The Bard is back


One of the first posts that I wrote on this blog back in 2012 was one announcing the closure of BardBox, a blog devoted to online Shakespeare videos which I had established in 2008. The plan was to cut back on the several websites that I was managing and to concentrate the writing on a single site – this one.

That’s the still the long-term strategy, but the passing of time brings about problems. I left BardBox as an archive of videos, but then the wasting nature of YouTube took its effect. As I noted in a recent post, on conducting a spring clean of BardBox I discovered that 25% of the videos were no longer playable, for assorted reasons (taken down by the owner, blocked by YouTube for copyright infringement etc). I moved all of the affected records into a separate section on the site, so that what no longer existed was at least documented, but the site was denuded.

The opening episode of Nothing Much To Do, a fictional vlog adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing

At the same time I started taking a look at what had been produced on Shakespeare on YouTube and Vimeo since 2012, and I was amazed by the continuing quantity and occasional high quality of the videos that people were producing for themselves. Because that was the central interest – not the web platform as a means to distribute the usual sort of professional product, but the web as a means to encourage creativity from people who might never otherwise get a chance to film something like Shakespeare, and a means of enabling a different kind of filmed Shakespeare.

Now, YouTube is awash with tens of thousands of terrible Shakespeare videos. There are so many truly lame Shakespeare raps, Star Wars parodies, hopeless audition pieces and overwrought recitations. There are thousands of honest but uninteresting rudimentary recordings of amateur theatre company productions. There are over one and a half million videos on YouTube that come up if you used the search term ‘shakespeare’, and most should not detain anyone other than the friends and family of those who posted them.

But the best should detain us, and and not just those that are excellent but those that are typical of the new kinds of Shakespeare video that are emerging. They often lack technical polish, they can even seen a little ridiculous to the professional eye, but one must look beyond such limitations to the inspiration and the enthusiasm. The more I look at YouTube Shakespeare, the more I am convinced that this the natural home for the Bard. Yes, I’ll still see the plays on a stage from time to time, because that’s what Shakespeare intended, but it’s what he didn’t intend but nevertheless made happen that is more interesting to me just now.

Hassan Jamal’s Shakespeare, the Passionate Pilgrim, starring Guy Lillum

There has been some critical attention of YouTube Shakespeare recently, even now a book, Stephen O’Neill’s Shakespeare and YouTube: New Media Forms of the Bard. There’s a short section on the subject in the new Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare, which I’ve written. But mostly the genre is seen as a diversion, home to some funny stuff but not much more.

I disagree. The videos are not there to confirm what we know of Shakespeare, but to overturn it. One of the reasons I decided to bring the site back to life was the enthusiastic reactions of a group of Philippine students who had been asked to evaluate BardBox alongside other Shakespeare sites. Their comments, on Transmedial Shakespeare, show how such videos help to make sense of Shakespeare:

BardBox has therefore come back to life, with a new address, (old links will resolve to this address), and new purpose. Take a look at the videos illustrating this post – the Candle Wasters’ Not Much To Do, an ingenious multi-channel vlog, with attendants social media pages and feeds, adapting Much Ado about Nothing to modern-day New Zealand; Hassan Jamal’s super-cool take on two of the sonnets, The Passionate Pilgrim, filmed on the streets of Los Angeles, one of a brilliant series with African-American performers for the L.A. Subway Shakespeare Project series; or Mary Martin’s exquisite abstract animation inspired by The Tempest, The Many Coloured Messenger, made when she was an A-level student.

Mary Martin’s The Many Coloured Messenger

There are many more, already on the site, and others which will be added on the site regularly from now on. Of course, 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and having the centenary upon us has been another spur to reviving BardBox. That said, I am working on an idea for another Shakespeare site, which may or may not work, and if it does then might see the light of day a few months from now. Will I never learn?


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