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Jenny Dee, director of Chipping Norton Literary Festival

We’re all Shakespeareans

In the year marking 400 years since the death of Shakespeare, Sam Bennett interviews Jenny Dee, director of Chipping Norton Literary Festival
Harbouring the likes of Prue Leith and Brian Blessed, Chipping Norton Literary Festival takes place 21st-24th April at various venues around the town.

"Shakespeare would make verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs. And today we hear people say things like ‘we’re going to medal’ meaning ‘we’re going to win a medal’ "

A literary festival taking place in April 2016 could not leave William Shakespeare off its programme.

“There are some bigger and shinier places where the bigger and shinier Shakespearean writers want to be,” Jenny Dee says. “What happens in Stratford is obviously going to be a bit more high profile than something that’s happening in Chipping Norton, but I’m really excited about what we are doing.”

As opposed to erecting marquees in fields, Chip Lit Fest makes use of the venues that already exist in the town, one of these being the Chequers, where on Friday 22nd April Phyllida Hancock explores As You Like It and why it still speaks to us in 2016.

Hancock has worked as an actor for the RSC, a company Jenny cites as an ingredient in making Shakespeare appeal to people. “Shakespeare can seem joyless but you just need to see it on stage. It’s the most exciting thing. Being near the RSC here is such an opportunity to see the language really well spoken and beautifully performed.”

The director draws attention to how flexible Shakespeare is. “People can do so many things with it,” she says, having mentioned the recent film of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender. “It was very raw, bloody, violent and actually exciting”, she concludes, certainly giving the impression that she is not a Shakespeare purist critical of creative types experimenting with the Bard’s work.

Shakespeare engulfs our lives outside of theatres and cinemas too. “Whether we know it or not we’re all Shakespeareans, because we all speak his language,” Jenny says. “People do it all the time without knowing it, like when they say ‘there’s method in my madness’.

Author of Charlotte Brontë: A Life, Claire Harman, joins the festival line-up, appearing at The Theatre, Chipping Norton on Sunday 24th April.

 

“Shakespeare would make verbs into nouns and nouns into verbs. And today we hear people say things like ‘we’re going to medal’ meaning ‘we’re going to win a medal’; we’ve borrowed Shakespeare’s clothes.”

Jenny’s ambition for the Shakespearean aspect of Chip Lit Fest is to show people that it is not just for academics. But the festival has attracted academics to help with this aim. Saturday 23rd April sees Bart van Es talk for half an hour in the Chequers about Shakespeare’s comedies in a free event stemming from his book on the subject, as published by Oxford University Press – one of the festival’s sponsors.

Later the same day, The Chequers is also the venue in which to learn a Shakespeare sonnet with the guiding hand of Jonathan Stebbings.

There is another anniversary this year that may find itself overshadowed by Shakespeare’s 400th. The weekend of Chip Lit Fest also marks 200 years since the birth of Charlotte Brontë. To this end, author of Charlotte Brontë: A Life, Claire Harman, joins the festival line-up, appearing at The Theatre, Chipping Norton on Sunday 24th April.

Harbouring the likes of Prue Leith and Brian Blessed, Chipping Norton Literary Festival takes place 21st-24th April at various venues around the town. Visit www.chiplitfest.com for more details.

 

- Sam Bennett

 

Related Articles: Oxford Literary Festival: The 20th Anniversary