Wednesday 28 April 2010

Newsflash - Shakespeare was Welsh

Fellow Shakespeare enthusiast John Gilheany, a tireless denizen of Hafal’s own Grub Street - I mean our industrious media and publications department - presently working on a Young People’s Information Hub (see the fruits of his labour in the Autumn via Hafal’s website), draws my attention to a new book Shakespeare and Wales exploring Welsh connections in the life and works of the Bard of Avon (there are two anglicised Welsh words for starters). Apparently he may have had a Welsh granny, thus qualifying to play for God's Own Country under WRU rules, and it’s certainly true that there is quite a lot about the Welsh in the plays. But I’m not at all sure that Shakespeare had a respectful view of the Welsh. I have a personal insight having once played the “Welsh Captain” in Richard II, appearing in one brief scene where I refuse to assist the embattled king because the star signs aren’t right (my acting career was mainly downhill after that but for the record I dragged up to play Mrs Drudge in Stoppard’s “Real Inspector Hound” and dragged up again to play the Archbishop of Canterbury in Gordon Daviot’s “Richard of Bordeaux” – that’s Richard II again coincidentally). Superstition and unreliability also characterise Owen Glendower in Henry IVi so a worrying theme may be detected though Fluellen in Henry V is valiant enough. Sir Hugh Evans in Merry Wives of Windsor is a risible parson with a silly Welsh accent. All these Welsh characters are sent up for their excessively colourful turns of phrase. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that WS saw the Welsh about town in Tudor London as objects of derision not least for their odd use of English. But nobody should get too upset about that: there is a tradition of Celts using flamboyant English with a relish which the English themselves would not characteristically employ – James Joyce and Dylan Thomas come to mind, both extraordinarily respected but also often sent up for their unrestrained (unenglish?) use of words.