Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘William Shakespeare’

Literature in Britain Today

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th March, 2017

j-k-rowlingrsl-logoLiterature does not enjoy the same status in Britain as it does just over the Channel in France, for example. Maybe that partly explains why politicians are far more eager to talk about football in public than about books. Yet a new survey published by the Royal Society for Literature (RSL) this week suggests that three quarters of the British public does read literature (they were allowed to define for themselves what is meant by “literature”) and a significant proportion would like to be able to read more. More women than men consume literature, as apparently do white British rather than ethnic minorities; the fact that more highly educated Brits read more than those with minimal qualifications is hardly surprising. The most common reason given for not reading more is lack of time, though some people said they wished books were cheaper — a problematic response for the RSL as writers need to be able to make a decent living if literature is going to continue to be produced. In reality, according to an earlier survey carried out for the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) writers’ annual incomes have fallen in recent years, to an average of just £11,000. The general public is more aware that a few authors such as J.K.Rowling earn millions, which is the exception rather than the rule. Interestingly, Harry Potter’s creator figured third behind Shakespeare and Dickens in the list of authors cited by respondents to the RSL survey as being “literature”. Otherwise that list of writers was encouraging eclectic, including a sizable proportion of foreign writers. But for me the single most encouraging thing about the RSL survey’s findings was that far from reducing people’s interest in reading literature, using the Internet seems to stimulate it.


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Crystal Clear on Language and Literature

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd July, 2013

David CrystalWhen I was a boy there were two types of English: British and American. In England there was an attempt to wipe out regional accents and dialects (as a Lancashire lad, I was given elocution lessons, to speak all BBC. Shudder). And in Wales, where I spent a lot of weekends and holidays, there was an attempt to wipe out Welsh too. How times have changed! Over the past four decades or so a whole family of Englishes has developed round the world, from Jamaican to Singlish, and many more in between, and even the BBC these days celebrates regional and ethnic diversity. This subject was inevitably touched on by Professor David Crystal, when he gave the opening lecture to a week of studies for translators and people involved in the publishing industry at Birkbeck College today. I draw heavily on his English as a Global Language (Cambridge University Press, 2003) in the relevant module of my own Humanities course at SOAS, and I have enjoyed watching videos of some of his lectures. So it was a great pleasure to see him perform in the flesh — and perform he does, seated on a high metal backed chair, rather like the 1960s/1970s Irish comedian Dave Allan, sparkling in his fluency, playful and witty. His lecture was entitled “Language -blank- Literature” and he used well-chosen extracts from the works of William Shakespeare, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard to illustrate how writers can bend and break the rules of English (having first grounded themselves fully in the language). He naturally also paid homage to James Joyce. I asked him in the Q&A afterwards how he could reconcile precision with intelligibility, citing the jargon of Brussels Euro-speak — an English laden with foreign borrowings and obscure terminology that is alienating to most ordinary Brits. And I say that as someone who is deeply pro-European. Prof Crystal replied that what was needed is something like the Plain English campaign that has resulted positively in the UK in making HMRC and others phrase forms and letters in ways that make sense to any man or woman in the street, more user-friendly. At the reception after the lecture — kindly sponsored by Europe House — he (and therefore subsequently I) was informed that there is such a group or movement already in existence, called “Clarity”. I shall investigate!


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Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 28th May, 2013

EuripidesaodThe ancient Greek tragedian Euripides (c484BC-c406BC) was a prolific writer with a distinctly political bent and he was composing his dramas during a period of outstanding achievements — but also risks — for his home-state, Athens. We know that one of his most forceful serial works was the Trojan Trilogy, though only the final part, The Trojan Women, survives. However, last year, the Brighton-based theatre company Actors of Dionysus (aod) performed an imaginatively reconstructed version of the first play of the trilogy, Alexandros, reworked and directed by David Stuttard, at Europe House, the headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament’s representations in London. This evening, David and his colleagues from aod completed the resurrection with a menacingly staged reading (by torchlight) of a piece that took the few surviving fragments of the second play of the trilogy, Palamedes, and worked them into a coherent whole, again at Europe House. The scene of the action in Palamedes  is a Greek army camp, well into the long siege of Troy. The area is blanketed by fog (effectively reproduced in the performance space by having all the lights turned off); the general whose name is the title of the play is stitched up in a story employing many of the themes that would become classic in drama, through William Shakespeare and beyond: jealousy, vengeance and betrayal, foremost. The sense of foreboding was admirably intensified by a dissonant musical score by Hannah Quinn, played very softly, with the aid of a laptop computer. The company aod — currently celebrating its 20th anniversary — has ambitious plans for the future, including performances of MedeaHelen and Lysisrata next year and the complete Trojan trilogy in 2015.


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London Olympics: Not Just about Sport

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th January, 2012

I’ve have always had zero interest in sport, in fact a minus interest. At school I was able to get out of football and rugby in winter because I am so short-sighted, and in summer acute hayfever kept me off the cricket pitch. Instead I spent many a happy afternoon slumped in one of the less uncomfortable chairs in the school library, devouring English and French novels, history, biography and above all geography, especially atlases. The world and its countries were a never ending source of fascination to me and remain so to this day. And that is partly why I can raise a tiny bit of enthusiasm for the London Olympics, which will be taking place not so very far from my home in East London this summer. Not for the events themselves, of course, about which I don’t care two hoots. I would never have dreamt of applying for any of those tickets that people have been salivating and fighting over and I don’t have a television with which to waste countless hours watching the Games either. No, it’s the 205 competing nations at the Olympics and Paralympics which intrigue me — 12 more than there are members of the United Nations! — and I look forward to our city being thronged with even more exotic people than usual. But if truth be told, the main reason I am happy the Olympics are coming to town is because of the parallel Cultural Olympiad. When the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the IOC he made sure that each host city and nation would use the opportunity to draw parallels in excellence and achievement in the Arts as well as in sport, and that the events should be an occasion for attracting global artistic talent. That the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad is already doing in spades. Highlights this month include the opening of David Hockney’s ‘The Bigger Picture’ at the Royal Academy and this summer there will be the World Shakespeare Festival taking place in venues all over the country, during which all 37 of the bard’s plays will be performed — in 37 different languages! Over a thousand events in all are scheduled, and unlike the Games themselves, many of these cultural events will be free, including a spectacular River of Music in July, with pop and world music concerts held on six giant stages at iconic locations along the River Thames.


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Murder Most Foul

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 6th September, 2008

Why are the British so addicted to murder mysteries? I confess that I am as hooked as the rest. At school, I devoured the entire oeuvre of Agatha Christie, alongside the more acceptable blood and guts of William Shakespeare. Having an appalling memory for plot, I can still watch a Hercule Poirot as if the story were totally fresh. And Midsomer Murders is the one TV programme I watch regularly, besides Newsnight and Have I Got News for You.

This evening, for the first time, I attended a Murder Mystery Evening, courtesy of Beckenham Liberal Democrats. The murder story’s title was ‘The Victim in the Vestry’, and the location for the event was most appropriately the Parish Rooms in Bromley. The Master of Ceremonies was Michael Chuter, who is a dab hand at these evenings. I admit I failed to work out the villain of the piece, despite several clever clues (and not a few red herrings). I know I would go back for more. And I’m still no nearer understanding why what in reality is a horrible crime is in imaginative terms so utterly entrancing.

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