Many people are put off Shakespeare at school. I was fortunate to be introduced to his work at primary school. My last year in the juniors happened to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. My class, with one or two extra children, put on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was not the complete play, but a shortened version without the scenes involving the lovers. What was not cut however was the language. We rehearsed in the school hall. In those days discipline was not a problem in schools. Teachers were allowed to inflict corporal punishment. (I was mortified the day my legs were slapped.) So those of us who were not rehearsing at any moment sat quietly on the floor, listening to the speeches and watching the young actors and actresses as the play began to take shape. When I think about these times I recall the Fairy’s speech,
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire.
I did not have a speaking part in the play, but had to dress up in long flowing clothes and wear my hair up – I had been letting it grow for nearly two years at this time, against my mother’s better judgment. I was part of the on-stage audience for the play within a play.
I was also involved with the music as a recorder player. We learned several Shakespearean songs and performed them during the course of the play. “Daisies Pied”, “Where the bee sucks”, “Come unto these Yellow Sands”, “Blow, blow thou winter’s wind” and “This England” all featured in the entertainment.
Commemorative stamps were issued for the quatercentenary in 1964 as philatelists probably know. It was an important year in England. The next important Shakespearean anniversary will be in 2016. There is a lot planned starting in 2014.
As far as I remember, the play I went to see in Regents Park open-air theatre a few years later was also a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Watching a play outside was a new experience for me. This was a school trip. I think the weather stayed fine for us and not too hot.
The only other time I have watched Shakespeare in the open-air was at an evening performance in a village near where my husband and I used to live. We arrived early and were asked whether we had brought blankets as the summer night would become chilly before the end of the play. It had not occurred to us, but we had time to return home for something warm and still be in time for the beginning of the play.
I remember that Falstaff was a character in the play. My husband is sure it was The Merry Wives of Windsor. While researching this piece I have discovered that the expression “What the dickens” is used in this play. So I have some more material for my other blog and can tell my readers that it predates the well-known writer of that name (1812-1870) by over two centuries!