plays were for everyone. 

[00:17:30] If you did not have much money, you could get in and watch one of these productions, for around 6 Euros in today’s money, provided that you did not mind standing in the flat space in front of the stage. 

[00:17:44] These people were known as the groundlings, and often these groundlings, the standing audience, would play an active and noisy part in the production.

[00:17:56] Now, onto what I think is the most important part of this episode, the one that I started off with, which is Shakespeare‘s universality – the way in which his plays, which are performed daily all over the world, speak to different people and seem to often be so relevant to our day to day lives.

[00:18:16] I will base this around three of his plays.

[00:18:20] Firstly and continuing the idea of those boy actors playing major female roles, I want to talk about one of the great comedies, Twelfth Night. 

[00:18:31] Now, I will not not try to describe the story or plot, but merely say that it involves a woman, Viola, who disguises herself as a man, she pretends to be a man, called Cesario, who then falls in love with a man called Orsino.

[00:18:49] So, a woman dressed as a man, who then falls in love with a man.

[00:18:54] At the same time, another woman, Olivia, falls in love with Cesario, who is, remember, Viola, a woman disguised as a man. 

[00:19:05] Confused? 

[00:19:06] That is not surprising! 

[00:19:08] Well, there is plenty of comic value in this situation, it is very funny. 

[00:19:13] But there is also much scope for contemporary directors to explore ideas around gender fluidity and sexual attraction: are we all confined to the gender that we were born into? 

[00:19:27] Are historic or traditional ideas about sexual attraction too limiting, when many people choose to define themselves more loosely?

[00:19:37] A play like Twelfth Night with these four characters attracted to each other in different ways allows modern productions to explore such things as gender fluidity and the mysteries of sexual attraction - we might not have control over who we fall in love with, and does gender really matter? 

[00:19:58] To add another layer of confusion, consider this: that in Shakespeare’s day, the actor playing Viola was a young boy playing a girl playing a boy.

[00:20:10] Just as a modern production of Twelfth Night might speak to a twenty-first century audience in Western Europe now very differently to a similar audience from 50 years ago, so one of Shakespeare’s most complex tragedies, Hamlet, will be interpreted by a director differently depending on the social and political circumstances of that country.

[00:20:35] One of the best known examples of this was a famous production of Hamlet that happened in Romania in the late 1980s, shortly before the fall of the Romanian dictator, Nicolas Ceaușescu. 

[00:20:50] Although this was a police state and the dictator’s secret police generally had an iron grip on anything that was staged, shown or published, this production of Hamlet managed to escape censorship - or being banned. 

[00:21:06] The high status of Shakespeare meant that the state authorities did not want to seem ignorant or stupid; they probably also thought the play was safe because it was about events along time ago.

[00:21:21] In fact, Hamlet, dealing as it does with a corrupt, authoritarian state and the silencing of truth by a killer, is an intensely political play. 

[00:21:33] The audiences could see the links with their own, desperate situation, living under a corrupt and nasty ruler. 

[00:21:42] The play helped them feel that they were not entirely silenced and that their situation was being explored in a helpful way; the play itself was an act of rebellion.

[00:21:54] Our final example is from June of 2017 when there was a staging of Julius Caesar in the annual Shakespeare in the Park in New York’s Public Theater. 

[00:22:06] This play has at its centre the assassination or public killing of the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar. 

[00:22:14] It is also a play about political power and its dangers or perils.

[00:22:21] As you can imagine, with Donald Trump being the relatively newly elected president and the USA bitterly divided, this dramatisation of Julius Caesar could not avoid being political.

[00:22:35] The famous Roman was given various Trump-like characteristics, such as a large red tie and a baseball hat, and a wife with an eastern European accent. 

[00:22:47] As you probably know, the assassination of Caesar through stabbing is bloody and shocking

[00:22:53] Performances at the theatre became hot-tempered, with protests by pro-Trump supporters. 

[00:23:00] Right wing-leaning sponsors withdrew their sponsorship in protest, but the play went ahead.

[00:23:07] Whoever said that theatre was boring or uneventful?

[00:23:11] So there we are - an author and a playwright for all of us - and for all time.

[00:23:17] If you come to England, there are lots of ways to feel close to the Bard. A visit to the Globe Theatre in London is probably one of the best.

[00:23:26] The original theatre burned down in a fire in 1613, but it has been recreated in exactly the same style as the original. 

[00:23:35] You can even be a groundling, and buy a ticket to stand right next to the stage.

[00:23:41] So, go to The Globe, enjoy one of these timeless performances, and you can decide for yourself whether he really is Our Greatest Living Playwright.

[00:23:53] Ok then, that is it for today's episode on the genius of William Shakespeare.

[00:24:00] There are many people who live their lives speaking English very happily without the slightest idea about Shakespeare, but using words and phrases that he gave to the language.

