To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this weekend, we have asked local luminaries to share their thoughts on the bard and whether they enjoyed studying his plays and sonnets in their salad days - or if they just found his work all much ado about nothing
‘Shakespeare gives a unique insight into human nature’
“I went to St Malachy’s College from 1975 to 1982. In Third Year we studied Macbeth and it was wonderful. We had a great drama teacher who I think really brought it to life for me.
“I always remember the famous line: ‘Don’t be afraid, Macbeth. No man born from a woman will ever defeat you.’ And then it turns out that the guy who did kill him was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped”. I remember that trick. The play was dramatic and clever.
“I studied Henry V for O level, and later on in school, I also starred in - and when I say starred in, I had three lines in Much Ado About Nothing. I played the Sexton.
“It was one of the comedies, but I didn’t think it was very funny, I don’t remember any laughs! However it could just have been the way we did it.
“The humour was off its time too. You have to remember it was 400 years ago.
“I’m working on something for the BBC’s The Arts Show asking whether or not Shakespeare was anti-Irish, because in Henry V he had an Irish character called Macmorris, who said bad things and wanted to cut people’s throats, and some people said it was very stereotypical.
“A Shakespeare expert that we spoke to said that he would have used stereotypes that were in existence anyway, he would have thrown lots of old jokes and bits and pieces in. He was basically a modern comedian like everybody else, in that he steals stuff, and draws on stereotypes, and not every single word that comes from his own mouth or from his own pen is absolutely entirely original. He would have drawn on stereotypes and things like that, which is kind of interesting.
“What I would say to people is that Shakespeare is worth the effort. He gives a truly unique insight into human nature and does it very, very cleverly. He was clearly a very intelligent man.
“He knew how to play to the gallery and that was the mark of a man who knew his audience and how to get a reaction. The fact that his work can survive 400 years is pretty remarkable.”
TIM MCGARRY, COMEDIAN AND ACTOR
‘Out damned spot!’
Before I knew anything about the bard, I was with my parents on a visit to a greatly respected high-ranking Dublin clergyman who had a pet terrier.
Our dinner was served on a mahogany table in a wood-panelled rectory dining-room where, enticed by the aroma of roast beef and gravy, the dog whined mournfully at our feet.
When the terrier started to paw at our legs the revered reverend commanded “Out damned spot!”
It was the less-liberal early 1960s in Ireland and I was hugely dismayed to hear a clergyman swearing!
I later discovered that the dog was called Spot and that the clergyman’s edict was an iconic quote from Lady Macbeth.
NEWS LETTER COLUMNIST THE ROAMER
‘Battles and murder scenes were much more my thing’
“Like most people of my generation, Shakespeare was on the school curriculum for O Level, and as well as studying his Sonnets it was Macbeth for my year.
“I am really glad it was the Scottish Play as I was more of a tomboy and the scenes of battles and murder were much more my thing than a love story so it held my interest.
“I really do not remember an awful lot about the teaching of Shakespeare, however I do remember my class going to see the Roman Polanski film version. “Looking back on it now that was a rather strange thing for my school to do as I believe it was nearly getting an X certificate, but with a few changes to the script the film then received a AA (over 14s) rating.
“However my abiding memory of Macbeth was helping my older brother learn his lines as he was playing the part of the Messenger in his school’s production of the play, and I can still remember all his lines today.”
PAMELA BALLANTINE, BROADCASTER
‘It’s only later in life that I’ve come to appreciate Shakespeare’
“After passing my 11+, I went to the local secondary school where my focus was sport. Surprisingly it was more about football than boxing in those days and I had little interest in English or Shakespeare for that matter.
“It’s only in later life that I’ve begun to appreciate Shakespeare’s genius as I hate to admit it, but I found his work quite boring when I was younger.
“The old romantic in me loves the tragedy of Romeo & Juliet, but my favourite quote is ‘All the world’s a stage’, from As You Like It, as I think of it in my own terms when the boxing ring was my stage.
“My favourite sonnet is 18, as my wife Cheryl and I married in May, and I would often say it to her: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.’”
WAYNE MCCULLOUGH, FORMER WBC WORLD BOXING CHAMPION
‘To thine own self be true’
“I studied English to A level, so there was plenty of exposure to Shakespeare right from the start. The first play we studied was Merchant of Venice and the language was a complete revelation.
“I admit I didn’t fully appreciate the bard’s writing at school - that was more about me than him! My English teacher, Mr Alcorn, did get very excited about Anthony and Cleopatra, which rubbed off on us all. That remains my favourite work - war, drama and a passionate love story!
“The Shakespearean quote I use most is from Hamlet - ‘To thine own self be true’ - it’s how I try to live my life.
LOCAL CHEF PAULA MCINTYRE
‘Shakespeare is still so relevant today’
“At school we did As You Like It and I loathed it - I got whacked more than once for not paying attention to Shakespeare and rejecting it as awful. The language, in many respects, was impenetrable to a 14-year-old boy, it’s very difficult for most of us at that age.
“But of course I’ve grown to love some Shakespeare plays as I’ve got older, and my favourite would be Julius Caesar, particularly the first half is probably as great a drama as there is on this earth.
“One of my favourite speeches is by Mark Anthony in Julius Caesar: ‘Friends, Romans, and countrymen...’, when I first saw it as a 30-year-old, it sent shivers up my spine. The second act goes into the battles and loses its momentum, but the first act is just superb.
“And the thing about the whole first act of Julius Caesar is that it’s permeated with quotes you knew, but didn’t know were Shakespeare. It’s just amazing that all these phrases have sunk into our language.
“I think Shakespeare is still so relevant today, he wouldn’t be getting done all over the world, in a multiple sense, if he wasn’t saying incredible things about the nature of our human condition.”
PLAYWRIGHT MARTIN LYNCH
‘Lady Macbeth comes across as a strong female character’
“I studied Macbeth for O Level when I was at Friend’s School in Lisburn - our teacher was Philip Orr.
“I remember going to the Lyric and watching Stella McCusker play Lady Macbeth in the early 80s. Little did I know that I would be a playwright, because I certainly couldn’t understand Shakespeare! It seemed really obscure to me.
“The one thing I loved about Macbeth was obviously Lady Macbeth.
The passage where she says, ‘Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.’ - there was sort of a whole sexy thing going on with her, and she came across as this really ambitious character, a strong female.
“Then we did King Lear for A Level, and it had the two really evil daughters, they were like something out of Grimm’s Fairytales.”
PLAYWRIGHT ROSEMARIE JENKINSON (whose play Here Comes The Night opens at the Lyric this weekend)