Philomena Cunk on Shakespeare

Apparently Ms Cunk is a regular arts correspondent on Charlie Booker’s Weekly wipe, and now I’m going to hunt out her work, because she was brilliant in a one off special last week, interviewing experts on the Bard.

She knew nothing about Shakespeare’s childhood, but he must have had one, and his education must have been easier than ours because he didn’t have to learn Shakespeare.

She claimed to know nothing about him before she was asked to do the programme on him, and claimed Romeo and Juliet was one o the best romances pre-Dirty Dancing. But when she found out the young lovers died she was incredulous and noted a spoiler alert for viewers.

She asked the actor Simon Russell Beale to read the ‘bee’s speech’, ie the monologue from Hamlet, and while he was engrossed she peeled and ate a banana, and flicked through her phone. She also asked him if he had to learn the whole play or just the famous bits.

MY favourite moment came when she asked a conservator how we get sound into the ink so we can hear the words in our head. She donned some gloves she had brought to handle the first folio, but when told she couldn’t use them, as they were more likely to cause damage, she argued, asking if they would treat Simon Schama the same. They would.

But her sheer genius was in her constant references to Shakespeare talking incomprehensible rubbish. She compared his history plays with Liam Neeson’s film ‘Taken’. She preferred this because Neeson’s character just gets on and does things instead of waffling all the time, and this made me think about how we have changed. Back in Shakespeare’s time, people had a real sense of community. They discussed big decisions, and that was reflected in the plays. I used to find it annoying that an actor would talk to the audience, but that was how they did it, and they drew the audience into their story. In Shakespeare’s time, the heroes often died, instead of walking away from explosions and shootouts. Shakespeare’s character took time to make decisions and took responsibility for them. As Terry Gilliam complains, in many films there are no widows or orphans. In Shakespeare’s time there were lots of them, and we saw how they became so. That’s whey the stories are so important. They entertain and educate us about our actions and responsibilities. You would never get funding for Romeo & Juliet today. Especially if Cunk was on the committee.

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