Hello, I’m Dr. Hannah Crawforth, I am a senior lecturer in Early Modern Literature at King’s College London where I teach Shakespeare and his contemporaries. I’ve recently co-written a book called Shakespeare in London with Jennifer Young and Sarah Dustagheer, and the book explores Shakespeare’s relationship to the city in which he lived and worked, tracing certain connections between his plays and the places in which he was living. I’m also involved in the London Shakespeare Centre and its commemorations for Shakespeare400 happening this year to mark 400 years since Shakespeare died. This can all be seen on the website Shakespeare400.org. We are having lots of cultural events to mark Shakespeare’s anniversary, including the publication of a book of new poems, which I’ve been involved with editing, creative responses to Shakespeare, and that’s called On Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and that’s published by Bloomsbury.
I think the amazing thing about Shakespeare is that whatever situation you find yourself in or think about, Shakespeare has been there before you and he’s thought about it, and he’s written something about it, and it could be a line or a scene or an entire play that sums up your situation; any aspect of the human condition: triumph, disaster, joy, despair, he will have something to say about it. For example, a couple of days ago I had an email exchange with a friend about a series of problems I’d had and he came back instantly with a line from Hamlet, which was: “When our sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions” and that seemed to sum it all up instantly and brilliantly. So when I think of Shakespeare I think of another writer, I think of the 18th century poet Alexander Pope, who had this wonderful phrase, “What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed,” meaning “Here’s an idea that a lot of people have had through the centuries but no one has managed to put it in words quite so well” and I think that’s true of Shakespeare in countless situations.
Blair Worden (Standard British accent)
To me there’s something extraordinary about the power of somebody in a society, a civilization, so remote from our own being able to speak to us across the centuries in ways that matter for our experience now, that enable us to understand ourselves better, or to recognize points about ourselves. If you look at other writers of his time – Ben Jonson, even Marlowe, John Marston, George Chapman, Philip Massinger, say – I mean, they’re remarkable writers and there’s a great deal that we can still respond to, but all the time when we watch them we think this is somebody of the late 16th or early 17th century, and that’s the world from which they speak to us, and we’re interested and we draw what we can from them, but they’re not our contemporary. You remember Jan Kott wrote a book called Shakespeare Our Contemporary – actually, I think not a very good book, but! – because there is that sense that he’s here for us now, and he can, through his speeches, pierce through our defences, our attitudes, and reach our innermost experiences: pain, anxiety, happiness, bliss, love and so on.