Shakespeare Trumped

It was about a year ago that I first suggested a short retrospective on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

It was an idea inspired by the many press releases coming into my inbox announcing a wide range of events: an outdoor performance of As You Like It where a BBQ is served during the wedding scene, Complete Works:Table Top Shakespeare in which each of Shakespeare’s plays is condensed and presented on a table top using a cast of everyday objects, and a conference on Shakespeare in French—who knew Elsinore could be portrayed as "a blood–soaked bouncy castle"?

On a grander scale, the revered and adored were going to be taking part in a televised Bard-fest that would dislodge the usual programming and have the country collectively glued to the box.

Celebrating the work of the country's greatest playwright by marking the date of his death started to look engaging, even perhaps a little important, something of a cultural milestone like the Queen's Jubilee had been.

That was before Brexit. That was before Trump and the ongoing atrocities of so-called Islamic State and the tragedies in Aleppo—events so disturbing to the natural order of things that earthquakes, droughts, famines and floods which would have captured the front pages were demoted.

In the event, Shakespeare's centenary makes a less significant mark on the timeline of the past year. Perhaps this would have been the case even without those world–changing events. Maybe all those press releases helped build up a hype that I was content to fall for.

Certainly the television extravaganza that was Shakespeare Live! From The RSC failed to bring the nation together.

The likes of David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Benedict Cumberbatch, Roger Allam, national treasures of the stature of the Dames Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Harriet Walter, and the Sirs Ian McKellen and Antony Sher, accompanied by an iridescent host of other household names were not able to beat viewing figures attributed to family favourite Dad’s Army.

The BBC2 repeat of an episode of the sit–com from 1972 attracted 0.2 million more viewers than gave their attention to the RSC's Bard–binge which had 1.3 million viewers on the night. To put this in some kind of context, 14.7 million viewers watched the Diamond Jubilee concert which saw everyone from Cheryl Cole to Alfie Boe sing for the Queen.

I was a little disappointed by the poor turn out for Shakespeare Live! but not entirely surprised as Shakespeare does seem to have been let down by those who have had control of the education syllabus.

Only a few years ago, a YouGov poll reported that one in five Britons have neither ever read nor ever seen any of Shakespeare’s plays in any form.

Last year's ranking poll didn’t offer much solace with Romeo and Juliet as top of the pops but thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio.