Lead On…

This year would be Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. If he were still alive, his cake would be massive and doing the bumps would take two and a half hours.

Like most writers, I am a huge fan of the majority of Shakespeare’s work. I say the majority as some of the historical ones can be hard work. Speaking of his historical work, when Kenneth Branagh made his film version of “Henry V”, many American cinema-goers didn’t bother seeing it as they hadn’t seen the first 4. Bless.

Of course the reason Shakespeare’s work has stood the test of time is due to the incredible stories, memorable characters and incredible dialogue. He gave us many of the words and phrases we use today. For example, he gave us; “puking”, “silliness”, “new-fangled”, “dead as a doornail”, “laughing stock”, “not slept one wink” and “set my teeth on edge” amongst others. However there is no truth to the fact he also gave us the phrases “Getting jiggy with it”, “LOL” or “Cowabunga”.

Although he wrote over 30 plays (by the way, I’ve written over 30 sitcom scripts but nobody goes to visit MY birthplace!) I’m sure that if Shakespeare pitched some of his ideas today, many television commissioners would either turn them down or want to change them completely. I can imagine the conversation at the meeting:

TV Commissioner: Right then Bill, thanks for coming in. I’ve read through what you sent and I’ve got some notes. Firstly, “Othello”. I like it, but it seems that it’s only the main character who’s black. I think they should ALL be black as it would show diversity will help with our remit. Now, “The Tempest”… well to be honest we are trying to stay away from things that are weather-based. “Macbeth”… it’s okay, bit ‘Game Of Thrones’ but not enough to appeal to our 18-30 target audience. Now, this “Juliet and Romeo” thing – we’ll change it that way around for equality reasons. I like it. I’m thinking Jordan or Sharon Osbourne as Juliet and…. er, where are you going? Don’t leave. We haven’t discussed my idea for “Celebrity Hamlet on Ice”…..!

I have many favourite Shakespeare quotations but one which always sticks in my mind is Propero’s line:

“Let us not burden our remembrances with a heaviness that’s gone”.

The theme of regret or, as here, not wanting to regret anything, runs throughout many of Shakespeare’s plays and it’s something which has become prevalent of late in my own life and those of my friends.

Edith Piaf once famously sang: “Je ne regrette rien” (which doesn’t mean ‘I wish I’d never met Rhian’). But how many people can honestly say they regret nothing. And if they do regret things, is there still time to do anything about it?

I’m not sure if it’s an age thing but many of my friends are suddenly making big life changes. They want to do things now so that they don’t regret not doing them. What stops the rest of us from doing this? Is it a fear of failing? Is it the uncertainty of the unknown? Or do we just not want to leave the security of what we have – despite the fact we might not be happy with it?

I teach courses in both sitcom writing and stand-up comedy. Of late, most of the students on these courses have been people in their thirties and forties who have decided that they want to fulfill an ambition. Some of them are actually very good and one or two have literally given up their day jobs to take it up full time.

Many comedians I know actually gave up their ‘normal’ jobs (doctor, teacher, window-cleaner, accountant etc) to pursue a career in comedy. Most of them don’t regret it. Most.

Of course I’d like to think that the majority of people love what they do and don’t want to change anything. For example I can’t imagine a clown saying: “I just want to run away and join a Mortgage Broker’s.” But if you do have a dream, even a small one, and you think it’s achievable then why not go for it?

I hear the phrase “You only live once” being used much more frequently nowadays. Although some people do use it as an excuse for various immoral activities, the majority see it as a reason to make the most of their lives. I like to see people live to their full potential via whatever means. As Shakespeare said: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”. Which could also be the advertising slogan for Britain’s Got Talent.

Speaking of that awful programme, Simon “I can’t believe I’ve got away with this for so long” Cowell recently said “I don’t like Shakespeare”. Well why would he? It’s original, clever writing which hardly involves anyone from a girl band.

So happy birthday Shakespeare and good luck to all those following their dreams.

{Exits, pursued by a bear}

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About Bennett Arron

Stand-Up Comedian, Award-Winning Writer, Presenter, BAFTA-Shortlisted Director, Identity Theft Expert, ex Disco Dancer. "Genuinely original and funny" The Times "Hilarious... clever wit... razor sharp" The Standard "A Welsh Seinfeld" The Guardian
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