Yesterday I was watching The Book Show (hosted by Mariella Frostrup). One of the guests was a man (I didn't catch his name) from the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company (http://www.hiphopshakespeare.com/site/) whose thesis was that the relationship between rap and Shakespeare is very strong.
He pointed out that Shakespeare's audience was mostly illiterate, but Shakespeare's words spoke to them, in much the same way that rappers connect with the less privileged in our society.
He talked about the rhythm of Shakepeare's poetry and prose, and likened it to the dramatic rhythms of rap, concluding that if Shakespeare were alive today, he would be a rapper.
He argued that the likes of Andrew Motion, who dismisses rap out of hand, doesn't know what he's talking about, and is judging a whole genre by a small number of its worst examples.
To support his thesis, he leads workshops in which he gets people to appreciate Shakespeare's work by treating it as rap. And in order to pull the rug out from under the elitists who sneer at his views, he reads a mixture of quotations from Shakespeare and various rappers and asks them to guess who wrote them. Invariably they get some or all wrong, which makes them think again.
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I'm... not convinced. At all.
I don't actively seek out rap - indeed, I often switch the radio off when I hear it, but, like most people, I am exposed to it. The sort of people who impose their musical tastes on other people (on trains, for instance) are likely to be playing rap (if it's not heavy metal). Anyone listening out for new music is likely to hear at least parts of rap songs. In short, anybody who expresses an opinion about rap is probably expressing an informed opinion, and the fact that they might have been Poet Laureate does not lessen this.
As for this man's quotation schtick, well, the reasons most people aren't sure if his chosen lines are Shakespeare or rap are rather clear. The fact that he does choose them suggests he's going to choose lines that don't have obvious clues, such as references to modern technology; similarly, he's not going to choose the Bard's lines that everybody knows. But most crucially, Shakespeare's lines tend to work in context. When his work causes your heart to flutter or your toes to curl or your throat to catch, it's rarely due to a single line heard in isolation.
There are levels of meaning and feeling with Shakespeare's work. Even when I first encountered his work at about 14, and was only understanding a fraction of it, I was aware of the depth. I've never been aware of any real depth in rap, not even in Eminem's (which I quite like). Similarly, when rappers try to "do" Romeo and Juliet as rap, it comes across as horrible forced.
Anyone agree? Disagree?