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A wonderful legacy of William Shakespeare

Rayhan Ahmed Topader:

Thousands of well-wishers have celebrated the legacy of William Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.

More than 10,000 people paid homage to the Bard, who died on April 23, 1616, as a theatrical parade made its way through Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare’s hometown began a weekend of events to mark the occasion with a ceremony of contemplative moments, symbolism and riotous celebration. The celebrations are set to gain the royal seal of approval as Prince Charles tours the writer’s former home and visits his graveside at Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church.Thousands of people watched a parade through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon. He will then be joined by the Duchess of Cornwall for a special televised gala performance at the town’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre, featuring David Tennant, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench. During Saturday’s parade, the gathering crowds were asked to toss sprigs of rosemary for remembrance, as the Bard wrote in Hamlet, as a funeral bier of flowers was pulled through the streets. Many visitors donned Shakespeare face-masks to help fully mark the occasion. The mood struck a more celebratory note with the appearance of the 12-piece Wendell Brunious Band from Louisiana, who shuffled and shimmied along the parade route with a New Orleans-flavoured flavoured jazz procession.

Visitors wearing Shakespeare masks laid flowers in memory of the playwright Spectator Jane Haigh said she wanted to be present to mark a wonderful legacy.The great thing about Shakespeare is he’s relevant today – he’s very quotable, and his plays can be interpreted so widely. Playing a key role in this year’s landmark anniversary is the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), whose theatre on the banks of the River Avon continues to stage the Bard’s plays in sell-out performances. The day’s festivities conclude with a fireworks display and a line of light, leading to Holy Trinity Church, where there will be a graveside vigil. a star-studded gala of performances celebrating the Bard’s life are being performed at the riverside Royal Shakespeare Theatre.US President Barack Obama was treated to a special performance of scenes from Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, praising the actors as “wonderful”. The president made an early-morning trip to the playhouse in Southwark to mark the anniversary of the Bard’s death.

Shakespeare penned almost 40 plays, over 150 sonnets, and coined well-known phrases still widely used to this day. Mark Antony (David Morrissey) mourns the death of Julius Caesar (David Calder) in Nicholas Hytner’s production at the Bridge Theatre ( Manuel Harlan ) It was rather glorious serendipity.

At almost exactly the same moment as Donald Trump was giving his first State of the Union address to a deeply divided Congress, Nicholas Hytner’s production of Julius Caesar was opening at the new Bridge Theatre on the South Bank. Now, as it happens, a different production of the same Shakespeare play has already caused a huge row in the US, because of the tyrant Caesar’s passing resemblance to a certain blow-dried, orange-faced property tycoon now in possession of the Oval Office. According to Professor Peter Holland, an eminent Shakespearean scholar, after The Public Theater production in New York: “Shakespeare companies all across the US began to receive hate mail, even though most recipients were not even performing the play. The name Shakespeare was apparently enough to warrant the ill wishes…It was at the very least a reassuring sign that the Bard remains relevant, though also a warning about the dangers of artists getting too close to politics. As Holland reminds us, during Shakespeare’s play the poet Cinna is mistaken by the enraged mob for one of the conspirators, who had the same surname, and torn to pieces. When he protests his innocence they roar that it’s no matter: Tear him for his bad verses! Tear him for his bad verses!” It is a grimly comic moment.

One of the great virtues of this new production is that it brings home to us just how extremely violent Ancient Rome was at the end of the Republic. By substituting pistols and machine guns for daggers and swords, and bombarding the audience with explosions, Hytner rips away the gentility of traditional toga-and-laurel-leaf Shakespearean settings. His Rome looks and sounds more like today’s Syria. That is surely right. If you want a gripping, easy primer to the world Shakespeare is describing in this play, then it is the trilogy of novels by Robert Harris (coincidentally recently adapted by the RSC) about Cicero briefly name-checked in Julius Caesar. We all know about the bloodiness of the assassination itself but Harris depicts homicidal gangs of unemployed gladiators roaming the city and military murder squads hunting down enemies of the state. Cicero himself died by having his neck cut, and then his head, hands removed and pinned up in public in the Forum. Mark Antony’s enraged wife, Fulvia, then had Cicero’s eloquent, dissident tongue pulled out and stabbed it with her hairpin. Even for a lawyer, this was a rough ending. Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr on revolutionising commerical theatre. The bigger question is whether Shakespeare’s Rome has real lessons for us today. Julius Caesar is often played as a military dictator, a swaggering, populist hard man who deserves what’s coming to him.

And certainly, Shakespeare is interestingly sympathetic to the conspirators in this production Brutus, “the noblest Roman”, is played by Ben Whishaw as a geeky, punctilious intellectual, though in fairness I guess he would find it pretty difficult to play a beefy thug. Anyway, no modern person should shed a tear for Caesar. He himself boasted that his military campaign in France resulted in the deaths of at least 1.2 million people in battle, and it is thought at least as many died through starvation afterwards. Up to one in three of the population of what was then called Gaul disappeared. This makes him one of the biggest genocidal killers in history as bad in his way as the Black Death. A third of all people! After the Siege of Uxellodunum in the Dordogne in 51 BC, he cut off the hands of all survivors and sent them home to wave their stumps and tell of his mercy. Trump? Kim Jong-un? No, not even Stalin or Hitler there is no modern equivalent to the historic Caesar at all, thank God. A theatre historian believes he has managed to pinpoint the exact location in London where William Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. Geoffrey Marsh cross-referenced a number of official records to ascertain that the playwright lived at 5 Great St Helen’s – near Liverpool Street. It was previously known that he had lived close by  between the years of 1597 and 1598, according to the BBC.

Mr Marsh carried out a decade of research in his efforts to locate where Shakespeare lived in London. He discovered that in the 1590s,  Shakespeare was a tenant of the guild that organised the Elizabethan leather trade. His home was most likely to be among several properties that overlooked the churchyard of St Helen’s, Mr Marsh said. Mr Marsh said: The place where Shakespeare lived in London gives us a more profound understanding of the inspirations for his work and life. Within a few years of migrating to London from Stratford, he was living in one of the wealthiest parishes in the city, alongside powerful public figures, wealthy international merchants, society doctors and expert musicians. The merchants had connections across Europe and the doctors were linked to the latest progressive thinking in universities in Italy and Germany. Living in what was one of the power locales of London would have also enhanced Shakespeare’s status as he developed his career, sought a family coat of arms and planned to buy an impressive and expensive house in Stratford.

Writer and Columnist  raihan567@yahoo.com