[00:24:11] So, I am glad that you now know a little bit more about this man’s amazing legacy, his fantastic life, and his marvellous contributions to the English language.

[00:24:21] As I mentioned, there will be an article on the blog with an extended list of his contributions to English, so do go and check that out if it’s of interest. Of course, the absolute best way to get under the skin of William Shakespeare is to read him. 

[00:24:37] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:24:41] How is Shakespeare taught, if at all, in your country? Did you study it at school? If so, what did you think? Has this episode inspired you to make a trip to The Globe Theatre? I would love to know.

[00:24:54] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:05] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:25:20] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:25:32] 
The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.


[00:25:37] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:43] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the genius of William Shakespeare.

[00:00:30] I imagine that you will be familiar with the name, and you are probably familiar with at least some of his work.

[00:00:38] He is the most famous playwright of all time, in the English language certainly, and debatably, in any language. 

[00:00:46] His most famous works include Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and he was a prolific writer.

[00:00:57] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about his life, his work, his language, and his genius.

[00:01:05] Before we get right into this episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:20] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 160 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:40] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:01:51] So, if that is of interest, - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:01] OK then, William Shakespeare.

[00:02:05] On April 23rd, 2014 there was an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. 

[00:02:14] Its title was “Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright”.

[00:02:20] The exhibition was to celebrate the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, on April 23rd 1564. 

[00:02:31] So, one might think that the title of the exhibition was a little bit strange - Greatest living playwright.

[00:02:39] A playwright is someone who writes plays, and living means alive, not dead.

[00:02:45] But Shakespeare is certainly not living in the corporeal sense of the word, he isn’t physically alive.

[00:02:53] In fact, he died on his birthday at the not-so-old age of just 52.

[00:03:00] But there is something about Shakespeare that is certainly living, something timeless about the man and his work. 

[00:03:09] Indeed, there’s an episode in a book about Shakespeare by a man named James Shapiro where he recounts putting on a performance of Shakespeare in the famous Rikers prison in New York, in front of the inmates.

[00:03:25] He writes that the two questions he gets every time from the inmates are “how many plays did Shakespeare write?”, and the second one is “is he still alive?”.

[00:03:37] Now, the answer to the first question is at least 37, and the answer to the second is, of course, no, in the physical sense.

[00:03:46] But the fact that the question is even asked of whether he is still alive tells us how vibrant and universal the works of Shakespeare are. 

[00:03:58] Whether it’s a production of Hamlet, King Lear, or Much Ado About Nothing, the themes in these plays speak to all of us, no matter where we are from, when we are living, or anything about our situation.

[00:04:14] Other people have provided plenty of memorable quotations which capture Shakespeare’s great gifts and his universal appeal, but I will give just two.

[00:04:26] His fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, writing in the preface to the first published edition of Shakespeare’s plays, the First Folio, put it neatly: “He was not of an age, but for all time". He was not of an age, but for all time.

[00:04:45] And the English poet, William Auden, wrote that in Shakespeare “The words of a dead man/are modified in the guts of the living.”

[00:04:56] The guts means your stomach.

[00:04:59] So, to repeat, that’s “the words of a dead man/are modified in the guts of the living”

[00:05:07] Powerful stuff, right?

[00:05:09] In this episode we will explore some of these themes of universality, but first let’s start with a brief introduction to the man himself.

[00:05:20] It will be brief, partly because we do not know all that much about it and mainly because other things are much more interesting.

[00:05:30] We think he was born on April 23rd, 1564 and died, on or close to his birthday in April 1616, aged just 52. 

[00:05:42] He had a good, highly traditional, classically-based education at the grammar school in his place of birth, Stratford upon Avon, a town in the West Midlands, more or less in the middle of England, and just south of Birmingham. 

[00:05:57] He did not attend university, and married a 26-year-old woman when he was just 18 years old. 

[00:06:04] This was unusual on both counts – the age difference between him and his wife and his relative youth when he got married. 

[00:06:14] But, she was 3 months pregnant at the time, which probably helps explain things.

[00:06:20] He spent much of his life in London, where we think he was based from about 1592. 

[00:06:28] He was an actor, a playwright and a part owner of a theatre company. 

[00:06:34] His writing career was relatively brief but highly successful commercially; when it was over in 1611, he retired from his career as a playwright and theatre owner and returned to his birthplace, Stratford upon Avon. 

[00:06:51] During these final years he was a wealthy fellow, a rich man.

[00:06:57] He was, to use an understatement or to put it mildly, a highly productive writer, writing around 37 plays, mostly on his own, although he collaborated with another playwright on two or three. 

[00:07:12] He also wrote two long poems and a collection of 154 short poems called sonnets

[00:07:20] These contain some of his most famous lines, such as “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

[00:07:27] I need at this point to deal with the various theories about whether the person we know as William Shakespeare really was the person who wrote the plays. 

