I am a sucker for books about Shakespeare, and almost always devour them alacrity, so I was excited to read Dominic Dromgoole’s memoir, Will & Me: How Shakespeare Took Over My Life.
At the time of the book’s 2006 publication, Dromgoole was the new artistic director of the Globe Theater in London, so the book says nothing of that. Nor does it mention his wife and children (which he explains in an afterword). It is all about how Shakespeare shaped his life, from earliest childhood into his forties.
It is a memoir of Dromgoole’s life, and I loved most of it (and was quite jealous at times), though much of it assumed far more interest on my part in his life than in Shakespeare and his works. I would have liked it better if it had been half the length, but parts of it were thoroughly entertaining, even at times enthralling. I had to agree, early in the book, when he wrote, “Shakespeare’s gift was that, however preposterous the situation, he makes you care for every one of his characters” (p. 32).
And I was excited when he answered a question I have long had. Since so much of my enjoyment of Shakespeare is the beauty and power of his language, phrasing, and timing, I have wondered: why is Shakespeare performed and enjoyed, around the world, in other languages? What is the appeal? Dromgoole writes,
Performing Shakespeare in a foreign language is liberating. There is none of the hegemony of the iambic foot. No schoolteacher or drama critic or voice coach or Peter Hall figure standing over the production saying, ‘No! No! No! That is not the way you say it!’ They can just act out the emotional and political heart of each scene, play it clean and hard, without sounding like they’ve got a cucumber up their arses, or a naysayer over their shoulders.
It is equally releasing to watch in a foreign language. You watch the dreamscape more closely, without worrying about each verbal chime. The story, the myth elements, the dynamics of the relationships, the iconic nature of the plastic elements all come to the fore. . . . The strength of the underpinning beneath all Shakespeare’s work is enhanced when you see its magic stealing over people in a different language. What we love most–the texture, the cadence and the wit–is only half the story (pp. 172-173).
It makes me want to experience it for myself.
I enjoyed the many insights into Shakespeare’s life and works, as well as the panoramic view Will & Me gave of Shakespearean studies and theater, at least in the latter part of the twentieth century. For that reason, I’m glad I read it.