This year brings the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and Index on Censorship is marking it with a special issue of their award-winning magazine, looking at how his plays have been used around the world to sneak past censors or take on the authorities – often without them realising. In this special issue, poet Edin Suljic published his latest poem My Mate Shakespeare, which recasts Shakespeare as a bingo addict and brandy lover who is struggling in a war zone. Alongside this special issue, Index on Censorship magazine teamed up with the Hay Festival, for a debate on Shakespeare and dissent with editor, Rachael Jolley alongside Simon Callow, David Aaronovitch and Alexa Huang. The debate was supported by the British Council.
My Mate Shakespeare
The first time I met Shakespeare, he looked nothing like himself, nothing like that
depiction of a poster boy with a hipster beard one comes across every so often.
No, he was tall, scrawny, flamboyant, thin-moustached and bespectacled, with large
hands into which his guitar almost disappeared as he sang perched on a low
stool, in the theatre’s green room, where we would occasionally be allowed to
sneak into as aspiring writers and actors, to join the post-press-night party.
In those days we shared many breakfasts, mainly a coffee and cigarettes, and
sometimes a boiled egg given to us by a kind cook in the theatre’s canteen.
And our fortunes took many turns …
Some claimed his work as if it was their own, they complained about too many foreigners
in his plays (As if we don’t have our own trulls – they’d say). Others even claimed he
never wrote anything, or worse, that he never existed. My mate Shakespeare …
Every so often he’d ask me if I am still writing, then say:
– Keep writing, keep writing, me duck …
But then, he ripped apart my first play.
That’s too serious boyo – he said, and inserted an innuendo into every second paragraph.
He was madly in love with this blonde, petite, round-eyed actress who was patiently
waiting for her lucky break on stage, and for him to come to her garret.
Almost addicted to bingo and drinking a lot of poor-quality brandy, he got himself into
many troubles by attacking so many kings, offending so many celebrities and ridiculing
politicians; and he wrote too many plays about deformity and cross dressing.
Even his small girlfriend turned out to be a man in disguise.
Then the war tore everything apart, and I haven’t seen him since.
The world entered into this never-ending war.
I heard the stories … He married a very different girl and they had two beautiful
children and they lived somewhere in the outskirts of the City.
He doesn’t go to the theatre anymore.
But then, like most stories about him, these too, turned out to be unreliable.
I saw him once more – in the East End. That last time I saw him, he
looked like a broken man. My friend. My indestructible friend.
Something or somebody managed to do it to him.
I suppressed a cry inside myself. What is left for the rest of us? What
will happen to us if people like him could be broken?
Then he leaned over his glass of cheap brandy and whispered
– Keep writing, keep writing, boyo …
Buy the spring issue of Index on Censorship magazine HERE.
ABOUT INDEX ON CENSORSHIP
Index on Censorship is a publisher and campaigning organisation that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression. The inspiration of poet Stephen Spender, Index was founded in 1972 to publish the untold stories of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. Today, we fight for free speech around the world, challenging censorship whenever and wherever it occurs.It publishes a global quarterly magazine featuring journalism and new fiction as well as campaigning on freedom of expression issues.
Index uses a unique combination of journalism, campaigning and advocacy to defend freedom of expression for those facing censorship and repression, including journalists, writers, social media users, bloggers, artists, politicians, scientists, academics, activists and citizens.
Index believes that free expression is the foundation of a free society and endorses Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”.