[00:07:38] This I will do swiftly through saying that there are numerous conspiracy theories which continue to sell books but which most serious scholars dismiss, they say they are not true. 

[00:07:51] These theories claim that Shakespeare’s plays were written by other people. 

[00:07:57] I don’t think that is true, and nor do most serious Shakespeare historians. 

[00:08:02] Even if it were true, what we know is that the plays and the poems were written by the same person; frankly it is not of great interest whether that person corresponds with the man with a pointy beard whose face you are no doubt familiar with. 

[00:08:20] That one person could produce so much brilliant work means we are dealing with a genius in the Leonardo Da Vinci or Mozart league; it doesn’t really matter whether his name was William Shakespeare.

[00:08:33] We are on more secure and productive grounds if we talk a little about Shakespeare’s influence on our language and culture. 

[00:08:43] He is the world’s best selling author – very possibly in any language, but certainly in English, with estimates of sales of his works ranging from 2 to 4 billion copies, and his works have been translated into every major living language. 

[00:09:01] I imagine you might have read some Shakespeare, or seen a play in your language.

[00:09:08] Something in excess of 64 million children study his works every year. 

[00:09:14] Over 400 films and TV productions of his plays have been made.

[00:09:19] Close to 150,000 books have been written about him. 

[00:09:23] There is indeed a whole industry of Shakespeare writing or writing about Shakespeare. 

[00:09:29] Some people go even further, and devote their entire lives to the study of the great man.

[00:09:36] There is even a word in English for people who are completely passionate Shakespeare fans: bardolator.

[00:09:44] The old English word for a poet or singer, bard, is used to describe him by some people – capitalised, of course: so, Shakespeare is referred to as “the Bard”. 

[00:09:56] So, a bardolator is someone who particularly adores Shakespeare, and bardology is the study of Shakespeare.

[00:10:04] These bardolators, these passionate Shakespeare fans, sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to pursue their love for the man.

[00:10:15] One amazing example of this is of an American man called Eugene Schieffelin, and involves a bird called a starling, which is a type of small songbird.

[00:10:28] Starlings didn’t exist in North America, but Schieffelin reportedly wanted to bring every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to North America.

[00:10:39] In 1890 he imported 60 birds and released them in New York’s Central Park, and then released another 40 a year later.

[00:10:49] These birds obviously enjoyed life in the US, and there are now over 200 million starlings in the country. 

[00:10:58] All because of one man’s passion for The Bard.

[00:11:03] Now, while not everyone needs to be a bardolator, or a devoted fan of Shakespeare, it is impossible to fail to appreciate his impact on the English language.

[00:11:15] We think that over 1,700 words were introduced to the English language by Shakespeare. 

[00:11:23] Some of these words you won’t find in common usage, but there are hundreds of them that you probably know already.

[00:11:30] Critic, Bedroom, Birthplace, Fashionable, Lonely, Traditional, the list goes on. 

[00:11:39] Now, you might be thinking, hang on, if he invented so many words, how did people understand what he was saying? 

[00:11:48] Wouldn’t it be a little strange to go to a play that you thought was in your own language, and find all of these new words?

[00:11:57] Well, perhaps, but Shakespeare’s talent was for joining different words, for adding prefixes and suffixes, and creating memorable images from these combined words, so that people would easily figure out what they meant.

[00:12:15] For example, he was a huge fan of adding “un” (UN) to the start of a word to create the negative, so he was the first recorded person to use words such as “unaware”, “uncomfortable”, and “undress”.

[00:12:33] And in terms of the expressions that he created, we have examples such as being a “tower of strength”, or describing the “dogs of war”. 

[00:12:44] These might have been expressions that were new to the language, but they are so vivid and powerful that they are immediately understandable.

[00:12:54] His own vocabulary was so vast it is thought to have been at least double the vocabulary of a normal person. 

[00:13:03] In total, he used around 20,000 words in his works, and of those 20,000, remarkably there are 7000 words which he uses only once.

[00:13:15] Now, this is not to put you off Shakespeare, but rather to stress quite how important he is for the English language, and to underline that he wasn’t just a writer of English, but a creator of English.

[00:13:30] In terms of the UK tourist industry and the country‘s “soft power”, Shakespeare is immensely important. 

[00:13:37] In a survey done by the British Council in 2016 [which was actually commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death”] he was described as “one of the UK‘s most successful ever cultural exports.”

[00:13:53] His ability to capture an idea in a memorable expression means that he has been woven into our everyday speech. 

[00:14:03] If you are interested in learning more about the full range of words and expressions first used by Shakespeare, there is an article on the Leonardo English blog all about it, and it covers everything from “in a fool’s paradise” to “foul play”.

[00:14:18] Now, let’s talk briefly about Shakespeare’s working life, as how and why he wrote is really important for an understanding of his work.

[00:14:29] Shakespeare wasn’t some solitary genius sitting in an isolated small room, on his own writing these masterpieces. 

