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New year, same old plague... What would Shakespeare do?

What would Shakespeare do? As the district faces more hardship and restrictions as we enter 2021, turning to the greatest Stratfordian for wisdom is perhaps not the worst idea.

Four hundred years before the Queen famously referred to 1992 as her ‘annus horribilis’, Shakespeare called 1592 a ‘dangerous year’.

Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Gregory Doran told the Herald how the playwright took to poetry when the theatres shut during an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the 1590s. In the poem Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare wrote about using love to “drive infection from the dangerous year”.

Gregory said: “There’s a profound sense of us all being in this together and helping each other survive.

“Clearly it’s been bad enough for the theatres, but it has been a real blow for all of Stratford. It just feels like it’s one thing on top of another and when there’s a little bright spark it just gets extinguished.”

“I feel for everyone with local businesses and hope they manage to find ways to survive.

“I think we have been in this together and it has highlighted what an interdependent ecology we are.”

Mindful of those that have lost jobs, including around 90 at the RSC, Greg continued: “The company has been very resilient, but you can sort of tell just how tired everyone is. We’ve got through this process of the redundancies and it’s been extremely ably handled on both sides. It’s been very sanguine but gracious. We wanted to save as many jobs as possible and I think we’ve succeeded as well as we could possibly have hoped.”

Now, he added, people would need the arts and Shakespeare more: “The arts have helped us through but there will be many more mental health challenges that people will have to deal with and that have not fully come to the surface. I think the arts will help us get over this crisis when it finally disappears.”

He said he was concerned about the impact on young people’s wellbeing: “They have been robbed of months of their lives and chances to socialise and grow. No doubt many are resilient and are dealing with it, but I really worry for schools and what the future holds for them.”

However, he added that he was inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem Amazing Peace, read at a recent Festive Tales online performance by the RSC: “There’s a wonderful line where she says, ‘Hope is born again in the faces of children’, and we have to hold on to that.”

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