Hello and welcome to the inaugural blog on the Pendley Shakespeare Festival’s dedicated stream.
My name is James Sheldrake and I am the Festival’s rather grandly titled Literary Advisor, but I act in it as well and perform various other functions. Within my purview comes responsibility for maintaining this blog to a high standard, either with my own writings or the writings of others.
Anyhow, this august inauguration has turned my mind to thoughts of Shakespeare and the internet. I’m going to think about the effect the internet would have had or does have on the plays in the next post, but what would Shakespeare the man make of the world wide web?
The first thing to say is that I suspect he’d be fascinated by it. I sometimes think of the stage at the Globe as the Renaissance version of Wikipedia. It’s an “open-source knowledge platform” in that many people’s ideas of history or foreign lands or religion would have been profoundly shaped by what they saw in the theatre. Where else was an illiterate audience-member supposed to brush up on their Wars of the Roses?
I’m not sure he’d have taken to Facebook and Twitter with alacrity. We have no personal writings of his; no lengthy dedications of his plays or letters to colleagues or relatives and he liked to keep himself out of the fray. He seems to have made no special effort to have his plays printed so I’m not even sure he would embrace the world of Kindles and iBooks. Having said that, he did write a sonnet sequence and clearly liked that kind of poetic constraint, so who can say that he wouldn’t have made an art of poetry in 140 characters or fewer?
Regardless of whether he would make use of social networking, Shakespeare was a very up-to-date man in the sense that he had his finger on the pulse of developments. There tend to be two types of written material that had an effect on Shakespeare’s career: those that had been around for decades (the Bible, Lyly’s Grammar, both of which he learned at school) and those that had been around for a matter of months. Dating the plays is a notoriously tricky task, but where things can be matched up fairly accurately, we see Shakespeare reading a new translation of something , for example, and then a play or two later its effect is obvious. So I think Shakespeare would have been in the first wave of private individuals to own a computer, regardless of how much of himself he put online.
The plays, of course, would be very different beasts if written in the age of instant communication, but that’s a story for next time. Until then, fare thee well.