[00:14:38] Quite the opposite.

[00:14:39] Shakespeare‘s writing life as a playwright was entirely based around the practical business of writing and putting on plays for his group of actors, and for his devoted audiences. 

[00:14:52] We think that his group or company of actors would have contained around 15 people. 

[00:15:00] Shakespeare did some acting himself so was entirely familiar with the work of an actor, and how theatres worked.

[00:15:09] When he wrote a new play, he would have had individual roles very much in mind for particular members of his actors’ company; for example, his chief actor, a man named Richard Burbage, was clearly the man for the main parts in his tragedies, playing Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear. 

[00:15:31] Early comic roles, such as Bottom, were written with a man called Will Kemp in mind - Kemp was clearly a gifted comic, he was a funny man.

[00:15:43] Here I need to mention one other crucial element of Shakespeare’s acting company: it was all male, there were no women. 

[00:15:52] Contemporary belief was that acting in theatres, which were sometimes wild places of entertainment, was not a suitable activity for a woman. 

[00:16:03] This was partly based on a religious objection to acting as something that was wrong or sinful because it involved deception or pretending to be someone that you are not. 

[00:16:16] It was also because of the beliefs in Elizabethan England around how a woman should behave. She should be at home, looking after children, not too opinionated, and playing a subservient role to her husband.

[00:16:33] So, women were discouraged from acting, and Shakespeare’s company, his group of actors, was all male.

[00:16:42] But, as you will know, there are plenty of female characters in Shakespeare plays, so how did that work?

[00:16:50] These female roles were played by young boys with unbroken voices; young men, typically under 16 years of age, who still had high voices.

[00:17:00] I will return to some of the consequences of this for modern productions, but, given the complexity of many of many of the female parts in Shakespeare, there must have been some incredibly talented boys playing these rich and varied female roles. 

[00:17:17] I should also add that Shakespeare’s plays were not only immensely popular but that his audiences were drawn from right across society, the plays were for everyone. 

[00:17:30] If you did not have much money, you could get in and watch one of these productions, for around 6 Euros in today’s money, provided that you did not mind standing in the flat space in front of the stage. 

[00:17:44] These people were known as the groundlings, and often these groundlings, the standing audience, would play an active and noisy part in the production.

[00:17:56] Now, onto what I think is the most important part of this episode, the one that I started off with, which is Shakespeare‘s universality – the way in which his plays, which are performed daily all over the world, speak to different people and seem to often be so relevant to our day to day lives.

[00:18:16] I will base this around three of his plays.

[00:18:20] Firstly and continuing the idea of those boy actors playing major female roles, I want to talk about one of the great comedies, Twelfth Night. 

[00:18:31] Now, I will not not try to describe the story or plot, but merely say that it involves a woman, Viola, who disguises herself as a man, she pretends to be a man, called Cesario, who then falls in love with a man called Orsino.

[00:18:49] So, a woman dressed as a man, who then falls in love with a man.

[00:18:54] At the same time, another woman, Olivia, falls in love with Cesario, who is, remember, Viola, a woman disguised as a man. 

[00:19:05] Confused? 

[00:19:06] That is not surprising! 

[00:19:08] Well, there is plenty of comic value in this situation, it is very funny. 

[00:19:13] But there is also much scope for contemporary directors to explore ideas around gender fluidity and sexual attraction: are we all confined to the gender that we were born into? 

[00:19:27] Are historic or traditional ideas about sexual attraction too limiting, when many people choose to define themselves more loosely?

[00:19:37] A play like Twelfth Night with these four characters attracted to each other in different ways allows modern productions to explore such things as gender fluidity and the mysteries of sexual attraction - we might not have control over who we fall in love with, and does gender really matter? 

[00:19:58] To add another layer of confusion, consider this: that in Shakespeare’s day, the actor playing Viola was a young boy playing a girl playing a boy.

[00:20:10] Just as a modern production of Twelfth Night might speak to a twenty-first century audience in Western Europe now very differently to a similar audience from 50 years ago, so one of Shakespeare’s most complex tragedies, Hamlet, will be interpreted by a director differently depending on the social and political circumstances of that country.

[00:20:35] One of the best known examples of this was a famous production of Hamlet that happened in Romania in the late 1980s, shortly before the fall of the Romanian dictator, Nicolas Ceaușescu. 

[00:20:50] Although this was a police state and the dictator’s secret police generally had an iron grip on anything that was staged, shown or published, this production of Hamlet managed to escape censorship - or being banned. 

[00:21:06] The high status of Shakespeare meant that the state authorities did not want to seem ignorant or stupid; they probably also thought the play was safe because it was about events along time ago.

[00:21:21] In fact, Hamlet, dealing as it does with a corrupt, authoritarian state and the silencing of truth by a killer, is an intensely political play. 

[00:21:33] The audiences could see the links with their own, desperate situation, living under a corrupt and nasty ruler. 

