Shakespeare's birthday celebrated in style

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Professor Laurence Wright caused some raised eyebrows with his interpretation of Hamlet’s famous ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy during his Shakespeare Birthday Lecture at Rhodes University's Eden Grove on Wednesday 23 April.

In his talk, entitled Too much i’ the sun: Hamlet and the form of the humanities, he suggested that, contrary to what most people think, the speech is “not about a young man wondering whether to commit suicide.

It’s a lament for the other ‘selves’ that Hamlet is prevented from being because of the circumstances in which he finds himself - courtesy of his uncle Claudius and his mother Gertrude.

Wright holds that Hamlet is saying "if I can’t be that, how can I be?’”

As Wright pointed out, the previous soliloquy ends on a high, with the line ‘The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king’ and Hamlet is full of action and resolve.

“Why would he be contemplating suicide only three minutes of stage time later? It doesn’t make sense,” Wright said.

The lecture gave rise to some lively discussion.

After the lecture Wright said “I wanted to give people some intellectual bearings so that, if they reread the play, they might see it slightly differently. There’s no harm in upsetting our habitual ways of interpreting things.”

23 April is recognised worldwide as Shakespeare’s birthday, making 2014 his 450th.

The Shakespeare Society of South Africa, of which Wright is Honorary Life President, is part of Rhodes’ Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA) which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

As part of both birthday celebrations, the two institutions held a poster competition for local schoolchildren.

This followed up the recent 'Play in a Day' event held at Rhodes where 50 pupils from seven local high schools workshopped and performed scenes from Macbeth.

Caption: The resounding poster winners were the team from Graeme College.

By: Jayne Morgan

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