By Costas Kadis and Ric Todd
TODAY marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights of all time. It is also UN World English Language Day, chosen because of the extraordinary contribution William Shakespeare made to shaping the modern English language and helping to make it the world’s language.
Where better to celebrate both of these occasions than in Cyprus, where the UK and Cyprus share many strong ties through the English language, culture and education, as products of our common history? Indeed, Shakespeare even set part of Othello on the island, in “a sea port in Cyprus”. For Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Cyprus was not only a place of considerable historical and political significance; it had mythic and symbolic associations by means of which Shakespeare implicitly locates the tragedy in the natural order and hints at a matrix of all the play’s polarities.
Shakespeare’s legacy is without parallel: his works have been translated into more than 100 languages and studied by half the world’s schoolchildren, including here in Cyprus. As one of his contemporaries, Ben Jonson, said: “Shakespeare is not of an age, but for all time.” He lives today in our language, our culture and society — and through his enduring influence on education.
The first major dictionary compiled by Samuel Johnson drew on Shakespeare more than on any other writer. Three thousand new words and phrases all first appeared in print in Shakespeare’s plays. He also pioneered innovative use of grammatical form and structure, including verse without rhymes and superlatives, while the pre-eminence of his plays also did much to standardise spelling and grammar. He gave us uniquely vivid ways in which to express hope and despair, sorrow and rage, love and lust. Even if you’ve never read one of his sonnets or seen a play, you’re likely to have quoted him unwittingly. It’s almost impossible to avoid.
But Shakespeare’s influence is felt far beyond our language. His words, his plots and his characters continue to inspire much of our culture and wider society. Nelson Mandela, while a prisoner on Robben Island, cherished a quote from Julius Caesar which said, “Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant never taste of death but once.”
Shakespeare’s influence is everywhere, from Dickens and Goethe to Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Brahms; from West Side Story to the Hamlet-inspired title of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, and Alfred Hitchcock’s evocative spy thriller, North by Northwest. His original plays continue to entertain millions: from school halls across the world to the overnight queues as hundreds scrambled to see Benedict Cumberbatch playing Hamlet at London’s Barbican last year. When Mumford and Sons named their album ‘Sigh No More’, they were borrowing a phrase from Much Ado About Nothing, and Iron Maiden’s song ‘Where Eagles Dare’ is based on a quote from Richard III.
But perhaps one of the most exciting legacies of Shakespeare is his capacity to educate. As we see from the outreach work of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe, studying and performing Shakespeare can help improve literacy, confidence and wider educational attainment.
In 2016, Britain is inviting you to join us in celebrating the life and legacy of William Shakespeare through a global programme of activities and events, Shakespeare Lives — www.shakespearelives.org, to highlight his enduring influence and extend the use of Shakespeare as an educational resource to advance literacy around the world.
In Cyprus, the British High Commission and the British Council have organised a number of screenings of Shakespeare’s plays and worked with the National Theatre Organisation of Cyprus (THOC) to bring the latest National Theatre (NTLive) performance of As You Like It to Cypriot audiences. Later in the year, we will be organising a theatre competition for schools to bring people from the communities of Cyprus together through Shakespeare.
The Ministry of Education and Culture encourages all activities related to Shakespeare and will promote the following in the school year 2016-2017:
- Teachers of English will be encouraged to integrate activities related to the Shakespearean times and plays in the teaching-learning experience. Students can be encouraged to read and get involved with the spirit and atmosphere of Shakespeare’s time and create modern versions of Shakespearean plays, act out scenes from plays and get involved in putting up a scene (costume, setting, etc). They can also be urged to compare plays or scenes with modern ones.
- Develop modern versions of some scenes / plays;
- Spot and compare modern and Shakespearean vocabulary;
- Develop posters, glogsters, blogs;
- Discussion forums on issues raised in Shakespearean plays;
- Compare other writers with Shakespeare, e.g. morals, social messages, etc.
- School performance within the framework of the School Theatrical Competition. Teachers should be encouraged to put up a theatrical performance related to Shakespearean work.
Beyond his great gift of language, the bringing to life of our history, his ongoing influence on our culture and his ability to educate, there is just the immense power of Shakespeare to inspire. From the most famous love story to the greatest tragedy; from the most powerful fantasy to the wittiest comedy; and from the most memorable speeches to his many legendary characters, in William Shakespeare we have one man whose vast imagination, boundless creativity and instinct for humanity encompasses the whole of the human experience as no one has before or since.
Join us in this unique opportunity to celebrate the life and legacy of this man; ensuring that, as he put it, “All the world’s a stage” and that through his legacy, truly, Shakespeare lives.
Costas Kadis is the Minister of Education and Culture of Cyprus and Ric Todd is the British High Commissioner in Nicosia