[00:21:42] The play helped them feel that they were not entirely silenced and that their situation was being explored in a helpful way; the play itself was an act of rebellion.

[00:21:54] Our final example is from June of 2017 when there was a staging of Julius Caesar in the annual Shakespeare in the Park in New York’s Public Theater. 

[00:22:06] This play has at its centre the assassination or public killing of the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar. 

[00:22:14] It is also a play about political power and its dangers or perils.

[00:22:21] As you can imagine, with Donald Trump being the relatively newly elected president and the USA bitterly divided, this dramatisation of Julius Caesar could not avoid being political.

[00:22:35] The famous Roman was given various Trump-like characteristics, such as a large red tie and a baseball hat, and a wife with an eastern European accent. 

[00:22:47] As you probably know, the assassination of Caesar through stabbing is bloody and shocking

[00:22:53] Performances at the theatre became hot-tempered, with protests by pro-Trump supporters. 

[00:23:00] Right wing-leaning sponsors withdrew their sponsorship in protest, but the play went ahead.

[00:23:07] Whoever said that theatre was boring or uneventful?

[00:23:11] So there we are - an author and a playwright for all of us - and for all time.

[00:23:17] If you come to England, there are lots of ways to feel close to the Bard. A visit to the Globe Theatre in London is probably one of the best.

[00:23:26] The original theatre burned down in a fire in 1613, but it has been recreated in exactly the same style as the original. 

[00:23:35] You can even be a groundling, and buy a ticket to stand right next to the stage.

[00:23:41] So, go to The Globe, enjoy one of these timeless performances, and you can decide for yourself whether he really is Our Greatest Living Playwright.

[00:23:53] Ok then, that is it for today's episode on the genius of William Shakespeare.

[00:24:00] There are many people who live their lives speaking English very happily without the slightest idea about Shakespeare, but using words and phrases that he gave to the language.

[00:24:11] So, I am glad that you now know a little bit more about this man’s amazing legacy, his fantastic life, and his marvellous contributions to the English language.

[00:24:21] As I mentioned, there will be an article on the blog with an extended list of his contributions to English, so do go and check that out if it’s of interest. Of course, the absolute best way to get under the skin of William Shakespeare is to read him. 

[00:24:37] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:24:41] How is Shakespeare taught, if at all, in your country? Did you study it at school? If so, what did you think? Has this episode inspired you to make a trip to The Globe Theatre? I would love to know.

[00:24:54] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:05] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:25:20] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:25:32] 
The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.


[00:25:37] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:43] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about the genius of William Shakespeare.

[00:00:30] I imagine that you will be familiar with the name, and you are probably familiar with at least some of his work.

[00:00:38] He is the most famous playwright of all time, in the English language certainly, and debatably, in any language. 

[00:00:46] His most famous works include Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, King Lear, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and he was a prolific writer.

[00:00:57] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about his life, his work, his language, and his genius.

[00:01:05] Before we get right into this episode, I want to remind you that you can become a member of Leonardo English and follow along with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:20] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, all of our bonus episodes, so that’s more than 160 different episodes now, as well as two new ones every week, plus access to our awesome private community where we do live events, challenges, and much, much more.

[00:01:40] Our community now has members from over 50 countries, and it's my mission to make it the most interesting place for curious people like you to improve their English.

[00:01:51] So, if that is of interest, - and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be - then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:01] OK then, William Shakespeare.

[00:02:05] On April 23rd, 2014 there was an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. 

[00:02:14] Its title was “Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright”.

[00:02:20] The exhibition was to celebrate the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, on April 23rd 1564. 

[00:02:31] So, one might think that the title of the exhibition was a little bit strange - Greatest living playwright.

[00:02:39] A playwright is someone who writes plays, and living means alive, not dead.

[00:02:45] But Shakespeare is certainly not living in the corporeal sense of the word, he isn’t physically alive.

[00:02:53] In fact, he died on his birthday at the not-so-old age of just 52.

[00:03:00] But there is something about Shakespeare that is certainly living, something timeless about the man and his work. 

[00:03:09] Indeed, there’s an episode in a book about Shakespeare by a man named James Shapiro where he recounts putting on a performance of Shakespeare in the famous Rikers prison in New York, in front of the inmates.

[00:03:25] He writes that the two questions he gets every time from the inmates are “how many plays did Shakespeare write?”, and the second one is “is he still alive?”.

[00:03:37] Now, the answer to the first question is at least 37, and the answer to the second is, of course, no, in the physical sense.

[00:03:46] But the fact that the question is even asked of whether he is still alive tells us how vibrant and universal the works of Shakespeare are. 

[00:03:58] Whether it’s a production of Hamlet, King Lear, or Much Ado About Nothing, the themes in these plays speak to all of us, no matter where we are from, when we are living, or anything about our situation.

