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Shakespeare: The Play’s the Thing

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He understands the personal better than a shrink and the political better than a pundit. He explains it all better than a sage. An Open celebration of the world’s greatest storyteller

THERE IS NOTHING new to say about Shakespeare. But 2016 marks the 400th year of Shakespeare’s death (23 April) and once more we will realise that he is quite simply the greatest playwright. And he is ‘great’ not because of the words he wrote with his quill, but how they have passed from the pages of literature into the parlance of the everyday. It would be a disservice to think of him as a transcendent godlike figure whose words are set in stone. The most interesting adaptations of his work use him as a wellspring and muse and not as a prescription or diktat.

We remember him well when we acknowledge our personal relationship with him. Most of us first met him in school. We studied the abridged plotlines of his plays in junior school and if we were lucky, we read his plays in their entirety in our senior years. At that time, we might have railed against his ‘archaic’ language, his confusing plots and confounded innuendoes. We would have sniggered at his double meanings and crammed his passages at exam time. But decades later, lines from his works still slip off the tongue, with the familiarity of a bedtime story and the significance of a prayer. We recollect his words, because quite simply, he said it best. We might have learnt him by rote as children but those same lines give us meaning on a meaningless day.

Even after four centuries, it is impossible to read his work and not be struck by how he makes sense of it all—the workings of the mind, the messiness of relationships, the machinations of the state, the vagaries of fortune. He understands the personal better than a shrink and the political better than a pundit. He explains it all better than a sage.

We asked leading authors their favourite lines from Shakespeare and they shot them out, because he has had an impact—both big and small—on all of them. MJ Akbar writes about his own decades-long relationship with Macbeth and the significance of the play.

Shakespeare might be the greatest figure produced by England, but in India he has been reimagined in splendid ways. On stage, Rajat Kapoor has made Shakespeare relevant and resonant, not through his text, but via the essence of his work.

India’s reimaginings of Shakespeare, on stage and on-screen, are some of the finest the world over, says the preeminent Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro, who humanises the playwright by chronicling different years in his life.

Finally, we give you a truly contemporary Shakespeare play, one that is set in contemporary Delhi, by Jug and Bunny Suraiya. Its roots go back 400 years, but is relevant now. And that is the beauty of The Bard—he is for now and forever.