Hip-Hop Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!


Picture of Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon


So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, 
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

(Sonnet 18 – Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day)

The tributes go round and round. The poetic tribute Shakespeare paid to his beloved in this sonnet – (and also, entirely deservedly, to the power of his own poetry) – gives life not only to that beloved – but becomes, when spoken on the breath of each and every reader, a tribute to Shakespeare and the longevity he foresaw for his ‘eternal lines’. Every time those words are read or spoken, their life unfolds and flies.

I suppose, in a way, there’s a tribute in there to the reader too. Shakespeare crafts a dialogue with our own powers of appreciation and empathy. Those ‘eternal lines’ pass through our own time, always retaining the same timeless relevance – and are relived and lived again in our own lives and understanding. Poem, thought and experience connect past, present, future. Going round and round and round. 

I’m passionate about the living Shakespeare. And that living Shakespeare – the heartbeat of his work – is…well… kept alive… in those very passions of the people who love him. They do indeed, these ‘eternal lines,’ go round and round, constantly beating in the pulse of everyone who loves them, shares them, passes them on. What would life be without Shakespeare? I can’t (don’t want to) imagine it. I want everyone to ‘get’ his magic – to feel that inspiration and connection.

Project’s like Akala’s Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company are a vital blood flow to that great, shared, living passion for Shakespeare; passing it on, opening eyes, igniting fires. I’m always so moved to see the many and various heartfelt ways in which people connect to Shakespeare. It’s a true inspirational high to see the magic at work; to see Shakespeare’s relevance suddenly reach someone for the first time, switch on their heart’s fire, light up their faces, spark their own passion – enrich their lives. Just witness the faces of some of the young people Akala has worked with to see it in action. The passion in Sir Ian McKellen’s and Akala’s faces is an inspiration very few could resist. Here Akala, with that passion and inspiration, performs Sonnet 18 and gives the breath of his times to those ‘eternal lines.’ And, of course, it is those ‘eternal lines’ that give the breath of life to his passion. And so it goes round and round…

We pass the baton on.

Other videos of Akala’s breathtaking Shakespearean inspired rap (e.g. Comedy, Tragedy, History) can be seen here. If rap’s not your thing…go on…give it a go, and have a look anyway. I never thought rap would be my thing either, until I saw Akala… I suppose I kind of followed the same process the kids go through at the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company workshops – but in reverse. Through Shakespeare, I came to appreciate hip hop! Through the familiar, I discovered a way in to the unfamiliar. It’s all about finding that connection, I guess. It’s never a one way thing…

Happy birthday, Will!