Don's diary

March 7, 1997

Tuesday. The week, like the semester, is dominated by Shakespeare. I begin teaching a module called "The Shakespeare Phenomenon" which considers the place of Shakespeare in late 20th century culture.

There is considerable contemporary interest in the phenomenon and I receive a regular supply of material on email from the United States following a lecturing visit to California last autumn. We consider why an advertisement for tea can use a speech from Richard II, yet change the final words from "this England" to "this Britain"; we observe a film that quotes a speech from Shylock to great effect, but in fact contrives this by weaving in a totally different speech from Antonio; we look at the marketing of the BBC Animated Tales; and we set up our work for the week to come. The task is simply to collect examples of the use of "Shakespeare" and to attempt to classify them.

Wednesday. The day starts with an item on BBC Radio 4's Today, in which it is claimed that in their youth Slobodan Milosevic and his wife were "just like Romeo and Juliet": and this from a Serb contemporary!

In my enthusiasm in teaching this morning, I drop my Shakespeare teapot. This is not a teapot at all, because it says on the base "this item is for decorative purposes only and is not to be used as a teapot". I have broken the lid, which is Shakespeare's head, and need to scour the house to find glue to hold Shakespeare together just as he, allegedly, brings peace and harmony to the world through his own cohesive properties.

Two children, brought into the seminar because it is half term, get excited about Shakespeare in the Just William series and in Carry On Teacher (which includes Romeo and Juliet as a school play): they give me precise details of where I can get the relevant Richmal Crompton books and buy the Carry On videos: it is good to know I am pitching my work at honours degree level.

Thursday. The day before the release of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet I decide to disallow reviews of the film in my diary as too obvious. In the evening I see an advert for chocolates that features two lovers in front of a flickering fire with a soundtrack from Peggy Lee's "Fever" - the verse beginning "Romeo he loved his Juliet". I am amazed how frequently Romeo and Juliet are cited as patterns of love, rarely with the sense that their fate was tragic.

Friday. Valentine's Day. On what turns out to be a bumper day, I change my rules on Branagh to allow non-print reviews and other material. There are interesting interviews on Radio 4 with Sir Peter Hall and Simon Rose on Hamlet. Some students bring me a copy of the poster that urges the public to "Read the Chatto & Windus Book", and includes the website address (very little here, except some pictures and an advertisement). I have not the heart to check on how many Valentine's messages refer to R&J, but I hope somebody will. I do notice, in passing, that The Guardian has a message "Shakespeare loves pamplemousse". TFI Friday includes a clip from the cartoon Scoobie or not Scoobie.

Saturday. Radio 4'Breakaway includes a feature on Verona, "romance in the city of Romeo and Juliet". There are sackfuls of letters for Juliet and she has "her" own secretariat: I switch off. There is a television programme on the Branagh Hamlet, The Readiness is All. I remember a similar BBC2 programme at the release of his Much Ado About Nothing. The Dead Poets' Society, which includes another Shakespeare school play, is on ITV, and Branagh's Henry V on Sky Movies Gold (which I don't have). "Slings and Arrows" features in a speech by Montgomery Burns in The Simpsons. Leslie Phillips appears as Falstaff on National Lottery Live, and says he wants to play King Lear.

Sunday. Helen Mirren appears among the quotations of the week in The Independent on Sunday, saying to Ruby Wax: "When you do Shakespeare they always think you're intelligent because they think you know what you're saying." "Hale & Pace DO Shakespeare" says the trailer: the reality is a weak skit on "To be or not to be" complete with doublet and hose and lute music. West Side Story is on Sky Movies Gold (which I still do not have).

Monday. We receive advance publicity for From a Jack to a King, a musical based on Macbeth by Bob Carlton, who wrote Return to the Forbidden Planet. "Bob Carlton puts the songs back in Shakespeare's Macbeth returning it to its original glory". I start setting up a website for the Shakespeare Phenomenon and invite contributions and comments on email: my address is

Tomorrow (and tomorrow and tomorrow) will reveal how the students' collections for the week match my own.

Principal lecturer in cultural studies, King Alfred's College, Winchester.

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