I am very worried about this idea of art. . . I think the idea of art kills creativity.

Douglas Noel Adams

In 2011, the Globe Theatre undertook the radical step of playing Shakespeare’s plays in the original pronunciation. The pronunciation of a lot of words like hour, musician, invention, stage, behold have changed markedly over the past 500 years. This means that a lot of rhymes that worked then don’t work when the actors say their lines now. The meaning and puns are warped leading to a problem which Helen Mirren described.

When you do Shakespeare they think you must be intelligent because they think you understand what you are saying.

Helen Mirren

The lack of understanding also changes the way the work gets treated. In the video below there is a case where what sounds like philosophical insight in modern English turns into a bawdy double-entendre joke when said in an Elizabethan accent.

Shakespearean pronunciations

Shakespeare’s plays have survived not because of their intricate plots or deep connection with the human condition but simply because people enjoyed watching them and continue to do so. In India, Vishal Bhardwaj made Indian versions of Macbeth (Maqbool), Othello (Omkara) and Hamlet (Haider). In Japan, the Akira Kurosawa worked with Macbeth (Throne of Blood) and King Lear (Ran). I won’t even go into the number of remakes of Romeo and Juliet, one of which catapulted the young Leonardo DiCaprio in 1996 to worldwide notice.

Movie adaptations of Shakespeare

The problem is that scholarship and criticism which is meant to illuminate these works often stands as a barrier between them. Nowhere have I seen this more than in the realm of classical music which is often considered dull, elitist and unapproachable. This is largely due to the patina of pretension and snobbery it has acquired over the years especially in the age when music had to be live and was hence often restricted to those could afford it. Today, it chokes and gasps for breath from being cossetted in a tuxedo and being forced to sit ramrod in a stiff chair.

If like me, you grew up watching Disney and Tom & Jerry cartoons, the chances are that you are already familiar with a number of pieces of western classical music without being aware of it.

If I meet a friend who is curious but intimidated about western classical music I like to just play this (vaguely familiar) piece called O, Fortuna from the Carmina Burana. If you have about 3 and a half minutes, why not try it out now?

Andre Rieu conducting O,Fortuna by Carl Orf

If you liked that, why not try digging a little deeper, check out what the lyrics mean and what other pieces did those artists play? The internet awaits your touch.

Finally, I’s just like to close with some remarks from my mother. In her younger days, she took many art classes and was active in the cultural scene in Delhi. My coming put an end to that. But she once told me that the thing to understand about art, is that a lot of it is actually nonsense.






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