[00:04:14] Other people have provided plenty of memorable quotations which capture Shakespeare’s great gifts and his universal appeal, but I will give just two.

[00:04:26] His fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, writing in the preface to the first published edition of Shakespeare’s plays, the First Folio, put it neatly: “He was not of an age, but for all time". He was not of an age, but for all time.

[00:04:45] And the English poet, William Auden, wrote that in Shakespeare “The words of a dead man/are modified in the guts of the living.”

[00:04:56] The guts means your stomach.

[00:04:59] So, to repeat, that’s “the words of a dead man/are modified in the guts of the living”

[00:05:07] Powerful stuff, right?

[00:05:09] In this episode we will explore some of these themes of universality, but first let’s start with a brief introduction to the man himself.

[00:05:20] It will be brief, partly because we do not know all that much about it and mainly because other things are much more interesting.

[00:05:30] We think he was born on April 23rd, 1564 and died, on or close to his birthday in April 1616, aged just 52. 

[00:05:42] He had a good, highly traditional, classically-based education at the grammar school in his place of birth, Stratford upon Avon, a town in the West Midlands, more or less in the middle of England, and just south of Birmingham. 

[00:05:57] He did not attend university, and married a 26-year-old woman when he was just 18 years old. 

[00:06:04] This was unusual on both counts – the age difference between him and his wife and his relative youth when he got married. 

[00:06:14] But, she was 3 months pregnant at the time, which probably helps explain things.

[00:06:20] He spent much of his life in London, where we think he was based from about 1592. 

[00:06:28] He was an actor, a playwright and a part owner of a theatre company. 

[00:06:34] His writing career was relatively brief but highly successful commercially; when it was over in 1611, he retired from his career as a playwright and theatre owner and returned to his birthplace, Stratford upon Avon. 

[00:06:51] During these final years he was a wealthy fellow, a rich man.

[00:06:57] He was, to use an understatement or to put it mildly, a highly productive writer, writing around 37 plays, mostly on his own, although he collaborated with another playwright on two or three. 

[00:07:12] He also wrote two long poems and a collection of 154 short poems called sonnets

[00:07:20] These contain some of his most famous lines, such as “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

[00:07:27] I need at this point to deal with the various theories about whether the person we know as William Shakespeare really was the person who wrote the plays. 

[00:07:38] This I will do swiftly through saying that there are numerous conspiracy theories which continue to sell books but which most serious scholars dismiss, they say they are not true. 

[00:07:51] These theories claim that Shakespeare’s plays were written by other people. 

[00:07:57] I don’t think that is true, and nor do most serious Shakespeare historians. 

[00:08:02] Even if it were true, what we know is that the plays and the poems were written by the same person; frankly it is not of great interest whether that person corresponds with the man with a pointy beard whose face you are no doubt familiar with. 

[00:08:20] That one person could produce so much brilliant work means we are dealing with a genius in the Leonardo Da Vinci or Mozart league; it doesn’t really matter whether his name was William Shakespeare.

[00:08:33] We are on more secure and productive grounds if we talk a little about Shakespeare’s influence on our language and culture. 

[00:08:43] He is the world’s best selling author – very possibly in any language, but certainly in English, with estimates of sales of his works ranging from 2 to 4 billion copies, and his works have been translated into every major living language. 

[00:09:01] I imagine you might have read some Shakespeare, or seen a play in your language.

[00:09:08] Something in excess of 64 million children study his works every year. 

[00:09:14] Over 400 films and TV productions of his plays have been made.

[00:09:19] Close to 150,000 books have been written about him. 

[00:09:23] There is indeed a whole industry of Shakespeare writing or writing about Shakespeare. 

[00:09:29] Some people go even further, and devote their entire lives to the study of the great man.

[00:09:36] There is even a word in English for people who are completely passionate Shakespeare fans: bardolator.

[00:09:44] The old English word for a poet or singer, bard, is used to describe him by some people – capitalised, of course: so, Shakespeare is referred to as “the Bard”. 

[00:09:56] So, a bardolator is someone who particularly adores Shakespeare, and bardology is the study of Shakespeare.

[00:10:04] These bardolators, these passionate Shakespeare fans, sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to pursue their love for the man.

[00:10:15] One amazing example of this is of an American man called Eugene Schieffelin, and involves a bird called a starling, which is a type of small songbird.

[00:10:28] Starlings didn’t exist in North America, but Schieffelin reportedly wanted to bring every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays to North America.

[00:10:39] In 1890 he imported 60 birds and released them in New York’s Central Park, and then released another 40 a year later.

[00:10:49] These birds obviously enjoyed life in the US, and there are now over 200 million starlings in the country. 

[00:10:58] All because of one man’s passion for The Bard.

[00:11:03] Now, while not everyone needs to be a bardolator, or a devoted fan of Shakespeare, it is impossible to fail to appreciate his impact on the English language.

[00:11:15] We think that over 1,700 words were introduced to the English language by Shakespeare. 

