Where there's a Will there's a free-for-all

SOMEWHERE in the world the curtain rises on a Shakespeare production every 12 minutes. At least, so it was claimed in The Irresistible Rise of William Shakespeare (BBC 2), itself the curtain-raising programme of 'Bard on the Box' - a celebratory festival of Shakespeariana which seems determined to put a dent in the playwright's batting average. In a two- month season of documentaries, films, animations and readings there will be only one new production of a Shakespeare play. You can have Mel Gibson as the Dane (Mad Max, the prequel), Prue Leith cooking Elizabethan food, animated Shakespeare, plays in rehearsal and celebrities like Damon Hill and Eartha Kitt reading appropriate passages - but you won't get much Shakespeare that hasn't already been cut up into small pieces just in case you choke.

It may be wise not to overdo the indignation about this fact. After all, the BBC's last excursion into large-scale Bardic obeisance proved a very mixed blessing indeed. Shakespeare presented in a spirit of dull piety may well be worse than no Shakespeare at all. Besides, one of the glories of the poet is the penumbra of excited intelligence that surrounds him, the sense of minds working through history upon the same object and, in doing so, revealing their own desires.

The title of Sunday night's opener rather suggested that this long mastery of our literary imaginations might be a protection racket - Shakespeare as the front man for the lit-crit gang, sustained in power by a mixture of swooning flattery and self-interest. If you wanted to resist you were even supplied with good company at the beginning - Wittgenstein complaining that 'he is not true to life' and George Bernard Shaw moaning, with Fabian earnestness, that 'his pregnant observations of life are not co- ordinated into any philosophy'. Sure he can write plays, but can he do pamphlets?

Coleridge wrote more beautifully of Shakespeare that his greatness lay in the fact that 'he felt, and made others feel, on subjects no way connected with himself, except by force of contemplation and that sublime faculty by which a great mind becomes that which it meditates on'. What's fine about that remark is the way that it elides the difference between emotion ('felt') and intellect ('force of contemplation'), seeing that the works are, above all, thought in play. It was reassuring to hear Adrian Noble restate this principle (he talked of 'keeping the audience's intelligence stimulated constantly') right at the beginning of Shakespeare Laboratory (BBC 2), a workshop on two scenes from Measure for Measure.

Noble also reminded you that Shakespeare was 'a very pragmatic artist, a very practical fellow' and his close working on the scenes showed how 'simple' decisions about where people should stand actually involved crucial adjustments to the emotional chemistry.

The rehearsal, in truth, was slightly better than the finished product - worrying at the knots in ways that revealed the intricacy of Shakespeare's craft, demonstrating the text's astonishing capacity to absorb detail of interpretation. After some time working on the encounter between Isabella and Claudio (a difficult scene anyway for audiences who take a more relaxed view of virginity) you were shown the printed dialogue, to see with a little shock that the opposed desires of the two speakers actually make a pattern on the page: Isabella's wordy prevarications against Claudio's short, stabbing questions.

This is much closer to literary criticism than television often gets, which suggests that we should bear the celebrity endorsements with some fortitude and be grateful for what we get.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing
    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower