As a student in English, my cynical thirteen year old self stared at my teacher blankly at the mention of one word, a word we all dreaded to hear; the gargantuan literary great, the monumental maker of words and the prodigious playwright of a proud nation.
Like many of us, I started off as a Shakespeare sceptic and limited him to (how my dad put it) a bunch of 'doths' and 'thous' and characters railing on about self-indulgence, 'woe is me' or 'to be or not to be'. The scripts were given out and it landed with a thud in front of me. In bold, black lettering was Richard III. Oh no, not only Shakespeare but a history! Little, however, did I know that I was about to embark on one of the greatest adventures I ever had. The words of 'Now is the winter…' being uttered for the first time still ring clear in my head; the heaving of my stomach as I felt the inner turmoil of deciphering Richard, was he a Machiavellian hero and his actions justified? Or malcontent master of cunning? Or both?! I was obsessed, I managed to get hold of the Ian McKellen film version and watched, taken aback by the sheer clarity in which I understood what was said. How? What had happened to me? When did this pivotal change take place?
Just a few weeks later, our school offered free tickets to the RSC to see The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I was still reluctant; it was one thing to watch a Shakespeare film but to watch full plays, cramped in a theatre in the same seat for hours. But I overlooked these and as my English teacher said, it's not often you will get free tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company! Life is a strange thing, and never, as I sat in the audience of The Courtyard Theatre, would I have believed that I would be swapping places and actually performing on that stage just a few years later. Fondly enough it happened to be a scene from 'Shrew'. Recently we took part in the RSC open stages showcase and for that I will always be grateful. It is the proudest thing I have ever achieved.
Eventually I did find out what had happened to me. I had been related to. The characters go beyond being fictional; they are not merely figments of imagination but humans. They speak to people as people and what Shakespeare never fails to do is tug the heart strings of each of us. He conveys Jealousy, anger, hate, love passion in a realistic way and presented in the most rich, beautiful dialogue of any writer to have ever lived. I also owe William a thank you. There is a line of a character I have had the privilege to play “no profit grows, where is no pleasure ta'en. In brief, sir, study what you most affect”.
Okay, I will.
Luke Ellis, Age 17, Stow-on-the-Wold