[00:11:23] Some of these words you won’t find in common usage, but there are hundreds of them that you probably know already.

[00:11:30] Critic, Bedroom, Birthplace, Fashionable, Lonely, Traditional, the list goes on. 

[00:11:39] Now, you might be thinking, hang on, if he invented so many words, how did people understand what he was saying? 

[00:11:48] Wouldn’t it be a little strange to go to a play that you thought was in your own language, and find all of these new words?

[00:11:57] Well, perhaps, but Shakespeare’s talent was for joining different words, for adding prefixes and suffixes, and creating memorable images from these combined words, so that people would easily figure out what they meant.

[00:12:15] For example, he was a huge fan of adding “un” (UN) to the start of a word to create the negative, so he was the first recorded person to use words such as “unaware”, “uncomfortable”, and “undress”.

[00:12:33] And in terms of the expressions that he created, we have examples such as being a “tower of strength”, or describing the “dogs of war”. 

[00:12:44] These might have been expressions that were new to the language, but they are so vivid and powerful that they are immediately understandable.

[00:12:54] His own vocabulary was so vast it is thought to have been at least double the vocabulary of a normal person. 

[00:13:03] In total, he used around 20,000 words in his works, and of those 20,000, remarkably there are 7000 words which he uses only once.

[00:13:15] Now, this is not to put you off Shakespeare, but rather to stress quite how important he is for the English language, and to underline that he wasn’t just a writer of English, but a creator of English.

[00:13:30] In terms of the UK tourist industry and the country‘s “soft power”, Shakespeare is immensely important. 

[00:13:37] In a survey done by the British Council in 2016 [which was actually commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death”] he was described as “one of the UK‘s most successful ever cultural exports.”

[00:13:53] His ability to capture an idea in a memorable expression means that he has been woven into our everyday speech. 

[00:14:03] If you are interested in learning more about the full range of words and expressions first used by Shakespeare, there is an article on the Leonardo English blog all about it, and it covers everything from “in a fool’s paradise” to “foul play”.

[00:14:18] Now, let’s talk briefly about Shakespeare’s working life, as how and why he wrote is really important for an understanding of his work.

[00:14:29] Shakespeare wasn’t some solitary genius sitting in an isolated small room, on his own writing these masterpieces. 

[00:14:38] Quite the opposite.

[00:14:39] Shakespeare‘s writing life as a playwright was entirely based around the practical business of writing and putting on plays for his group of actors, and for his devoted audiences. 

[00:14:52] We think that his group or company of actors would have contained around 15 people. 

[00:15:00] Shakespeare did some acting himself so was entirely familiar with the work of an actor, and how theatres worked.

[00:15:09] When he wrote a new play, he would have had individual roles very much in mind for particular members of his actors’ company; for example, his chief actor, a man named Richard Burbage, was clearly the man for the main parts in his tragedies, playing Macbeth, Hamlet and King Lear. 

[00:15:31] Early comic roles, such as Bottom, were written with a man called Will Kemp in mind - Kemp was clearly a gifted comic, he was a funny man.

[00:15:43] Here I need to mention one other crucial element of Shakespeare’s acting company: it was all male, there were no women. 

[00:15:52] Contemporary belief was that acting in theatres, which were sometimes wild places of entertainment, was not a suitable activity for a woman. 

[00:16:03] This was partly based on a religious objection to acting as something that was wrong or sinful because it involved deception or pretending to be someone that you are not. 

[00:16:16] It was also because of the beliefs in Elizabethan England around how a woman should behave. She should be at home, looking after children, not too opinionated, and playing a subservient role to her husband.

[00:16:33] So, women were discouraged from acting, and Shakespeare’s company, his group of actors, was all male.

[00:16:42] But, as you will know, there are plenty of female characters in Shakespeare plays, so how did that work?

[00:16:50] These female roles were played by young boys with unbroken voices; young men, typically under 16 years of age, who still had high voices.

[00:17:00] I will return to some of the consequences of this for modern productions, but, given the complexity of many of many of the female parts in Shakespeare, there must have been some incredibly talented boys playing these rich and varied female roles. 

[00:17:17] I should also add that Shakespeare’s plays were not only immensely popular but that his audiences were drawn from right across society, the plays were for everyone. 

[00:17:30] If you did not have much money, you could get in and watch one of these productions, for around 6 Euros in today’s money, provided that you did not mind standing in the flat space in front of the stage. 

[00:17:44] These people were known as the groundlings, and often these groundlings, the standing audience, would play an active and noisy part in the production.

[00:17:56] Now, onto what I think is the most important part of this episode, the one that I started off with, which is Shakespeare‘s universality – the way in which his plays, which are performed daily all over the world, speak to different people and seem to often be so relevant to our day to day lives.

[00:18:16] I will base this around three of his plays.

