James Reel
James Reel

Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, spoke truly when he said of the Bard, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”

Shakespeare’s timeless tales of doomed lovers, dangerous feuds, and dysfunctional families never grow stale, but if Jonson were alive he might be astonished at how far the originals have traveled. Tony (a Polish-American) and Maria (a Puerto Rican) as the “star-cross’d lovers” in the musical “West Side Story”? An all-female, rock’n’roll production of “Julius Caesar” soon to appear on Broadway? Every generation finds a story in Shakespeare and spins it in unexpected ways.

On Wednesday (Sept. 25), James Reel, classical music director of Arizona Public Media and a popular lecturer at the Arizona Senior Academy, begins a four-part series exploring how the Bard’s compelling plots and characters influenced later artists in a variety of media.  Adapting a phrase from Shakespeare, he calls it “The Pillage of a Giglot Bard:  Shakespeare’s Origins and Evolutions.”

“Romeo and Juliet” launches the series. Subsequent lectures focus on “King Lear” (Oct. 2), “Othello” (Oct. 16) and “The Taming of the Shrew” (Oct. 23).  All lectures run from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

As Reel points out, Shakespeare himself was a literary pillager who drew upon the works of earlier writers. ”Romeo and Juliet” was an embellished adaptation of a popular Italian novella written by a Veronese in 1530.

Poster from the 1961 movie version of "West Side Story"
Poster from the 1961 movie version of “West Side Story”

The play inspired many operas; a symphonic poem by Tchaikovsky; a ravishingly beautiful ballet with music by Prokofiev, and a choral symphony by Berlioz, who carried on a lifelong musical affair with Shakespeare.

Duke Ellington wrote a haunting song in which tenor and alto saxophones represented the young lovers. And “Romeo and Juliet” was a popular hit of Dire Straits, a British rock band of the 1980s.

What a tale, and it isn’t over!

Reel’s Shakespeare series is made possible by a generous gift from an anonymous Arizona Senior Academy member.

Submitted by Caroline Bates, Academy Village Volunteer

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Shakespeare’s Tales Inspire Artists thru the Centuries: Sept. 2013
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