I’ve been listening to a lot of Podcasts at work lately but I don’t like to listen to the grown-up ones. I tend to listen on my way to and from work and during the quieter times in the office. So, they need to be light and not distract me from what I’m doing. Obviously, film podcasts are up there for my listening pleasure and I’ve just started getting into a new one. I plan on talking about that in-depth later this week but, for now, a recent episode has inspired me for this TBT post. In one episode, Nish Kumar (British comedian interested in politics and social commentary. Also, one of my weird comedy crushes but enough of that) was talking about how he can’t watch Woody Allen movies any more. And I get it. I’ve read Dylan Farrow’s letter and I get it. The allegations prove that Allen is not a nice man but how far do we tie up a person with their art? Do the awful things he’s done suddenly mean that Annie Hall isn’t a good film? It’s a question I’ve continually asked myself and I have no answer. But it came to my mind when I decided to finally watch Carnage this week. I’d forgotten who directed it so when the name Roman Polanski came up on the screen I paused the film. Ultimately, I decided that watching the film wasn’t me letting him off. But I still felt weird about it. But this isn’t the place to get into this.
Dear William Shakespeare,
I think the first time I can remember studying you in any depth was in year 8. So I would have been about 12/13 years old if my maths is any good. We were focusing on Macbeth and, in particular, the witches speech. We had to come up with our own version or something. I’m not entirely sure what the point of studying you at that time was but I was definitely drawn in by the whole witch and magic vibe that you were giving off. So, you could say, I’ve loved you from the beginning. And it’s a love that has continued with every new play I have discovered and with every play that I have revisited. With every sonnet I’ve analysed. With every play I’ve watched or film adaptation I’ve seen. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare it to Romeo and Juliet’s because we all know how stupid that whole relationship was but I’d happily compare it to Nerissa and Gratiano (one of the most underappreciated but most adorable romances in your plays).
And I could go on and on about why I loved you and what you mean to me. I could tell you which my favourite plays are. Question why I still find myself having to reassure people who you aren’t too difficult or the language is too hard to understand. I could thank you for the many ways in which you’ve changed our language or our culture. How you’ve remained relevant for such a long time and remain one of the key figures in English literature. I could revisit some of the times I’ve watched you on stage. Name drop Michael Sheen again and talk about how great an experience it was to watch him play Hamlet on stage. How watching Tom Hiddleston play Coriolanus whilst sitting next to a non-Shakespearean friend was both an uplifting and totally anxiety-filled experience. I could go on and on about how wonderful you are. But I won’t.
Instead, because I might not get this chance again, I want to ask you a question. What’s with all the cross-dressing, dude? I mean, was it really that funny to have so many of your characters dress up in someone else’s clothes and be mistaken for someone else? Was it really worth the cheap laughs to have The Merchant of Venice end on a pointless case of women dressing as men again? It undervalues the rest of the narrative to have that scene at the end where the two women trick their new husbands into giving them their rings. I was with you when Portia was using the disguise to school a bunch of men even if it does raise some questions. It was still a power move. But then the thing about the rings? Unnecessary. Portia is one of the most irritating women in you plays and it’s because she plays that stupid game. And don’t even get me started on Rosalind.
Was the taste in humour so unsophisticated in your day that all it took was one women to dress up as a man to create the best comedy of all time? Imagine what your audiences would have though of Mrs Brown’s Boys. They’d bloody love it. But I’m happy that you found something that worked for you. And, maybe, you were making some bold statement about gender and women. Maybe you were allowing these women to take a significant part in their stories that they would have been unable to do dressed as a man. Maybe. Or maybe it was simply to give the poor young man pretending to be Portia a chance to play a boy for once? Either way. I’m worried about you, man.
Exit, pursued by a bear.