[00:18:20] Firstly and continuing the idea of those boy actors playing major female roles, I want to talk about one of the great comedies, Twelfth Night. 

[00:18:31] Now, I will not not try to describe the story or plot, but merely say that it involves a woman, Viola, who disguises herself as a man, she pretends to be a man, called Cesario, who then falls in love with a man called Orsino.

[00:18:49] So, a woman dressed as a man, who then falls in love with a man.

[00:18:54] At the same time, another woman, Olivia, falls in love with Cesario, who is, remember, Viola, a woman disguised as a man. 

[00:19:05] Confused? 

[00:19:06] That is not surprising! 

[00:19:08] Well, there is plenty of comic value in this situation, it is very funny. 

[00:19:13] But there is also much scope for contemporary directors to explore ideas around gender fluidity and sexual attraction: are we all confined to the gender that we were born into? 

[00:19:27] Are historic or traditional ideas about sexual attraction too limiting, when many people choose to define themselves more loosely?

[00:19:37] A play like Twelfth Night with these four characters attracted to each other in different ways allows modern productions to explore such things as gender fluidity and the mysteries of sexual attraction - we might not have control over who we fall in love with, and does gender really matter? 

[00:19:58] To add another layer of confusion, consider this: that in Shakespeare’s day, the actor playing Viola was a young boy playing a girl playing a boy.

[00:20:10] Just as a modern production of Twelfth Night might speak to a twenty-first century audience in Western Europe now very differently to a similar audience from 50 years ago, so one of Shakespeare’s most complex tragedies, Hamlet, will be interpreted by a director differently depending on the social and political circumstances of that country.

[00:20:35] One of the best known examples of this was a famous production of Hamlet that happened in Romania in the late 1980s, shortly before the fall of the Romanian dictator, Nicolas Ceaușescu. 

[00:20:50] Although this was a police state and the dictator’s secret police generally had an iron grip on anything that was staged, shown or published, this production of Hamlet managed to escape censorship - or being banned. 

[00:21:06] The high status of Shakespeare meant that the state authorities did not want to seem ignorant or stupid; they probably also thought the play was safe because it was about events along time ago.

[00:21:21] In fact, Hamlet, dealing as it does with a corrupt, authoritarian state and the silencing of truth by a killer, is an intensely political play. 

[00:21:33] The audiences could see the links with their own, desperate situation, living under a corrupt and nasty ruler. 

[00:21:42] The play helped them feel that they were not entirely silenced and that their situation was being explored in a helpful way; the play itself was an act of rebellion.

[00:21:54] Our final example is from June of 2017 when there was a staging of Julius Caesar in the annual Shakespeare in the Park in New York’s Public Theater. 

[00:22:06] This play has at its centre the assassination or public killing of the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar. 

[00:22:14] It is also a play about political power and its dangers or perils.

[00:22:21] As you can imagine, with Donald Trump being the relatively newly elected president and the USA bitterly divided, this dramatisation of Julius Caesar could not avoid being political.

[00:22:35] The famous Roman was given various Trump-like characteristics, such as a large red tie and a baseball hat, and a wife with an eastern European accent. 

[00:22:47] As you probably know, the assassination of Caesar through stabbing is bloody and shocking

[00:22:53] Performances at the theatre became hot-tempered, with protests by pro-Trump supporters. 

[00:23:00] Right wing-leaning sponsors withdrew their sponsorship in protest, but the play went ahead.

[00:23:07] Whoever said that theatre was boring or uneventful?

[00:23:11] So there we are - an author and a playwright for all of us - and for all time.

[00:23:17] If you come to England, there are lots of ways to feel close to the Bard. A visit to the Globe Theatre in London is probably one of the best.

[00:23:26] The original theatre burned down in a fire in 1613, but it has been recreated in exactly the same style as the original. 

[00:23:35] You can even be a groundling, and buy a ticket to stand right next to the stage.

[00:23:41] So, go to The Globe, enjoy one of these timeless performances, and you can decide for yourself whether he really is Our Greatest Living Playwright.

[00:23:53] Ok then, that is it for today's episode on the genius of William Shakespeare.

[00:24:00] There are many people who live their lives speaking English very happily without the slightest idea about Shakespeare, but using words and phrases that he gave to the language.

[00:24:11] So, I am glad that you now know a little bit more about this man’s amazing legacy, his fantastic life, and his marvellous contributions to the English language.

[00:24:21] As I mentioned, there will be an article on the blog with an extended list of his contributions to English, so do go and check that out if it’s of interest. Of course, the absolute best way to get under the skin of William Shakespeare is to read him. 

[00:24:37] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:24:41] How is Shakespeare taught, if at all, in your country? Did you study it at school? If so, what did you think? Has this episode inspired you to make a trip to The Globe Theatre? I would love to know.

[00:24:54] For the members among you, you can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:25:05] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:25:20] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:25:32] 
The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.


[00:25:37] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:43] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]